Why Does My Oil Furnace Smell?

oil furnace odor wisconsinIf your furnace has received professional maintenance by a heating oil expert over the years, it will more than likely operate without any problems.

But sometimes, especially if you’ve ignored the importance of getting regular heating system maintenance, your furnace will give you warning signs of a problem – and those signs will often come in the form of odd smells.

Strange odors emanating from your furnace can indicate several problems; some are easy to fix, some are more complex. Here are some common furnace odors and what they may mean for your heating equipment. (Note: a correct diagnosis can only be made with an onsite visit by a qualified service technician).

  • Oil odors. If your system is working properly, you should never smell fuel oil. An oil smell could be caused by a leak, burner troubles, a heat exchanger failure or exhaust system problems. You should schedule service as soon as possible to correct this situation.
  • Smoky odors when your oil burner is operating. If a fireplace or exhaust fan is running at the same time as your oil burner, this can result in a smoky odor because a backdraft is pulling flue gases through the exhaust system and into the home.
  • Dusty/burning smell. A dusty, burning smell coming from your furnace can be quite common, especially early in the heating season; the smell is often the result of your furnace burning away dust and dirt that has accumulated during the offseason. If dust is the cause, the burning smell should go away after a few hours. If it doesn’t, try replacing your air filter (which you should do at the beginning of the season anyway) before you call your heating oil service contractor for service. Read more about your furnace air filter further on.
  • Electrical /burning wire smells. Electrical smells coming from your furnace are typically a sign of overheating. If your furnace is cycling often (turning on and off) for no apparent reason, it could be your equipment protecting itself from a more substantial (and costly) breakdown. Give your furnace a rest for a few hours; if the problem returns when you fire it up again, contact your heating oil service contractor for service.
  • Mechanical smells. Worn out rubber and grinding metal parts produce a similar odor to electrical overheating (imagine the smell the wheels make when a train brakes). These smells can indicate a serious problem that needs immediate attention; shut your heating system down and call a heating oil expert right away.
  • Checking Your Furnace Air Filter: Why It’s So Important

    One way to help your furnace operate without any trouble is to change or clean your furnace’s air filter as often as the manufacturer recommends. In general, you should check the filter’s condition about once a month and change/clean it when necessary.

    If your air filter gets clogged with dust and other debris, there is less room for air to flow through your system and through your home. Your furnace will need to work harder to circulate air, which will result in an increase in your heating costs. Your home will become less comfortable and the indoor air quality will degrade. If neglected for too long, a dirty air filter can cause your furnace to shut down.

    If you’re not sure how to change/clean the air filter yourself but would like to, please contact your heating oil service provider for advice.

    And if you think your oil furnace has seen better days and needs to be replaced, please go here to see how you can qualify for a $300 rebate when you install a new, high-efficiency oil furnace. You’ll be on your way to saving more money and energy for years to come—and should not have to worry about any strange odors coming from your furnace.