Why Does My Heat Pump Smell Like It's Burning?

portrait of young woman shrugging her hands isolated on white background in photostudio. What is that heat pump smell?

It’s happened to most of us––that panic or fear that something’s wrong. In this case, you turn on your heat pump and you smell something burning. What should you do? Who should you call first, the Beaufort, NC, fire department or your HVAC technician? First assess what the smell most likely is, and you may not need to call anyone. Of course, if you’re still nervous because you just don’t know, turn off your heat pump and give one of our highly trained technicians from Four Seasons a call to come out to diagnose the smell for you.

What Is That Burning Smell?

There are several reasons your heat pump may be emitting a burning smell. They won’t require the fire department (unless, of course, you notice smoke and fire), but some of them will require your HVAC technician. Take a look at some of the most common reasons, and see if one of them fits the bill:

  • Dust on the electric heater coil. This is the most common cause of a burning smell, especially if it’s the first time you’ve turned on your heat pump for a long while or the first time the auxiliary heat kicks on due to dipping temperatures. No matter how clean your home may be, there will still be dust and particles that make their way through the ductwork to your electric coils and land there. Turning on your heat pump for the first time (or your auxiliary heat coming on for the first time) will burn those particles off the coils, and that’s what you smell. If after a couple of cycles, or definitely after the first day, that smell is still hanging around, you should call your HVAC technician to check it out. But if it disappears shortly, it’s most likely this cause.

  • Closed vents. When hot air is trapped within closed vents, you’ll smell it. The hot air has nowhere to go and will build up in the vents. You’ll smell this shortly after turning on your heat. It’s good practice to go around your home to be sure all your vents are open before switching to heat. The blocked air could lead to serious problems with your HVAC system. Once you’ve opened all the vents, allowing time for good airflow, and the smell hasn’t dissipated, it may be time to shut off your heat and call your HVAC technician.

  • Clogged filter. A dirty air filter causes your heat pump’s motor to work harder, thereby causing a burning smell. Check your air filter, and if it’s dirty, change it, assessing if the burning smell disappears as a result. If not, a call to your HVAC technician is in order. If it does, you probably want to put a reminder on your calendar to change your filter more regularly.

  • Materials inside your ducts. Sometimes materials or objects find their way inside the ductwork of your home. Maybe your little niece dropped her favorite rubber duck down your air vent while she was visiting. If you smell something like plastic or rubber burning, try to discover from which vent the smell is emanating. After you’ve pinpointed the vent, turn off your heat pump for the time being, but don’t close that vent, as that could cause more damage. If you can see and reach the item or materials easily, remove the item. But if you can’t, you’ll need to call your HVAC technician for assistance.

  • Electrical issue. Although uncommon, an electrical-burning smell can point to an electrical issue. If you smell this specific smell, and it remains after one or two heating cycles, turn off your heat pump, and call your HVAC technician. It could be a serious issue.

  • Smell present during air conditioner use. If you notice a burning smell in your home while you’re using your air conditioner, turn off your heat pump immediately. This isn’t at all normal and could signify something in the air-conditioning system that’s overheating. Professional troubleshooting by your HVAC technician is required. Turn off the heat pump and make that call.

Contact Us

Most of these reasons you may smell burning aren’t serious and don’t require that call to the fire department. But smelling a burning smell isn’t something to ignore. If the smell persists after your assessment and any action you’ve taken to rectify the situation, turn off your heat pump, and call one our Four Seasons technicians at 252-247-5500. We’ll be out immediately to help.

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Contact the experts at Four Seasons Heating & Cooling.

Call us at 252-247-5500!