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Have you ever gone to turn on your furnace for the first time in months and been greeted with a furnace smells like burning? It’s not a great way to start the colder season. If your furnace smells like burning, it’s essential to identify the source of the problem and take action to resolve it. In some cases, a burning smell may indicate a severe issue that requires immediate attention. Other times, it may be due to a relatively minor problem that you can address on your own. 

Read on to find out the top 5 reasons your furnace may start smelling like it’s on fire and what you can do about it.

Something Is Blocking the Vents 

If your furnace smells like burning, but you can’t see any flames or smoke coming from the unit itself, one of the first things you should check is the vents. If something is blocking the vents, it can cause the furnace to overheat and emit a burning smell. The most common culprits are furniture, blankets, or other items placed too close to the vents. If you find something blocking the vents, move it out of the way and ensure at least three feet of clearance around all sides of the vents.

The Furnace Filter Is Dirty 

Another common reason for a furnace smelling like burning is a dirty filter. The filter’s job is to capture dust and debris before it has a chance to enter the furnace. Over time, though, the filter can become clogged with dirt and debris, which prevents it from doing its job effectively. A clogged filter also puts additional strain on the furnace, which can cause it to overheat and emit a burning smell.

To fix this problem, replace the old filter with a new one. Most filters should be replaced every three months or so. However, if you have pets or live in an area with a lot of dust, you may need to replace the filter more frequently. 

The Pilot Light Is Out 

If your furnace uses a pilot light to ignite the gas burners, then a fourth possible reason it smells like burning could be because the pilot light has gone out. A pilot light that has gone out can cause gas build-up in the furnace, leading to an explosion if not fixed immediately.

Fortunately, relighting a pilot light is relatively simple and can be done by following these steps: 

  • Find the pilot light access panel on your furnace (it will likely be located near the bottom of the unit). 
  • Open up the access panel and locate the pilot light assembly inside (it will look like a small metal tube with a tiny hole at one end). 
  • Use a long match or lighter to ignite the gas coming out of the pilot light assembly (you may need to do this several times before you see a sustained flame). 
  • Once you see a sustained flame coming from the pilot light assembly, turn on your furnace by flipping the switch near it (this will likely be located just above or next to where you found the pilot light assembly).

Something Is Burning Inside Your Furnace 

Although this may seem obvious, it bears repeating—if flames or smoke are visible inside your furnace when you go to check on it, then something is burning inside it! If this happens, immediately turn off your furnace and call a professional for help. Do not try to fix this problem yourself, as it could be hazardous! 

Electrical Wiring Is Damaged 

Finally, if your furnace smells like burning, but there are no visible flames or smoke, and everything else seems fine (such as no objects blocking vents and a clean filter), then damaged electrical wiring could be causing the problem. Damaged electrical wiring can cause short circuits, leading to fires inside furnaces.

Therefore, if you suspect that damaged electrical wiring might be causing your furnace to emit a burning smell, do not try to fix this problem yourself—immediately turn off your furnace and call an electrician for help! 


There are several reasons why your furnace might smell like it’s burning—but fortunately, most of them have relatively simple solutions. In most cases, changing your filters or having your furnace serviced before turning it on for the season will do the trick. However, if there’s debris near your unit or faulty wiring, a professional should address those problems as soon as possible to avoid any potential hazards.

Don’t hesitate to call Furnace Repair Mississauga for furnace repair and maintenance services. Our furnace technicians are licensed, insured, and experienced in repairing all furnace makes and models. Schedule a furnace repair appointment today!

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