There are a lot of reasons your heater might smell and the severity of the situation depends on a few things like the timing of the smell, the type of smell and where it is coming from. Heating systems are the 4th highest cause of house fires in Australia1 so it is important to take any out of the ordinary smells seriously.
Is it normal?
There are a number of causes for a heater to smell. Some are nothing to worry about, others could be signs of a serious problem or potentially life-threatening.
Common causes of heater smells
Most smells coming from gas heaters come from a few common causes. Here are the most common causes for smells coming from your gas heater.
Burning smell the first time using your heater this winter?
If you're using your heater for the first time in a while you may have a burning smell coming from the heater. This is dust that has accumulated over the months of disuse being burned off by the furnace. This smell should dissipate quickly and is nothing to worry about.
If the smell does not go away in a short time...
Are your filters clean?
A clogged or worn out filter can allow dust to get into your heater which can cause occasional burning smells to come from the ducts. Replace the filter at the start of each winter and as required throughout the season.
Burning smell from a brand new heater?
When the unit is brand new it can have a smell as it is burning off oil on the metal of the burners. This is nothing to worry about and should go away after a short while.
Heater smells like gas?
if your heater smells like gas this could be caused by a leak in the exchanger. There aren't any normal reasons for your heater to smell like gas. If the smell is coming from the air ducts a leak in the heat exchanger is the most likely cause. If this happens you should turn your heater off immediately and call a heater repair company.
A word on carbon monoxide poisoning
A faulty gas heater can cause serious problems. Carbon monoxide is an odourless gas, so you won't smell it if it is leaking from your heater. However, other smells can be indicative of more serious problems.
If you have health issues that seem to be worse, or only occur when the heating is on, they might be symptoms of carbon monoxide from a faulty gas heater.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include tiredness, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, nausea, or chest pain and many other symptoms.
When is it time to call a heating expert?
If your heater continues to smell after an hour or so of turning it on then this is not normal and could be a sign of a more serious issue. If this happens to you, turn your heater off and have it inspected by a professional heating technician as soon as possible.
The benefits of regular servicing
It is recommended to have your heater serviced at least every second year before the winter season. Preventative servicing has many benefits including increasing the life of your heater, preventing small problems from becoming expensive breakdowns, increasing the efficiency of your heater and reducing your power and gas bills.