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Old 01-25-2011, 04:54 AM   #1
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Burning smell from furnace?


I woke up at about 2:15 this morning and noticed a STRONG burning smell in the house. Best I can describe is a wet campfire. I checked the fireplace, no smell from there. I went outside and checked the house, no fire . So I narrowed it down to the furnace. What could happen to a furnace to make a smell like that? The only thing I could think is that I threw a coat of paint on a 1/2" x 8" x 10' shelf board at about 7:30. Could the paint fumes have been pulled into the furnace? I remember my parents painting/varnishing things in their basement when I was younger and we never had a burning smell. First thing I did was get the board out of the basement (it's dry now). I changed the air filter to see if that helped. I then opened a few windows for 30 minutes or so to get fresh air into the house but it's Chicago and 23 degrees outside. The smell got better with the windows open but came right back when I closed them. Any thoughts?

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Old 01-25-2011, 05:24 AM   #2
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Burning smell from furnace?


This is an EMERGENCY situation!

Carbon Monoxide should be your first concern. I would leave the house and take your pets. Go and get CO detectors and place them near the floor of each bedroom and near the furnace.


After that, we can talk more.

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Old 01-25-2011, 05:48 AM   #3
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Burning smell from furnace?


Thanks for the reply. I'm already covered with the CO detectors. Have one in every room of the house. None have gone off.
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Old 01-25-2011, 08:02 AM   #4
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Burning smell from furnace?


Just an FYI update and I think we can consider this issue closed. As I said earlier, my first thought was that my furnace had pulled in fumes from some recent painting and burned them creating the smell. I tried venting the house but the smell came right back after closing the windows. After reading CplDevilDog's reply one of my dogs got sick so I called the emergency number for a local HVAC service. He came out and inspected the furnace. Blower motor is fine and is pulling the correct amps, circuit boards are cool, damper door is fine, nothing burned or melted. He said a bad blower motor smell would be a strong, bad, sweet kind of smell, but that the smell in my house would be pleasant if it wasn't so strong. He had a look around and got to the fireplace. We had a fire Sunday afternoon while watching football. I quit feeding the fire and it went out around 5 or 6. We went to bed at around 9 and I brushed all the ash into the ash pit and left the flue open. I got up yesterday morning and closed the flue after checking to make sure the fire box was cool and that there was no more smoke. We are thinking what likely happened is that at some point after going to bed last night (24 hours after the fire went out) an ember briefly reignited in the ash pit (it's just a metal box, no outside cleanout). With the flue closed the smoke had nowhere to go and got into the room. We've got a tri-level house and the fireplace is on the lower level, directly across the room from the basement door. The furnace probably pulled the smoke in through the air returns and basement door and distributed it through the house. I've learned some expensive/risky lessons here:

- Leave the flue open for a sufficient amount of time to make sure all smoke/gasses can exit. I got lucky that I let the wood burn out so there wasn't any fuel to get the fire going again. There also wasn't any smoke damage because there wasn't enough fuel available. I do have working CO detectors in every room of my house (including right next to the fireplace) but it's better not to take chances.

- When it's cool enough, clean the ash pit out and deposit the ashes outside in a metal container. Use water if you really want to be sure they are out.
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Old 01-25-2011, 09:44 AM   #5
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Burning smell from furnace?


I have a house similar to yours and we used to burn wood in the fireplace. Sometimes, when it was very cold outside, the chimney would downdraft and push that same smell into the living space. Just thought I would mention the possibility of a down draft.
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Old 01-25-2011, 09:49 AM   #6
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Burning smell from furnace?


Yes we do have a strong down draft when we don't have a fire. I always have to make sure I heat up the flue and reverse the airflow to create an updraft before starting a fire. Even with the flue closed we still get a small draft. The bricks get pretty cold since it is below grade.

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