Monday, November 17, 2008

Stinky coils?

As per usual...I need help.

We started noticing a musty smell in the house, and we think it's coming from the heat registers. It's a musty, mildewy, damp crawlspace kind of smell (but our inside coil and ductwork are in the attic)-- not bad, just stale like hose water.

Anyway, the first thing I did was change the filter-- it was in very, very bad need of changing. We thought that did the trick, but I think it was just warm enough outside for the rest of the day that the heat wasn't really kicking in.

This morning I was doing my yoga stretches for my back and could smell it again-- and trust e, this made it very hard to relax-- "what could that be?" "is it dangerous?" "will it be expensive?" Shut up, brain-- you're supposed to be concentrating on breathing!

So now I've resorted to Google. It appears that there are several possibilities here. One is mildew and mold on the inside coils and drip pan-- something called dirty sock syndrome. I guess heat pumps don't get hot enough to kill the bacteria, and that's all we have. It doesn't generally get so cold that a heat pump can't do the job for the most part, so there's no gas furnace in addition-- just the pump. But, anyway, I'm not sure this really smells like dirty socks-- it's not all that offensive. It did occur to me that we might have left a bag of wet insulation up there from after the storm; I know Adam got it all bagged up, but we need to make sure we didn't leave one up there. Still, that shouldn't necessarily affect the air inside the sealed ducts, and anyway, most ducts are in crawlspaces with much more moisture than any poorly ventilated attic would have; plus, it's been super cold lately.

The other possibility seems to be that it might be summer "build-up" on one of the coils which, again, never gets hot enough to totally burn off. I saw one suggestion to turn on the emergency heat for 20 minutes and crank it up so it gets hotter and burns off whatever's there.

We all know it's never fun to have someone come work on the house. I'd like to try anything I can do myself first. I'll start with the emergency heat plan...but I'm wondering if any of you have had this problem and any suggestions that don't involve calling the HVAC guys...


Other than pondering our stinky air, we got more unpacking done; Adam went on a tear with that and it's looking so much better. We had friends in town this weekend, so we got some cleaning done and other various maintenance projects worked on. One of these friends is moving back to town, so I took her one of the neighborhood houses that I know is going on the market soon. Every time Adam tried to router the countertop edging, it started to rain, so that's still on the books. I'm afraid it's officially too cold to plant my hosta bulbs-- hopefully it'll warm up enough that I can get them into the ground. And my back is slowly, slowly mending.

In other words, life has been pretty low-key-- Sam's Club restocked the variety pack cases of Leinenkugel, so really, I couldn't ask for much more.


Karen in Wichita said...

We had a similar thing happen, but in the summer. It wandered around the house; it took us awhile to even figure out it was coming from the HVAC registers. Turned out it was a leaky kitchen disposal drain (underground so we got saturated dirt in the crawl space rather than rotten-food stink), with air pulled from the crawlspace into the utility room and thence into the HVAC.

So yeah, I'd be looking for things like wet insulation, not necessarily *in* the HVAC system itself. Even with the HVAC running, we couldn't actually smell the weird smell *in* the utility room, nor near the crawlspace access (at least, not until the plumbers got to crawl into the crawlspace and start digging, about which the less said the better).

(Okay, that last bit probably wasn't too reassuring...)

Amalie said...

Thanks for those visuals, Karen! ;-)

That and the emergency heat will be the first 2 items on the agenda. The only reason I don't think it's that is that this has started with turning on the heat, and not when the attic was 110 degrees (literally), which is when I would have thought the air up there would be most gross. But modern technology is a funny thing and the solution is never quite what I think it is! Thanks for your help!!!

Karen in Wichita said...

We were kind of puzzled by ours, since we didn't smell it at the crawlspace access (as in, I opened the hatch and stuck my head in and sniffed), or in the kitchen directly above (despite its wide-open under-cabinet access into the crawlspace).

Apparently it took something about the airflow through there when the HVAC was actually running to draw the smell out of the soil.

Jennifer said...

Good luck... I can't STAND smelly things. That would drive me nuts!