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Old 02-29-2008, 09:32 PM   #1
ClarabelleCowFan
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Why does the Central Heating SMELL so bad? HVAC Question

We have electric heat and air in our townhouse but whenever the temperature outside drops and the heat kicks on it SMELLS so bad - like burning oil. This is not the typical "dust burning off" smell that happens when the heat hasn't been on in awhile but a constant ICKY odor. The heater barely works and hardly heats the place - it is always freezing in here no matter what the thermostat is set at. We have space heaters on each level that we have to turn on just to be able to stand the temp in the rooms we are in.

What could be causing this stinky smell? Any clue?

I'm trying to convince DH to call someone to take a look at our ancient heating system...
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Old 02-29-2008, 10:09 PM   #2
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What does the smell smell like? Could anything have been dropped or spilled into the ductwork? I ask because a friend had a similar problem and couldn't figure it out until she walked into her 6yo ds' room and caught him peeing into the vent. (I realize your almost 1yo wouldn't have been doing that, but it made me wonder about the possibility of a spill.)
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Old 02-29-2008, 10:17 PM   #3
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What does the smell smell like? Could anything have been dropped or spilled into the ductwork? I ask because a friend had a similar problem and couldn't figure it out until she walked into her 6yo ds' room and caught him peeing into the vent. (I realize your almost 1yo wouldn't have been doing that, but it made me wonder about the possibility of a spill.)
No, Mason is not quite able to do that.

It honestly smells like an oil burning lamp but MUCH stronger. The smell nauseates me.

I did have DH just check and the breaker was tripped again - that happens when the heater runs for a long time (which it does often since it never gets the house even close to the temperature on the thermostat).
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Old 02-29-2008, 10:50 PM   #4
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That doesn't sound right at all.

Our heat wasn't working and it smelled like a pacifier stuck to the heating element of the dishwasher. (If you have ever smelled melting pacifier or bottle nipples they have a very distinctive odor.) They put in a new thermostat and sequencer, and the heat worked much better after that. We kept smelling that smell, but I figured it would go away after several days.

We called the maintenance guys to come back because the smell was getting stronger, and we were getting ready to go to WDW. They took the whole heater apart and couldn't find anything that would smell like melting rubber.

When one of the guys was on the ladder he happened to notice a cat toy in the light fixture. It was a foam ball, and one whole side was melted and black from being against the lightbulb. THAT was the smell. I have never been so embarrassed in my life! DS12 got in BIG trouble for throwing the cat toy high enough to land in the light fixture.

The thing was, our heater REALLY WAS broken the week before, so we had every reason to believe the 2 were related.

Good luck getting it taken care of!
Our friends had a weird smell in their house and the motor of their heater had completely burned out. Heaters that smell like anything OTHER than dust burning off need to be checked!
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Old 03-01-2008, 08:11 AM   #5
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My husband is a HVAC tech and he says there are 2 types of electric heat 1 is an element that heats and the other is an element submerged in a fluid that heats in a sealed tube. If the tube was to have a leak it would give off an odor.
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Old 03-01-2008, 08:37 PM   #6
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My husband is a HVAC tech and he says there are 2 types of electric heat 1 is an element that heats and the other is an element submerged in a fluid that heats in a sealed tube. If the tube was to have a leak it would give off an odor.
Thanks for the info. Any idea how much a repair like that would run - ballpark?
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Old 03-02-2008, 08:29 AM   #7
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We have a heat pump that has an auxillary heating unit that comes on when the temp. gets low. One day...bad, bad smell, like something burning. Finally called the repair guys and found out a relay was sticking. It would come on, but not shut off when the rest of the system shut off. It was overheating everything, including insulated wiring that ran next to the duct work (hence, the smell). The actual problem was pretty easy to fix (but could have been a fire if not fixed). In your shoes I would go ahead and call someone in. Life is too short to be freezing cold, or to be worried about a house fire while your family sleeps. Good luck!
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Old 03-02-2008, 04:14 PM   #8
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When you said an oil burning lamp smell, it reminded me of a problem we once had. Our heater manuals were taped in place inside the heater itself when it was installed. One day, the adhesive came loose and the manuals, wrapped in plastic landed on something in the heater which caused a yucky burning odor (unlike that first heating of the season smell) when the furnace would kick on. Have you been able to look inside the unit to see if anything like that could have happened?
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Old 03-02-2008, 06:38 PM   #9
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Quote:
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We have a heat pump that has an auxillary heating unit that comes on when the temp. gets low. One day...bad, bad smell, like something burning. Finally called the repair guys and found out a relay was sticking. It would come on, but not shut off when the rest of the system shut off. It was overheating everything, including insulated wiring that ran next to the duct work (hence, the smell). The actual problem was pretty easy to fix (but could have been a fire if not fixed). In your shoes I would go ahead and call someone in. Life is too short to be freezing cold, or to be worried about a house fire while your family sleeps. Good luck!
True. I think I have DH about convinced to have it checked out ASAP.

Quote:
Originally Posted by happycampers View Post
When you said an oil burning lamp smell, it reminded me of a problem we once had. Our heater manuals were taped in place inside the heater itself when it was installed. One day, the adhesive came loose and the manuals, wrapped in plastic landed on something in the heater which caused a yucky burning odor (unlike that first heating of the season smell) when the furnace would kick on. Have you been able to look inside the unit to see if anything like that could have happened?
DH has looked around the furnace but not sure if he is able to look inside. I'll have him check that!
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