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View Full Version : Problems with a stinky "New" Heat Pump



Jim Underwood
01-12-2011, 12:19 AM
A few years back my old reliable heat pump (25+ yr old) finally eroded through the coils and blew out all the refrigerant.

So we went looking for a new unit... and researched for several days. Our requirements were that it be quiet and reliable.

A couple weeks later I had a new system in place. It was noisier than the old unit from the start. Hate to see a noisy one if this one is quiet. So much for quiet. The first installation lasted about a year and blew out all the refrigerant. The installing company only charged us for a service call, and paid for all the refrigerant themselves (woulda cost me $750 just in refrigerant).
Another year goes by and then the compressor burns up... So much for reliable... They covered the new pump and installation too, so I can't complain too much.

It's still noisy as heck, and it startles the dickens outa me at night when it all equalizes... Thump! Whoosh! and then the defrost cycle starts... RARRRAAAAAAAAAAAAACRRRRR... right outside the bedroom window. So much for a good night sleep.:(

However, the unit has stunk in the wintertime from the get-go. The old unit never made this stink and although it seemed noisy at the time, never could hold a candle to this animal...

I had a HVAC tech explain to me what's probably going on, but at this point I don't really want an explanation. I want a unit that DOESN'T smell like dirty socks...:mad:

What would you do?

Dan Hintz
01-12-2011, 6:58 AM
It blew the coils in the first year, then blew the compressor the next? Sounds like they overpressurized the system... by a LOT.

Scott Shepherd
01-12-2011, 9:35 AM
I'm not a HVAC tech, but from my experience with them, they are completely sealed systems. There is nothing to smell like dirty socks, unless there's a leak somewhere inside the air handler side of things. Typically, smell is duct work related, not outdoor unit related, but I guess it could very well be a leak inside the system. What brand unit did you put in that's so loud? I do know that the new units are huge compared to the old units. When they changed refrigerants several years back, the size of the outdoor units just about doubled.

Jim Underwood
01-12-2011, 10:09 AM
The new unit is comprised of the inside and outside coils/compressor/housings. The ductwork inside the house, and the copper lines between the inside and outside coils are all original.

The smell is coming from the inside unit. The HVAC tech told me that the condensation from the summer AC on the inside unit probably got into the insulation in that unit. Moisture in insulation grows bacteria, and mold/mildew. Now that the heat is coming on, it heats it up and "activates" it somehow, which provides the wonderful stinky sock aroma. The unit continues to heat and cool just fine, so I know the smell is not a refrigerant leak. I know what the refrigerant smells like, and this isn't that.

I really couldn't care less about what causes it. What I know is that for 25 years I never had a single problem with the old unit until it just wore out the coils.

The new unit is a Lennox. I don't know the exact model unless I get out the paperwork...

Lee Schierer
01-12-2011, 12:52 PM
My guess is that the new unit isn't draining the condensate properly during the A/C season and water is either pooling somewhere in the unit or getting into the ductwork and or filter. Then in heating season the heat starts drying out the mold and you get that dirty sock smell. We have the same problem in our car when we first run the heater in the fall. It smells like you left your gym bag under the hood for a week, but then the smell goes away.

My Climate Master (same as Bryant or Carrier) geothermal heat pump is so quiet you can barely hear it when you are in the same room with it and cannot hear it upstairs at all except for a bit of air flow noise through the registers when the fan speeds up.

Scott Shepherd
01-12-2011, 1:04 PM
There are plenty of duct cleaning companies out there. They should be able to solve the smell issue.

Jim Underwood
01-12-2011, 2:38 PM
We have the same problem in our car when we first run the heater in the fall. It smells like you left your gym bag under the hood for a week, but then the smell goes away.

In this case the smell never goes away. And yes, this is most likely the problem. There's no filter in the inside unit (except for the return filter which is in the ceiling, not in the unit.)

And it's probably not in the ductwork, it's in the inside unit. The ductwork has the insulation on the OUTSIDE...

Now... like I said before, I don't really require an explanation. I pretty much understand what's going on having been an automotive technician for umpteen years before I got into the industrial woodworking field. And now I'm doing maintenance and repair for the cabinet shop I work for...

What I really need to know is how to go about getting this resolved? This shouldn't have ever been an issue to begin with, and I don't want them spraying chemicals all around. It seems to me that approach just treats the symptoms, not the underlying problem.

Scott Shepherd
01-12-2011, 3:19 PM
I don't know what tell you Jim, other than call someone other than the original people and have them look at it. There is nothing inside the inside unit other than the coil and the emergency heat strips (if you have those) and a blower motor. Other than that, there's nothing in the inside unit.

I'd go to it, shut the break off, and take the cover off and see if you can smell the source of the odor. You could take come coil cleaner to the coil and spray that off with water. Again, there's not really anything inside the indoor unit to speak of. May be some a mat or two of insulation in there, but that's about it that I know of.

Lee Schierer
01-12-2011, 3:38 PM
In this case the smell never goes away. And yes, this is most likely the problem. There's no filter in the inside unit (except for the return filter which is in the ceiling, not in the unit.)

And it's probably not in the ductwork, it's in the inside unit. The ductwork has the insulation on the OUTSIDE...


Take a look at the air return side of the coil. It is possible that when the new unit was installed that the jostling and banging on the return air ducts knocked loose some dust which the air flow moved to the evaporator coil. This dust accumulation gets damp from the condensation in the summer and is now smelling like old socks. While you have your head in the return air duct you can check and see how dirty it is and decide if it needs cleaned or not.

Otherwise, just have your teenage son clean his room....:D

Dan Hintz
01-12-2011, 5:29 PM
I'd also suggest looking at the coils... after a few years, there can be a really heavy layer of algae and such on there. Removing it also has the benefit of increasing efficiency.