Your HVAC system is designed to make your home comfortable and livable, but sometimes things go wrong…horribly wrong. Aging, lack of maintenance, poor installations, and pure bad luck contribute to potentially dangerous malfunctions that should be fixed immediately. If you see any of these signs, please take the appropriate action! Here are 5 danger signs you should not ignore:
The Sign: Rotten Egg Smell
What it is: You’ve probably heard of this one before and, yes, it’s dangerous. If you smell rotten eggs and do not actually have rotten eggs in your house, then you have a natural gas leak somewhere in your home. Naturally, your furnace emits a slight odor, but a prominent “what’s that smell” odor is not natural and should be taken seriously. The leak may be from your furnace, but you should not investigate it. Gas leaks are a very common cause of explosions.
What to do: Do not investigate the issue. Call the gas company and stay at a friend or family’s home until the leak has been repaired.
Statistic: Natural gas explosions do happen in homes and are the cause of over a dozen deaths each year. These leaks are not a sign to ignore.
The Sign: Electrical Smell
What it is: If it smells like something is overheating, it probably is. The system’s motor could be going up or some electrical wiring could be bad or torn. Regardless, it’s dangerous and can cause serious problems. The electrical smell could lead to burns and cause damage to your system, which can catch fire.
What to do: As a significant threat to you and your unit’s health, it’s recommended that you turn off the unit with the master shutoff switch/valve and contact your local HVAC professional.
Statistic: There were about 16 deaths due to air conditioning electrical fires in homes in 2011. Be sure to keep yours properly maintained! (See National Fire Protection Agency for more information)
The Sign: Moldy/Musty Smell
What it is: If you detect a musty smell, it’s likely mold. Air conditioning units tend to have condensation buildups and can generate a lot of moisture inside the system. Fortunately, the moisture (generally) stays inside and does not cause problems; however, sometimes moisture escapes into the ducts and causes a musty smell from the mold buildup. An air duct cleaning visit can fix this problem in just a couple of hours, as well as finding where the moisture came from.
What to do: Mold is unsafe to breathe and is a common occurrence in basements of condemned homes. Contact your local HVAC professional to come take a look and get the problem fixed ASAP.
Statistic: Living with untreated mold in your home increases your odds of developing a respiratory infection by 30-40%.
The Sign: Burning Smell
What it is: As you may expect, a furnace’s primary job is to burn. But this burning odor should never reach your nose. If it does, then you have a problem. The most common burning smells result from burning oil. An oil leak can burn off due to the motor’s heat output. In some cases, this smell can be pulled up into the air ducts and cause the smell throughout the home.
What to do: Turn off the furnace via the shutoff valve (generally it’s a red valve/switch). Also, be sure to shut off the oil from the button/switch that usually sits on top of the thin oil supply line. Your heat will be off, for the time being, so contact your local HVAC professional and have them check it out immediately.
Statistic: 100% of furnaces emit the burning smell within the first 24 hours, as oil was applied to make sure the initial startup is smooth. However, if the smell continues for more than 24 hours, or comes back again at a later point, then contact a professional.
The Sign: Puddles
What it is: Sometimes your nose just won’t cut it. If you notice visible leaks from your HVAC unit or an accumulated puddle, then you have a problem. There are numerous reasons for a leak, depending on your season. For example, an air conditioning unit could be leaking because of torn insulation foam on the refrigerant feeding line. Puddles can cause slipping hazards, mold buildup, and other problems.
What to do: The best thing to do is to trace the leak and find where it is coming from as best you can. If it is the insulation foam, just replace the foam and see if the leak continues. If you can’t figure out what the problem is or how to fix it, give your local HVAC professional a call Keep in mind the leak could have come from a more serious problem that needs to be addressed internally!
Statistic: Energy.gov lists refrigerant leaks as one of the most common problems among AC units. It’s commonly found in the top 5 for lists of the most common AC repairs.
Keep your eyes, ears, and nose about you and don’t ignore any of these signs. If you do notice any of them, then be sure to have them repaired as soon as possible.