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Old 12-07-2009, 08:18 AM
 
35 posts, read 128,420 times
Reputation: 31
Default Heat pump odor - dirty sock syndrome

A little over a year ago I had a Trane 3 ton high efficiency package heat pump installed to replace a 20+ yr old system. I also had all of the duct work replaced due to presence of mold in the ducts. The new system has worked fine during last winter and this past summer. But since we have been using the heat this fall there has occasionally been a very noticeable stale or musty odor coming from the registers when the heat comes on that goes away in 5-10 minutes. I recently called Alabama Climate Control to come check the system thinking perhaps there was refrigerant leak or something had gotten into the ductwork. The tech said that it was "dirty sock syndrome" which results from bacteria that accumulates on the indoor coil and generates the odor when the heat comes on. I was a bit incredulous at first but googled "dirty sock syndrome" and found a good bit of info that it is indeed an issue with high efficiency heat pumps in general (not just Trane). Apparently sometimes cleaning the coil is sufficient to eliminate it, but generally the solution is to replace the indoor coil with a coil with a special coating that precludes bacteria growth. The tech cleaned my coil last week and said to let them know if the odor returned in the next couple months but the odor came back over the weekend.

I'm curious if other folks have encountered this situation and what if anything they were able to do about it.

thanks
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Old 12-07-2009, 09:11 AM
 
Location: Las Flores, Orange County, CA
26,362 posts, read 54,170,320 times
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No, haven't smelled anything. We have Carrier heat pumps. One of our heat pumps became disconnected and the aux heat gas furnace came on and it didn't stink either - which sometimes happens first use of the winter - maybe burning accumulated dust or cobwebs or something.
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Old 12-07-2009, 10:56 AM
 
Location: Somewhere in northern Alabama
11,489 posts, read 25,992,256 times
Reputation: 14006
A couple thoughts-

Mice in the ductwork can also cause odors. People often misinterpret the odor of mouse droppings and dead mice. If the odor came back that quickly, it would be the first thing I would look for. Scope the ducts. I'd say there is about a 90% chance that this is the real problem.

Next thought - the coil can gather moisture and dust in the cooling season, but bacteria on it in the heating season, and those bacteria smelling like socks? The coil would have to be pretty cool for bacteria to survive, and even then the drying effect of the heat should inactivate them and make this a once a season occurrence, only at the beginning of the heating season.
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Old 12-07-2009, 03:32 PM
 
342 posts, read 538,838 times
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How much did the coil cleaning costs if I may ask? My heater smells a little funny too from time to time.
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Old 12-07-2009, 04:43 PM
 
35 posts, read 128,420 times
Reputation: 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by E Limestone Dude View Post
How much did the coil cleaning costs if I may ask? My heater smells a little funny too from time to time.
No charge for the cleaning since my system is still under warranty. I was told by the service tech that if after several cleaning attempts the DSS doesn't go away then Trane will replace the coil under the warranty. Google "dirty sock syndrome" for more information to figure out if that's what you have too.
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Old 12-08-2009, 08:12 AM
 
13 posts, read 49,714 times
Reputation: 14
Install a UV germicidal light at the coil; it'll prevent bacteria/mold growth by keeping it sterile. I'm surprised your A/C guy didn't bring this option up.

Unless you really know what you're doing, don't try to install one yourself - they can damage eyes, and they don't need to operate continuously to be effective, maybe just an hour or two each day.

They can be a bit pricey to install (think $500 or so), but long term operation is relatively inexpensive, and getting rid of stink/allergens is a big deal.
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Old 12-08-2009, 11:53 AM
 
35 posts, read 128,420 times
Reputation: 31
I've read a number of articles advocating UV-C for germicidal control but also a fair number that say it's not effective due to inability to expose the entire surface of the coil, dwell time, etc.

So I was hoping to get some feedback from folks on here who have gone that route.
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Old 12-08-2009, 02:17 PM
 
13 posts, read 49,714 times
Reputation: 14
It's been used on 2 occasions on projects I've been involved in (architect). One was an office where the A/C was oversized and humidity was a problem, and mold was blowing everywhere when it turned on. The UV light solved 1/2 the problem (dehumidifier on the intake air solved the other 1/2), and it's been a couple of years now without complaints.

The other was a new residence where the owner suffered from Mycophobia (fear of mold) and specifically requested it, so there's no telling if it solved anything or not since it was installed before the fact.

I'm not a mechanical engineer, so I don't know all the ins or outs about installation or coverage, but it's my understanding that the entire coil doesn't need to be covered, just the lower portion where it drains to the pan, as this is where it's most likely to be wet long enough for bacteria/mold to grow.
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Old 01-07-2010, 08:42 AM
 
2 posts, read 17,302 times
Reputation: 11
DSS is a real issue for homeowners. Only real solution is to procure/secure a new coil then have it coated. Our firm does a protective coating and has been successful in eliminating its re-occurrence. UV lights work sometimes but its not the cure-all. Coatings have been proven to work.

Mike
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Old 01-08-2010, 10:13 AM
 
Location: Visitation between Wal-Mart & Home Depot
8,310 posts, read 21,032,096 times
Reputation: 6648
Quote:
Originally Posted by MeInHSV View Post
A little over a year ago I had a Trane 3 ton high efficiency package heat pump installed to replace a 20+ yr old system. I also had all of the duct work replaced due to presence of mold in the ducts. The new system has worked fine during last winter and this past summer. But since we have been using the heat this fall there has occasionally been a very noticeable stale or musty odor coming from the registers when the heat comes on that goes away in 5-10 minutes. I recently called Alabama Climate Control to come check the system thinking perhaps there was refrigerant leak or something had gotten into the ductwork. The tech said that it was "dirty sock syndrome" which results from bacteria that accumulates on the indoor coil and generates the odor when the heat comes on. I was a bit incredulous at first but googled "dirty sock syndrome" and found a good bit of info that it is indeed an issue with high efficiency heat pumps in general (not just Trane). Apparently sometimes cleaning the coil is sufficient to eliminate it, but generally the solution is to replace the indoor coil with a coil with a special coating that precludes bacteria growth. The tech cleaned my coil last week and said to let them know if the odor returned in the next couple months but the odor came back over the weekend.

I'm curious if other folks have encountered this situation and what if anything they were able to do about it.

thanks
I get something that sounds very similar to what you are describing at the onset of the summer. I have never smelled anything with the heater running, but the first time we run the A/C after a long break the house is full of soxygen for about 30 minutes.
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