The burning plastic smell from an HVAC unit is distinguishable, but is it dangerous? It could be, depending on the cause. It could be something as simple as dust or a clogged air filter. It could also be an electrical issue that could cause a fire.
Experts advise you to be proactive when your HVAC smells like burning plastic and turn the unit off until you can figure out the source of the smell. Read further for more information on how to resolve the burnt plastic smell coming from your unit.
Seven reasons are known for causing the burning plastic smell in a heating and air unit. Most can be easily resolved with either some deep cleaning or calling a service tech like Comfort Air, a Rheem Pro Partner in Tampa, to resolve technical issues.
This is the number one reason for this horrible odor emitting from your HVAC system. It is particularly noticeable in places like Tampa because the heat is used less often. That allows dust to accumulate around heating elements. They burn off when you turn the heat on.
You will know this is the problem if the smell emits when you turn on your heater for the first time in a long while. It will go away in a couple of days but it wouldn't hurt to have your heating and air ducts cleaned by a professional company.
Keeping your vents and air ducts clean also promotes healthy indoor air quality. It can also reduce allergy and sinus symptoms.
Dirty air filters are another issue Tampa residents deal with because the beautiful weather means most don't think about changing air filters. However, a clogged air filter will cause that burning smell when you turn on the heater. In Tampa Bay, air filters can become easily clogged with wind and sand, as well as dirt and grime, so it's best to keep them in check.
The other problem is that it's forcing your HVAC to work harder, which can cause other repair issues as well as raise your electric bill. A clogged air filter also poses a fire hazard. It is easy to change out the filters, and replacing them in your HVAC should be a routine maintenance task you do at least six times a year, depending on how much you use your HVAC and the type of filters you use.
The blower on your HVAC is meant to keep your furnace's temperature at a normal level and pump out cool air when you are using the heater. They should last more than 10 years but they can burn out if you overuse them.
This isn't a typical problem for Tampa residents but it is something that can provide that rubber or plastic smell. It is also a fire hazard so you should turn your system off and have it replaced. Your blower is one of those things that should be checked out in an annual inspection.
The capacitor helps the motor run and a faulty one can cause the motor to overheat. This is what creates the burning plastic or rubber smell. There is no set reason why capacitors go bad. It could be due to a power surge, overheated wiring, or normal wear and tear.
You may not use your HVAC much with the mild Tampa temperatures but your capacitor can still go bad even without a lot of use.
You might consider calling a professional HVAC company like Comfort Air to come to check out your unit and replace the capacitor if necessary.
This is a fairly common occurrence in Tampa as the fan on the AC works hard during the summer. It could overheat and give off that burning smell. The root problem is worn-out fan bearings. Fortunately, bearings are something you can try to fix yourself before you call a service technician. You can try turning off the system and lubricating the bearings. You will need to replace the fan motor if that doesn't solve the problem.
Not all AC systems have a direct-drive blower. Some have a belt-drive blower that uses a rubber belt. The belt can wear out and a distinct rubber smell comes directly from the belt. Belts wear out over time, especially if you use your HVAC a good bit. Summer use could have worn the belt out and switching to heat adds to the rubber smell. It doesn't hurt to have a professional service technician check out the belt if they are already coming out to look at the unit anyway. Replacing the belt is an easy and affordable fix to the smell problem.
Determining if this is the problem begins with the smell. If it smells more like rubber, it is likely one of the other six issues. However, if the smell is more like plastic then it could be that the electrical components are damaged.
Plastic is included in the wiring of your HVAC system and the odor comes from the wiring burning. It could be worn out, have bad connections, a short circuit, or loose screws. The problem is this is highly dangerous and needs to be professionally inspected. Don't use your unit until you get a local HVAC company out to look at it.
You may notice more odors in your home than you did years ago in other homes. That's because homes are built to be more airtight now and often lack great ventilation. The unit then doesn't have enough fresh air and this is the main cause for disgusting HVAC odors. This is becoming an indoor air pollution problem, according to health and home experts.
There is another type of HVAC smell indicating a different kind of problem. It's one of the dirty socks. The smell of dirty socks means there is some type of organic material, like mildew mold, growing in your unit and the unit isn't heated to a temperature to kill the growth.
Those living in Tampa, particularly those with heat pumps, will experience this problem because of the moisture and reduced use. The unit needs to be cleaned out and should be on a schedule for an annual cleaning to prevent the problem from recurring. You can do it yourself with some instruction and vinegar and water mix, or you can call a professional.
Even though you may not use your HVAC unit as much in Tampa during the winter, it is a good idea to have your unit checked at least once a year. Having a good, reliable HVAC service to check out your system annually also means you can call them should something go wrong. They will be able to fix it quickly because they understand your system since they have maintained it. This will ensure that all parts are functioning correctly and that nothing is presenting a fire hazard. Your service technician may be able to blow out dust and do other types of cleaning of your system if your HVAC smells like burning plastic.