There’s a lot that can go wrong with the air conditioner in your Denver, CO home, especially if it isn’t well-maintained. Fortunately, you have several easy ways to detect problems before they’ve spiraled out of control. Cooling systems alert users of their distress via strange sounds, sudden changes in their performance, and foul odors. Of all the smells that you expect to come from your HVAC air vents, fish is probably the last. If your air conditioner smells fishy, read on to find out why and what to do about it.

A Sign of Electrical Problems

Strange odors coming from your air conditioner are always cause for concern. When properly service with routine HVAC maintenance and problem-free, your air conditioner should release no discernible smell at all. However, fishy odors are cause for special concern. More often than not, they’re an indication of potentially serious electrical problems. If your AC smells fishy, your best bet is to turn it off right away.

Fish is the scent that plastics in electronics emit when they overheat and melt. If you have a lot of gadgets, you’ve likely caught this scent before. These plastics contain chemicals that release a urine-like odor as they overheat. This smell becomes more pungent as the plastics near their burning point, and it begins to smell more fish-like.

Fish odors could be coming from inside of your AC. However, there’s also the possibility of burned plastic or wiring in another area that’s being pulled into the system via the intake valve and then distributed throughout the building.

When fish odors are detected, HVAC technicians look for:

  • Burnt or otherwise damaged electrical wiring
  • Buildups of grime at the AC interior
  • Overloaded circuits
  • Loose electrical wiring

If fish odors are believed to originate from outside of the AC, you may need to schedule a whole-house electrical inspection as well.

Problems in Your HVAC Air Ducts

If you’ve had your unit inspected and no wiring or other electrical problems were diagnosed, you may have an issue in your HVAC air ducts. If there’s a viable point of ingress, small animals, birds, or insects may have wandered into your ducting. Once present in ducting, pests shed fur and exoskeletons, store food, and leave feces. If pests die in HVAC systems, their carcasses can fill homes with rank, putrid odors that last for weeks.

It’s important to note that “fishy” is rarely how homeowners describe the smells caused by in-duct infestations. However, on rare occasions, that’s exactly what it is. In this case, it pays to have a licensed HVAC technician or pest control expert inspect your ducts. If an infestation is confirmed, you should have your air ducts professionally cleaned, sanitized, and deodorized as well.

Pervasive Cooking Odors

Lingering, fishy odors in your home are to be expected if you’ve recently fried a lot of fish. Cooking odors from fried foods can permeate carpeting, furnishings, drapes, and more. These odors can even enter your air ducts as greasy, smoke residues that impact the quality and smell of your indoor air for some time to come. If you routinely cook fish and cannot seem to get rid of its smell, you may want to install an air purifier. Air purification systems eliminate the odor-causing, micro-fine particulates that standard HVAC air filters cannot.

Smoking and Moisture-Control Issues

It’s also important to note that fish odors can also be present in households with residents who regularly smoke indoors. Indoor smoking leaves sticky, tacky coatings of nicotine on the walls and other indoor surfaces. These build-ups can also be found at the interior of HVAC ducting. When fish odors and other food odors are released during cooking, these same build-ups capture and retain them. In this instance, air duct cleaning and the installation of an indoor air purifier are the best solutions.

Fungi thrive in damp, humid environments. Have you ever smelled a mushroom that’s been left in the refrigerator for too long? Some fungi release an unpleasant, fishy aroma as they age or when they’re allowed to fester in moisture. Although you might not have actual mushrooms growing in your air ducts, in a high-humidity home, there’s always the possibility of fungi.

Algae Blooms

Although a much less common cause for fishy odors than electrical problems, algae blooms could also be responsible for your troubles. When air conditioners are poorly maintained, they often develop algae along their condensate drain lines and in their condensate drain pans. This slows the flow of water out of homes and creates stagnant, foul-smelling water and a host of other problems.

At Denver Pro Mechanical, we offer furnace and air conditioner installation, maintenance, and repair services to residents of Denver, Colorado and the surrounding communities. Our clients can also turn to us for heat pumps, humidifiers, and advanced indoor air quality solutions. If you have a fishy-smelling air conditioner in your home, give Denver Pro Mechanical a call today.

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