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Heavy exhaust smell from A/C

For the past week and a half I have had a very heavy exhaust smell in my apartment, which seems to be coming from the A/C vents. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and burns my eyes. This smell also gives me awful headaches. It is stronger right after the A/C kicks on, and right before it switches off. I have a combo Lennox A/C and furnace. I had a maintenance man come and he changed the filter, which was filthy (apartments responsibility, and I've been here two years and it has never been done, and I never thought to do it before). He looked and could not find a problem in the A/C, vents, no bird's nests, etc. The smell got worse. I called the gas company (no CO leaks supposedly) and they found what they called a 'small' gas leak, which was supposedly fixed by maintenance. The smell went away for almost a day after the repair took place. Now it comes and goes again with the cycling of the A/C. It does not smell like natural gas. It smells like auto exhaust. There was no idling auto outside anywhere when the smell started, and has been none since. We have no attached garage. Today I got so frustrated with the smell, I opened the furnace/A/C and hot water heater closet to vacuum out the lint and dust which was abundant. At that time, I noticed that there are three copper looking lines coming or going, from or to the A/C unit itself. All are leaking a clear oily substance. One has water condensation, yet all three are oozing oil at the connections. Is this normal? Because the maintenance man told me he checked EVERYTHING, yet as soon as I opened the closet door the leaking lines were right in front of my face. The maintenance man and the two gas company techs told me that a gas leak would not give me a headache, nor would it cause burning eyes and throat. Nobody would admit smelling any exhaust type smell. They have basically told me that I need to go see my doctor and find out why I am having 'phantom' smells. Today I went and got my neighbor to come smell my apartment. He said it smells like spent diesel fuel to him. So, while I have a witness to the smell, I can't convince maintenance that there is a problem. He is supposed to be certified in HVAC, but I am having doubts. How can I convince someone that there is a smell when they can't smell it themselves? Have you ever heard of such a thing from an A/C unit? Any advice will be so greatly appreciated! That you so much for your time. PS: I have an incredibly good sense of smell...always have.

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  • emichelle111 Jul 29, 2009

    In this economy many people are willing to take a cut in pay just to make ends meet. So, you have led a very sheltered life if you believe people will not take half their normal pay just to keep a roof over their family's heads, and food on the table. Times are tough my friend.

    Thanks for responding to my query. Sorry you couldn't help.

    PS: Ever heard of Phosgene gas?

  • bud arc Sep 11, 2013

    Did you ever find a solution to this? I am having the exact same problem. I keep worrying they're going to find me dead in my apartment, because of this strange exhaust smell coming through the AC vents that apparently no one else can detect.

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I'm having a similar problem but with a home a/c unit. I had every appliance in the house checked, first, including furnace, but no problems were found. I get similar symptoms, many people can't smell anything, a few can. Someone visiting asked me in September if my furnace was on because it was a slight mechanical/ozone-y smell. I'm about to drop a lot of money on a VOC test because this has been going on for 8 months with no solutions.
It's cold comfort, because I have no solution, but if I figure out what my problem is, I'll post it here, too.

Posted on Oct 26, 2013

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First of all, I work around maintenance men alot. I am an HVAC tech and if it is one thing I've never seen is a maintenance man certified in HVAC. It takes a college degree and if he had one he wouldn't be working as a maintenance man for 1/2 the pay. As for your
"leak" All a/c systems in residential applications use refrigerant to remove heat and cool the inside coil in your air handler/furnace. The gas is non toxic, non smelling and will only give you a headache if you inhale high concentrations (you'd have to be doing this intentionally ie...huffing). As for seeing an oily substance around the fittings on your refrigerant lines. No, this is not normal, unless the maintenance man sprayed soap bubbles and you think it's oil. Soap bubbles are commonly used to detect leaks in sealed systems (a/c coils and fittings). If, in fact it is oil, that is a sign of a leak but generally to the untrained eye, it is harder to spot this oily substance, it is usually best spotted because dirt sticks to the oil and techs recognize that. There is virtually nothing in an a/c and furnace that would result in what you are discribing. Everyone knows what natural gas smells like and if the man had a meter...

Posted on Jul 29, 2009

  • FNGHVAC Jul 29, 2009

    The pay thing was meant to reflect the economy in whatever shape. My point being made was that many maintenance men say that they are HVAC certified when in fact they know only very basic things which sometimes lead to bigger problems with systems and often times have never had any schooling in the field. I speak from experience. And, yes I know what Phosgene gas is. The gas is only present if the refrigerant is being burned by a high temperature flame such as oxygen and accetelene mix or a mapp gas torch. It is deadly and will cause headaches when breathed, but then, unless you have a torch set burning away in your vacuum closet on the exact spot where a refrigerant leak is occuring this is absolutely impossible. Good luck!

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