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ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
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AIR TEST FOR MOLD: ACCURACY
ALLERGEN TESTS for BUILDINGS
ANIMAL ALLERGENS / PET DANDER
ANIMAL ENTRY POINTS in BUILDINGS
ANIMAL ODORS IN buildings
ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION IN BUILDINGS
ATTORNEYS and EXPERT WITNESSES
BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT
BIBLIOGAPHY for ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH, MOLD, IAQ
BIOGAS PRODUCTION & USE
BOD WASTEWATER TEST
BLOWER DOORS & AIR INFILTRATION
BLEACHING MOLD, Advice about
BOOK MOLD, Moldy Book Cleaning
BOOKSTORE - ENVIRONMENTAL
BUILDING SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE
CACTUS FUNGI / MOLD
Carbon Dioxide - CO2
CAR MOLD CONTAMINATION
CARBON MONOXIDE - CO
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CAT DANDER in buildings
CHIMNEY INSPECTION DIAGNOSIS REPAIR
CHINESE DRYWALL HAZARDS
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
CHLORINE IN DRINKING WATER
CHLORINE in WATER, HOW TO TEST FOR
CHLORINE IN SEPTIC WASTEWATER
COMBUSTION GASES & PARTICLE HAZARDS
CONDENSATION or SWEATING PIPES, TANKS
CPSC Indoor Air Pollution Book Online Copy
DIRECTORY of MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS
DIRT FLOOR MOLD CONTAMINATION
Disinfecting Buildings with Bleach
DRAFT HOODS - gas fired
DRAFT MEASUREMENT, CHIMNEYS & FLUES
DRAFT REGULATORS, DAMPERS, BOOSTERS
Diethylstilbestrol - DES
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
DUST ANALYSIS for FIBERGLASS
DUST, HVAC CONTAMINATION STUDY
DUST SAMPLING PROCEDURE
EMERGENCY RESPONSE, IAQ, GAS, MOLD
ENVIRO-SCARE - PUBLIC FEAR CYCLES
FIBERGLASS INSULATION MOLD
Fireplaces & Woodstove Contaminants
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
GASES, EXPOSURE, TESTING
GAS DETECTION INSTRUMENTS
GAS EXPOSURE LIMITS & STANDARDS
GLARE, Sunlight/Lighting Control
GLUES ADHESIVES, EXTERIOR CONSTRUCTION
HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
HUMIDITY CONTROL & TARGETS INDOORS
INDOOR AIR HAZARDS TABLE
INDOOR AIR QUALITY & HOUSE TIGHTNESS
INDOOR AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT GUIDE
INDOOR AIR QUALITY METHODS COMPARED
INSULATION INSPECTION & IMPROVEMENT
LIGHT, GUIDE to FORENSIC USE
LP & Natural Gas Safety Hazards
Legionella Legionnaires' Disease
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MILDEW in BUILDINGS ?
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD: A COMPLETE GUIDE to TEST CLEAN PREVENT
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MOLD or INDOOR AIR EMERGENCY RESPONSE
MOLD TEST KITS
MOTHS, MOTHBALL ODORS
MSDS Material Safety Data Sheets
MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
OIL, HEATING, EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
OIL HEAT ODORS
OIL SPILL CLEANUP / PREVENTION
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OUTHOUSES & LATRINES
OXYGEN - O2
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PAINTS & COATINGS ODORS IN BUILDINGS
PARTICLE SIZES & IAQ
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PET ALLERGENS / PET DANDER
PET STAINS on FLOORS
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PLASTIC CONTAINERS, TANKS, TYPES
PLASTIC HEATER VENT
PLASTIC ODORS-SCREENS, SIDING
PLUMBING SYSTEM ODORS
PVC - VINYL BUILDING PRODUCTS
RADON HAZARD TESTS & MITIGATION
SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE
SAFETY HAZARDS & INSPECTIONS
SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY
SEPTIC SYSTEM ODORS
SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS
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SEWER GAS ODORS
SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors
STAINS on & in BUILDINGS, CAUSES & CURES
STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING EXTERIORS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
TEST KITS for DUST, MOLD, PARTICLE TESTS
Thermal Expansion Cracking of Brick
THERMAL IMAGING, THERMOGRAPHY
THERMAL IMAGING MOLD SCANS
THERMAL TRACKING & THERMAL BRIDGING
TRAPPED MOLD BETWEEN WOOD SURFACES
Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation UFFI
URETHANE FOAM Deterioration, Outgassing
UV LIGHT BLACK LIGHT USES
VAPOR BARRIERS & CONDENSATION in BUILDINGS
VAPOR BARRIERS & HOUSEWRAP
VAPOR CONDENSATION & BUILDING SHEATHING
VENTILATION in BUILDINGS
VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO
VINYL Siding or PLASTIC Window ODORS
Volatile Organic Compounds VOCs
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WATER ODORS, CAUSE CURE
WATER TANK SAFETY
WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
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WATER TREATMENT EQUIPMENT CHOICES
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WETLAND SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WINDOWS & DOORS
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How to find & cure plastic like odors and smells in buildings: this article discusses common odor sources, including indoor plastic odors or chemical smells observed at some installations of vinyl exterior building siding or in other plastic or vinyl building products such as windows and trim. We describe common sources of plastic or vinyl type indoor odors and we provide a checklist that can help pinpoint the source of such odors by noting information about the building construction, building materials, HVAC systems, weather, sunlight, temperature, time of day, wind direction, and other clues. We provide links to articles detailing possible health effects of exposure to indoor VOCs and plastic odors and smells.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved. Author Daniel Friedman.
A variety of common building products, coatings, and furnishings may exude odors that disturb at least some occupants. Most of these occur in new building products and dissipate fairly rapidly. Other building odors or "house B.O." may be persistent or may be intermittent but unpleasant.
Some of these plastic-like odor sources in buildings can be tricky to track down. Here we list some common building products that may produce chemical or plastic like odors. We provide some suggestions for tracking down these odor sources in buildings, and we offer suggestions for removing or curing these odors.
Siding, window, screen, & other "plastic" odors: We've investigated a number of reports of strange odors in residential buildings that were ultimately traced to vinyl or plastic which was outgassing. We've observed this phenomenon with vinyl siding, plastic or vinyl window or door screens, and plastic or vinyl windows.
A key diagnostic step in finding odor source was the observation that the odors were strongest when the material under investigation was exposed to sunlight or other sources of heat. [This article is under development, September 2007, and we welcome content suggestions or questions].
Also see Health Effects of Exposure to "Plastic or Vinyl" Odors. For a more broad approach to diagnosing building odor sources, see ODORS, Smells, Gases in buildings-Diagnosis & Cure and see our ODOR DIAGNOSIS CHECKLIST. Because vinyl and plastics used in vehicles can also emit odors, especially when the vehicle is new, we discuss those separately BOAT & CAR SMELLS & ODORS.
We offer below a list of clues, focused on common sources of plastic-like odors, that any home owner, home inspector, or other investigator can follow in seeking to pinpoint the source of an annoying or obnoxious odor in buildings. Readers are asked to contact us to suggest additions or corrections to this list.
Often people's perception of odors varies with time and exposure or with a number of other site factors that make it hard to track down just where a smell is coming from. But if we think carefully about when, and under what conditions we notice odors, often that information is instrumental in tracking down an odor to its source and thus in helping us decide if an odor refers to a potentially dangerous or unhealthy condition.
This list is in simple alphabetic order, not in order of probable cause, importance, or health risk, all of which can vary widely.
The jury may be out on this question. Plastics are used in an enormous range of building materials and consumer products, and plastics vary widely in their properties, chemical composition, tendency to give off gases, smells, odors, and in possible health concern.
One of the plastics that has received a lot of study are those using vinyl chloride. This product might be present in some common building products such as vinyl siding and vinyl windows or screens. The US EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A, human carcinogen.
Vinyl chloride might be present in gas form as a colorless, flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor at levels of about 3000 ppm (the odor detection threshold). We provide the US EPA health report on vinyl chloride at VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the diagnosis & cure of plastic odors in and around buildings
Question: Trace down odors from roof on hot summer days
I had a new roof and gutter system installed a year and a half ago. Most of the roof is asphalt single and a section of the roof is torch on. On hot summer days in the evening when the weather cools down a tar type odor appears in the front of the house. This is where most of the torch on resides.
A new gutter system was also installed at the same time in that same area - it is u-shaped and the corners are sealed with what appears to be a white caulking. This odor has been ongoing since the roof/gutter system was installed and wasn't present before the installation. No one can figure out what this is happening. Any ideas? - Carmine M.
Carmine we wouldn't expect a torch-down roof system to smell like plastic but you might indeed smell bituminous product VOC outgassing from flashings, flashing cement, or the runout or even the bituminous material itself, such as modified bitumen roofing material.
If the odor is plastic-like, I wonder if you've installed vinyl or plastic gutters and leaders?
If the odor is from roofing materials themselves (other than plastic roofing, that is) the outgassing should diminish as the roof system cures in sun over the summer.
If the odor is coming from plastic or vinyl building materials, sometimes those sources can be quite long lasting.
Question: Mysterious plastic related odor when sun hits side of home, headaches, nausea
We are trying to sort out a mysterious odor that we think is "plastic related", but not sure. A strong industrial-plastic like smell only
Localized to one room with interior wall about 18 ft from exterior wall. No where else in house. We think it might be window shades, but hard to believe as odor seems to disappear when blinds are up (recent revelation). We had oil tank removed nearby room about 24 months w/professional contractor with negative soil samples. No oil smell detected ever. Also, localized mold remediation project adjacent room and professionally cleaned up. Need some help?? - Tom
Reply: things to check
Question: Comment on wet plastic odors
Everyone is worried about the smell of the windows in the sun, but they should also be concerned about what vinyl windows smell like when it is damp: you shower, run your stove, etc. Plastic smells when it is wet!! I have double glazed vinyl windows that were installed in a 1950's walk up (in the past 5 years before I moved in).
Everything in this apartment is old - the outside is 1950's stucco (not painted for years), the inside is lathe & plaster (painted with no VOC paint). The floors are the original strip oak floors. We have only wood furniture, cotton futon couch, a 40 year old stove, and a very expensive (not smelly) small fridge that we located well away from the windows.
And yet the B.O. smell coming from these windows fills up the apartment, due to any MOISTURE that accumulates on them, even in the summer. It is especially bad right now since it is in the minus temps, ie. when you wake up there is moisture all over the windows. As soon as you wipe off the moisture, run a dehumidifier, open the window, and pump up the heat - the smell goes away.
Everyone else in our building uses excessive amounts of cheap perfume to cover this up. But I think people should be aware before installing that this could happen to you. Everyone who has visited our apt has commented on it. And ironically enough, these windows don't smell in hot summer (but then again we don't get direct sunlight on them). They are great windows for keeping clean, and blocking out sound. But yes, they are smelly, 24-7. - Molly
Thanks for the comment, Molly. We have not had reports nor tracked down plastic odors to wet conditions. I'd look carefully to be sure there are not other water or leak related odor sources including some molds that can produce odd smells in buildings.
Question: Metallic odor from window screens - what is that odor?
I moved into an apartment and removed the window screens for cleaning, which I did with dish soap and warm water in the tub. Afterwards, however, they emitted a metallic odor, without stop. I tried encasing them in huge plastic bags to contain the smell, with limited success. What on earth is this smell? - Mark W. Sherman 12/12/2011
P.S. The screens themselves are not metallic -- the material is more loose or flexible to the touch than that.
Question: what is the remedy for chemical odors from HVAC ducts
what is the remedy for ducts that emit a strong chemical odor when the heat first comes on? Also notice it when coming in from outside even after it's been on awhile. Or maybe it's the blown-in cellulose insulation? - Susan 12/23/11
Susan: re "odors when heat first comes on" there are several possible explanations, including flue gases that leak out of a draft regulator before a good draft is established, leaks into the ductwork that produce odors that later are diluted by circulating air, or some other source.
Question: vinyl replacement windows smell musty at their seams, especially in sunlight
Last October (2010) we had replacement windows put in. They are stained inside and vinyl outside. If you put your nose to the the seam of the molding on the sides of the windows you can smell a musty/moldy(?) smell. We had no problem prior to this.
The odd thing is that when the sun is hitting the two affected windows (South side of the house) you can sometimes smell it as soon as you walk into the room. When the sun is not as strong (winter/cloudy, etc.) you have to put your nose to the seam to smell it. I have taken off the outlet covers and smelled there figuring if there were mold in the wall I would smell it - just dusty smell like all other house outlets (house built in 62). There are no other signs of mold.
Since the smell strengthens and alleviates (I don't think mold would do that?), It is the south side of the house, and that it started right after the new windows were put in I thought it was associated with that. Have you heard of this with windows. I also suspected the caulk? We removed the molding on one window, caulked, and replaced it and that did cut down on some of the smell.
The other weird thing is that in the summer our room smells worse than my child's and in the winter his smell worse than ours (different ways the sun is shining?). I appreciate any help you can give me. I am wondering if my scenario seems correct and how long until you think the smell will go away. I don't like my son breathing this. - Mel 12/30/12
Indeed there is ample empirical evidence (field reports) that some formulations of vinyl building products emit a plastic odor (possibly vinyl chloride) especially when heated, for example by sunlight.
In our experience the odors usually diminish over time but to those who are sensitive to plastic smells, the odors may not completely disappear.
Watch out: We don't know the chemical composition of the odors you describe, but to be on the safe side, I would NOT have a child sleeping in a room with noticeable plastic odors - wait for them to dissipate. Take a look at the health and exposure information described in the articles beginning at VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO (article links listed at Related Topics ).
Question: Metallic smell in new apartment kitchen in old building - fresh paint? Sun exposure?
We noticed in the fall a distinctly "metallic" smell in our new apartment, specifically the kitchen. This is an old building but the apartment was painted and new flooring installed before we moved in. There were some plumbing issues that we attributed to the smell, as it went away after the plumbing was fixed. However, we are now thinking the plumbing had nothing to do with it and it was just timing. We had no smell ALL winter, but now it is back on warmer days (above 15 degrees C) and if the sun is out. It is only in our kitchen, which gets the sunlight throughout the day. I have checked all appliances and the exhaust fan, as well as the sink, and cannot pinpoint the smell to anything other than that room. I'm beginning to think it is related to sun/temp. We have blinds that are always up, and windows that are less than 5 years old. It is a brick building. I have no idea what it could be but it is a terrible smell, and worse - the landlords believe it is our fault and are nagging us to clean it up. Our apartment is clean, i have scrubbed every possible surface in an attempt to get rid of the odor. It is not something we are causing, it must be related to the building somehow. Help! - Jamie 4/14/2012
Question: smell from plastic bags?
We have a constant chemical smell in our home. It is really noticeable when I leave the house, the smell is on my hair and clothing. It seems to attach it self strongly to plastic bags. We live on a golf course, could tat have something to do with it? - Jules 6/3/12
Four months ago, a vinyl floor covering was installed in my computer room and bedroom. IN those two rooms, the smell is very plastic chemical smelling. Not everyone can smell it but I can.. When there is heat in those two rooms, the smell intensifies. My throat is constantly feeling as though it is burning, my lips, my tongue, the membranes of my nose burn and are so dry. my chest feels weighted down. I have washed the floor with every imaginable solution that has been suggested of found on internet. I have air purifiers running, the one in the computer room has a 3 light indicator,states the degree of odor present, when there is an odour present. Short of removing the flooring I don't know what to do.
Question: vinyl floor covering smells very plastic chemical, burning lips, tongue, throat
Four months ago, a vinyl floor covering was installed in my computer room and bedroom. IN those two rooms, the smell is very plastic chemical smelling. Not everyone can smell it but I can.. When there is heat in those two rooms, the smell intensifies. My throat is constantly feeling as though it is burning, my lips, my tongue, the membranes of my nose burn and are so dry. my chest feels weighted down. I have washed the floor with every imaginable solution that has been suggested of found on internet. I have air purifiers running, the one in the computer room has a 3 light indicator,states the degree of odor present, when there is an odour present. Short of removing the flooring I don't know what to do. - Edith 6/10/12
Question: Plastic odor from PVC deck in sunlight drives us crazy - will the odor go away
We had a cellular PVC deck installed about 6 weeks ago. I can't believe how much of an odor it has when it is in the sun. I can smell it inside the house if the windows are open and it is driving me crazy. As time goes on will this go away? I'm so disappointed. I did a lot of research and didn't come across anything about this in my research and still can't. Any suggestions? - Beth 7/29/12
Beth, sorry to hear about the PVC deck smell complaint - it's not one we've heard reported here before.
Usually but not always, plastic odors dissipate with time, heat, sun exposure.
If you can find out for us the product name and its manufacturer we'll do some further research.
Thank you for your response. It is Timber Tech XLM series. One of their reps told me over the phone that the smell should improve with time but could possibly be detected faintly when warm out--always. I did a lot of reading before choosing this deck material and it seems that the trend now is moving from composite to all PVC or capstock (composite--capped with a PVC layer). I haven't read a thing anywhere about complaints of the odor--just surprises me as it is quite strong. I don't notice anything when it is not being heated up by the sun, so I hope that with time it will improve. I have read that sun speeds up the off gassing process. I guess I just wonder how long this might take and if it will eventually lose the smell completely.
Beth thanks for the follow-up. The information will help other readers, and we must appreciate the candor and honesty of the Timber Tech rep. I've got no experience with this particular odor problem, so we'll indeed want to hear how much the odor complaint diminishes over time.
In our experience, for people who are sensitive to odors, the smell may never go away completely.
Also if the product accepts a sealant or stain (which themselves will have some odors) you may have some success by coating all surfaces.
Question: window screens smell when the sun hits them
I have a problem with my window screens smelling when the sun hits them - how can I remedy this? Is there a non toxic screen material that I can re - line the screens with? Thanks! - Jessica 9/7/2012
Jessica, you can try replacing the plastic or fiberglass screens with a metal screen material; both galvanized wire and copper wire are available.
Question: severe dizziness & vomiting reported following exposure to plastic / vinyl odor
I have been working hard for long hours outside my aunt's house in New Jersey. Friday Aug. 3 I woke up after a long day of work Thursday. I woke up at 7AM in a 9' x 18' porch of vinyl windows to a sunny morning but a strong plastic odor. Throughout the house my aunt's windows smell of plastic.
I was dizzy and began vomiting and by 8AM I had been transported by ambulance to Overlook Hospital. My body temperature was at 94 but it had been a clear night and the outdoor temp. had dropped and I slept next to an open window with a slow ceiling fan near me but the doctor has asked about carbon monoxide, a furnace pipe, and at that hour and day only a properly venting hot water heater would have been running. I'll check the hospital's blood tests for vinyl chloride other plastic contaminants. Thank you very much. - R. Craig 9/14/2012
Question: how to get rid of lingering fumes & odors from vinyl sheet flooring
I am at a loss as to how to remedy a residential indoor air quality issue. Three months ago, we purchased a house built in 2000, and replaced 1000 sq ft of vinyl sheet flooring with porcelain tile. While removing the sheet vinyl from the concrete floor, an extremely strong chemical odor was continuously emitted. It was several weeks (and the house was closed up) before the adhesive glue was “scraped off” and porcelain tile was laid.
No solvents or water were used to remove the adhesive and the floors were not grinded. Thus, the floors were scraped relatively smooth, but much of the adhesive was still embedded in the concrete when the thinset was spread and the tile put down and grouted. It has now been six weeks since the tile work for the entire house (2100 sf) has been completed. Although somewhat lessened, the odor (from the adhesive glue?) that was present when the vinyl was initially removed is still very noticeable, and is strong enough to cause difficulty breathing.
This surprised me because I was told the tile would seal any odors from the concrete. I don't know the specific compounds in the vinyl glue adhesive made in 2000 (ie how much formaldehyde, etc), how long it might take to off gas, and whether the drywall has absorbed the fumes during the time the vinyl/adhesive was off gassing. (We did paint the walls with zero VOC Benjamin Moore /Sherwin Williams paint after the tile work was completed). In the meantime, we have been opening up the house everyday for 4-5 hours, which helps until a day goes by when the house is closed up.
Then the odor is as strong as ever. We have thus far been unable to occupy the house. Can you provide any direction/suggestions? Thank you in advance for your help. - J.B. 12/15/12
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem with odors, such as another apparent odor source or pathway, or something that is unfamiliar to building occupants but that may be useful. That said, here are some things to consider - keeping in mind that from no onsite inspection the following is speculation in an effort to be helpful:
In my experience, and similar to your own expectation, porcelain tile and grout, although not 100% impervious to gases and odors, are nearly-so and so would not be expected to pass much odors from prior vinyl flooring tile mastic up through the new floor covering into the room.
Therefore I suspect that there is another odor source. Since you recognize the odor in the area as the same as that emitted when you were removing the old vinyl floor covering, I speculate that VOCs from that procedure may have penetrated other building materials and surfaces, such as drywall, ceiling tiles, &c. that in turn re-emit those gases slowly back into the room.
I have found other examples of lingering odors from building materials that appear intact but that have been either chemically changed or have absorbed gases from an original source (such as following inappropriate use of ozone in buildings)
I am not confident that having coated the walls with the paint you describe would necessarily serve as an odor sealant;
You do not mention what is on the room's ceiling, another possible odor reservoir, nor any furnishings, curtains, etc. that may have been affected by the original odors you describe.
I think that opening and ventilating the building helps, so would turning up the heat and using fans to exhaust heated air - wasting energy for a while but perhaps speeding the odor reduction.
But before spending on any more heroic or extreme attacks on this odor problem why don't you try our odor track-down smell patch test procedure (SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors) to see if you can narrow down an odor source to walls, ceilings, furnishings. That might in turn suggest further steps. For example there are special odor-sealing paints and coatings used to paint building framing or walls following a fire, to control post-fire smoke and burn odors. Those coatings in turn can be re-coated with the desired surface finish paint
Questions & answers on how to find and cure sources of plastic odors at building exteriors or interiors.
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