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Questions & answers on how to find the source of smells in or at buildings

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Building odor & smell diagnostic FAQs:

Frequently asked questions about how to track down the source of odors or smells in or around buildings. Where is that horrible smell coming from? Is it the dog? Maybe not, as these reader questions and moderator replies explain.

This article series provides a methodology useful for tracking down the sources of odors in buildings. How to find the cause of odors, odor sources, and how to find and cure the source of smells in building air, water, heating and cooling systems, or other sources.



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FAQs on Finding the Source of Odors or Smells in Buildings

Stuffed animals were hiding building damage (C) Daniel Friedman

Recent Questions & Answers about Odor Diagnosis & Cure in and around Buildings, posted originally at ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE- topic home.

On 2017-05-05 by (mod) : Dog Girl of Brooklin explains how to get rid of dog odors that followed building contents moved to a new home

No surprise, Frank, but a point well made.

Pet odors, even worse from dogs or cats or iguanas peeing indoors, permeate porous materials: carpets, curtains, bedding, clothing, upholstered furniture that are then carried into the new home, so odors continue along too.

Even animal dust - dog dander - may be imported from an old building into the new one as belongings are moved without cleaning them enroute.

A previous girlfriend in Rhinebeck boarded sometimes more than a dozen dogs in her home for years. It was fun for the dogs who were brought up to the country by car from NY City. The dog girl was very clean, constantly cleaning her home.

But the dog smell was ... well ... strong. Remarkably, when I went even into remote places like the uppermost attic I came across deposits of thick dust brought indoors by the doggies who of course had been rolling about in the dust and dirt outdoors. That yellow-red-brown dog dust was an epidemic that will never be removed from the home without a gut renovation.

And that same dust might be found in the backs of bureau drawers and if I tested (vacuum test forensic sampling) uphostered furniture, it was full of the same material, even though the dog-girl vacuumed regularly with her household vacuum cleaner.

Use the search box just above to find our description of an easy SMELL PATCH TEST KIT that you can make-up to see if you can narrow down the worst smelling materials and then have those cleaned - or tossed out.

On 2017-05-05 by Frank

I decided to move into a new place with my friend and while helping her pack up the old house it was easy to tell that her house smelled horrible. I assumed it was from the dogs urinating in the house. Well now that we have moved into the new place the same odor is now starting to linger into this house and dogs have been staying outside so what the hell is causing this smell I have literally been sick since I moved

On 2017-05-03 by (mod) re: dealing with odors blamed on the water softener

If a water softener is a suspected odor source you'll want to keep it in bypass to see if that changes what you smell and where.

I'm doubtful of a successful return to service of a 20+ year old piece of equipment that's been off for 19 years, but you should take a look at this article on sanitizing and getting rid of bacteria and odors in water softeners: http://inspectapedia.com/plumbing/Water_Softener_Cleaning.php

On 2017-05-03 by Anonymous

Help, smelly odor coming from my basement! I was wondering, after having my sump pump checked and my home inspected for mold, could this awful must smell be coming from a exiting water softener that is still hooked up but haven't been used for over 19 years? Could the stagnant water in the softener be causing this god awful smell? Could it be my air conditioner/heating system? I'm so tired of this awful smell when you enter my home!

On 2017-04-13 by (mod) re: when to call OSHA about terrible odors offgassing from plastic tarps

Fred,

I can't say when OSHA should be called, but I agree that some plastic tarps smell horrible. I've been personally sickened when working in a tight crawl space where new 6 mil poly was laid out.

We don't know what sort of plastic is in your space but the article I cite below includes hazard discussions and scholarly research on plastic odors.

See these details PLASTIC or VINYL ODOR EXPOSURE -
http://inspectapedia.com/sickhouse/Vinyl_Chloride_Plastic_Odor_Exposure_Effects.php

On 2017-04-13 19:48:54.925953 by fred

my office is redoing roof the roofers put up plastic tarps in our office in case of debris but the smell from plastic is permeating the room is this toxic should osha be called ?

On 2017-02-22 18:59:20.217077 by (mod) re: smells blamed on sewer in cold weather

Tiffany, were you able to search InspectApedia.com for COLD WEATHER SEWER ODORS?
If not try
http://inspectapedia.com/odor_diagnosis/Sewer_Odors_Cold_Weather.php

On 2017-02-22 by Tiffany

So glad I found this site!! We have been dealing with a weirdness odor at my office for years. But it only seems to be in the winter. And when it it a cloudy foggy morning. We smell it the worst when we first get there and then it dissipates throughout the morning when the door is open.

We think it smells kinda like gas but they have come out and tested for gas and it's not that. Some days we can even taste it. The landlord has sent out a plumber but they have never found anything. Even the gas company has come out and they have never found a gas leak. We don't know what to do at this point. Help!

On 2017-02-13 by Anonymous

Also, what would I seal the surfaces with, and can I seal around the pip joints? Should I wash them?

On 2017-02-13 by Anonymous

Thanks for your response.

Yes, I meant to say the building switched from oil to gas.
Also, I forgot to mention that the oil tank still has oil in it (the super told me that they have it in case something happens). So yes the oil piping is not in active use but
when I go to the pip connections in my unit (I'm not sure what they are called- but when one section is adhered to another), I smell oil.
Also at the bottom of the pipe that goes through my wall to the outside, there was a hole and a strong smell was coming from this hole (which makes me think its in the soil- but I don't know).

The super informed me he could put insulation around the piping that is in my unit... would this help? What should I cover that hole with?

Can I upload pictures on this site?

I'm going back tomorrow to look more closely at everything.

Thanks so much!

On 2017-02-13 by (mod) re: odor problems when switching from oil to gas heat

Anna,

I think you meant that the building switched from oil to gas - the opposite of your statement - if I'm right then indeed the oil piping should not be in active use. But that does not mean there's no oil in the lines or even in an old oil tank that could be seeping and leaking somewhere - it depends on how the tank was abandoned and whether or not it was removed.

Usually an oil tank abandonment also removes most if not all of the oil line piping. So the fact that the pipes remain leave one unsure just what was done or if it was done correctly.

Oil piping that is not leaking doesn't smell - I'm guessing the oil lines are flexible copper tubing though other piping may have been used. The piping is not porous. If there are or were heating oil leaks they will be at

- a leaky pipe connection or fitting
- a damaged leaky section of oil piping
- a spill at or around an indoor oil tank
- a leak at oil tank filler or vent pipes
- an oil spill outdoors during an oil delivery.

I can't suggest a specific repair before we know where the leak occurred and what abandonment has been done of oil tank(s), piping, equipment.

For small oil leaks or spills oil heating companies use special sprays and cleaners, but typically a bit of household cleaner or even detergent can remove small quantities of oil from hard surfaces like a pipe or a tile floor.

If heating oil leaked onto or into softer materials (wood, drywall, plaster, insulation, or even porous cement flooring) a combination of cleaning and then sealing of those surfaces will usually suffice.

Just "covering up a wall" may not be successful at stopping an odor.

1. Confirm that the odor is from heating oil
2. Find the leak point and fix it
3. Remove any remaining oil in tanks or piping if those have not been and are not to be removed.

Search InspectApedia.com for OIL TANK ABANDONMENT and also search for OIL TANK LEAKS to see detailed suggestions.
-

On 2017-02-13 20:39:42.894186 by Anna

Please help!

I just rented out a studio space (for painting only) at the bottom of a condo building. In the room next to me is a large oil tank from. A pipe from the oil tank goes through my unit before going outside. The room with the oil tank has no smell, however, my unit does. I think its coming from the oil pipe and the wall from which the pipe goes out through.

The super told me that the building switched from gas to oil, so the pipes have no oil going through however there could be residual oil in them etc.

I have gone up to the pipes and they smell and especially from the wall where the pipe is. Has oil leaked into wall? Can I cover this wall up with something to stop the smell. Any advice would be greatly appreciated

On 2017-02-13 by (mod) - smells from "abandoned" heating oil piping

Anna,

I think you meant that the building switched from oil to gas - the opposite of your statement - if I'm right then indeed the oil piping should not be in active use. But that does not mean there's no oil in the lines or even in an old oil tank that could be seeping and leaking somewhere - it depends on how the tank was abandoned and whether or not it was removed.

Usually an oil tank abandonment also removes most if not all of the oil line piping. So the fact that the pipes remain leave one unsure just what was done or if it was done correctly.

Oil piping that is not leaking doesn't smell - I'm guessing the oil lines are flexible copper tubing though other piping may have been used. The piping is not porous. If there are or were heating oil leaks they will be at

- a leaky pipe connection or fitting
- a damaged leaky section of oil piping
- a spill at or around an indoor oil tank
- a leak at oil tank filler or vent pipes
- an oil spill outdoors during an oil delivery.

I can't suggest a specific repair before we know where the leak occurred and what abandonment has been done of oil tank(s), piping, equipment.

For small oil leaks or spills oil heating companies use special sprays and cleaners, but typically a bit of household cleaner or even detergent can remove small quantities of oil from hard surfaces like a pipe or a tile floor.

If heating oil leaked onto or into softer materials (wood, drywall, plaster, insulation, or even porous cement flooring) a combination of cleaning and then sealing of those surfaces will usually suffice.

Just "covering up a wall" may not be successful at stopping an odor.

1. Confirm that the odor is from heating oil
2. Find the leak point and fix it
3. Remove any remaining oil in tanks or piping if those have not been and are not to be removed.

Search InspectApedia.com for OIL TANK ABANDONMENT and also search for OIL TANK LEAKS to see detailed suggestions.
-

On 2017-02-13 by Anna

Please help!

I just rented out a studio space (for painting only) at the bottom of a condo building. In the room next to me is a large oil tank from. A pipe from the oil tank goes through my unit before going outside.

The room with the oil tank has no smell, however, my unit does. I think its coming from the oil pipe and the wall from which the pipe goes out through. The super told me that the building switched from gas to oil, so the pipes have no oil going through however there could be residual oil in them etc.

I have gone up to the pipes and they smell and especially from the wall where the pipe is. Has oil leaked into wall? Can I cover this wall up with something to stop the smell. Any advice would be greatly appreciated

On 2017-02-11 by (mod) - find and get rid of nail polish odor

Track down where the odor is strongest to help zero in on a probable source;
Review building history for applications of chemicals, pesticides, cleaners, paints, solvents.

On 2017-02-11 by Joe

When we enter our home is smells like nail polish remover. We cannot find out where it is coming from. Can anyone helpus

On 2017-02-08 by (mod) - sour smelly feet odor

MaryJoe,

I'm sorry but we have no objective data describing dangerous chemical offgassing from washing machines.

Searching for scholarly research on washing machine offgassing finds research on IAQ questions raised by chemical perfumes used in some detergents and in clothes dryer sheets. It would be a shame to jump too quickly to an incorrect and perhaps expensive conclusion.

On 2017-02-08 by Tammy

@Laura, wow! I have the exact same issue. Brand new house, in fact still finishing up some details and when you reach near the top of the stairs there is a sour like smelly feet smell just like you described and those the words I used describing to my husband!

Did you find out anything? I smelled it before we moved in 4 weeks ago and seems to have gotten worse.

On 2017-01-29 13:21:30.522124 by Mary Jo Brinker

These answers do not address my question. They do not apply to chemical odors in a washer.

On 2017-01-29 by Mary Jo Brinker

I bought an Amana washer and had to return it because the odors outgassing from it made me sick. I have already been to the doctor's office twice. I was diagnosed with chemical, plastics, and formaldehyde toxicity in my body.

I returned the washer. How do I find a washer that does not have these dangerous chemicals?

On 2017-01-15 by (mod) - dead animal may be an odor source

Look for a dead animal in the duct system or in the air handler

On 2017-01-15 by Trina

My dog jumped up and started smelling the 2 vents in my living room, then proceeded to go to the basement door, so I opened the basement door and she walked down as I followed her. She went straight to the furnace, water heater, and the dryer and started smelling around them intensely.

All mentioned is electric. Just curious if anyone would know of any cause or odor, I might not smell, but my dog does? Thank you

On 2017-01-09 by Laura

Help Help! I have smelled a sour smell upstairs for years. No one else smells it. It is mostly in a bedroom we seldom use and smells like sour smelly feet. My husband smells nothing at all. Years ago I thought it might be some of the antique furniture I have up there, but it is not. Sewer gas? N

o. Water leaking? No, new roof 2 years ago. 2 weeks ago I was installing a new smoke alarm on the ceiling upstairs, and I noticed some squiggly raised lines on the ceiling. I am thinking bees in my attic, or bats. Can anyone help me? I am calling pest control in the morning.

On 2017-01-04 22:00:06.589812 by (mod) - odors coming through a shared party wall

Sure Cann.

We'd start with a visual inspection for obvious problem sources: leaks, mold, pets, stains.

If there is sufficient concern from external clues or building history or complaints, then I'd use a borescope or make a test cut into the wall at the most-suspect location to see what's in the wall cavity.

If there is an attic space above or crawl space below those areas should be inspected too.

Information about the nature of the odor can be diagnostic.

I would NOT rely on make-a-pound cute tools like light meters, moisture meters, gas detectors for a concern such as the one you raise.

Keep in mind that depending on where you live, a duet, or duplex as some people use the term, may require a fire-wall between adjoining units.

On 2017-01-04 by Cann

I live in aduet , share a wall w/neighbor. Is there away to inspector a shared wall?

Question: rotten peach odor versus furnace salesman

(Mar 7, 2014) April short said:

My installer and furnace salesman insist this 'rotten peach' odour has nothing to do with the furnace. On the web, many others have complained about it. The installer says the furnace works perfectly although when we bought it last year they installed it incorrectly and had to come back for an entire year and many service calls to get it right.

Now the rotten peach smell comes through all vents when the heat comes on. It is not present when the fan alone is on. It is not present when the furnace is off. It was not present when the old furnace was on.

I am getting nausea, dizziness and headaches. We have an oil furnace. They say I am imagining the odour even though one installer could smell it. I can use any help I can get. We have had extra air returns put in, a new condensation mat- anything the installer could think of to no avail. I am home all day and getting ill from the fumes.

Reply:

April, there is just not enough information in this text exchange to allow speculation on the odor source you describe; what's needed is an onsite expert to assist you. It may be helpful however to keep a log of odor observations and time of day and relationship to equipment being on or off.

I've suggested elsewhere that especially with warm air heat (you describe a "furnace" that's a warm air system) odors can be transported in ductwork from one building are a to another.

For safety be sure you have working, properly located and installed smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

Question: industrial cleaner odor in hallway

(May 22, 2014) Michael said:

We have a strong 'industrial cleaner' odor in our entry hall way. 3 level home, the odor is on 1st floor, ground level. The smell almost seems as
'pen marker' smell, or glue. We are unable to figure out where its coming from. The smell was in the garage as well, but now almost gone.
Our right next door neighbor seem to have the same strong smell, but in her garage. What company would be able to identify what is going on?
They have done no paint or other jobs inside the home.

Reply:

Michael I'm not sure what company, among those who would claim they could solve your problem, could actually do so reliably and economically, especially if the only approach is to apply more chemicals in form of a "dedodorant".

Usually it's best to track down the smell to its probable source using someone coming up from fresh air away from the site and who has a good sense of smell, combined with visual inspection for likely odor sources. Sometimes our SMELL PATCH TEST KIT approach (very inexpensive) can help.

If you call industrial hygienists, IAQ consultants, or home inspectors who offer the service discuss their experince and their approach. I would not hire someone who's just going to stop by and "do some tests" without a thorough inspection.

Question: employee complaint about food odors

(June 17, 2014) Don Brewer said:

I have a client who has employees complaining about food-related odors, specifically a spice that seems to be very cuisine specific. I suspect the odor is being generated by an EMPLOYEE heating up food in the microwave. Any idea on how to test for this spice odor ?

Reply:

A simple approach might be to use the smell patch test procedure - see the article link above

Question: odors in a high rise building hallway

(June 25, 2014) Arlene said:

I live in a high rise building (more than 30 floors). Since February, there has been an odor in the hallway outside my neighbor's apartment and now also outside my apartment and sometimes coming into my apartment.

Others smell this, too. But I seem to be the only one having a reaction (I can feel it on my tongue and in my stomach).

The building did a test for organic compounds (unfortunately when I was away). I have the "negative" results, and the building intends to do nothing else.

The smell is intermittent. Sometimes it is as if it was never there. Sometimes it is weak. Sometimes very strong. People think it is a chemical odor; some think it seems like strong cleaning materials. The building management denies any responsibility for the odor.

There were 2 times that wallboard was breached in repairs since I moved in over 2 years ago: (1) to deal with some leak that was not in my apartment but apparently originated within a chase in my apartment that caused a leak of a fresh water pipe in the storage room; (2) repairs in the ceiling outside my apartment; I am unsure what was fixed. I cannot tie the origin to either repair but cannot rule them out. My understanding is that it is possible that the repairs breached fire stops that were not repaired.

I do not know what to do next. The smell makes me feel ill. I cannot figure out what we are smelling or what the path to my area of the building might be.

Reply:

Arlene,

Unfortunately, doing a "test for organic compounds" may have been a bit of an unreliable shot in the dark, as the chemistry of gases and odors can be complex so that choosing a rather specific test may not give an assurance that "nothing is present".

Keeping an odor log that relates smells to various changing factors such as weather, occupancy, operation of equipment, and using a smell patch test approach can usually narrow down the source.

Keep in mind that elevator shafts, stairwells, HVAC systems, vent systems and other mechanical means can transport odors in tall buildings.

Question: sewage backup odors

(July 7, 2014) J. Frost said:

My septic tank had overfilled. the plug was not in the bathroom sink. I have a brown stain on the glass shower doors. does anyone know how to clean this off? I have tried TSP, bleach, Mr Clean...with no success - thank you

Reply:

J.F.

Watch out: because health hazards are involved, sewage backups are cleaned using household cleaners and disinfectants. If a large area of was contaminated you probably should hire a professional.

A single sewage backup would not in my experience make permanent stains on a glass shower door, but perhaps there was a pre-existing mineral deposit that resists cleaning. In that case you need a cleaner that removes mineral scale deposits or iron deposits - readily found at your supermarket or building supplier in the cleaner section. Sometimes even vinegar will do the trick.

Question: BO smells treated with bleach

(July 27, 2014) LKW said:

I have lived in my home for ten years. About five years ago I used a cleaning service that used bleach to clean my bathrooms. About three days after the cleaning, I would smell a scent that smelled like body order to me. This continued even after I no longer used the cleaning service. It has become worse over the years.

I have a glass tile window above the bath tub with vinyl shutters over. it. The window faces west and it seams that the heat causes the fumes to come either from the window or the shutters.

I wonder if cleaning either of these with bleach could remove a protective coating or cause a chemical reaction with the heat causing the smell of (body order to me) or a hot chemical smell (to my husband).

Can anyone give me any information about this condition?

Reply:

LKW

In the More Reading links just above please click on the article titled

PLASTIC ODORS-SCREENS, SIDING

to read about the odor source you suspect.

let me know if questions remain

Question: gasoline smell remediation

Beenie said:

There is a strong odor of what I believe to be gasoline coming from my outdoor shower. The previous owner had a motorcycle he kept in the vicinity. What can I clean it with? The shower water drains onto a wood floor and out into the dirt below.

Reply:

First we need to know accurately where this odor comes from: a spill, adjacent equipment, or (dangerously) in the water supply itself. For surfaces you can try the SMELL PATCH TEST KIT we recommend above - easy and nearly free.

If gasoline or other petroleum product spills occurred onto nearby soils the soil may need to be removed or encapsulated.

Question: possible new carpet odor

(Sept 13, 2014) jean said:
My sister in law moved into an apartment 2 months ago an there is an odor that we dont know what it is

or how to get rid of it she has kept the widows open to let it air but does not seem to work there is new carpet an vinyl flooring. An also wondering if it could be unhealthy to breathe ?

Reply:

Possibly, but without knowing what the odor is we don't want to guess at its hazard.

Take a look at CARPETING & INDOOR AIR QUALITY for some suggestions.

Question: Rotten egg odors

(Sept 29, 2014) Rick said:
Shortline CoachUSA Bus company built a brand new 2 story 192,000 sq ft facility in Chester NY. We have observed a rotten egg odor since the first day we moved in. It is infrequent and seems to be heaviest on the first floor.

We have observed this odor during the A/C running, during the heat running, on windy days and on calm days. We are not noticing it in the bathroom drains.

Is there someone in our area that will come out and test or diagnose where this odor is emanating from? It is very uncomfortable some days more than others and if possible to diagnose and eliminate we are all for it.

Reply:

Rick at SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES we discuss sources, hazards and remedies for rotten egg odors.

Question: smells from the Chinese laundromat

(Oct 13, 2014) Olga said:
What to do if the nasty smell of washing and drying machines from the Chinese laundromat comes to the building apartments above and the Chinese boss pretends not to understand what we're talking about?

Reply:

You might want to look more carefully at some ventilation strategies that bring in fresh air from a more palatable source, as well as at sealing leaky windows.

See VENTILATION, WHOLE HOUSE STRATEGIES

Question: sourkraut smells

(Dec 3, 2014) Anonymous said:
a 10 ft square area of our foyer has a faint smell of sourkraut (never used in our home). We cannot identify the source and we have really tried. HELP

Reply:

You might be able to track down the odor source using our low-cost approach: SMELL PATCH TEST to FIND ODOR SOURCE as well as by a careful visual inspection for stains, leaks, animal entry points etc.

Sourkraut smells or odors may be due to

Question: smells from my gas furnace

20 January 2015 Anonymous said:
when my gas furnace is running it is giving of a chemical smell like a very strong air frishner spray doing this for about 5 days ??? help

Reply:

Anon I don't know what might make an air freshener smell but to be safe

Watch out: be sure that you have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors properly located and installed.

If your alarms sound go outside and call your emergency services.

If you are sure the odor is coming from your heating system you should call a heating service company promptly.

Question: TCP odor in a E.U. Home: U.K. disinfectant odor or smell

(Feb 23, 2015) TCP smell in hall said:
Hello I have a smell of TCP in my hall, I am not sure what it is coming from. Does anyone know what it could be?

Reply:

TCP:

TCP is a mild antiseptic used in the E.U. and produced by a French company. Sold in the U.K. by Omega Pharma. If you are pretty sure that's the odor I'd talk to the cleaners or see if a neighbour spilled the antiseptic nearby.

Question: intermittent musty smell when wind blows

(Aug 2, 2015) S. Dyke said:

We get an intermittent smell in our ensuite. It is a musty smell rather than sewage. It is strongest when the wind is blowing outside and often is not detected for days at a time. We have decide to replace the toilet and my husband removed the toilet and placed a plastic bag over the end of the waste pipe.

Surprisingly this is moving as if a breeze is blowing up the pipe. The downpipe enters the sewage system through the garden and we can see no possible way a wind is entering the pipe.

Reply:

Nice detective work S.D.

It's quite plausible that depending on building shape, roof shape, location of plumbing vents and other factors we might on occasion see a temporary downdraft down a plumbing vent stack.

There may also be natural downdrafts that occur in a vent stack when a volume of water is sent flowing down a drain.

That is how the vent should be working. By allowing air into the plumbing vent system to satisfy the vacuum created by emptying a plumbing sink tub, or toilet, we are preventing the siphonage of water out of nearby plumbing traps. We need to keep water in the traps to avoid smelly and potentially explosive sewer gases from entering the building from its drain system.

As long as we have not siphoned water out of a trap and as long as there are no leaks in drains nor in the vent piping system we should not smell sewer odors in a building. If we do we look, as you are, for a leaky toilet seal, lost water seals in traps (check floor drains), or a leak in the vent piping system.

Other "musty" odors might be traced to leaks or mold too.

Question: burning plastic odor after heavy rain

(Aug 12, 2015) Allan said:
After a heavy downpour, recently we smell a burning plastic smell which is so bad we have to open all windows and leave the room'.

Reply:

Allan:

Watch out: I'd be looking for a leak that wet something electrical - which is UNSAFE risking fire or shock or worse injury. Try turning off electrical power to the room in question.

Question: Musty Old House smell in an apartment building

(Nov 29, 2015) Lis said:
I live in the northeast US in an apartment in a large house hat has several other apartments. The house is over 100 years old and may be 150 years old. There has been for the last few years a "heavy" musty smell in the air. This smell also smells up my clothing. I notice it if I spend a few nights away. When I return it beomes barely noticeable after about a day. The building manger says it's not mold but I don't think they really know what it is. They said it is "old house smell".

Reply: the odor has a source; it's not generic.

Find where the odor is strongest

Keep in mind that old house musty odors are also often related to inadequate ventilation - and can be part of an IAQ issue that can in turn be a health hazard to some occupants.

(Nov 30, 2015) Lis said:

Thank you for your prompt reply. The smell is everywhere in my apartment and probably through the house. It is "musty" with a tinge of ammonia smell. It almost seems to be like an invisible cloud with higher concentrations higher in the air. There have been numerous water leaks in pipes in the walls over the years but a plumber fixed these when they happened. Could the smell just be "old house smell"? Does this even exist or is it definitely something else?

(mod) said:
Lis

Even when smell is everywhere usually someone with a good sense of smell, coming in from fresh outdoor air, can determine where the odor is strongest. I'd try that; otherwise we're shooting in the dark.

A second direction of investigation is to look at leaks that occurred any time in the past; follow the water - what got wet; a wet wall or ceiling cavity or insulation could harbor a mold colony.

(Nov 30, 2015) Lis said:

Thank you again for your prompt reply. The smell is EVERYWHERE equally in the apartment. I have a good sense of smell. The best way I can describe it, when I have been away for at least a day, is a pungent "musty" small with a very slight burring sensation when breathed in through my nose; almost like ammonia.

As I indicated below the building manger says it's just "old house smell" (the house is at least 100 years old). My question is: Is there such a thing as "old house smell", like wood and materials that have simply decayed over the many years? Do you think it is mold?

(mod) said:

Yes old houses often have a characteristic odor. However the odor has a source; it's not generic.

Common sources include bat or rodent fecal or urine waste in walls or ceilings, food or cooking or cigarette deposits on surfaces, prior spills, puffbacks, events. A combination of removal, cleaning, and sealing can correct the trouble but the task can be arduous.

For example in a home in Rhinebeck NY the owner boarded dogs in her home for a decade or more. Dog odor was everywhere. Inspecting in the attic and wall cavities I found ultra-fine dust comprised of dog dander and dirt brought inside by the doggies when they came in from romping in the yard and rolling in the dirt.

To clean such an area would involve removing porous materials that can't be economically cleaned (insulation in this case), HEPA vacuuming, perhaps washing damp wiping, and perhaps applying a post-fire odor-sealant before re-insulating.

In your case cleaning and removal of old materials such as carpets or curtains and re-painting old surfaces can reduce much of the odor you describe.

Still it would be a fundamental error to fail to look for specific problems such as leaks, rodents, spills.

"Decayed wood" indoors such as at trim and furniture is not likely unless there has been flooding or extensive leakage and would thus not be the source of your complaint.

(Dec 1, 2015) Lis said:
Thank you again. What kind of company should I contact who will be able to accurately identify the source and correct it? Are there any national companies that do this? Do any companies give a free evaluation?

(mod) said:
At the top of any of our pages you'll find some links to EXPERTS DIRECTORIES that include environmental investigators.

I'm doubtful someone could possibly give a free evaluation for a whole house survey for a source of a non-specific odor.

Beware of mere "testing" - vs inspecting - there is no generic single test that can identify all possible contaminants in a building and even if you did find out by testing what the dominant chemicals are, that may not tell you where the odor source is originating.

Question: bad smell from the Chinese Takeaway shop

(Apr 3, 2016) Barbara Would said:

I own a large block of shops and the dress shop is complaining about a bad smell from the Chinese Takeaway shop next door.
They are situated on a hill,the takeaway is slightly higher and much longer so is also behind the dress shop.

I have checked the plumbing and sewer and can find nothing, plus food and fat disposal appears to be done correctly.
Could their fan system above the fryers be the problem?

Reply:

Barbara

It can be difficult to control cooking odors between two abutting spaces, but you may be able to improve life (and business) for the dress shop with help from an HVAC engineer familiar with the issues. Improvements to the Chinese Takeaway's exhaust venting might need to be supplemented by putting the dress shop under positive pressure, blowing in fresh air ducted from a not-smelly source.

But first I'd check to see if there are obvious snafus that can simply be fixed, such as a vent fan drawing odors into the dress shop, or odors and air passing via a suspended ceiling, open fire door, ductwork, etc.

Watch out: if the Chinese Takeaway's kitchen is not properly vented and/or lacks proper fire prevention systems there may be building fire hazards as well.

Question: stale smoke smells in the bathroom

Apr 11, 2016) tamsin gayle marshall said:

I have recently been able to smell stale smoke in the bathroom, bathroom only! Nowhere else have I smelt it. I cannot identify where the smell is coming from, but is only getting worse. Noone in the house smokes so thats out of the question. Its driving me insane. I need to know where it is coming from.

I am pregnant, I have a 10 month old and my partner is asthmatic. Im worried for our health. please help!!

Reply:

Tamsin

Check the routing & condition of the bath vent exhaust fan.

I suspect someone is sneakng smokes in the bathroom. Do you have a smoking teenager or spouse?

Question: odors coming from elevator or pipe chase?

(May 28, 2016) Lisa said:

My daughter moved into an apt. last Nov. It was next to an elevator. In her front closet were some pipes running up and through. She slowly found more and more of a fume in her place, like burnt rubber from the elevator and sometimes peppery. Only in her place. we checked for everything, ruled out meth lab, gas leak,etc.

So bad one nite I said get to the ER and then to a hotel and tomorrow your moving.

Her blood test was so bad the MD said in 24hrs she wouldve DIED! The fumes were coming from her hair and skin. I wanted her to leave the couch and mattress but we arent that rich and she did move them. and the rug. A week later the smell was coming from them and we threw them out and she is sleeping on the floor.

She washed everything 12x with baking soda, tide extra and vinegar rinse water. Only the bedroom smells a little better and her books shoes and coats are still in double sealed bags. What could this be. Help!

Reply: Doctor warns of carbon monoxide hazards?

Lisa what you describe sounds serious but there is no information that would let us make a diagnostic nor repair suggestion; your daughter and the building owner need an on site expert.

"Blood levels" of what?
"Fumes" of what?

Watch out: Baking soda and vinegar won't correct building contaminants nor any other unsafe or un-healthy indoor air quality issue.

(May 31, 2016) Lisa said:

Thank you for the comment, I now have more info and maybe you can help us to get rid of the oder.

The MD said she had CO2 poisening from the fumes. The landlord owns dozens of blds in DC an knows nothing.No onsite expert was possible, just an air quality test cost thousands and she has to go thru foiAct to get info on bldg maintenance.

She tracked it down to the elevator next to her venting into the closet.It has hydrolic oil that lubricates the cable and when it gets low the friction is what poured the vapor into the elevator and the hole in her front closet. The smell came and went in strengh as the elev. was oiled, I guess.

She had so much co2in her blood she was almost a fatality. what about the next young person to move in there as they were very cavalier about it.

But our question is, this poor kid has had to toss out our double bag and store everything she owns...what can she do to remove the oder which keeps coming back in the new apt.IS there anything that can help her salvage her school books, clothes etc.from this rotting burnt rubber smell? Thanks

(mod) said:

Sorry for the delay in posting your comment, Lisa; the Comments software sees a period not followed by a space as perhaps an illegal web link and blocks the comment until I see it.

CO poisoning effects, unless caught quickly, can be missed in a person. I agree that that is an extremely-serious life-hazard.

The question is where the CO came from. Throwing away clothes has nothing to do with CO poisoning; CO in buildings is typically produced by heating equipment that lacks adequate combustion air, or on occasion by gasoline engines running indoors such as in a parking garage.

A top priority from what you said is, in my OPINION, that no one should be in that building without properly-installed, properly-located, tested, working CO and smoke detectors, and further that if you are sure the CO exposure problem occurred in the building, not elsewhere, building management needs to be notified immediately, in writing and orally, as there may be very urgent life-safety issues.

Watch out: On any evidence of a current CO hazard the building is not safe to occupy and it may be appropriate to call emergency services - 911.

CO itself is odorless, but the gases containing CO may have an odor that suggests their origin, such as from a heating system or a parking garage.
In a building with stairways and elevator shafts air is moved up and down (for example by the elevator) so can be moved between building floors, transporting odors or even dangerous gases from one place to another.

See the article series beginning at CARBON MONOXIDE - CO

You can better guess at what other hazards may accompany the "burnt rubber" smell by tracing the smell to its origin; I can't guess at what it is by e-text.

Question: wooden front door gets very hot

(Aug 13, 2016) Anonymous said:
We have a wooden front door that gets so hot that it feels like it could start a fire. Does this indicate anything?

Reply:

Anonymous:

I don't know. What's making the door hot? Sunlight? Or something else more obscure and more dangerous.

This research article discusses the ignition point of pine. But then we don't even know what wood was used in your door.

Also see PYROLYSIS EXPLAINED

Question: odor traced to nest of yellowjackets?

2016/09/19 Jody said:
Can an active yellow jacket nest in the foundation cause an odor like cigarette butts during the evenings only?

Reply:

Jody:

Not that I found in researching the question you ask, though German yellowjackets (Vespula germanica) use odors to find food, and there is a relationship between stinkbugs and yellowjackets: see

Odors associated with insects are sometimes also traced to use of chemical pesticides in the building


Odor Diagnosis Strategies:

You can start tracking down the cause or source of an odor in one or more of several ways:

  1. ODOR DIAGNOSIS SIX STEPS - taking an orderly approach to odor source tracking
  2. ODOR DIAGNOSIS CHECKLIST - an easy checklist of stuff to examine or test - this article
  3. ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE - includes a catalog of places to look when tracking down an odor source
  4. SMELL PATCH TEST to FIND ODOR SOURCE - procedure for testing specific surfaces or items to see if an odor souirce of if they have absorbed and are re-emitting an odor

...


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