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Girl holding her nose from odorWhat is that odor?

Some common calls we get throughout the year are to locate and identify an odor. These can be difficult as many times odors can smell different to different people and some individuals may be more sensitive to certain odors while others can become acclimated to certain odors in their homes. Some odors may be phantom odors and come and go throughout the day due to various conditions such as a change in the weather, the heating and cooling system as well as the clothes dryer and bath vents that can put the house under negative air pressure, and draw in odors.

With multi-family homes adjacent units may contribute to odors from cooking, smoking, and other odors that could cross-contaminate or affect adjacent units. We had one client contact us and it ended up being rotting food in a cooler. Many times, it is an adventure trying to locate and identify the sources of these nuisance odors.

Common Odors

  1. Someone smells sewage, the sink, shower, and toilet that are not regularly used where the drains and traps can dry up and allow sewer gas to enter the living areas. Often described as a sewage and dirty diapers odor. The purpose of the trap is to create a water seal to trap the sewer gas and prevent it from entering the living area.
  2. Solution: Keep all drains and traps primed with regular use or have them sealed off.
  3. New furniture, paint, cabinets, and carpet can off-gas VOC. This is a volatile organic compound that can irritate sinuses and cause some other health issues.
  4. Solution: Purchase pre-off-gassed systems and components, put these in an area safe to off-gas, and obtain quality filtration with UV light which can help with odors. If you suspect a VOC testing is available.
  5. The most common call we get is for a moldy odor. More and more we are seeing clients and their family members being affected by mold. Mold can create different odors for various people. Often described as a musty, earthy, and sometimes fruity odor.
  6. Solution: A deep cleaning may be needed, keeping the humidity below 60%, and keeping the HVAC ducts and air handlers clean and serviced. Having a mold investigation performed to locate and identify the source of any suspected mold and when necessary, testing can be performed to help identify and confirm the presence of mold. When the presence of mold is confirmed a reputable mold abatement company should be contacted for proper abatement. When hiring a mold inspector, they should be independent of the abatement company for pre and post-abatement testing to help ensure a third party non-biased test.
  7. One odor we frequently detect is natural gas and propane leaks. These have a pungent odor from a chemical called “Mercaptan” also known as methanethiol that is added to natural gas and propane to help ensure a gas leak is detected. We used gas leak detectors to help locate and identify these leaks. However, often your nose passing over the gas meter, LP tank, connections, unions, shut-offs, and gas valves can be an accurate detector.
  8. Solution: Contact the local utility provider or mechanical contractor for immediate service. If there is a significant leak, turn off any systems such as the furnace, boiler, or water heater open the windows, and leave the building unit service showing up.
  9. A less common call we get is for a rotten smell typically associated with a dead animal. Many times these are located in crawlspaces, walls, and attics. We have had them in vacant homes in furnaces and stoves. Nesting can also provide a similar odor as urine and feces contamination are commonly associated with these odors. We have had squirrels get down into a wall cavity where the wall had to be opened.
  10. Solution: Contact a wildlife or pest extermination company to help to locate the source, and remove and seal off any entry points. Depending on the species some may be protected and require a certain protocol such as bats. These can pose a potential help risk and should be professionally remediated.
  11. There can be many other odors you may experience in some cases past smoke and fire damage, a fireplace allowing odors into the living area.
  12. Solution: In some cases contact a licensed chimney sweep for your fireplace to be cleaned and serviced. In the event of smoke and fire damage contact a qualified fire restoration company for a suggested course of action.

Many odors are a one-off and are difficult to locate and identify. The use of quality filtration may help as well as an adequate disinfectant when necessary. An air scrubber with a UV filter may also help.

Showalter Property Consultants offer mold, VOC and other indoor air quality testing throughout the Maryland area.
Call today! 410-570-6430

Stephen Lee Showalter, NACHI® CMI, ASHI ACI
Maryland State Home Inspector License #29634 
ASHI ACI Certified Membership
NACHI® CMI Certified Master Inspector
InterNACHI® CPI Certified Membership
CCPIA Certified Commercial Property Inspectors Association
FAA Certified UAS Pilot #3987636
FLIR Level 1 Certification #170314159
FLIR Level 1 sUAS Certification #172651650
CRT Certified Residential Thermographer
IAC2, The International Association of Certified Indoor Air Consultants
NACHI® Building Science and Infrared Thermal Imaging for Inspectors

Showalter Property Consultants providing quality home inspections and environmental testing throughout Maryland since 1988.

For a quality home inspection, indoor air quality and mold investigation and testing contact us on schedule online.

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