The strangest, persistent odour

DanJMMarch 24, 2013

Hello all. This is a serious mystery.
About a month ago I began to notice a strange smell in my house. It has grown stronger, but sometimes is undetectable, sometimes very strong. I apologize for the length of this post--it has been a long process.

-At first I thought it was electronic components because I first smelled it in my home office. I tried disconnecting some of my electronic components. This did not seem to make a difference
-I thought it might be faulty wiring in the walls. I got an electrician to check the plugs that seemed to be closest to the smell. Nothing found.
-Maybe fridge. Had a technician check it out but he said it was working perfectly.
-Maybe water heater. Had a technician check it out and he did not find anything wrong. I think he checked only for CO leaks.
-Furnace (gas)? Had this inspected and tech said it was working fine.
-Later someone else found some problems with the furnace and tech fixed a condensation reservoir. But he said it was not related to the smell, though he didnâÂÂt smell the smell himself.
-I had a quick indoor air quality check done. It found no elevated levels of anything except VOCs, but they were not terribly high. I will get a more comprehensive test if I can't sort this out (those test cost hundreds of dollars)
-I had a water leak in my bathroom above my front foyer a few weeks before I smelled it. I cut into the ceiling to see if any mold or smell was coming from there, but there was nothing.
-The smell often was stronger when the furnace was running.
-Ducts were cleaned and a disinfectant sprayed in them. Randy the duct cleaner who is also a water heater and furnace installer, said the problem may be the venting of the water heater into the chimney. He said there may be a creature dead in the chimney, restricting the venting, so then exhaust flows back into the house and is circulated by the furnace which is right beside the chimney vent, but vents to the side of the house
-He will also come to clean the furnace but he doesnâÂÂt think thatâÂÂs the furnace is the problem.
-I then tried an experiment by not running my hot water all day to see if there was a smell. I caught a mild one, but that may have been because the water heater turns on at various times to reheat the water.
-But some days when I'm not using a lot of hot water the odour is quite powerful
-I have noticed that a few times the smell was especially strong when the sun was shining. Could this have something to do with the chimney?
-It is not coming from outside since it has appeared when the wind is blowing from different directions
-The smell alternates between being a slight organic smell, perhaps rotting animal but not super strong, and a more mechanical smell, almost like a refinery. When it is strong, I also find myself getting irritated, watery eyes

Any help, suggestions, ideas, advice, references... please contact me or post here!!

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You checked everything but the laundry. Make sure your clothes dryer is functioning well. Check the dryer exhaust vent. The lint tends to clog the ducting, and sometimes even backs up inside the housing of the machine.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 4:06PM
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Thanks for the suggestion.
I did check the dryer, and cleared out the exhaust vent which had indeed gotten pretty lint filled.

However, I have had back ups from the dryer before and it is a very different smell from the one I'm getting now.



    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 4:54PM
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Is this smell through out your home or concentrated to say only the front part of the house?

Do you have a crawl space under the house? Could an animal have gotten trapped under the house and died? Have you been up in the attic looking for water leaks and possibly mice? Is the roof vented properly so that you are not getting a musty smell because there is not sufficient air movement? Are your exhaust fans vented to the outside?

Now don't laugh but.....Do you have an ex. wife or girlfriend who has stuffed shellfish or something equally as smelly in the hollow parts of your curtain rods?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 12:34AM
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We had an odor issue in the house we moved to a few months back. It was mostly in the basement. Eventually, when doing some electrical work, DH found the problem. SOMEhow, loads of garden debris had gotten up into the dropped ceiling in the basement--mostly those 'helicoptors' from maple trees. Once he cleaned out the mess, the smell disappeared. We have no idea how that happened. I suspect that there are some miniscule cracks around the basement door, and when I run the VERY powerful whole house fan, it sucked the garbage in, but we don't know for sure.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 10:21AM
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A description of the smell would be helpful. Is it acrid, sweet, pungent, musty, dead animal, vegetable, mineral, skunky, stale, wet dog, fishy, lingering, can you taste it, chemical, affect you nasal passages, burning, Smokey, moldy, urine, feces, what?

You need to be concerned with Randy, the furnace, hot water heater installer slash duct cleaner. If your hot water heater vents directly to the exterior you have a direct vent system, any obstruction that would cause any reduction in flow would result in your gas valve to automatically shut down as a safety feature, this prevents deadly carbon monoxide from entering your living space. This guy is not qualified to touch your hot water heater and you certainly don't want him touching your furnace for goodness sakes.

Exhaust gases entering your furnace and getting into your living space from a direct vent system and everyone is still alive, ridiculous.

And if what he suggested could be true and he didn't have you and your family evacuate the home immediately and call the fire department to take a carbon monoxide test that's even worse. Where's your carbon monoxide detector located?

This post was edited by SouthernCanuck on Fri, Mar 29, 13 at 18:27

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 6:16PM
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Got a floor drain in basement or do you have bathrooms that aren't used so water is never in the traps, sewer gas is very deadly, will make you feel like getting flu & have lot of headaches. If you don't have water to a sink ,toilet, shower etc take a gallon in there at least once a week & pour it down the drains, Would be smart to cover them up in between using the water in case it is very dry. My dad walked in a house to do work for lady & & he told her to get her kids & get out as house full of sewer gas. He went down in basement & found the problem quickly & put water down drain in floor & told her to get laundry sink rubber thing to cover it but to put water down it often.. Family had been feeling really lousy & had been to dr. medicine wasn't helping. So lucky for them my dad had come to work for them that day. Dad opened windows & doors & got the odor out. They called later & thanked him. Also I had problem with mobile home I went to that had plastic plumbing. I told them smelled like dead animal in the bathroom & made me sick. The mobile home park was still being sold so I went & got the repair guy & he showed me a pipe sticking up in bathroom under sink with a sock in it, not capped so sewer gas was coming into the house. Guy also had smoke from fireplace coming back into mobile home as smoke stack was several inches too short. I had to repaint wall after that one after cleaning it good. I got called up there for number of incidents like that.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 6:59PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

I agree on the dry drain traps, have that problem now and then at our house. The U joint under every drain is supposed to be a water seal keeping sewer gases out. Probably does not require a gallon every week, but if months go by and those traps dry out, the natural chimney effect of the house can pull sewer gas up, resulting in odors.

I'm not clear on this furnace/water heater exhaust problem. Your original post said:
"He said there may be a creature dead in the chimney, restricting the venting, so then exhaust flows back into the house and is circulated by the furnace which is right beside the chimney vent, but vents to the side of the house."

I assume 'exhaust flowing back into the house' means it comes back down the chimney. I would think it would come out the fireplace then. What is the 'chimney vent' that is right next to the furnace? And what vents to the side of the house, and why is that important? Of course it will be a moot point if dry drain traps are the culprit.

It sounds to me like you've had to spend a huge amount of money having all these different people look at everything under the sun. I hope you figure it out.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 4:40PM
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Circus Peanut

Check every one of your light fixtures, lamps and ceiling -- unscrew every bulb and take a sniff.

CFLs in particular can smell unbelievably rancid when they run down, as can the plastic bulb sockets of cheaper fixtures if the bulb is too high a wattage and slowly singes the plastic.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:51AM
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Hello Friends,
Its exactly the same problem as yours and unfortunately I could not find the reason for that even by my apartment owners.
I hope it might have been resolved for you by this time. So I really appreciate if you can reply me the reason for this problem . Waiting for your response
Thank you

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 11:11PM
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Bridget Helm

I. With circus peanut. You would not believe how AWFUL that light bulb plastic smell can be! My parents had this problem after they remodeled the upstairs in their house. When we'd visit, we'd get whiffs of dead animal rotten urine smell sorta fishy. It would come and go. Sometimes really strong other times faint. They had ducts cleaned eye etc etc- just like you. It went on for almost 2years. Finally a bulb burned out in the bathroom upstairs. When my dad went unscrewed it, he said THE smell filled the air. Ewwwww! Turns out it was the plastic that holds the bulb avd screws in.

A few months later I was at baby GAP and the poor store clerk was sniffing g the ground around the dressing room. She was certain a diaper was rotting somewhere. I knew the smell right away avd told her it was prob a dressing room light bulb. Sure enough, it was!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 11:25PM
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Hi DanJM- I have the same problem at my house on sunny days. Did you solve your problem?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2015 at 7:44AM
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Supposedly, termites make a distinct smell, but I don't know what it smells like. Wool moths smell like cat pee.

    Bookmark   on Wednesday at 8:27AM
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DanJ, did you solve your mystery odor? I'm having similar problems. About a month and a half ago I noticed a faint moldy peanut smell in my house. I cleaned like crazy while looking for the source but never found it. Two weeks later the smell was stronger, especially in my bathroom. I checked for mold, leaks, air system checked, and found nothing wrong, but smell still there. Then last week I developed a cold and didn't respond to any of the medication. I still have excessively red, watery eyes, sinus congestion and dry cough. Then started itching a few days ago but nothing new in house to be allergic to. Smell stronger than ever. Getting seriously worried.


    Bookmark   4 hours ago
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Janillo, Could it be some of that hardwood flooring from Lumber Liquidators with the formaldehyde in it? Or a new piece of furniture?

    Bookmark   53 minutes ago
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