Ghost Smell from Hell!

chaparralchapJuly 12, 2010

I recently remodelled a small bedroom in my house because the plaster and lathe was in bad shape and falling down. I stripped all the walls and ceiling and put up new sheetrock plus insulated the walls. I also had to put down a new bamboo floor. After painting and trimming the room nicely all was well for about 2 months, then the smell from hell appeared one warm day. It smells like a vinegary combination of B.O. and dead animal with hints of ammonia and fermentation. It comes and goes VERY erratically, by the minute. Some days it never appears, others it smells off and on. The smell does not appear in the attic above the room or in the crawl space below, or in the alleyway outside the window. There is no plumbing in the room. The odor does not come from a specific place in the room. It does smell stronger near one wall pretty consistently. It is stronger when it is hot out, but also smells when it is cool. It does not come from the heater vent. We turned all the power off in the house when the smell was strong thinking it was electrical, it had no effect. This has been going on for a month now, the room is unusable and uninhabitable when the smell rears its ugly head. The rest of the time there is no trace of it. Fresh paint, fresh floor, fresh sheetrock, no carpet. We think it might be an animal but it shows no sign of abating after a month. No flies, no animal sounds, also I sealed up the walls with spray foam when they were open and filled them with fiberglass batts. Any ideas? We are at our wits end.

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Just taking a stab, maybe it's the flooring? See this thread.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 6:54AM
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That was my first thought upon experiencing the smell but 1. we stacked the flooring in the room for 10 days before installation and there was only a mild toasted smell from it, 2. it took me a month or so to install it and there was no smell then, 3. the room was finished for about 2 months before the odor appeared 4. the floor was pre-finished so is sealed when installed (unless the sealer is the source) and 5. when I put my nose to the floor I don't detect the smell, it seems to float in the upper air of the room, generally nearer to one wall. By the way, the tales of stinking sheetrock from China had me worried but that smell is reputed to be sulfurous and detectable right away. We used Benjamin Moore low VOC paint which was recommended to me by a paint chemist friend who does not work for Benjamin Moore. It has gotta be an animal but 1. the walls are now more sealed then they ever were- how did it get in? 2. the smelliest wall is the shared bathroom wall and there is no hint of odor in the bathroom 3. it is not a consistent smell, sometimes it is gone for days, sometimes it stinks all day and all night, sometimes I smell it, tell my wife to come smell and she detects nothing only a minute later. I am beginning to doubt my sanity. Again, a very sour pungent odor, like BO from a New York City cabbie wafting off the plastic seats.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 12:02PM
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What are the chances that somewhere in that room (above, below or sideways) some small animal could have died and left your his 'scent'?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 12:18PM
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You may want to google chinese drywall problem. Seems the problem isn't necessarily showing up right away.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 2:55PM
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Same experience here, and the culprit turned out to be the paint. I would contact your paint manufacturer's representative and ask about that.

Try googling [low voc paint fishy] and you'll see a lot of similar stories.

The guys at the paint store told me the best bet for covering it up is a primer called "Zinsser BIN". It smells like solvents at first, but is odorless when dry. They said it will seal in any smell, even cat spray and smoke damage.

Also, if you google [wall odour phenomenon] you'll find stories from England -- BBC was brave enough to do a story on it, to the chagrin of the paint companies.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 12:04AM
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If it's possibly paint there are several pros that are regulars in Paint forum here. Maybe they've encountered something similar, or know of it?

BIN is good stuff. We had candle soot all over rental house walls, it sealed the soot in so we could paint. (Regular primer wouldn't have worked, the stuff was slick as wax paper no matter how many times it was washed/sanded.)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 9:42PM
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Zinser BIN is a shellac based primer/sealer.

It will smell like alcohol until it dries.

You could also just use shellac.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2010 at 4:29PM
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You say the smelliest wall is the shared wall with a bathroom? Where there's a bathroom, there's a lot of potential for smells and not necessarily in the bathroom. If there is any pipe or drain on that wall, try pulling the stoppers out of the drains, snake the drains, then use a drain cleaner on the pipes. If the wall is shared with the toilet, look at the wall behind the toilet and see if you've got a moisture problem. If this room in uninhabitable, I'd be planning to rehab that bathroom next.

Spray foam insulation is good for a lot of things but it's a bad sponge if there's any moisture. If a pipe isn't vented correctly, that could also be the source. Since this smell only started after the remodel, maybe the foam damaged or uncovered a problem.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 6:53PM
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My money is on a drainpipe joint dislodged by the spray foam (the non-door/window stuff is very powerful and can crush pipes) or a nail or screw through a pipe.

If a drainpipe or vent runs through the smelliest wall (or any of them in that room) perhaps a plumber with an inspection camera could run it through those pipes and look for breaches.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 2:27AM
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Thanks for your ideas everyone. I have finally solved the problem but am still as mystified as before. Basicallly, I repainted just the ceiling with shellac-based primer (Zinzer BIN) and bingo! no smell. Been smell free for several weeks now, including during warm weather. The only theory that makes sense of this is that the ceiling paint, which was Benjamin Moore contractor grade semi gloss was causing it OR it was the original primer which was Bullseye, recommended by the BM people. Why it didn't smell from end of Feb to June I can't explain. I went back to the paint store and told them the story and they are dumfounded too. By the way, I repainted the ceiling with Ben Moore "regal", their older high end paint.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 6:56PM
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