Help! Strange Odor in my Home

BetteAugust 3, 2001

In December of last year, I started detecting a whiff of a strange odor in my living room. At first I dismissed it as being cat urine. I have since searched the entire living room. I have scanned the entire carpet, the furniture, drapes and have never been able to find the source. I have been in the crawl space above and the basement below and there is no odor. The odor is barely detectable when the house is closed up (this situation has improved especially since we have gotten new windows in that room), but when I open the windows in that very room the odor seems to immediately intensify and strengthen, yet I don't detect any odor coming in from outside. As crazy as it sounds, I have even considered our recently painted ceiling (it was painted in December by contractors) to be the source. When the house is opened up, I can really smell it on the ceiling. I have heard about paint offgassing and that it can be offensive and long lasting. I would imagine that if this was the case, the odor would be worse when the the house is closed up (no odor is detectable on the ceiling at that time). I am at a complete loss about what to do. The odor has not appeared to have gotten worse nor better since December. It does appear stronger during the day however.And I can now tell you that it is definitely not cat urine!

An indoor air quality consultant has come in and suggested the source may possibly be sewer gas. We are in the process of trying to locate a plumber to come in and check this out. In the meantime, I would appreciate any input anybody could give me.

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How about something dead in your window jambs? Maybe some small critter got up in there and couldn't maneuver to get back out. Are the windows rotting? Maybe you just very simply have a house spirit that does not want the window open. I'm only half kidding.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2001 at 11:06PM
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Did you recently have any appliances refinished/painted? I remember how nasty my fridge was when I was a teen and it was repainted - lasted months, the whole family was disgusted. Have any major changes in your home taken place recently? Like a/c or heating changes to equipment, other people moving in, change in laundry detergents, change in medications/diet, did you recently stop smoking or drinking? All these can create changes that seem baffling, but are linked to your sense of taste/smell. Also, what is going on outside? Any new animals outside, gardening, outdoor renovations (digging up the ground for any reason, anaerobic bacteria can create a nasty smell when let out into the open air)?

    Bookmark   August 12, 2001 at 6:04AM
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Just a thought, do you have a fireplace in that room that is rarely used? Once birds got into my chimney, and I didn't know it until we smelled that awful smell. We got the live ones out safely, but one was dead in there and it smelled like you would not believe.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2001 at 3:28PM
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We had a strange odor in the kitchen of the last house we owned. It was coming from the ceiling light, and was awful if the light was turned on. we took the ceiling fixture off and found nothing but the surrounding insulation. Never found any dead critter. When we had the house remodeled, that old ceiling was removed and replaced, smell never returned. Could it have been the smell of warm insulation?
On another situation, in current house, DH's office ( a bedroom upstairs), I noticed smelled like dirty socks one day. I asked him if he was wearing dirty socks! He looked at me like "how dare you think my socks or feet are dirty!" He did not smell it for another 3 days despite my repeated complaints. Well, dead squirrel in the attic, just near the AC duct! He has never questioned my sense of smell since! Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2001 at 5:04PM
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We have a similar problem in our house. Only the odor we smell is more like a moldy, musty smell that comes up the walls and comes out through the window jams. From what we have been able to tell so far the room where we notice it the most is our dining room, which happens to be right above the garage. It appears that the insulation or whatever may have gotten wet or whatever and collected the odors and then over time it starts to radiate up through and out the window jams. other than replacing the window jams and looking into whether or not he insulation that is in the walls or below that flooring is damaged i don't know what else could be the problem.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2001 at 10:29AM
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I just thought I would post a follow-up to my original messaqe. After going in circles and chasing my tail for months on this, I finally decided to take a chance and repaint the ceiling(s)(a suspected source in my mind) that had been painted by the contractors.

Two coats of latex paint on the living room ceiling knocked the odor back 85%. It was funny because it still really stunk where we hadn't yet painted in the foyer and upstairs hallway.We then decided to paint yet again but this time with an alkyd blocker sealer and then finish with latex ceiling paint everywhere the contractors had painted. This seems to have fixed it for now.

I still have one question though: Does anybody have any idea what these painting contractors could have done/used to cause this to happen? There was no reason for them to have purposely sabotaged this job for revenge, but I wouldn't put it past them to use less than scrupulous materials to save money.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2001 at 1:43PM
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I had the same problem when my handyman husband decided to repaint my home office.
It comes from old paint, usually its the ammonia from acrylic paint that smells like cat's urine.

However we are still trying to find out how to correct this. He painted over it and it helped a little, just a little. It's nothing that anyone did intentionally. Lol. Did the alkyd blocker sealer work for you?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2002 at 7:36PM
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Hi! This is Bette. (I had to re-register as BetteC, because for some strange reason all my membership info disappeared and someone else is now using Bette)

This is a reply to the posting by Lilylily. Yes, the blocker sealer has appeared to work. Yeah!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2002 at 10:23PM
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Two thoughts- perhaps the inside of the window jambs were painted with exterior paint, also perhaps the ceiling was painted with exterior paint. Exterior paint will forever 'off gas' which is why it should never be used indoors.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2002 at 1:14AM
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We painted the outside of our house with exterior Weatherbeater Latex from Sears. It reeks like dead animal (some say cat urine). At first we painted the back and the smell was so bad I asked the neighbor if he was spraying heavy duty insecticides. Within a couple of days the smell was so bad the neighbor began cutting down his oleanders, (the oleanders are [were] growing along the fence between our houses. He thought there must be a dead animal in them.)
Then we painted the front of the house. After that dried we discovered the smell was coming from the house! The mail lady and even the UPS man both have commented on the smell as well as the neighbors. It has been 9 days now and it keeps getting more sour. The smell is very organic in nature.
Sears paint says this happens sometimes and we should seal the whole house with an oil based primer and then re paint with an oil based paint. The smell is so bad we cannot leave the windows or doors open. I think Sears needs to send someone out to our house.
But WHAT this smell is puzzles me. I do not want some toxic poison sealed forever in my walls!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2002 at 10:53PM
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We are in process of remodelling a laundry room...insulation was put up two days ago..we get odor of urine coming from insulation...I do not feel it could have gotten wet..Sheet rock scheduled to be put up over walls tomorrow!!! Could this fix problem by sealing insultion? any advice???

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 7:42AM
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I have no solutions and a similar problem. It started a couple of days ago. No unusual occurrences. The house is 128 yrs old, gutted and remodeled in 2000. The smell is in one corner of the living room - but can't find a source - drapes, walls, oriental rug, furniture - all smells fine. When we open the doors, it 'airs out' but when we close it up, it comes back out again. There's no insulation that I'm aware of, walls are Dade County Pine. Floors are pine. I can't smell anything outside in the crawl space but then again, I can't get that close to it either. My husband kept saying it smelled like cat urine but I think it smells like someone's been cooking BEANS. It's just awful.

We're in tropical climate and so it never gets cold, per se. Maybe in the 60's a few times in the winter. a/c is usually on. Ceiling fans are always on. I can't imagine something like a palm rat making this kind of stink, but who knows? Or maybe a racoon.

Just looking for answers.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 6:27PM
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To Susan 33040 - Curious if you ever found the source of the smell. My situation sounds exactly the same.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 7:57AM
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I had a chimny fire a few months agon and havent had any one come out to do any repairs, and now there is a musty smell coming from fireplace/chimney. What can I do that would be cost effective?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 11:51PM
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Check your outlets, seriously. We had a mouse somehow in the wall get in the outlet box, assumed fried itself to death. We couldn't figure where the stench was coming from. Our snauzer for weeks stared at that outlet??? One day I decided to take the cover plate off and the dog was going nuts. After it came off I could smell and see the the rotting critter entangled inside the outlet box. Turned off the breaker, removed it, and problem solved. Very strange!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 3:41PM
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