strong odor in the basement: suspect it's from the cherry floor..

qiangf2August 19, 2011


We need some expert help here to debug a problem that we are having in the basement.

Our house has a daylight basement that's finished with Brazillian cherry. For the last 9 months, we have been battling with a very strong smell in the basement. We did re-sand and stain the floor back in November 2010. We use Bona traffic water based stain. After the work, there is always some lingering smell. For the first few months of this year, we thought the smell is probably coming from the crawl space behind the basement. But after spending $$$$ to improve the crawlspace, we still have this strong odor in the basement. Even though we also have odor in the crawl space, that smell does not cause headache at all. Just simply unpleasant. However, the odor in the basement is kind of sour, or acidic that causes my throat to ache. That's when we start suspecting that there might a problem with the floor.

When we refinished the Brazillian cherry floor, we did the for both basement and main living level. The main living space does not have this smell at all. The basement floor is built on the plywood which in sitting on the slab. Is it normal for cherry floor ( about 6 years old) to emit smell after being finished 9 months with water based Bona traffic? The smell gets worse when it is humit outside or it's cold at night.

I read some of the floor finishing products may have fomaldyhyde. Is this a case for Bona traffic? I also want to add that a few weeks after we finish the floor, we did use an anti-microbia product called Terminator to wipe the floor. Don't know if that chemical may interacts weird with the floor finish. But the floor itself looks fine. When we put our nose next the floor, it's hard to tell whether it has stronger oder than the ambient environment in the room or not. But the room definitely has a very strong odor.

Anyway, we haven't ruled out other root causes yet for this smell. Just want to check in and see if anyone has similar experience.


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Your smell is most likely mold. Solid wood is not recommended for below grade installations. Concrete wicks water, and below grade, it wicks a lot of water. The plywood is just adding another layer for the mold to feed on.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 1:40AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

thanks for the reply. We do not see any visible moldy spots on the floor. One thing really strange is that the moisture reading on hardwood floor is actually higher than the plywood below it. Does it make sense? The person who did the measurement said that the finishing on the solid hardwood may interfere with the measurement. That was the first time I have heard of this. Will hardwood emit chemical smell when moisture level is high? If so, what kind of chemical should we expect?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2011 at 1:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Exotic species of wood will emit a strange smell.
Santos Mahogany smells like a horse barn to me.
Brazilian Cherry smells like BO.

As far as the basement, If it were a floating subfloor over a moisture barrier, the concrete moisture vapor emissions would not be a problem and if the basement is conditioned with HVAC, it won't be a problem, as long as it runs enough to pull the humidity out of the below grade basement.

If this was glued in any place, some of the moisture cure wood adhesives, have a very strong pungent smell.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 2:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I actually have a very similar odour problem with our house! We bought an old house in May 2010 - we had the floorboards sanded, stained with a Bona DriFast Stain (provincial), and finished with Bona Traffic. After more than a year, I am still getting a 'chemical' smell in the house that is driving me crazy (it too is worse in humid weather and gives me a sore throat). I rang the company who did the floor job and they dont know of any problems others have had with odours from the acrylic-based Bona finish. However, I wonder if the odour is actually coming from the stain, which contains solvents.
For months, I thought the smell may be coming from old plaster and we have therefore considered replastering the whole house (!). However, before we embark on this huge financial cost, we need to rule out that the smell isnt coming from the new floor finish.
I am concerned about possible negative health consequences of inhaling the smell but locating the source of the smell is extremely difficult. Can anyone suggest any means of testing whether the floor itself is still offgassing?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 5:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Staren....does not say what specie of wood was sanded.

I have never experienced lingering odor with the Traffic product. Once it cures, which is in about seven days, any offgassing completely stops. I would be very surprised to learn otherwise.

Air sampling should be able to reveal what chemicals are present in your home air. That would help to establish the source of the chemical smell and also if there are any negative consequences of inhaling it.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 8:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Staren, is your floor also in the basement?

We just measured the moisture level for the floor. Fortunately, there are some "fake" vents" around the floor that expose the subfloor flywood underneath. When the weather is dry, the plywood measured to be 12-14% in moisture content, the Brazillian cherry is measured around 10-12%. Last night, we had a few sprinkles. The plywood moisture level shot up to 16-18%. But the hardwood moisture remains the same. I can tell there is a black felt layer between subfloor and hardwood floor. But I don't know if there is a vapor barrier between concrete slab and subfloor. I may have to drill a hole on the subfloor to find out.

Is it possible that high moisture content is preventing the Bona Traffic to cure correctly?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 12:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In early September 2012, a top-rated flooring company which was subcontracted to my general contractor completed installation and finishing of new white oak floors in two upstairs rooms and the downstairs den of our new house. The floors were stained and finished with three coats of Bona High Traffic. Each coat was allowed to dry several days before re-application. They also sanded the existing pine floors in the living room, dining room and hallway, stained them, and finished them with three coats of Bona High Traffic.

The floors looked beautiful, but my wife and I immediately noticed a strong odor, despite the insistence of the flooring man and the general contractor that this was a "green" product with no smell. I had been working in the house almost every day for five weeks before the floors went in, and had never smelled this odor before the floor installation. Nonetheless, I tried to believe that perhaps it came from some other source, or that it would go away quickly. Just before we moved in, the house was cleaned and dusted extremely well by a maid service, including removing the covers on the baseboard radiators, and thoroughly vacuuming. Despite all this, after moving in, the odor became more noticeable. My wife and I first thought it might be due to the boxes or dust generated by moving. However, even after we had cleaned up the boxes and vacuumed several times with our excellent Miele vacuum with HEPA filtering, the odor persisted.

I tried to think of ways to ascertain whether the smell was coming from the floors or from some other source. After a lot of trial and error, two simple experiments finally convinced me that the source was the floors: First, the smell was only present in the rooms where the floors had been treated. In the kitchen and breezeway, where we eat and sit for long periods, there was no such odor; also not in the basement where I spend time at the workbench. Second, by kneeling down and putting one's nose against the floor, the odor could be intensified. This odor cannot be detected in the kitchen, bathroom, or breeezeway floors where no Bona High Traffic finish was applied.

The worst of it is that now, four full months since the application, I wake up every morning with a runny nose and sneezing from the irritation caused by the smell. It is worst in the rooms where the oak was installed. Naturally, it is most offensive in the bedroom where one spends 8 hours every night. By leaving the windows open a few inches with cross ventilation, as I do every night even in the cold, the odor is reduced, but still not completely eliminated. The only good news is that the smell is gradually receding. It is not annoying me anymore in the rooms with the pre-existing pine floors. I'm sure that after some finite amount of time the outgassing will be complete in the oak-floored rooms as well. But how long? It is four months already, and the improvement is very slow.

There is no question in my mind that the odor problem comes from the floor treatment. This does not prove that it is the Bona High Traffic by itself. As the floors were also stained, it could be the interaction of the Bona High Traffic finish with the stain. Either way, there is an odor problem with the Bona High Traffic product that has not been forthrightly acknowledged by the manufacturer . The product should be able to be applied in conjunction with stains, and not leave such a persisting odor.

It is disconcerting to hear people who have an interest in the matter, such as contractors who use the product, or designers who recommend it, imply that there is no odor problem. This entry is intended to cause them to hesitate before saying, "In so many years of using the product, I never had a complaint." I have suffered the odor problem, and so did two other people on this page. How many more, who haven't troubled to write it up? I think that the company needs to carry out a scientific investigation, and try to determine what is the problem (perhaps an interaction of two products, or of the product with certain woods?).

It should be noted that the term "green" or "natural" does not mean odorless. A skunk is natural, but it stinks. So does sewage, or the organic esters that produce the smell of bananas. So let's get real here, acknowledge that this Bona High Traffic product affects at least some people adversely with its persisting odor, and try to get to the bottom of it an honest and scientific fashion.

Thank you for hearing me out.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 12:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Bona Traffic claims of being "green" is not because of a low odor claim. It gets its "green" designation by having low VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).

The odor or lack of is a result of lower VOCs as compared to a oil based poly urethane which has signicantly more VOCs.

Qualified professions use this product and other water bourne urethanes every single day. Without issue. As heard by in this forum.

Multiple people having issues with odors with the only common demnominator being the Bona Traffic is not enough to say its the finish that is faulty. Each person has unique differences which causes too many variables to single out the finish.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 10:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Air sampling is the only way to establish what chemicals you are smelling and what is the source of the molecules involved.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2013 at 4:27PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Hallmark Hardwoods Historic Walnut Alta vista collection
Has anyone installed Hallmark Hardwoods Historic Walnut...
cleaning hardwood floors & tile floors
What's best way to clean hardwood floors.... how can...
Matte or shiny hardwood floors...what's your preference?
We are going to sand and refinish our floors. What...
Bamboo Floor Disaster
Hi, I got new bamboo floors when I renovated my NYC...
Where can I find some replacement Haddon Hall parquet tiles?
I've been searching the Internets for a particular...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™