Old House Smell??

bleighAugust 23, 2012

My family and I have moved into an older house built around 1963. The original owner had smoked for decades in this house and it had a really bad smoker's odor when my sister purchased the home 5 years ago. She had cleaned, primed and painted every possible surface which helped almost completely rid the home of the smoker's odor. Now that my family has taken over this home, I can't deal with the old house smell. Sometimes it's not that bad and other times it's pretty strong. We live in central Georgia with high humidity. The house is on a vented crawl space with no moisture barrier. The odor is quite noticeable when I remove an electrical wall plate for painting...guess it's coming behind the walls. I'm sure some of it is coming through the old duct system as well, but my sister did have that cleaned and repaired. We will be replacing this system in a couple years when we complete some additions.

Any suggestions on how to help control this odor? Could a moisture barrier in the crawl space be helpful? BTW, the crawlspace is really clean and the ground is dry with no signs of mold on the flooring structure.

Thanks for any help!

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If the crawl is not used, it can be completely isolated from the living area of your home. At the least, seal the floor of the crawl with 20 mil poly.

The duct system itself can be cleaned.

Frequent cleaning or removal of carpets may help.

"Old house smell" can mean different things to different people, but certainly mold and dry rot are part of the equation. My dw's cooking recalls the odours of the hallways in century old apartment houses in NYC where I visited distant relatives as a child. I instantly jump for the switch on the 700 cfm exhaust fan.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 4:15PM
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Circus Peanut

If you notice it particularly behind the walls, it's a good bet that the odor is from older insulation that's absorbed moisture from the humid air. Pink fiberglass in particular is notorious for smelling terrible when exposed to any moisture, and the smell can last forever.

I'd test this theory by opening some drywall in an inconspicuous spot in a room that has the objectionable odor, taking out some of the insulation and sealing it in a mason jar. Leave it sealed for a day, then take a whiff and see whether that's the source. Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 8:43AM
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When it gets humid and/or rainy here, I can smell the creosote in the chimneys, two of which are used for woodstoves each winter. I wonder if leaving off the switch plates to allow the wall cavities to air a bit would help? Or an air cleaner, either central or room size? When it gets damp and musty, I turn on the A/C, which dries it out.
Maybe a professional cleaning/restoration company would have some ideas on ridding your house of the odor? They're experienced in dealing with the aftermath of fires and floods.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 11:04AM
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