What causes this smell?

cnvhNovember 9, 2006

Hubby and I have lived in our 100-year old farmhouse for about 2 years now. One of the upstairs bedrooms, as well as the attic, have a puzzling smell which I can't figure out what might be the cause. The odor is very sweet, like maple syrup; it's always faintly noticeable, worse if the room door is kept closed for a while. It doesn't seem to change based on temperature or humidity fluctuations, etc. It's not the least bit offensive, just very obvious and peculiar.

There's nothing unusual about that bedroom, except that it doesn't get used very much. (But we have another guest room next door to it, similarly-unused, which has no aroma.) Flooring is the same throughout the entire upstairs (hardwood, not sure what kind), walls are plaster, no discernable leaks, etc. It's been like this since before we moved in, when there was nothing in ANY of the upstairs rooms, so I don't think it's our furniture, either.

The attic smells the same as the bedroom in question.

Any ideas?

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Mice? That's more or less my guess. How close is it to the BR? Um, what about spirits?

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 4:27PM
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I think mice would smell very very bad. We had one die under our bathroom and it STUNK SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO bad!

I have an old farmhouse also and one of our bedrooms smells different too. We hardly use the bedroom. I can't explain the odor and it isn't bad I guess I just thought it smelled like the previous owners. It used to be their master bedroom. I painted the bedroom last year and totally redid it and it still smells the same. I find it odd also. Why does this one room smell different than the rest?

I am thinking that your smell must be coming from the attic into the bedroom (and not the other way) and that bedroom just may have a crack in the ceiling or something different that allows the smell to come in.
Are you sure it doesn't smell like sewer gas at all? I just ask because we do have problems with this in one room and we think that the vent goes to the attic and we are now looking for it. We figured someone put the bathroom in and decided that venting outside was too hard. You never know in an old house! Also being an older house, we could have a crack in our vent pipe.

maybe someone spilled something in the attic? Do you have a full attic that you can easily walk around in? I would search carefully for stains or something like that.


    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 4:43PM
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If there are or were bees in the walls, the beeswax, honey, and propolis may still be giving off their distinctive odors.
Another thought; it seems to have been the normal thing to do to put a drop or two of perfume on the window sill as an air freshener. You could be still smelling the remnant.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 7:19PM
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Bedbugs are said to produce a sweet odor, but I would imagine that if you had an infestation it wouldn't be solely in a rarely used guest room and attic.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 7:45PM
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Could be the wood used for framing. Wood that is not finished, as in painted over or varnished will continue to let off a scent. You might notice it more in a room that isn't used often or in an attic where there is a higher concentration of unfinished wood.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 9:24PM
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I highly doubt that it's something dead... I KNOW that smell, and it sure isn't pleasant!! :)

Bees, or the remnants of bees, could be a possibility. We've never heard bees in the walls or attic or noticed any around the house, but we remodeled the upstairs bathroom last year and found an ENORMOUS beehive (hornet nest? wasp nest? I'm not sure, but thankfully, it was long-abandoned) under the floorboards. So it's plausible bees could have gotten in elsewhere; maybe honey seeped into the wood or something?

I can't really tell if there's unfinished wood in there that isn't also elsewhere in the house-- it doesn't appear to be any different, but I'm no expert.

The bathroom venting doesn't run near that part of the house, so I don't think it's a venting issue. And if it was sewer gas, that would be a gross stench, would it not?

I'm just counting my blessings that it's a NICE smell and not a nasty one...

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 12:38AM
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Is it possible they hung hams in the attic to cure??We have a room ,a back room above kitchen, we made into bedroom,before we restored it there was a black spot on floor.The previous owner said they hung hams in there to cure,doused with salt.It marked and ate finish in floor in that area.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 7:48AM
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The sewer smell in our one room is very faint so it actually took a long time to figure out what it was. So it could be very faint and not too gross.

Yikes, beehives scare me to death! I would be freaking out!


    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 8:54AM
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Trust me, the beehive we found FREAKED ME OUT!!! I made hubby remove it; I didn't even like LOOKING at the thing. But I think it was a remnant from a long time ago; we haven't seen any unusual bee activity around the house since we've been here, so I'm not too concerned.

Or at least that's what I try to tell myself... :)

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 10:06AM
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oh, I wouldn't be scared of the bees, I am scared of beehives. They just creap me out! My friends used to ren an old farmhouse like mine and they said that in their attic there was a HUGE beehive. They got rid off all the bees but it was a rental so they never bothered to remove the hive. We always joke that some poor owners are now renovating the house and are going to find it and freak out!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 12:00PM
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OMG....we found HUGE wasp and honey bee nests when we gutted our first floor just a month ago. I mean HUGE!!!

The honeybee nest was easily 5' by 4' and it took up the entire corner of our living room. My GC said he's never seen a house with so many huge nests in it. Of course they were all dead when we moved in in 2000 as I never heard any buzzing nor saw any wasps or bees hanging around and I am allergic so I keep a close eye out for bees and wasps. I am so glad we gutted the house to clean all that junk out....GROSS!!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2006 at 12:09AM
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We occasionally noticed a maple syrup smell in our 70yo sunroom. It seemed to come and go totally randomly. One time while sniffing around we discovered that it was coming from the dirt around a houseplant. My first thought was some kind of fungus, but I was never able to find anything in my research on the web.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2006 at 10:12PM
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I could be incecticide. These days they try to make incecticides smell nice instead of nasty. Some of them have a sickly sweet smell.

The previous owners may have had an infestation of something and had the place sprayed. Incecticides have an oil base and it could have soaked into the wood. The other rooms may have been cleaned more often and gradually the inceticide was washed away.

Be thankful that the smell that you have in these rooms is not offensive.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2006 at 1:13PM
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We just bought a old farm house and tore down all the paneling threw out the house and now our one upstair bedroom has a bad smell too! I think this smell has a baby poop Oder to it. Lol I know that sounds nuts. This room is no where near the bathroom and the bathroom vents outside. The attic has a very faint smell but not as strong as this one bedroom. And the master is right next to this room and has no smell. Didn't have it till we tore things down to the plaster. Anyone have any ideas besides sewer?

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 10:28PM
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We had a weird odor in one room. I thought it smelled medicinal like a sick room. We did not discover what it was till we redid the floor. Sometimes old varnishes go off. We ended up replacing the floor but used the wood in other rooms. If that's your problem, all you have to do is sand and refinish.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 8:29AM
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My daughter just bought a 50 year old house.When we looked at the house while the resident was still living there,we did not smell anything at all.When we did the final walk through and the house was empty,we could smell a very strong scent that was similar to maple syrup.I was very interested to see if anyone else had ever had this problem.We have cleaned the house very well,but still smell the odor.Any suggestions??

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 7:44PM
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My attic smells sweet and I was guessing it was just the wood. It smells like you are describing though. I've had rat problems in the attic, and I wonder if it could be rat urine reacting with the wood over time. I know this is gross, but rats happen. Ew.

After typing the above, I decided to google "sweet smell rat urine"... Believe it or not, I found that rats can smell like maple syrup. Learn something every day!

Here is a link that might be useful: Oh you sweet-smelling rat

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 4:11PM
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cedar can be the source of a sweet smell also. our new (1948) house has cedar closets and every once in a while I get a whiff... the cedar has not been renewed by sanding that I know of. If a home has cedar shingles or cedar siding, or was constructed with cedar, that could be a source of sweet scent.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 4:16PM
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