I’ve been living in the same house for years and suddenly there is an odor I can’t identify… it was never there before…!
I’ve been living in a home for 6 months – I knew there were odors [such as fresh paint or building materials] but they should’ve ‘gone away by now’…
There is a musty odor from my basement that always seems to get worse [even unbearable] at certain times of the year…
When it comes to the topic of odors [especially hard to track or identify ones] a major condition that is not often considered seriously is the effect of humidity on our living space. It affects our personal health and comfort. It also has a significant, even dramatic, affect on household odor problems. And realistically, the ‘issue’ will increase rather than decrease as buildings continue to become ‘tighter’ and more ‘contaminants’ are introduced to and held in our living space.
This is not to imply that humidity itself is an odor source, but rather, that there are certain types of odors that seem to manifest themselves more readily as humidity increases. And there are a couple of reasons for this:
• The odor is caused from a gas substance [such as methane / sewer gas / VOC’s] that have a consistency that is lighter than air. These substances, while they may be present all along may be ‘above’ us. Humidity, making the air ‘heavy’ will draw those odors down into our breathing space.
• Some substances that are in a dust / particulate state [such as mold] tend to be ‘dormant’ or ‘inert’ in drier air, but become ‘active’ when moisture is added. Mold spores for instance can be a respiratory irritant while in a particulate state but once moisture starts to ‘feed’ it, will begin to show visible growth and off-gas mildew or musty odors [a great example is basement odors in the summer vs. winter]
• There are also odors that are bacterial in nature that appear to ‘reactivate’ when moisture is added! This is the case with animal related odors [such as a rodent nest in a wall, or pet urine].
Many of these intrusive odors can take an extremely long time to dissipate on their own. And because they manifest and subside with humidity changes they can be very frustrating to track down. Knowing how moisture and humidity can play a role in this problem can help you figure it out. Is there evidence of surface moisture? Wetness stains from condensation or wetness wicking in? Is the odor more prominent during or after rain? Or on a humid vs dry day? If you are using a dehumidifier does the odor return when it is not in use?
Remember: a dehumidifier does not remove odors, it simply removes the moisture that feeds them. Cleaning a carpet does not always treat or reach the padding or flooring beneath it. Odors that are related to gas substances [especially when lighter than air] are almost never ‘detected’ near the actual source of the odor.
Part of the trick to track down your mystery odor is not to just find what it is, but to also rule out what it isn’t. Take into account the environmental factors, and look for patterns in the ways and times the odor is most noticeable to you and that should help narrow down your search. If it continues to elude you, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to help!