Strange frustrating smell


  #1  
Old 03-24-13, 09:50 AM
D
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 18
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Strange frustrating smell

Hello everyone
I've posted this cry for help on a few forums now, so please forgive repetition. I'm getting a little desperate

I apologize for the length of this post. I'm trying to be thorough.

About a month ago I began to notice a strange smell in my house. It has grown stronger, but sometimes is undetectable, sometimes very strong. I cannot pinpoint it to a specific location or room, and it circulates through the vents. Sometimes. Often I notice it but friends don't, then at other times they do.

-At first I thought it was electronic components because I first smelled it in my home office and it seemed like electric plastic smell of a new component out of the box. I tried disconnecting some of my electronic components. This did not make a difference.
-I thought it might be faulty wiring in the walls. I got an electrician to check the plugs in rooms where odour was strongest. No problems there.
-I evacuated my cat to a friend's place in case it's gas and that could hurt her before me. It is not a cat smell, btw.
-Fridge? Had a technician check it out but he said it was working perfectly.
-Water heater? A technician did not find anything wrong. I think he checked only for CO leaks.
-Gas furnace? Tech said it was working fine.
(-Later we found problems with the furnace and tech fixed a condensation reservoir. But he said it was not related to the smell--though he couldn't detect the smell himself.)
-I had a quick indoor air quality check done. It found no elevated levels of anything except VOCs, but they were not terribly high--not in the red zone of the metres by any means. I will get a more comprehensive test if I can't sort this out myself (those test cost hundreds of dollars).
-I had a water leak in my bathroom above my front foyer a few weeks before I smelled it. I cut into the ceiling to see if any mold or smell was coming from there, but there was nothing. I had a contractor friend check it out, too, and he said the space was dry and fine.
-I had a mold expert/home air quality inspector come in. He didn't find anything that would be causing this.
-Ducts were cleaned and a disinfectant sprayed in them. Randy the duct cleaner who is also a water heater and furnace installer, said the problem may be the venting of the water heater into the chimney. He said there may be a creature dead in the chimney, restricting the venting, so then exhaust flows back into the house and is circulated by the furnace which is right beside the chimney vent, but vents to the side of the house.
-He will also come to clean the furnace but he doesnít think thatís the furnace is the problem.
-I then tried an experiment by not running my hot water all day to see if there was a smell. I caught a mild one, but that may have been because the water heater turns on at various times to reheat the water.
-But some days when I'm not using a lot of hot water the odour is quite powerful
-I have noticed that a few times the smell was especially strong when the sun was shining. Could this have something to do with the chimney?
-It is not coming from outside since it has appeared when the wind is blowing from different directions
-One day it was slightly warmer (just above freezing) I opened some windows to air the place out. When I got home the odour was quite strong. I thought it might be the furnace because it would have been on longer that day. It was also sunny that day (see above)
-The smell alternates between being a slight organic smell, (perhaps rotting animal confirming Randy's theory? but not super strong), and a more mechanical smell, almost like a refinery.
-When it is strong, my eyes get irritated, and I can almost taste it in the air. It may be an illusion, but it feels as if the air is heavier at those times.
-As I noted earlier, it began as something decidedly electronic.

Any help, suggestions, ideas, advice, references... please contact me or post here!! I'm losing what's left of my mind. And since I work at home, I get it 24/7!
 
  #2  
Old 03-24-13, 10:35 AM
PJmax's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Jersey
Posts: 71,620
Received 3,322 Likes on 2,983 Posts
You mentioned a plastic burning smell early in your thread.

Obviously you've had many people there to try and locate the smell.
How did they describe the smell ?

Everybody interprets a smell differently but was there a common consensus among them ?

The only thing that comes to mind is a transformer and specifically the doorbell transformer.
I've had calls with a mildly burning smell. Sometimes the transformers were hidden in an out of the way spot.
 
  #3  
Old 03-24-13, 11:46 AM
D
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 18
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Additional info

I thought it could be a transformer. I don't have a door bell but do have a security system.

The unfortunate thing is, most of the tradesmen who have been here don't smell it. One thought it could be sewer gasses, but I had made eggs that day so I think that was what they were smelling (I know the smell of sewer gasses and it's definitely not that, or at least not the type I'm familiar with).

It comes and goes and when they've been here it has normally gone. But some other people have smelled it (and I'm not totally losing my mind, a friend smelled it on my clothes recently).
 
  #4  
Old 03-24-13, 01:26 PM
czizzi's Avatar
Member
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: USA
Posts: 7,388
Received 15 Likes on 13 Posts
If you have a fireplace, open the flue and see if the smell gets stronger. A dead bird or squirrel in the firebox would have a smell that "wafted" from strong to mild depending on if there was a downdraft in the chimney.

Inspect your ceiling lines carefully for any signs of water or moisture issues. Slight discolorations may point to moisture issues. If you can see them inspect the vent boots on the plumbing lines that exit the roof to make sure there are not any breaches.

If you have a bath or shower that is infrequently or never used, pour some water into the drain as the trap may have dried out and allowing sewer gasses to escape.

Check that the condensate drain on your HVAC air handler is not plugged. Excess stagnant water can build up in the air handler and the emergency drain keeps the leak from being discovered. This item blows directly into your house. Could be aggravated by hot days and less active on colder ones.

I mentioned squirrels above, by any rodent that has taken the eternal nap could be trapped in the walls or other places that are not accessible. Have you been using poison baits to manage a rodent problem?

You mentioned and organic smell and also an electrical smell. Trying to put those two together in my mind. Rodents have been known to chew through the electrical cable insulation leaving bare wires. If these wires somehow shorted/arced that would give you an initial electronic sniff and then would be followed by an organic whiff if the arc was caused by a critter who kicked the bucket.

Check back and help us check off the list of possibilities.
 
  #5  
Old 03-24-13, 09:32 PM
D
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 18
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Follow up

Thanks for the feedback.

To hit the points briefly.

I've never had a rodent problem. I have been in houses with them and I've never seen the signs here. It could be something in the chimney, though.

I don't have a fireplace.

Since the electrical smell lasted for a while before the dead body and mechanical smell I doubt if it was a chewed through wire though I will keep an eye out for that. What a way to go.

I will definitely check the condensate drain. The reservoir had been broken--actually the furnace guy ordered a replacement and then said it was just a hose had gotten off. I don't know if the reservoir is the same as the drain and if I can fix it myself. Gas furnaces make me nervous. I've tried to find the specs on mine, but can't find them on line.

One thing I though of when you mentioned the roof. I did get my roof redone last year. It had never been stripped right down, and had the original cedar shingles on. So they ripped it right to the bottom trusses, put in plywood and then a few more vents before shingling. I went up there to check a few things and didn't notice the smell there, but I wonder if that could be a problem. The thing is, it is unlikely that the smell from the roof would seep into the house--isn't it?

Also, before the roof (and gutters) were done, I had some leaking into my basement that probably came from overflowing gutters (running down the side of the house). I wonder if this could have something to do with it--which would be odd because I don't usually smell the smell in my basement.

Thanks again everyone for the input and I look forward to further suggestions.
 
  #6  
Old 03-25-13, 07:35 PM
D
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 18
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Additional info

Someone said something about the possibility that it could be a door bell transformer. It is not that (I don't have a doorbell) though I do have an alarm system. I've sniffed around there and it's not that.

But it does smell at times like a transformer smell. That's the electrical smell I get. The organic smell can best be described as the sort of smell you get when water in a plastic bottle goes a little off and gets that slight pink sludge on it. How's that for a good description? I'm not sure how to put these two together, and the organic smell could just as easily be a dead smell, or something wet.
 
 

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
 
Ask a Question
Question Title:
Description: