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  1. #1
    Patrick McCaffery's Avatar
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    Default What's that smell?

    Background:

    • 150 year old house with several additions
    • Current residents have been in the house for 20 years
    • The main house has a stone foundation, there is one new addition on a new crawl space, this had a layer of plastic with crushed stone on top. The other crawl space was much older, was old dirt and stone
    • At one time there was a cistern in the basement, only one wall of the cistern remains. The cistern was last in use 10 years ago.
    • Basement walls were treated and repaired for water damage 10 years ago.
    • The heating for the house is hot water
    • Basement has a sump pump that had minimal water in it
    • A de-humidifier was running and sending water to the sump pump
    • The property is located in upstate New York three to four houses from the Erie canal
    • The basement floor is cement
    • There is currently no signs of moisture in the basement, even though this has been a rainy summer in upstate New York
    • The odor has been noticed in the past five years, not before
    Problem: The clients complain of a smell in the basement and were concered about mold. The wife described the smell as, "smelling like an old person". The husband could not describe the smell.

    Things that it did not smell like:
    • Sewer gas
    • Dead animals
    • Natural gas
    • Any type of building materials
    Process:
    • Viisually inspected both crawl spaces for mold like substances, found none.
    • Visually inspected the basement floor and walls for mold like substance found none.
    • Inspected in and around the sump pump, no odor or mold
    • Inspected the remaining wall of the cistern, no odor or mold.
    • Inspected the floor and small cracks in the floor for odor, none.
    Observations:
    • I did find debris on the top of the foundation between the joist that appeared to be deteriorated dirt and dust from the old foundation. I collected the debris and asked the wife to determine if this was the smell and she said no.
    • I found dirt and debris on top of the old crawlspace, which to me did smell old and musty. This was a very strong odor. The husband indicated that this was not the smell.
    Recommendation:
    • I recommended that the husband cover the wall by the old foundation with plastic to see if the smell went away.
    • Also recommend that he blank off certain areas with plastic to see if he can isolate the exact location of the odor.
    My personal opinion is that the smell is just from the old musty building materials in the basement. (Wood, stone foundation)
    Does anyone have any suggestions or other recommendations?

    Thanks for your help.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Odor detection is one of the hardest things you will ever do. Unless it is sitting right in front of you.
    I used to work with a guy that had the longest schozz it the world but couldn't smell a thing.
    Last odor investigation I did came back to a stack of cardboard boxes that were stored in an adjoining room.
    I went crazy looking for the source. Just couldn't find it. Until the boxes were moved out and the odor disappeared.

    Critical Home Inspection Services
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick McCaffery View Post

    .
    Problem:
    The wife described the smell as, "smelling like an old person".
    .

    Could Be.
    .



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  4. #4
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Sounds like it needs a good ole fashion airing out. If there are operable window I would open them on mild low humidity days.

    Or try sprinkling baking soda on the cement floor and then vacuum or sweep it up.

    The owner could also put plates of wood charcoal out and that will absorb odours.

    Also running a dehumidifier in the summer months would go a long way in keeping the dampeness at bay.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick McCaffery View Post
    "smelling like an old person".

    To me, I first thought of "moth balls" when I read that.

    I guess that "smelling like an old person" means different things to different people.

    150 year old house = probably balloon framed = any smells in the basement will waft up through the stud cavities and be drawn out into any given room (or all rooms).

    I would first start by looking for openings which would allow air to waft upward. Use a strong, pleasant but strong, scent along the foundation walls, turn all the exhaust fans on in the house above, and have the wife move throughout the house to see if she can smell that scent. If not, move along the foundation wall and have the wife check again. Do not stop when she can smell it, keep checking all the way around the foundation walls.

    It is possible that the underside of the floor system may need to be sealed off, all the way out to the exterior walls and stud cavities. Heck, the scent might even 'just go up through the floor' above.

    I can imagine that 150 basements are musty smelling.

    Back around 1980 or so my first wife and I were considering moving to Charlottesville, VA., we looked at a 200+ year old house in Scottsville which had stone foundation walls, stone flooring, wear and tear from 100+ years of slaves working on everything down there, you name it, quite an interesting house, but, I digress, *IT WAS MUSTY* smelling.

    Of course. It was 200+ years old.

    But it was nice, on 38 acres, its own pond, etc.

    Your 150 year old house may have the same things ... age ... of everything, sweat having been dropped all over, you name it.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  6. #6
    Ted Menelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Fhe old Erie Toxic waste drift


  7. #7
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Our neighbor's house is the epitome of the "old person smell" for lack of a better term. The smell is mind boggling. I go out to get our mail and if her front door is open, I can smell it on the sidewalk. Phew!!!!!!! Our houses are attached and there is air leakage at a section where we have an exposed brick wall in our dining room. One nice day when we had all the windows open, it create a pressure where the smell from her house was actually suctioned through the wall into ours. I immediately packed gap in the wall with insualtion because I decided we were too young to have our house smell like that.

    She opens here windows more than we do so I have no idea what makes a house smell like that. It's bizarre.


  8. #8
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    I was intrigued by the "old person smell" and Googled this........

    Exploring the taboo topic of the old-person smell

    April 25, 2000
    The topic for today's column is not a very easy one to talk about, but in the spirit of candor and honesty, I feel that it is something that needs to be discussed.

    The topic: Why do some old people smell funny?

    Now, before you get in a huff and come down to the Tribune's building to beat the tar out of us with your canes and walkers, let me explain: I am not saying that all old people smell funny, nor am I claiming that old people are the only group that has a unique odor all its own. For example, many teen-agers smell funny (Nirvana said it was the smell of "teen spirit," a statement which can be explained by the fact that many members of Nirvana were on drugs). Smokers have a certain fragrance, too (eau de rotting armpit), as do construction workers (a fascinating blend of grease and B.O.). Heck, even many journalists reek (smelling like a cross between doughnuts, ink and poverty).

    Having said that, it's undeniable that many senior citizens have a smell to them. It's almost indescribable -- a mixture of the odors of Ben Gay, rainwater and rotting bananas. This begs the question: Why do old people smell like this? Yeah, the Ben Gay part makes some sense, but there is no good reason that old people would smell like rainwater or rancid bananas unless they're in charge of the monkey cages at the Seattle zoo. And this is highly unlikely.

    Here are some theories on why the old person smell exists:

    1. Some people emit pheromones; some old people, who are past mating age, emit the old-person smell. Scientists have proven that humans emit pheromones, like pretty much any animal does. And these pheromones attract people to each other. Some people, like Brad Pitt, put out lots of pheromones, meaning that women flock to him like seagulls flock to a discarded hot dog on a beach. Other people, like San Donaldson, put out fewer pheromones, meaning that women flock to him like women flock to a discarded hot dog on a beach.

    Maybe in the case of old people, something has gone wrong with their pheromones. It's possible that their pheromones aged and simply went bad, kind of like milk does. So, this would mean that the old person smell is a result of the elderly emitting rotten pheromones. Interesting, eh?

    2. Blame it on Ben Gay. This is a goofy theory, but bear with me here. Maybe, just maybe, the makers of Ben Gay put a chemical in the product to make it smell like rotting bananas and rainwater when it is breaking down. That would explain the combination of the three smells quite nicely, wouldn't it?

    Here's the only problem with my theory: Why would the makers of Ben Gay want to do this? Hmm ... maybe they've discovered that the smell of rainwater and rotting bananas acts as a pheromone with old people, making them desire not other old people, but more Ben Gay. Think about it! It makes people addicted to Ben Gay -- once an old person starts using it, they can't stop, because the Ben Gay breaks down and the smell makes them need more! Yeah! That makes sense ... well, maybe, uh ...

    Never mind.

    3. Blame it on the media. The popular thing for people to do these days is to blame everything -- including Elian Gonzalez, acid rain, Cher, herpes and even Regis Philbin -- on the media. So, why not blame the old person smell on the media, too?

    It's possible that bitter media members, such as Sam Donaldson (who is mad because he is pheromone-deprived and is often compared to discarded pork products), made up the old-person smell and made it into a media issue, when in reality, it's not much of an issue at all.

    Naw. That couldn't be it; the old-person smell isn't discussed much in the media, and there is tangible proof of the old person smell -- namely, old people who smell.

    So, there you have it. It appears the source of the old person smell will have to remain a mystery for a little while longer. I think I'll take the lead of Nirvana, and simply say the old person smell "smells like elderly spirit."

    Jimmy Boegle is a fifth-generation Nevadan who is grateful that elderly folks have great senses of humor, especially with regards to this column (hopefully). Jimmy's column appears here Tuesdays, and an archive of his columns can be viewed at Jimmy's home page.


  9. #9
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    I have heard before that if you place volcanic rocks in a mesh type bag and suspend them from a rafter or floor joist that they will actually absorb that odor over a short period of time.

    rick


  10. #10
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    So Rick, are you saying I should make a trip to Mt. Saint Helens?


  11. #11
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Ostrowski View Post
    --I should make a trip to Mt. Saint Helens?
    .
    Naw,
    .
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  12. #12
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Charcoal absorbs odors too, but you would probably need a whole bunch of it, like maybe a Mt. St. Helens size pile.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  13. #13
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Many many years ago I worked at a company for about 2 yrs. that specialized in crime scene cleanups. We went in after a death had occured and did a restoration of the residence. It was not a pleasant job, but the pay was unbelievable at the time.

    We used a product that was called NI-712 which is now available to the public online. You can Google it and find it. Years ago, it was very expensive and was probably one of the first "orange" oil products on the market. It was not a masking agent, it got rid of the odor.

    I remember using it once in a home that a man had been found in after being deceased for about 2wks. and had numerous dogs and cats in the house. It was a scene from hell.

    After everything was removed, and treated with this product I went back in a week later to remove some fans and you'd never know that anything had happened.

    rick


  14. #14
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Hurst View Post
    Many many years ago I worked at a company for about 2 yrs. that specialized in crime scene cleanups. We went in after a death had occured and did a restoration of the residence. It was not a pleasant job, but the pay was unbelievable at the time.

    We used a product that was called NI-712 which is now available to the public online. You can Google it and find it. Years ago, it was very expensive and was probably one of the first "orange" oil products on the market. It was not a masking agent, it got rid of the odor.

    I remember using it once in a home that a man had been found in after being deceased for about 2wks. and had numerous dogs and cats in the house. It was a scene from hell.

    After everything was removed, and treated with this product I went back in a week later to remove some fans and you'd never know that anything had happened.

    rick
    Now that's one job I'd like to see them profile on "Dirty Jobs". Mike Rowe may quit after that.


  15. #15
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Vinegar works well at removing ordours.

    However the urine smell you find in old age homes takes the cake.

    What do you call a line 30 feet long that smell like urine?

    Line dancing at the old age home!


  16. #16
    Ted Menelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    Vinegar works well at removing ordours.

    However the urine smell you find in old age homes takes the cake.

    What do you call a line 30 feet long that smell like urine?

    Line dancing at the old age home!
    Now thats not nice. We are all going to be there some day. Well with the exception of me. When it comes to that point I will have saved my happy pills up for some time. I remodelled nursing homes and added on to hospitals. I have also remodelled many assisted living homes.

    If I am put into a nursing home and left in a wheel chair in the hall with my head caulked to the side and spittle coming out the corner of my mouth and crap in my pants I will haunt the person responsible for putting me there for all eternity.


  17. #17
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    Default Re: What's that smell?

    I loved the article that Nick Ostrowski posted, it is all clear now, blame the old people smell on "Ben Gay". I forwarded the article to my mom and dad, I am now officially out of the will.

    Last edited by Ray Muller; 09-12-2008 at 09:07 AM. Reason: spelling mistake

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