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Why does my house stink?

The title of this post is a question we are regularly asked. Quite frequently the answer to pic dust pollen moldthe question actually lies underneath of the home. Something many people don’t realize is that approximately fifty percent of the air you breathe on the main floor of your house comes from the crawlspace. This is because of something known as stack effect (a great picture and explanation is available here), which basically means that as the heated air in your home rises and escapes, a vacuum is created that sucks cold air through the crawlspace. (It can also contribute to cold floor syndrome.) As that air circulates into your living area, any odors from rodents, moisture or garbage below could be to blame for your house’s unpleasant aroma.

pic ratAnother source of a home’s bad odor can be the result of crawlspace pest infiltration. Once inside the space, rodents love to nest and tunnel through the home’s insulation. Not only do they destroy the insulation’s R-value by compressing it, but they also soak it in waste creating a very strong odor. If you look underneath your home and see droppings on the vapor barrier, it is a good indicator of infestation and a very likely source of malodor. Removing the soiled insulation and sanitizing the space as part of a crawlspace cleaning job would greatly improve the home’s scent. It should also be noted that rodents sometimes carry dangerous diseases like Hantavirus and King County Public Health Department has indicated that exposure to rodent waste can trigger asthma attacks. If your crawlspace needs cleaning, confirm that the professionals you hire can do the job in a safe and sanitary manner and ensure that they offer rodent exclusion to prevent the rodents from returning to your newly cleaned crawlspace.

In a previous post about insulating for warmth, we explained how most crawlspaces in the Pacific Northwest are vented to the outside of the home. The purpose of the vents is to move air in and out of the crawlspace, however temperature fluctuations can create moisture causing mold, fungus, and other toxins to grow, none of which contributes to a great smell indoors. The moisture can also be particularly problematic for people with mold allergies.

Finally, garbage and debris are often found in crawlspaces and are leftover from the structure’s original construction. This is problematic because it can collect mold and fungus creating its own aromas. Further, garbage and debris are attractive to rodents and wood destroying insects.

Obviously, not all odorous homes can look to the crawl space as the source of the problem. Our homes become unclean from daily activities like cooking, bathing, breathing, washing clothes, pets, trash, and bringing in toxins from outdoors (read about how your shoes could be making you sick in this post). Without regular cleaning and proper ventilation, your home is likely to be a honk. Regularly airing out your home as part of your cleaning routine can help get rid of stale air. Some green cleaning tips for common household smells is available on This Old House.

 

 

 

Warm floors, warm feet

The Seattle area is in the midst of its cold and drizzly winter and it may be several months before the sun returns, today being an unusual but welcome anomaly. Now, more than ever, Northwesterners are acutely aware of how cold and chilly the house, and especially the floors, can be leading to a frequent need to nudge up the thermostat to keep warm. Interestingly, checking out your crawl space and replacing missing or damaged insulation under the floor joists could be the remedy for your cold floors and regular thermostat visits. A crawl space cleanup will help prevent energy loss by keeping heat inside where it belongs and blocking the cold air outside. Even better, as your heating bill goes down and the wear and tear on your HVAC system decreases, Uncle Sam will give you a break since the cost of insulation is tax deductible.

pic dirty crawlMost crawl spaces in the Pacific Northwest are vented to the outside of the home. The vents are easily visible on the lower walls (near the ground) of the home’s foundation and are designed to move air in and out of the crawl space. Seasonal temperature fluctuations can create moisture in the crawl space destroying insulation and causing mold, fungus, and other toxins to grow. Wet insulation will sag and pull away from the sub floor dramatically reducing its effectiveness. Specifically, cold air can reach the floor directly causing what’s known as cold floor syndrome. Any air that leaks through your home’s thermal envelope wastes energy and significantly increases heating costs.

If you take a peek into the crawl space and determine that you could use a cleanup there are many resources available online to help guide you. If your crawlspace is not easily accessible or perhaps needs a full restoration, you may wish to hire a professional.  Energy Star recommends consulting a service professional if there is wet or damp insulation possibly resulting from leakages. Experts are also helpful for dealing with rodents, a huge problem for crawl spaces.

Ensuring your home has adequate insulation is considered a cost-effective home improvement that will help save energy and improve comfort. A home that retains heat saves natural resources, reduces air emissions and helps create a cleaner environment. Insulation is made more affordable with a tax credit of 10% of the cost up to $500. As you enjoy your warm feet and toasty floors, peruse this infographic for additional ways homeowners can save on their taxes this season.