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Harsh plastic smell in my house
Old 06-04-2013, 09:47 PM   #1
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Harsh plastic smell in my house

Hello:

I have been searching the internet for a solution to my problem. I found a posting in this forum for a similar problem, and the community seemed very helpful, although the original poster did not indicate if he had ever found a solution.
Mysterious house smell

I purchased a manufactured home several years ago. Late last summer (my third summer in the home) I started to smell a harsh plastic odor during the day. If breathed it causes severe coughing, and gives me a headache. The smell did not occur during the winter, but as temperatures got up to about 50 degrees out (and sunny), the odor returned.

The smell builds up during the day. After dark I use a fan to air out the house, and it stays odor free during the night (which has been cooling into the 40s and 50s). Then the next morning (the hotter the day the earlier it begins) the odor returns.

Luckily the odor only occurs in the main part of the house (living room, kitchen). So I can stay in a bedroom and block air from entering. However this is really only a stopgap solution.

I have not put in anything new - no appliances, carpets, furniture, electronics, etc. I do not have an air conditioner. And the problem apparently is related to the temperature outside the house, rather than inside. It will occur on a cool day with full sun, and on any warm day.

I have used a fan to air the house out during the day and then done sniff tests all over the room without being able to locate a source.

One thought that comes to mind is that there must be an attic space above the living room ceiling (although there is no way to get into it). Perhaps something up there is out-gassing and the fumes are coming in through the ceiling. Although I would think that this would affect the whole house, not just the living room kitchen area.
If this is the problem, there are vents on the roof that supposedly would remove any fumes from that space. However I don't know if they are really doing the job. So I guess one question would be: how do I tell if the vents are adequately ventilating the attic space?

And if this is not the problem, what might be the source of this out-gassing of plastic, especially so many years after everything was manufactured?

Any advice would be appreciated.
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Old 06-04-2013, 09:51 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stenforn View Post

I purchased a manufactured home several years ago. Late last summer (my third summer in the home) I started to smell a harsh plastic odor during the day. If breathed it causes severe coughing, and gives me a headache. The smell did not occur during the winter, but as temperatures got up to about 50 degrees out (and sunny), the odor returned.
Do some research on formaldehyde, which may have been used in the construction of your manufactured home. Bad stuff to breathe...

Quote:
Formaldehyde is a potent mucous membrane irritant. As such, acute (short term) formaldehyde exposure concentrations > 0.05 ppm can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and sinuses. Resulting symptoms include burning, dryness, redness and itching of eyes, nasal dryness, soreness, runniness; sore or dry throat, and sinus congestion or post-nasal drip. Secondary effects associated with these symptoms may include cough, chest tightness, excessive phlegm production, repeated sinus infections, eye infections and possibly bronchitis. In very sensitive individuals these respiratory symptoms may progress to asthma and for those with existing asthma exposure to formaldehyde may precipitate asthmatic attacks.
Are You Sick from Formaldehyde Exposure?
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:04 PM   #3
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Unless something was recently altered or disturbed, it seems odd that a building material would suddenly start outgassing to this extent. Some electrical component overheating?
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:17 PM   #4
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Do some research on formaldehyde, which may have been used in the construction of your manufactured home. Bad stuff to breathe...
Thank-you for the suggestion.

I think I have smelled formaldehyde in cheap particle board furniture I purchased in the past. If so, it has a different odor. This is a distinctly plastic odor.

Also my understanding is that formaldehyde would have started out-gassing almost immediately instead of waiting 3 years (5 years after the home was manufactured) to begin.

One of the things that puzzles me about this problem is that it took so long to manifest itself.
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:24 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by HFWR View Post
Unless something was recently altered or disturbed, it seems odd that a building material would suddenly start outgassing to this extent. Some electrical component overheating?
Thank-you for your response.

I have been wondering this myself. The thing that doesn't seem right about this is that it only happens during the day, and only when the temperature outside is warm. If it were wiring or some electrical component, why would the outside temperature be such a strong factor?

Could anyone provide a suggestion as to what kind of electrical component might cause this?

Before I opt to pay an electrician (or other professional) to run a thorough inspection I want to be pretty sure I have identified the source.
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:32 PM   #6
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Here's a link that might help you...

Guide to Plastic, Vinyl, Chemical Odor Source Diagnosis - Vinyl Siding & Plastic Windows, Flooring & other Odor Sources
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Old 06-04-2013, 10:42 PM   #7
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I'm thinking electrical component also. Sometimes new TVs or other devices can give off a pretty noxious smell for a while. It usually fades as it 'burns off'. Also, a defect could cause a part to overheat and smell bad, so it could be a new problem in an old device.

Tough to correlate with temperature, but for example, a refrigerator/freezer could run more as it warms up. Or maybe it has to do with drafts or air flow or something? Some things run in response to activity (water filters, anything on a motion detector?)

Invite people over to try to see if they can sniff it out, they might be more sensitive. Go outside for a while to clear your senses, and try again. Good luck.

edit/add: You could try turning off circuit breakers for that area as a test - I don't know if a few hours off would be enough to make the smell subside to correlate it to any circuit, but it might narrow it down.

-ERD50
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Old 06-04-2013, 11:09 PM   #8
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Excellent site! Thank-you.

I had not considered that windows could be out-gassing. I will check that out tomorrow, as well as any other suggestions there that I have not explored, and post my findings.
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Old 06-04-2013, 11:13 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
I'm thinking electrical component also. Sometimes new TVs or other devices can give off a pretty noxious smell for a while. It usually fades as it 'burns off'. Also, a defect could cause a part to overheat and smell bad, so it could be a new problem in an old device.

Tough to correlate with temperature, but for example, a refrigerator/freezer could run more as it warms up. Or maybe it has to do with drafts or air flow or something? Some things run in response to activity (water filters, anything on a motion detector?)

Invite people over to try to see if they can sniff it out, they might be more sensitive. Go outside for a while to clear your senses, and try again. Good luck.

edit/add: You could try turning off circuit breakers for that area as a test - I don't know if a few hours off would be enough to make the smell subside to correlate it to any circuit, but it might narrow it down.

-ERD50
Thank-you for the suggestions.

I have done the sniff test around all my appliances, and there are no new electronic devices.

Turning off the circuit breaker is a good idea. It will let me know if anything electrical in the room is the cause.
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Old 06-04-2013, 11:20 PM   #10
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I once experienced something similar seasonally, and it turned out to be related to the sun. Only during certain seasons would the sun would reach a particular area and heat it up to cause outgassing of some sort.
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Old 06-05-2013, 09:10 AM   #11
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I had a co-worker that went through a real nightmare with his home that was spray foam insulated. It seems that after some period of time the foam in the attic began to break down due to heat and this resulted in some horrendous fumes that eventually forced the family to vacate the house due to health problems. They ended up successfully suing the builder, but that took several years to accomplish.

Hopefully, your situation is not due to something like that and I hope you can get to the bottom of it soon.
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Old 06-20-2013, 12:22 PM   #12
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Thank-you all for your generous responses!

I found the link supplied by bbbamI to be especially helpful.

It has been surprisingly difficult to track down the culprit but I think it is two (of the three identical) windows in my living room that are releasing the fumes.

I'm still uncertain as to why the windows have started doing this after so many years (and only two of the three). But I will be replacing all three with new windows that I hope will permanently solve the problem.

Thanks again. This is a great community.
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Old 06-20-2013, 12:41 PM   #13
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I wonder if you should do some testing before a full-out replacement?

Have you contacted the mfg? Is there some reason this happened now? Is sunlight hitting the windows that was blocked before (tree trimmed?)?

I think I'd want to replace one (can one section be removed w/o exposing the house to the elements?), and seal it up somewhere out of the house to validate this. Or maybe it's less hassle and not so much cost to just do it all at once? I'd just hate for this to be a dead end for you. You don't sound so sure of yourself (you think it is the windows).

-ERD50
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Old 06-20-2013, 03:13 PM   #14
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I wonder if you should do some testing before a full-out replacement?

Have you contacted the mfg? Is there some reason this happened now? Is sunlight hitting the windows that was blocked before (tree trimmed?)?

I think I'd want to replace one (can one section be removed w/o exposing the house to the elements?), and seal it up somewhere out of the house to validate this. Or maybe it's less hassle and not so much cost to just do it all at once? I'd just hate for this to be a dead end for you. You don't sound so sure of yourself (you think it is the windows).

-ERD50
+1

Is there some means by which you could isolate the troublesome windows (by taping a sheet of plastic over them, effectively sealing any off-gases from entering the room) to test your theory that they are the odor-generators?

omni
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Old 06-20-2013, 03:19 PM   #15
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I wonder if you should do some testing before a full-out replacement? ...

I think I'd want to replace one (can one section be removed w/o exposing the house to the elements?), and seal it up somewhere out of the house to validate this. Or maybe it's less hassle and not so much cost to just do it all at once? I'd just hate for this to be a dead end for you. You don't sound so sure of yourself (you think it is the windows).

-ERD50
You make a very good point ERD50. It would be a good idea to test my conclusion that it is those two windows.

One way, as you suggest, would be to remove one or both (or all three) of the windows, move them to other sites, and then see if there is outgassing noticeable there.

As someone with very little skill in doing home improvement type work, I wonder if someone might have an easier to implement suggestion?

Thanks.
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Old 06-20-2013, 03:21 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Stenforn View Post
Thank-you all for your generous responses!

I found the link supplied by bbbamI to be especially helpful.

It has been surprisingly difficult to track down the culprit but I think it is two (of the three identical) windows in my living room that are releasing the fumes.

I'm still uncertain as to why the windows have started doing this after so many years (and only two of the three). But I will be replacing all three with new windows that I hope will permanently solve the problem.

Thanks again. This is a great community.
I would replace the three windows too. Worst case, you will have nice new windows: best case, problem is solved (and you have nice new windows ).
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Old 06-20-2013, 03:25 PM   #17
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+1

Is there some means by which you could isolate the troublesome windows (by taping a sheet of plastic over them, effectively sealing any off-gases from entering the room) to test your theory that they are the odor-generators?

omni
Thank-you omni550!

Your message seems to have been posted while I wrote my previous message, and provides an easy way to test the windows.

I will write an update after I have had an opportunity to try this out.
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