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Tue, June 25

Column: Some solutions to rid homes of 'sweet skunky' smells

In my last column, I printed a letter from a reader with a "sweet skunky" odor in the house. It got worse after it rained. Pest control experts and plumbing and heating contractors could not figure it out. So I asked for your help.

I received more than 25 emails after that column. Several were from people with a similar problem who wanted to know if someone had a solution. I can't print all the suggestions, but here are some that were offered. The first two are from the Courier website, dCourier.com; the rest are from emails.

Joan: A skunk deposited scat under our deck. The odor drifted into our mechanical room. We cleaned up the scat and sprayed Pine Sol under the deck by using an ordinary garden hose sprayer. No more skunks for more than a year. Now we spray each spring before they arrive.

Anonymous: If moisture is getting through an outside wall, it could be causing a light short/oxidation on the wiring in the wall sockets. If the plastic material gets hot, it will have a skunk-like odor. Next time it starts to rain, turn off the main power at your electrical box and see if you still get the odor. If you don't, I would suggest a complete wiring check on all boxes.

Micki: Since the home is newer, I think that when they were building the home, a friendly skunk passed by what was his territory and saw a big structure had moved in and invaded his space. So he decided he would have to mark new boundaries so his competitors would not invade his territory. He saw this plush roll of something lying out there and decided it needed to be marked thoroughly.

Later men arrived and installed the insulation, covered it with the wood siding or whatever. When the weather gets wet and hot, the wood inside may sweat, and the smell rises from its dormant grave to alert all passersby. And it alerts the new invaders in the home.

Suggestion: Drill a small hole (just enough to get a large hypodermic needle in) in the interior and possibly exterior wall in the area of the scent. Go to the pet store and buy "anti skunk" odor remover. I have used this type of product on my dogs when they got too curious. Inject it into the wall, which hopefully will saturate the insulation and seal up the tiny holes.

Bill and Susan: We live in Stoneridge. Last December we did some remodeling (no disruption of exterior walls but we were up in the attic a lot). One small room (an office) in particular developed a skunky odor over several weeks that seemed to wax and wane through the day, often becoming worse as the day progressed and became warmer. At other times, it would be evident in our bedroom on the opposite side of the house. Having a lot of experience with skunks, I did not feel like this was a true skunk smell. It was as though it had a sweet, resin-like component to it. Other family members disagreed with me and felt it was skunky.

We did all the things you mentioned, including serious inspection of the attic and exterior walls. No attic smell, scat, dead remains or localized smells on the exterior walls were ever identified. Finally, I consulted our neighbors. Those to the immediate north of us were fit to be tied with the smell. Theirs was in their bedroom-bath area immediately opposite the site of our office. The neighbors to the south had experienced whiffs of "something odd" but nothing like we had. Other neighbors did not have a smell.

The long and short of this is we never found the source and it dissipated after a few weeks. (FYI, odor treatments including X-O did nothing to help.)

I spoke with a local contractor and he said he had experience with this being caused by the local skunk bush when the red berries appear (it is very common around us; it's a member of the Rhus family). I researched this on the Internet and it does appear to indeed produce an objectionable odor when rubbed. I am still puzzled as to how it could be so localized in our house and that of the neighbor unless there was a certain wind pattern that sent it wafting fragrantly between our two houses. We have lived in this house for five years and this was the first we encountered this.

Janet: We had that same skunk odor problem at our home, until our wise 91-year-old neighbor told us that javelina give off that same musky, terrible odor. It seems they were sleeping near one side of our house, leaving their "scent" - and their fleas! If the animals are simply walking through the yard, I can smell them when our windows are open. Ask your friends with the problem skunk smell if they have javelina resting in their yard. They are stinky!

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Me again. I'm not endorsing any of these; I'm just the messenger. Other readers agreed with my guess of mold/mildew. One suggested a borescope inspection, which is a small camera on a flexible probe (I won't say what he compared it to!). Another suggested drilling a small hole in the wall to pour in some bleach solution. I could easily fill another column or two with your suggestions, but these cover most of them.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 6,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at randy@inspectprescott.com.

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