Fume smell around the house
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
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    9

    Fume smell around the house

    Hello,

    I have moved into a newly built house in October.
    When I open the windows I get fumes odor in certain areas /packets of the first floor of the house. There is no odor on the 2nd floor or the basement, where both the gas water heater and furnace are located.
    It does not smell like rotten eggs, and does not smell like gas from the stove or fireplace before igniting. It is more faint, with non-discript odor. My wife describes it as "ozone smell".

    There is no odor when the windows are closed.
    I have sort of ruled out the furnace because I had it completely off but was still getting the odor. If it's the gas water heater, than what may be the cause?

    We already had the builder move the air intake for the furnace, to try to remedy the problem, but it did not make a difference.

    Currently the intake and exhaust come out on the side of the house via PVC pipes.

    I'd be glad to post some pics of the water heater setup tonight.

    Your help is much appreciated.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Missouri
    Posts
    3,410
    Do you have a garage and is the door from garage to house sealed well? Where does the water heater vent terminate? Where does the dryer vent terminate? Do you have an electronic air filter in this home, if so, has it been kept clean? Dirty collector cells in an electronic air filter will sometimes give off an ozone smell as the dirty cells will cause arcing inside the filter unit. Does this home have an "ozone generator" in it, such as an Alpine unit? Do you store any yard or garden chemicals inside the home or garage? (I.E. yard or garden fertilizer).

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Posts
    9
    We have an attached garage which shares a single wall with the house, the door is solid fire-proof, with a sweeper on the bottom -- sealed well IMO.
    Water heater vent terminates on the S wall of the house, 2ft off the ground, in the corner, between the garage, and the house.
    Dryer (gas) vent terminates on the S wall of the house, maybe 5ft from the water heater vent.
    No electronic air filter installed, no ozone generator.
    No chemicals inside the garage.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Posts
    9
    Okay, guys.

    I can't seem to pinpoint the problem and need some professional help.

    Looking for an HVAC pro who could diagnose the symptoms. I live in the NW suburbs of Chicago.

    Who's interested?!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    Fort Worth, TX
    Posts
    11,273
    You need to have a pro check your combustion appliances for backdrafting when the windows are open in the configuration where you notice the odor. "Backdrafting" means combustion gasses can reenter the house vs. leave via the exhaust piping.

    Am I assuming correctly that since your water heater exhaust terminates on the side of the house, the water heater itself has a powered exhaust blower (also known as an induced draft blower)?

    Do you ever detect this odor on the outside of the house, whether the windows are open or closed?
    • Electricity makes refrigeration happen.
    • Refrigeration makes the HVAC psychrometric process happen.
    • HVAC pyschrometrics is what makes indoor human comfort happen...IF the ducts AND the building envelope cooperate.


    A building is NOT beautiful unless it is also comfortable.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Posts
    9
    Hmmm… I’m not sure. See the attached picture.

    Also, I don't know if it makes a difference but the PVC pipe goes up and away from the water heater under a ~60 degree angle, than runs about 10ft horizontally than makes a "U" to avoid a joist, and goes outside through the wall.

    I have sniffed profusely around the outside in the past, but could not detect a similar aroma, except when it comes out of the exhaust pipe when the water heater or furnace is running.
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    Fort Worth, TX
    Posts
    11,273
    Quote Originally Posted by robski2 View Post
    I have sniffed profusely around the outside in the past, but could not detect a similar aroma, except when it comes out of the exhaust pipe when the water heater or furnace is running.

    Ah HA! I think we may be onto something. Via your photo it appears the water heater not only has an induced draft blower, it's also in a basement.

    My not-at-your-house-to-verify-so-take-it-for-what-it's-worth theory is that when you open windows on the first and second floors, you create a "stack effect" (your house acts like a chimney) and air is being pulled into the house through the water heater vent pipe. That the heater is in the basement and you smell this odor upstairs lends weight to this notion.

    Have you noticed this problem year round or just during cool weather? May I also assume you sometimes open windows on cool days because the house becomes too warm or stuffy?
    • Electricity makes refrigeration happen.
    • Refrigeration makes the HVAC psychrometric process happen.
    • HVAC pyschrometrics is what makes indoor human comfort happen...IF the ducts AND the building envelope cooperate.


    A building is NOT beautiful unless it is also comfortable.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    Fort Worth, TX
    Posts
    11,273
    One more question: do the water heater and furnace have separate exhaust pipes? That's my other theory.
    • Electricity makes refrigeration happen.
    • Refrigeration makes the HVAC psychrometric process happen.
    • HVAC pyschrometrics is what makes indoor human comfort happen...IF the ducts AND the building envelope cooperate.


    A building is NOT beautiful unless it is also comfortable.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Posts
    9
    We moved-in in October, the weather was still very nice in Chicago region. I can't be sure 100%, but I feel that we first started smelling the "fumes" when it started getting cooler outside.
    I can't comment on the stuffiness of the house, as I haven't noticed.

    The water heater has it's own exhaust pipe, coming out through the S wall of the house, and the furnace has both, the intake, and exhaust on the W side. We usually get strong winds from the SW.
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    Fort Worth, TX
    Posts
    11,273
    But you are opening the windows during cooler weather. When it's warmer you run the a/c and do not detect the odor, correct?

    Yes, wind can also be a factor...if the exhaust outlets are on the south side, and there's a decent south to southwest breeze, and the windows are open, it's possible fumes are being pushed back into the house. Which is not good. Products of combustion are not good, and if the appliance is not burning properly can produce carbon monoxide.

    You should find an energy auditor or HVAC contractor who is trained in either combustion analysis or combustion appliance zone (CAZ) testing. You may need the auditor for the CAZ (which is combined with a blower door test) and an HVAC person for the combustion analysis. Either of these tests may be able to pinpoint what is causing the odor to show up in the home when the windows are open.
    • Electricity makes refrigeration happen.
    • Refrigeration makes the HVAC psychrometric process happen.
    • HVAC pyschrometrics is what makes indoor human comfort happen...IF the ducts AND the building envelope cooperate.


    A building is NOT beautiful unless it is also comfortable.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Posts
    9
    We have been opening the windows once in a while whenever the weather permits. As I mentioned, we moved in the fall, so the temperature has been mild.
    We have not had a chance to run the AC yet.

    I am still trying to figure out which way the fumes are coming into the house. My theory is that since the water heater does not take air from the outside but the furnace does, I suspect that the fumes are being sucked back into the house via the furnace, and then they crawl up the vents around the house.
    I will do a small experiment today. I will turn off both, the water heater, and the furnace, and cover the intake, and exhaust of both with plastic. I wonder if I will get the fumes in the house.

    If, as you suggested we have a “stack effect” problem, than what needs to be done to fix this type of an issue? Do we need to move the intake and exhaust to a different location, like the N wall of the house or is there something else that needs to be done?

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Central Fla.
    Posts
    311
    I am confused, if the fumes are from exhaust pipes from the furnace or water heater that would be carbon monoxide which is orderless(the silent killer) how would you smell it?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Posts
    9
    I don't understand your question.
    The fumes that I am trying to describe have a distinct odor. It is similar if not the same as what you get coming out of the exhaust pipe of the furnace or the water heater when running.

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