Unusual Smell Mystery

One year old townhome this morning. Slab foundation.

Very noticeable smell - probably best described as a burning rubber type odor in the living room area of the first floor. Smell does not extend upstairs. Is barely noticable in other areas of the downstairs. Homeowner reports that smell has been there since last April when he moved in. That it does not seem to vary in intensity with usage of different systems or much over the past year. Builder has sent out HVAC guys a couple of time - nothing found. Neighboring units (this is an interior unit) do not have a smell.

I did not find anything hot on the electrical outlets - hard to describe but it did not really seem like the scortched electrical/buring wire smell - even though that seems like the best option. Infrared did not show anything hot - although not all outlets were under load.

There were some moisture intrusion issues. And according to the homeowner these have been an ongoing issue since moving in. Mold?

I refered him to a mold inspector based on the multiple moisture problems and told him that the mold inspector may be able to offer more insight into the smell. Or that he should request an indoor air quality investigation.

Any other ideas for professionals to help track down the issue? Possible sources?

Thanks in advance.

Kevin Weiss

Might be the carpeting or underpadding. Possiblly some kind of adhesive or foam insulation off gassing. Advise consultation with an industrial hygenist or other qualified indoor air quality specialist.

Kevin, I am quite sure you thought of this already but, How about unfaced rubber carpet padding on the slab floor? I have run into that smell a few times. Hard to describe.

My bad. Should have said floor covering.

It was a ceramic tile on the complete first story. I thought of something with the thin set, but found that unlikely in my experience.

Walls were sheetrock. Homeowner reported that the furniture was not new and had come with him from his last home. No fireplace. Kitchen was attched to this room, but the smell was strongest on the wall farthest from the kitchen.

Had a hard one to find finally traced it to the bath room sink.
Smell came out the over flow tried lots of methods putting Drano down over flow.
Finally changed the sink cost $70;00 .

No more stink from the sink.



Whats on the otherside of the wall ?


Longshot, but is there a glass storm door over a steel entry door with sun exposure? Posted this back in January.

Iv’e seen glass storm doors exposed to direct sunlight melt the plastic decorative trims on older steel doors. The other day I received a call from my brother-in-law recounting what he thought was overheating furnace or possible elec. short. After calling out HVAC tech. and a thorough furnace check they discovered the source of the odor was coming from his over heated front door. The previously dry paint (year old house) felt tacky to the touch.

Any similar reports, or worse, any actual fires resulting from this condition??

Agree with Scott and Andrew. I’ve had the problem in a rental where the padding got moist from carpet shampoo and deteriorated. The longer it sat there the worse it got. It did smell a little like burnt rubber.

Other side of the wall is a neighboring townhome. They have no smell.

Kitchen or bath sink is possible. But the smell was definately strongest farther away from them. Broken sewer line, maybe? Seems like a stretch…would it work its way up through the slab foundation and ceramic?

Maybe coming from above? There was carpeting upstairs…smell drifting down from between the floors…

I referred him to IAQ or industrial hygienist. Will keep in touch to see what they find.

Another thing you may, or not, want to think of is…over my many years in construction, I have observed one of the most disgusting practices ever…taking a leak or defecating, in the house, pre-drywall. Once insulation, vapor barrier and drywall cover everything in, the smell will eventually seep through the walls and into the house. Animal urine will smell like ammonia, Human urine will smell like smoldering plastic.

That occurred to me Brian…But would it hang around at a consistant level for 11 months? I would think at somepoint it would disapate?

If it has poly on the walls that might be an issue.

It gets into the wood and stays there…forever. Many is the time I have seen walls opened up and the plates and studs replaced. Just cuz some dumbass was too lazy to go outside.

Does the Living room have a ceiling fan? Maybe even a Hunter brand, by chance?


Was there a ceiling fan in the room? I only ask because I had the same thing happen at one of my own homes. The glass globes has a rubber band (literally) around the lip where the screws tighten against the glass. This kept them from loosening over time. I only noticed the smell once the lights were on for a while. Thought it was the light kit wiring. After the second call to the builder, a different guy came out and pulled the rubber bands. No more smell.