You walk in the front door and something smells off. Is it trash? Dirty clothes? Something worse?
A weird smell in your house can be caused by something as benign as old food that needs to be thrown away, but it could reveal a dangerous gas leak, fire or pest problem.
Here’s what you may be smelling in your house, and the potential causes:
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Cooking over an open flame, burning candles or using your fireplace can increase your chances of starting an accidental fire that can damage your home and spread quickly if not put out. It’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher on hand in case a fire starts.
However, the electric wiring throughout your home can also become a fire hazard if it’s old, misused or becomes damaged. The U.S. Fire Administration reports there are about 45,000 home electrical fires per year, and half of them involve lighting or electrical wiring. An electrical fire in your home can start in walls, outlets or appliances. If you see smoke coming from an overloaded power strip or appliance and can safely unplug it, do so.
Not all fire hazards smell like smoke. If your nose is catching a fishy smell and you haven’t cooked any fish, it could be a sign of electrical components overheating, which can lead to an electrical fire. Wires, plastic and other parts of a circuit can give off a fishy smell when they’re getting too hot and starting to burn.
[Read: How to Finish a Basement.]
If you’re smelling rotten garbage, it probably is rotten garbage and you should take it out. If the smell doesn’t appear to be coming from your trash can, go shelf by shelf in your refrigerator and pantry to identify whether food has gone bad. Also check dirty dishes and countertops, and turn on your garbage disposal with the water running and pour some dish soap down the drain.
A dirty, oily smell is often associated with a cockroach infestation. This oily smell may be from the pheromones that cockroaches produce to attract a mate or inform others of a food source.
However, Hartzer notes that the most potent smell to lead you to cockroaches isn’t their pheromones. “Typically, what people are smelling when they have cockroach issues is that food source,” she says.
If you’re smelling animal urine or feces in a part of your home and there’s no way a pet had an accident, you may have a wild animal inside your home. Mice and rats aren’t likely to give off a potent odor if they’re just scurrying by, but you’re more likely to smell their urine and feces in places they congregate – either at a food source or nest.
If your house or a specific room has a continuous stuffy, musty scent, you’re likely smelling mold.
Mold can grow just about anywhere in the home where moisture can get in, although attics, basements and crawl spaces are the most common areas to see mold, says Greg Bukowski, founder and CEO of Moldman, a professional mold abatement company in Chicago.
In places where you don’t see mold, it’s possible the growth is occurring behind your walls. In this case, you or a professional will need to cut exploratory holes in the wall to find the source. While you want to remove any and all mold from your home as quickly as possible, you don’t need to evacuate the house – even if the mold is black. A common misconception is that black mold is more toxic to people than other types of mold. While some people may be more sensitive to a certain fungus strain, all types of mold can have negative health effects.
“Really, any type of mold does not belong in a healthy home – treat it all the same. Don’t panic,” Bukowski says.
If you suddenly notice the smell of raw sewage somewhere in your home, it’s likely coming from a drain you haven’t used in a while. It could be the result of a dry P-trap, which is a part of your plumbing that stores a small amount of water to prevent sewer gas from coming into your home.
If you’re smelling sewage from the drain, the P-trap has dried up, likely because the water evaporated after not being used for a long time. Simply pour water down the drain to allow the P-trap to fill again, and be sure to periodically run the water in every sink and tub or shower to prevent evaporation in the future. Open some windows to rid of any lingering sewage smell from your home.
If the sewage smell persists, you may have an issue with the wax seal for your toilet or a backup somewhere in your home. A plumber may be able to diagnose the issue quickly.
A renovation project for each season
Homeownership comes with a never-ending list of home improvement projects, and being able to time them right can be tricky. Ultimately, the best time for a home improvement project is when you have the time. But if you’re eager to plan projects to set yourself up for success, consider which season has the right weather patterns, minimizes future maintenance issues and makes it easiest to hire professionals. Read on for the best time of year for 12 home improvement projects.Interior paint
Best time of year: Winter
The benefit of painting inside is that you have air conditioning and heating. “We paint interiors all year-round because of that climate control,” says Tina Nokes, co-owner of Five Star Painting in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is a part of Neighborly, a network of home service providers. Your biggest concern when it comes to a quality indoor paint job is humidity – so if you’re in the middle of a humid summer, it’ll take longer for a room to dry and it will dry unevenly. If you’re worried about humidity levels inside, paint your interior rooms during the winter, when the air is driest.Electrical updates
(Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)
Best time of year: Winter
Electrical work can happen just about any time of year, unless it’s during rain or a thunderstorm, for obvious safety reasons, explains Dennis Burke, owner of Mr. Electric of Southeast New Hampshire, which is also a Neighborly company. What truly makes winter a winner for electrical updates is that you’ll be avoiding the bulk of competing homeowners. Burke says late spring and early summer see a big influx of requests from clients, as well as late summer as people go on vacation. “Labor Day to Thanksgiving is also really busy,” he says.Building a deck
Building a deck
Best time of year: Winter
An outdoor project like a backyard deck seems like a natural undertaking for summer, but it’s actually just the opposite. Deck builders and contractors report that pressure-treated wood, which is best for building a deck, stabilizes best when humidity is low. Additionally, the increased sun exposure in summer can cause the surface of a deck to crack, and cloudier winter days help avoid early damage. If you live in a particularly cold climate, aim for early winter to avoid the bulk of snowfall and temperatures that are too cold for contractors to work outside.Full-room remodel
Best time of year: Winter or spring
Remodeling or updating a well-loved room in your home can happen any time of year, but it’s best to be proactive and avoid higher labor costs or jampacked contractor schedules during the summer months. HomeAdvisor reports that July is the busiest month for bathroom remodel requests, with 48 percent of homeowners indicating they’re ready to hire and start work immediately. Avoid the rush by scheduling your remodel earlier in the year.Cleaning out gutters
Cleaning out gutters
Best time of year: Early spring and fall
The gutters along your roofline collect leaves, twigs and other debris over time. When they get too full, the drains can clog and cause water to sit along the edges of the roof and get inside the house or continue to weigh down the gutters. Avoid any problems by cleaning out your gutters in the fall, when leaves are most likely to make their way in, and again in early spring so the path for water is clear before April showers roll in. If you're not comfortable on a ladder or you have a high roofline, consider hiring professional help that will take proper safety precautions.New floors
Best time of year: Spring or fall
The best time to install wood flooring is during parts of the year with the least extreme conditions. In spring and fall, you'll avoid peak humidity and dry air, both of which can cause problems like bowing and warped wood or cracking in too-dry conditions. Plus, you can open windows to ventilate the smell of wood stain or carpet adhesive, and you’re least likely to have the heat or air cranking in spring and fall.Updating a deck or fence
Updating a deck or fence
Best time of year: Spring, summer or fall
The wood on a deck may fare better in winter, but staining a deck or painting a fence often requires additional weather consideration. “Decks and fences are a little more finicky (than painting a house exterior). We need it to be even warmer, around 40 to 50 degrees,” Nokes says. A good deck staining or painting company will recommend a timeline specific to temperatures where you live to avoid an incomplete, delayed or flawed project.Exterior paint
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
New paint will freshen up the look of your exterior walls, and painting is a doable project for a decent chunk of the year. Temperatures have to stay above 35 degrees for exterior painting, so in the early days of spring and late days of fall, weather-dependent work may be delayed if temperatures drop. For this reason, Nokes keeps clients on a watch list: “If we get a warm snap, I’ll call them right away,” she says.Home addition
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
For outdoor work, it’s best to avoid the seasons that will bring inclement weather and delay the project. Plan for the project to begin after the chance of snow in your region has passed, and shoot for a completion date before the frost returns in the fall to reduce the chances of delays. But be sure to schedule all professionals well in advance. In fact, Burke says a month to two months’ advance notice is often needed for electricians to complete an estimate, plan a contract and schedule work.Roof repair and replacement
Roof repair and replacement
Best time of year: Summer, early fall
It’s a given that you don’t want people working on your roof in icy or wet conditions. As a result, the best time of year for roof repair or replacement is also when the professionals are busiest. Be sure to plan roof replacement a month or two in advance to avoid having to wait with possible leaks causing damage to the inside of your home.HVAC care
Best time of year: Early fall
Any repairs to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system should be done as soon as you notice an issue, but if you’re planning to do routine maintenance, schedule a professional long before you’ll need to turn on the heat. That way, any potential problems that could leave you without heat are found and fixed before the first cold nights of the season. The same goes for air conditioning in the late spring and summer.New appliances
Best time of year: Fall
Consumers can expect everything from washing machines and oven ranges to refrigerators to sport discounts leading up to the holidays. Even if you’re not updating your kitchen until May (and your home can accommodate an extra oven or fridge for five months), keep an eye out for deals. Stores that sell appliances like Sears, Lowe’s and Home Depot are known to regularly offer holiday weekend deals.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.