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Question DetailsAsked on 11/10/2016

We sometimes have a dampness smell in an upstairs bathroom. Who should we contact to diagnose this?

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2 Answers


The Angies List computer is stripping out the paragraph returns AGAIN ! - so you may have to copy and paste the response in a word/text program, then put in a Return or two each place I have put a pair of "..."'s.

Here are some previous similar questions with answers which should help - obviously not all the cases are quite yours but the odor descriptions and things to look for are largely applicable - Basically, short of tearing into walls or ceilings to look for pipe or shower/tub leaks, a plumber or handyman can't do a lot more than you in tracking it down. Get down on hands and knees and sniff around all areas, including around the outside of bathroom walls and any light fixtures penetrating the ceiling below the bathroom - try to tie down if a general smell on the walls (may need washing with bleach to remove invisible mold on the dust), mold in tub/shower can cause this, leaking pipes under sink or under tub/shower pan, leaking toilet tank gaskets or fittings (dripping water on floor behind toilet), sometimes leaking toilet seal though that usually involves obvious urine smell. Also check around window for possible leaks there....... I also assumed this is a bathroom that is used regularly - if it sits for weeks or months without use, you need to run water in each drain every month or less so the water in the trap does not go stagnant and smell; or dry out enough to let sewer gases in. Also, if door is not left open when bathroom is not in use (and sometimes even when it is in humid house conditions) just the evaporation from drains and toilet can cause a damp smell. Even in rarely used bathrooms the fan should be run for an hour or so weekly at least (easiest to do if you have a fan timer)....... And since you said upstairs, check attic for any roof or roof duct/pipe penetration leakage that might be occurring or ponding over the bathroom and causing mold/mildew/rot in the attic - or the smell from which may be coming in around the ceiling fan or light fixture or down in the walls of the bathroom. Ditto to bathroom fan roof vent with a flapper that is not closing, so rain splash is getting into the fan duct and running down to the fan - commonly causing mold/mildew around the fan and sometimes on the underside ofthe ceiling at the fan cover area. Ditto to leaking gutters or blocked roof scuppers/drains if you have minimal eave overhang to the gutters, or a flat roof....... For DIY checking in uninsulated walls and underlying floor, you can rent for about $20-30/day (or buy for about $75 at home improvement stores, Amazon, Harbor Freight, etc if you think you will use it again) a color fiber optic inspection camera (color FARRR better than B&W for detecting water stains and leaks in subfloors and walls). Takes about 1/2" hole for the fiber optic probe to go through so you do have a bit of drywall/plaster patching and repainting to do afterwards....... Another detection method - sometimes used early on, sometimes only if other methods fail, is a thermal infrared (IR) camera scan. Rentable at Home Depot and tool rental places, some auto parts stores. Unfortunately, while they do a pretty good job detecting leaks in exterior walls when interior and outdoor temps are signficantly different, in interior walls unless there is fungus/rot growing (which is warmer) because the two sides of the wall and the interior are the same tempearature, a wet spot does not show up as different temperature like it can in exterior walls....... Many smart phones and tablets and laptops can also have their camera retuned towards more sensitivity in the near-infrared part of the spectrum, so they make sort of a poor-man's thermal IR camera - not as precise or sensitive as a true IR scanner but if you have such a device might be worth trying to see if it picks up wet areas in a ceiling or wall or floor. You can download an App to temporarily retune the camera sensitivity towards the lower frequencies (which thermal infrared is). Many or all modern iPads and iPhones (I don't know about laptops but likely) have that capability built-in from the factory without having to download an App....... Professionally - some Home Inspectors have thermal IR cameras, as do some Insulation contractors. Most Energy Efficiency consultants do. Around $100-150 minimum charge for them to come out and scan to locate hidden wet areas so you can mark the location(s). Check all surfaces, interior and also on the outside of the bathroom walls outdoors or in adjacent rooms - commonly will show better from one side than the other.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD



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