Ask an Expert: Getting Rid of “New” Construction Smell

Ask an Expert is an occasional feature where we pose a question submitted by a reader to our Healthy Home Director Carl Grimes, HHS, CIEC.

Reader Question:  How do I rid our home of “new construction” smell?

The “new construction smell” you are asking about is the combination of the entire mixture of chemicals “evaporating” from new paint, sealants, flooring, sheetrock, wood, and other building materials. They are properly called VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds.

The most effective action is to remove the source of the VOCs. If the source is gone there is no more unpleasantness or other reaction. Source removal, in this case, isn’t possible because the source is the house itself! So, the next best action is to reduce the VOC emissions.

Reducing the sources of “new construction” VOCs, rather than removal, can often be achieved with a “bake-out.” The idea is to warm the entire house structure to speed up the out-gassing (evaporation) of the chemicals from the building materials and finishes. Think of how long it would take a pan of water sitting on the counter to empty by evaporation. Then how much faster it would occur if you put it on a warm burner on the stove. It would still take a while but it would happen faster than just sitting on the counter at room temperature. This is what a “bake-out” does to a house.

General instructions that should apply to most situations:

If you find that this and other methods aren’t sufficient, (based on your individual reactions ranging from “nuisance” all the way to “debilitating”) then the only remedy may be to remove yourself from the source. In other words, move to another house.

Have a question you’d like Carl to answer?  Send us your question from our Ask An Expert page.

To learn more about VOCs, visit the EPA or view our infographic here.

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Carl Grimes
Hayward Score Healthy Homes Director Carl Grimes has both the personal experience of how an unhealthy home created his own disabling health issues, plus professional experience in various industries working in the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) field. Carl also wrote Starting Points for a Healthy Habitat in 1999, detailing possibilities of what could occur in a house to make its occupants sick, how to identify what was happening, and what to do about it.
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