Claims file: Pungent smell

Home Columns Claims file: Pungent smell

by Lew Migliore

In keeping with answering questions from floor covering dealers about unique issues of concern to people in all categories, here is a very unique situation that we did some research on for the asking retailer.

The dealer’s email stated, “We have a customer [who] has a pungent smell coming from their tap water, faucets and shower. They contacted the water company who in turn asked if they had had new carpet installed recently and they had. Have you ever heard of this?”

Often odors that seem to be coming from running water are coming from the drain. If it seems that your water has a “sewer gas” odor, fill a glass with water and take it to another room. If the water has no odor in the other room, then the odor is probably coming from the drain. Cleaning the drain will usually correct the problem.

This was an answer we got from research and I’m sure all of us have, at one time or another, experienced an odor coming from a drain for whatever reason. But this issue was specific to the new carpet and required more than this answer. I went to the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) and Werner Braun, president and a fellow Rotarian Club member, did some further research and got the answer.

What’s that smell?

He contacted Air Quality Sciences (AQS), a firm that does testing and product analysis for CRI and manufacturers, specifically on VOCs, odors and Green Label classification. AQS stated it had dealt with the issue in years passed when it did monitoring in a number of homes for CRI. The association’s findings were when chlorine levels became high in the water, especially after rain storms when disinfectants are added at a higher level, running water in some homes with new SBR (the synthetic latex in car- pet backing) carpet would generate a strong odor described as cat urine or fuel oil. There was a rash of these, especially along the coast.

Chlorine odors occur when the residual chlorine disinfectant gases combine with gases given off by common household items. New carpets, paint, flowers, pine wreaths, upholstery, scented soaps and other household products produce VOCs. When chlorine gas and VOCs combine, you may get an odor that does not smell like either chlorine or the source of the VOC. Some of the most common descriptions of the odors are cat urine, fuel oil or chemicals. After the chlorine levels dropped back the odor went away. The cause seemed to be related to super chlorinated water.

You may think VOCs are toxic chemicals that will kill off life forms but this is not the case. Review the previous paragraph and you’ll see VOCs are in flowers and pine wreaths; you won’t keel over from the VOCs in a bouquet of pansies. Everything emits odors. That new car smell we all seem to love? Those are VOCs.

In this case, as you’ve read, the chlorine in the water, reacting with VOCs from almost anything can create a pungent smell in a home. The water authority wanted to blame the carpet but it was actually a reaction to something it did.

So the next time someone complains about odor from new carpet don’t just look at the carpet for the cause. Do a little research on your own and try to see which change of events really caused the problem.

If you need help, call or email me. You too could wind up in a column. Feel free to post this article if you think it will help.

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