We often focus on the aesthetic of our buildings, but unless the rendering comes with a scratch and sniff component, sometimes we are only seeing the pretty picture. Odors can ruin the quality of occupant experience, no matter how beautiful the building. Water, gas, and other elements can be sources of foul smells, haunting a building as they are very hard to trace. We have had two instances where this has been a project challenge.

In the first situation, the building would randomly smell like gas. There was no consistency to the situation, making it hard to resolve. We applied cognitive thinking and deductive reasoning:

  1. Determine if there was a gas leak. There was no pressure loss, so that was ruled out.
  2. Determined where the smell was coming from. The odor was coming through the vents.
  3. Analyze the mechanical intakes.

It turned out that there was a gas pressure release valve located close to the exterior mechanical unit, far enough away not to be a concern under normal conditions, but the unit was in a recessed area with solid walls on two sides creating complications. When the valve released gas it would swirl around, and if the wind was blowing a certain direction, it would be sucked into the building creating unhealthy indoor air quality. We relocated the valve and the situation was resolved.

On another project, occupants complained of a strong sewage smell. The project was a large facility addition and renovation involving an extensive team of trades; the challenge to resolving the issue was not only tied to uncovering the source of the sewage problem, but also to who was to be held accountable. As you could expect, it was easy to make the claim that this was a pre-existing condition. After analyzing the situation with no conclusive evidence, it was agreed that a smoke test be implemented. The waste lines were capped and the system was pressurized. Although the existing building was a culprit, the real bandit was the fact that the lines in the wall were penetrated in multiple locations by the framers and drywall subs. The locations were marked, the system repaired and payments for the testing and solution have been resolved.

It’s easy to panic and point blame in situations similar to this, especially when the building can’t be occupied due to health reasons. Over the years we have determined that for most situations the resolution can be obtained by:

  1. Identifying the situation. When does it happen, what are the conditions? Keep a detailed log.
  2. Pulling the team together and identifying areas on which to focus.
  3. Consider third-party testing. Because this path costs money, so many tend to resist this course of action, but often it is the fastest way to a resolution.

As a precaution, consider adding a scratch and sniff to your renderings, just make sure it’s the smell of the flowers in the landscaping.

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative