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BettyCv 11-13-2006 07:46 AM

Drywall problems in new house

I posted this question in the General Discussion forum, but I am desperate for help, so I am posting it here also:

My house was built two years ago. I have two continuing problems with the drywall in the closets....

The closets (especially the upstairs closets) all have a very strong odor coming from them. We have had someone check the attic for mold (none, thank goodness!!). The drywall company says that it is the unpainted texturing continually reabsorbing moisture. Essentially, the mud always smells "new." How can this texturing still be outgassing after 2 years????

Several of the closets have yellowing in the corners that starts at the ceiling and goes about halfway down. We noticed this in our master bedroom closet when the home was first built. At first, I thought it was the tape showing through the texturing. When we mentioned it to the builder, he just kind of shrugged and said it was nothing. The drywall person who was just out to the house because of the smell said that it may be the drywall absorbing moisture from the wood behind it.

Anyway, we are being told that the solution to both problems is to paint the closets. However, I don't want to be covering up a potentially serious problem. We do not see any yellowing in the corners of ROOMS, but there is no way to know since the walls are painted!

Has anyone experienced either of these problems?

Help would be greatly appreciated.


FallenAngel 11-13-2006 12:37 PM

I am no expert but I do know there is a tool that can be put on the drywall to measure the dampness of it to see if it is absorbing moisture.

The yellowing I would think is a water/moisture problem also, but again, I am not in the business so take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. If I were you I would get someone with one of those tools that can measure the level of dampness out to check that out.

Am I correct in reading that none of the closets have been primered and painted- they are still bare drywall?

BettyCv 11-13-2006 01:05 PM

Thank you for your response. We did have someone out to test the moisture content. He had a meter with two prongs and when he stuck it in the drywall, he commented that it was "bone dry." Unfortunately, I did not see him test directly into the yellowing area. That particular inspector felt that the yellowing was just inadequate texturing in the corners. (Ugh!).

And yes, you are correct - the closets are textured with the drywall compound, but are not painted. It is not standard practice by our builder, and it is not required by the city building code.


FallenAngel 11-13-2006 02:12 PM

Well if it tested bone dry that is a relief. I know personally for instance that caulk sometimes gets discolored turning a yellowish color even though no moisture is present, so it's possible what your drywall guy has told you is true, that it just needs to be primed and painted. Hopefully the primer will seal it up so that smell stops as well.

joasis 11-13-2006 06:01 PM

The only thing that comes to mind is something that was glued? Modular homes used to be bad about "odors" that would last for years...but generally drywall, once the texture dries, will not change color, especially to yellow, unless exposed to UV (sunlight). In other words, I would be at a loss to explain this, and I am looking forward to hearing from others what it may be.

AtlanticWBConst. 11-13-2006 07:34 PM

It sounds like...
If you feel that the odors are definitely coming from the Drywall (Installed and taped sheetrock)...
...that the solution may start by removing it down to the studs and seeing what is left there (oder-wise, stains? etc)

Also checking on the removed drywall itself , once it is removed (does it still smell?)...What about the insulation behind it?, the studs there... etc.

Maybe it (The sheetrock) absorbed a chemical (Spilled on it?) prior to installation/during installation, in storage at the work site, etc...

Just 'tossing' this idea out there...

AtlanticWBConst. 11-13-2006 07:39 PM

BTW- 'Yellowing' drywall can be caused by:

1.) Old Moisture/water leak stains.

2.) Old sheetrock. The paper surface, if not painted over a long period of time will yellow with age. Compound and paint won't cover it, only a stain killing primer will.

3.) Something (chemical or other) that has been absorbed into the sheetrock and the smell stays there along with the stain.

4.) Any other thoughts....

BettyCv 11-14-2006 11:15 AM

Thank you for your thoughts on this.

Personally, that is what I would like to do - remove the drywall entirely and see if the smell goes away, see what the insulation smells like, what the back of the drywall looks like, and what the wood studs underneath it look like.

One closet (the one with the most yellowing) has two exterior walls. I am not sure what would happen to the insulation. I am told it would more or less stay in place in the walls, but what about the insulation over the ceiling? My husband says it is different from the kind installed in the walls. The attic is cellulose insulation. I would hate to be releasing all kinds of particles into the air...

Another closet (with the greatest smell) has the least amount of yellowing (hardly any) and has only interior walls so I guess we would only have to worry about disturbing the insulation on top of its ceiling.

I can tell that the yellow stains are not "water stains" athough they could still be moisture stains. They don't have that characteristic darkening around the edges that water stains do.

It is an interesting theory about the drywall having possibly absorbed something else. It is a very strong chemical odor...

The builder is sending someone out again on Thursday to check out some other possible causes (the message didn't say what). I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, if anyone else has any additional theories, I'd love to hear them....


AtlanticWBConst. 11-14-2006 03:40 PM

This sounds like a 'tricky' one.

It seems to be one of those issues that you really cannot diagnose online. We are all just guessing here.
It is more of a 'snooping' issue: Getting in there and looking around - on site.
Hopefully, your builder will find the problem ( If I were the builder it would really bug me until I found out what was going on).

Good luck and keep us posted.

earlofpeatrig 08-28-2007 11:27 AM

BettyCv, I have a similar problem.

I have a similar problem. I moved into a brand new home a year ago and it has strange smells as well.

How did this turn out?

Can you send me a private message at my contactify address:

jrepp 08-28-2007 02:46 PM

Perhaps you could just remove a section of the drywall making sure to uncover part of a stud? Cut a scrap of drywall one foot by one foot square and place it on the closet wall, draw a line around the scrap and cut out the wall, you could then use the scrap to repair the wall.

BettyCv 08-28-2007 03:32 PM

We still have a problem with the odor, but here is an update...

We primed with kilz and painted all the closets with a semi-gloss paint. We did this to the composite closet doors, too. They had a strong odor - I don't know if they had absorbed odor from the closets or if they *caused* the odor in the closets. The closets smell much better, but are not completely odor-free.

In the room that had the smelliest closet, my husband completely gutted the closet. The drywall was perfectly clean on the back, as were the wood studs (I consider that good news). We did notice that the drywall had been GLUED to the studs, in addition to being nailed. I sniffed the glue (no laughing!) and it didn't seem to have any odor, although I'm sure it did when it was first used.

Also in that room, my husband painted the ceiling (which had been unpainted texturing). We left off the closet doors. There no longer seems to be a smell coming from the closet, however now the ENTIRE ROOM has an odor (not NEARLY as strong as it had been in the closet, but definitely an odor.) I'm not sure if it is new, or if I just never noticed it before because I was so sure that the closet was the problem. We intend to replace the closet doors with solid wood (or maybe even louvered wood to keep the closet "aired out.")

Our next step was much more involved. We had an air quality expert test the house. There were no significant levels of VOCs or particles. I believe air in a room should be replaced about every three hours. Ours was replacing every TEN hours. The tester said that he had never seen a house built as tightly as ours. In addition, he said that our ductwork had been very poorly installed. There were many gaps that were drawing in basement air, causing a negative pressure in the basement and possibly sucking in soil gases through the concrete. So, he added additional cold air returns, brought in additional outside air, balanced the HVAC system and installed an air-to-air heat exchanger. He also installed two programmable thermostats (we have two furnaces) which has a setting to run the fan something like fifteen minutes out of each hour - whether the furnace/air is running or not. It has certainly improved the smell of the house overall. It has NOT completely eliminated the odors from the most offensive room.

On an interesting note... My husband and I were lucky enough to be able to attend a very small gathering where Tom Silva and Richard T (I can't say or spell his last name - the plumber) from This Old House were speaking. We asked them about our problem, and even THEY were stumped!! Richard did go on quite a bit, though, about how new homes are being built air-tight without enough fresh air being brought in and he stated that ductwork is often poorly installed.

The air quality expert has also suggested sealing the control joints in the basement floor, as well as the area where the basement floor meets the poured walls. In addition, he suggested installing a seal on the sump pump (which happens to be directly under the offensive room - although that room is on the SECOND floor...) My husband will do those projects himself.

I realize that radon has no odor, but out of curiosity we had the radon level tested (by a different company than the air quality expert I keep referring to). Two canisters were used - one read 4.3 and one read 3.7 - making it a 4.0 average which is the cutoff for radon remediation (is that the word I want?). We are going to have it re-tested after my husband seals the basement floor and sump pump. The air quality expert suggested that when we do that, we have them use a 24 (or was it 48?) hour meter.

One other thing... We had the carpets cleaned and teflon protected. It may be my imagination, but that seems to have helped a little, too. Our next step may be to pull out the carpet in the most offensive room and see if maybe THAT is the culprit (but why would it be so much worse in one particular room?). At this point, I am thinking that the odors may be a combination of different issues. I think that the yellowing of the drywall, though, may have been entirely unrelated to the odor. By the way, the painting has completely taken care of that - the yellowing has NOT come through the paint.

To the recent poster with a similar problem - is your drywall texturing (ceilings, closets) painted? If not, are you seeing any yellowing?

Thanks again to all who offered thoughts/suggestions on this problem.

Big Bob 08-28-2007 03:54 PM

You may wish to rent an ozone generator for your problem odor room before you replace any more carpet. $ 45.00 /day one 24 hr day should do it.

OdoBan works great too!

I restore fire & water damage/ over 20 years

earlofpeatrig 08-28-2007 06:15 PM

BettyCv, Thanks for your reply.

Thanks so much for your reply.

I had VOC, Formaldehyde and Mold testing done. I also did a DIY radon test. All negative. Moisture testing was negative.

Let me give you more of the story, anyone else may feel free to jump in...

After about 2 weeks of moving into our newly built home, I noticed a sulfur smell coming from one of our rooms. It seemed to be emanating from the walls in this particular room. Negative on a gas leak. The paint company tested the paint. The drywall folks tested the drywall. All negative. This room and another room were repainted with a blocker coat and a low-voc paint. The sulfur smell is gone in these rooms. Occasionally, I smell what I think is the blocker coat but just occasionally.

Other rooms on the top floors have strange smells on occasion. Another bathroom would have strong chemical smells (nothing to do with cleaners, by the way) on occasion. The smells would be stronger when the sun was out. Even in the bathroom in the middle of the house. Makes me wonder if UV light has anything to do with the smells. Perhaps when the humidity was a bit higher increased the smells as well.

The bad part about all this is that the house gives me headaches (the physical kind). I'm also a little dizzy. This is pretty much constant when I'm at home.

I kinda wonder if the drywall is somehow actively breaking down releasing a gas that's accelerating off gassing of paint. Or, I wonder if there's something else leaking into the home causing off-gassing. Or, I wonder if the electronic air cleaner that was installed in the home reacted with the materials and is causing them to break down. Or, maybe it's the power lines behind the house that's giving me the headaches. Lot's of theories.

It seemed like in the basement, one of my bathrooms had a drywall smell to it. Also, I can smell glue when I walk into the house, on occasion.

BettyCv, do you have powerlines or an electronic air cleaner in your house?

Anyone have any other ideas?

BettyCv 08-28-2007 08:35 PM


With headaches and dizziness, I would suggest that you also have the house tested for carbon monoxide. I believe it can cause these problems, even at levels so low that they don't set off a carbon monoxide detector (which I assume you have).

We have powerlines that run through the development. It is a very large development, and the lines are pretty far away from our house (we can't even see them). We had them about the same distance from our old house, but the towers were much smaller - does that mean the voltage that was in them was lower? I don't know...

We do not have an electronic air cleaner in our house. Funny you should ask, though, because I was thinking of that as a next step. But when I read the packages on the room-size air cleaners, they have a "warning" on them that they should not be used in rooms where asthmatic people are. I decided not to get one until I investigated them further. I have also read bad things about the ozone machines that the previous poster mentioned, and that makes me leary of the air cleaners as well. (I don't know if they work on the same principle).

Let me back up a bit - my smelliest room was my daughter's bedroom, and what really got my concern up about the odor was when she started having a persisent cough at night. She ended up on asthma medicine last winter. The pediatrician has not diagnosed her with asthma yet (the medication she takes treats both asthma AND allergies.) She was able to eventually stop taking it, and she was fine through the summer. Then, just a couple of days ago, she started having very bad allergic reactions - eyes watering, itchy throat, etc. - on the same day that the newspaper had a front page story on ragweed. In other words, I'm pretty sure her main problem is allergies. Now, I don't know if odors in the house may have triggered these allergies - I don't know how that all works. (We moved her into a different bedroom after her problems started last winter).

I have never really experienced what I would consider to be an allergic reaction to the odors in my house. I did notice that when we first moved in, I was always very congested. I think a certain amount of that is to be expected, with all the odors from the construction materials. Three years later, people still walk into the house and say "It smells so new." Well, it shouldn't after three years!!! Another thing I experienced right after moving in was that I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling the bed shaking just ever so slightly. I'd ask my husband if he felt it and he said no. It took a while to figure out that it was actually ME shaking. I talked to my doctor about it, and he seemed at a loss. He had me checked for diabetes (negative). Either it has stopped happening, or it just doesn't wake me up anymore.

I am curious as to why you had an electronic air cleaner installed. Is that common where you live? It is not common here in Ohio. The reason I am asking is that I wonder if you have had sensitivities to materials/odors in the past. I would imagine while researching your own issue, you have come across lots of articles on multiple chemical sensitivity. I had several people come through the house (we had a lot of "experts" through before we finally found one who seems to know his stuff) that were trying to say that I may have multiple chemical sensitivity. Well, then, why do I not smell odors when visiting others' new houses? I even went back to our builder's model home and opened up the closets and sniffed them. No odor at all. Are you male or female? I ask because they say that females are much more sensitive to smells. My husband claims he cannot smell what I am smelling. Even some of the inspectors I had through the house claimed they could hardly smell anything.

I have never notice a connection between UV rays and humidity affecting the odor, but I will try to pay closer attention to that. May I ask how you went about having the paint and drywall tested? Did you contact the manufacturers, a private lab, or what?

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