Is old building Smell syndrome the ghostly remnants of residents or workers past that are somehow trapped in the limbo of time, or is it the result of decades of bad housekeeping? The answer is neither.
This condition, which is also known as sick building syndrome (SBS), can be caused by a multitude of factors. Lead paint, pesticides, gases, mites and Mold are among the major culprits.
Old building Smell Syndrome is a close encounter of the fourth and most unpleasant kind; namely foul airborne odors, and their elimination is assured when they are addressed by highly-effective odor neutralizing ambient air care products.
According to Bill Carroll Jr., an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University: “Old building smell is usually caused by three things that musty buildings have in common: little ventilation, high humidity and darkness.
That makes these places the perfect petri dish for mold to flourish, which happens to be the main purveyor of that “old building smell.”
Old building smell is immediate upon entry, especially if a structure has been closed for a long while.
There is no escape from that lingering odor, whether the room is an old library, a museum or a house of worship constructed long ago.
Sometimes, that smell lingers even after windows have been opened and a room or space has had time to air out.
While the smell is unique, it is always a musty mélange that is somewhat dirty and more than a little strange.
Over the years, water eventually permeates a building and the soil surrounding it, no matter how well-built it might be. This provides the perfect milieu for mold and mildew.
Also, old building smell is in the walls, which absorb odors.
While in most instances a new coat of paint will effectively eradicate them, if the walls retain significant buildup it might be necessary to replace the drywall.
The smell also seeps into the flooring of an old building, where every type of spill leaves a trace and adds to the odor.
Old ductwork also absorbs unpleasant odors, and in many cases needs to be replaced and maintained regularly.
What constitutes sick building smell syndrome does not fit any specific pattern and is somewhat controversial.
The term is often used to describe situations in which building occupants experience negative health and comfort levels that seem to be associated with time spent in a building, although specificity is elusive.
Medical literature concerning cause seems divided into two camps. One stresses that it is a true disease syndrome with multiple causes that depend on someone’s medical state (such as asthma or COPD).
The other sector admits that while true evidence is lacking, certain chemicals and physical agents found in some buildings can cause disease.
Once these elements are identified, however, it is not a new condition. (For example, Legionnaire’s Disease).
The first energy crisis, which occurred in the United States in the 1970s, forced builders and owners to reduce energy consumption in office buildings.
Some measures included: increased insulation, building wraps, weatherstripping doors, and the use of insulated double and triple-pane windows. This brought about undesired results.
Newly erected or renovated buddings contained windows that would not open.
The thinking behind this was that this would minimize the loss of heated or cooled air. While this was true, many buildings became virtually airtight.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers have determined that other polluting factors that contribute to SBS include: indoor combustion (heaters, ranges, smoking) the buildup of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including: benzene, styrene, and other solvents; airborne-allergens and pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, spores, and protozoans.
Not to be forgotten from this disturbing roster are: new building materials (plywood, carpet glue) and fabrics (rugs, furniture) that emit toxic fumes.
Building décor and office equipment also contribute to the problem.
Many paints, carpet fibers, furniture, and even wallboard give off noxious fumes containing formaldehyde, acetic acid, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and have been known to do so for as much as years after years after installation. (They are kind of like the gift that keeps on giving.)
Equipment such as copiers and electrostatic air cleaners contain ozone which adversely adds to and affects indoor air quality.
Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome Health Issues
Some indications that a work place or building is afflicted with old building smell syndrome include: increased absenteeism, many people complaining about vague but similar symptoms, and their absence when people are not in the building.
Many government agencies, such as The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, have recognized it as a health issue and published research on both the causes and symptoms of SBS in its Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Third Edition.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also refers to SBS as “indoor air quality,” and they offer several strategies for resolution, especially increased ventilation.
A feeling of ill health pervades and can easily become a major occupational hazard. Some signs and symptoms include: headache, dizziness, nausea, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, dry or itching skin, difficulty in concentration, fatigue, sensitivity to odors, hoarseness of voice, allergies, cold, flu-like symptoms, increased incidence of asthma attacks and even personality changes.
That musty smell is not mold per se. According once again to to Bill Carrol Jr.:”What you are smelling are called mold volatile organic compounds (MVOCs). These are chemicals associated with a certain stage in the mold life cycle that are volatile enough to evaporate, but also have a strong enough inherent odor to be detected.”
The Difference Between Mold And Mildew
As a rule of thumb, the smell of mold means that it is unmistakably there. Sometimes referred to as mildew, that word isn’t accurate because mildew thrives only on living plants.
Mold and mildew are both fungi and thrive off moisture in the air, but mildew is considered a species of fungus that marks the early stage of mold formation.
The strength of their smells as well as the damage they cause set them apart. Mold usually produces a stronger odor.
Mildew’s smell is also unpleasant, and is sometimes compared to inhaling wet gum socks.
They also differ in color, as mildew is either white or gray and found in splotches on walls, while mold is black, yellow or green and either extremely fuzzy or slimy in texture.
Mildew is considered the lesser of the two evils and is usually found on the surface of material, making it easier to clean.
While breathing in mildew spores can cause coughing, headache, sore throat, and some respiratory problems, prolonged exposure to black mold is far more serious. It can shut down human organs and incapacitate the immune system.
Also, too much mildew can negatively compromise building structure if it is not properly addressed.
What Factors Influence Old Building Smell Syndrome?
Both mold or mildew arise from damp conditions that affect indoor air quality.
Buildings associated with manufacturing processes often emit harmful vapors filled with hydrocarbons or smog, and the residue of chemical cleaning agents.
This toxic amalgam is detrimental to human health and often results in SBS.
Temperature changes can also cause mold to behave differently during its stages of growth, as well as light exposure and seasonal changes.
Lastly, the agitation of moldy materials during demolition or cleaning can cause an extreme increase in the level of airborne spores and can affect the levels of moldy odors as well.
Resolving Old Building Smell Syndrome
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other government agencies believe that SBS is primarily related to indoor air quality.
Research conducted by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) broke down the specific sources that are mostly responsible:
They are as follows:
- Inadequate ventilation: 52 percent of cases
- Contamination from inside building: 16 percent
- Contamination from outside building: 10 percent
- Microbial contamination: 5 percent
- Contamination from building fabric: 4 percent
- Unknown sources: 13 percent
Addressing Old Building Smells With Effective Air Care
Having been in continuous operation since the 1940s, we have the most extensive amount of experience in odor control and ambient air care solutions for professional settings.
It all began with one man’s dream back in 1946 — Bob Surloff invented the very first fan-operated air-freshener dispenser and named the new brand, Air Scent.
Our legacy of superior air care, odor neutralizing and ambient scenting products continues unabated to this day, all of which contain our patented Metazene — a highly effective odor neutralizing additive that eliminates malodorous molecules in the air.
Our many fragrances and diffuser systems speak volumes about our versatility and innovation, which are the byproducts of extensive research, knowledge and application of the principles of industrial science.
Our 85,000-square-foot Technology Center, which is situated in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is equipped with the most advanced tools that money can buy. These include: gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, head-space analysis, distillation, extraction and quality control technology.
Our teams and master perfumers understand both the mechanics and power of ambient scent branding and state of the art air-care and application via commercial scenting machines.
Our cutting edge, state-of-the-art scent diffusion technologies and odor-control strategies can be adjusted for any space requirement and they are the answer to conquering old building smell .syndrome.
Below are some of our many available options.
The Aroma Beam Large Area Diffuser
The Aroma Beam dry vapor fragrance diffuser system is ideal for large areas up to 50,000 cubic feet. When partnered with the right fragrance, this machine can revitalize an old building and improve indoor air quality.
There are two types of cartridge systems available for this system; the Scentsia Cartridge refill and our Squair wafer refills.
The former guarantees 30 full days of efficient fragrance performance, and is available in many diverse aromas. The latter is versatile because it permits the blending and matching of many elements that combine to create a unique scent.
This diffuser system comes equipped with 10 refills that promise up to 30 days of adjustable fragrance.
The Aroma One Air Freshener Diffuser
This odor-neutralizing system offers two features; namely, it annihilates airborne odors, and at the same time, offers superior, linear, aroma enrichment for any small space, particularly but not exclusively for restroom-specific malodors.
Some of its most desirable features include: a contemporary design with optimal air flow; the capacity to hold diverse Air-Scent refill types, including bottles, liquid, can and Solid Square wafers; an easy conversion from battery to electric and innovative nesting tray features, such as the on-board drip guard, ventilated refill holder and air-flow retardant, which can lessen output if desired.
Other Scent Machine Options
We offer a variety of professional air freshener systems that work well for maintaining smaller commercial spaces such as: private offices, trash rooms, snack rooms and powder rooms. These include the following:
• The Millenium Fan Air Freshener Dispenser is battery-operated and can accommodate all types of Air-Scent refills.
• The Odyssey Dispenser, which is well known for its three-way ventilation that provides maximum air-flow.
• The automatic Odyssey Drip Dispenser is non-battery operated and cleans and deodorizes washroom fixtures.
• The Aeon Advanced Air Freshener can instantly convert from passive operation to battery-driven fan power.
Old building smell syndrome can effectively be addressed and resolved with a blend of cleaning efforts and with the use of our highly-effective odor control and ambient air-care products.
If you own or operate a business within a building setting, or you’re a scent marketing or Jan San company that services one, give us a call today and set your staff and/or customers free from the noxious smells that can adversely affect both human health and your company’s fragile business bottom line.
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