Published on December 17th, 2012 | by Henri


Basement moisture smells permeate house

Q.    I am concerned about the mold/mildew and odor that is building up in my elderly parents’ home, which is built at the base of a rocky hill.

The house is about 150 years old, has a slate roof, an unfinished basement with a stone foundation and a cement floor, forced hot-air heat and aluminum storm windows over the original windows. The basement has always had a damp musty smell but now the odor has permeated the whole house, which they don’t seem to notice.  Even the bed pillows on the second floor smell bad. Their clothes smell, and when I stay overnight, my clothes and my hair pick up the odor.

The only place where there is evidence of black mold buildup is on the gaskets of the freezer in the basement, and the refrigerator on the main floor, but I’m very concerned about the health implications, as well as the unpleasant smell. I should add that my parents’ home is tidy, and is cleaned regularly. What advice can you give?

A.    Your parents should keep the basement windows closed all summer and use a dehumidifier. Open windows bring in a lot of warm, moisture-laden air in a cool environment. This raises the relative humidity and mildew and mold follow.

I assume that the basement does not leak since you do not mention it but it is not uncommon for old stone walls to admit moisture. If this is part of the problem, you may want to write again and we can discuss alternatives.

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