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What's That Smell Part 2: Renovated House

clean air EarthI received the following heart-felt letter from a new Grandma.

“I hope you can help!   I am worried about my new 3 week old granddaughter.  My daughter moved into a bank refinished home when she was 7 month pregnant.  The house always smelled of new carpet, paint, and many other unknown smells. Well since the baby’s birth whenever I go to this house I can smell things sometimes even cigarette smoke and nobody smokes. I am very sensitive to smells and my head gets foggy and my throat hurts.  Now the baby has cold symptoms and I think it may be the house.  We open the windows as much as possible but it isn't getting much better. What should we do?

Thank You so much,


Dear Theresa,

Your daughter moved in to a bank refinished home. I think we can safely assume that the products used to “freshen-up” the repo were not chosen for their health and environmental assets but rather for their cheap cost. New paint, new carpeting and perhaps a myriad of other newly introduced pollutant sources are mingled with remnants of pollutants introduced by previous occupants including smoke. The smells are still strong after more than 2 months of trying to air out the home. This is no surprise. Many people with hypersensitivity can detect paint and carpeting for years!  

Fortunately for your precious new arrival, you are a Grandma with some environmental sensitivities and a good nose. You are her guardian canary!  For you, the smell of the chemicals in the air is pungent and you can feel the effects in your own body. Others, less sensitive may not be as aware of the dangers posed to your grandchild as you are. Since your granddaughter’s immune system is not fully developed yet she is especially vulnerable to toxic chemical exposures and you are right to be deeply concerned. It is very important to create a home environment for a newborn that is safe and free of these chemicals.  

There are many things that you can do to reduce the chemical load that your family is breathing in. Each comes with a price tag so I will give a variety of options.

Concentrate on the nursery first … this is triage!

We have just scratched the surface. Testing can verify the high levels of chemicals that you are already experiencing but this is only helpful if you need to convince anyone that the problem is real. The money is best spent on fixing the obvious first. A home inspection by an expert may further reveal important sources of indoor pollution and suggest remedies. The Institute for Building Biology and Ecology has a list of graduates around the country and perhaps there is an inspector in your area. Don’t be surprised if new odors are “unmasked” as you begin to clean up this front line of chemical exposures. For example it may be impossible to smell mold which could be present but overpowered by fresh paint and carpet smells.

Good luck … and congratulations on the new arrival!

Do you suspect that your home is causing health issues? Are you doing a renovation or new home and have a health question? Please send your questions to and put Mother Earth News Blog in the subject. Your situation will probably be of interest to other readers too so as time permits I will answer your questions in my blog. 

Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA  is an architect, healthy building consultant, instructor for the International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology and author. She is the principle of EcoNest Architecture. She is primary author of “Prescriptions for a Healthy House” and co-author with husband Robert Laporte of “Econest-Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw and Timber”.