Tag Archives: Ductwork

Productive Duct Cleaning

Several years ago a horrific smell came up from the basement and seeped into the garage. After an extensive search, we discovered a dead mouse. Who knows how he’d gotten down there, but he’d been separated from his kin, that was certain, and couldn’t find his way out. He could have been female – which I mention here as a nod to political correctness.

Once you’ve smelled something that’s been dead a while, you never forget it. It’s the worst thing ever, except for possibly the temporarily permanent (oxymoron, I know) residence that that distinctive odor takes up in your nose.

Dead Thing Duty is Bill’s job. No, he wasn’t elected in any democratic way, nor did we draw straws to see who would get stuck with cleanup duty. It was a dead thing – and I do the laundry –so that particular task was delegated to him.

A couple of years after this necrophobic incident, I started hearing noises in the wall behind the bed at night. It was intermittent, and at first I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t suffering from auditory hallucinations. This went on for a few days and then all was silent again. I thought nothing more of it until some weeks later when I began to smell another something I didn’t like all that much once again.

The air contained a slight tinge of a disagreeable odor I couldn’t quite identify because it seemed to come and go. I couldn’t get a solid whiff of it until one day it took up permanent residence in the bedroom.

I duct-taped the vents and moved to the sofa in the family room. At least I could breathe there. It was summertime, so I left the door to the porch open at night. Bill, of course, was not happy about this, given the nature of his “This-is-a-security-issue” complex. If you’re married to anyone in law enforcement, leaving first floor doors or windows open and unlocked any time of day or night is a huge deal. The bigger deal in my mind was the odor I could not abide. The car in the garage was starting to look like a good place to prop up a pillow and spread some blankets.

If that didn’t work, the Sheraton Suites would do nicely.

The odor deepened, and the air was so thick with it, I thought I’d puke. I was worried about it getting into the fibers of the bedding or the clothes in the closet. Would I have to burn all our clothes? Purchase a new wardrobe? (This last option, not a problem at all.)

It morphed into other areas, soaked into crevices, spilled over behind the furniture, and spread across the carpet like a morning fog. I knew what it was now – a dead thing – like the mouse in the basement. And I remembered the sound in the wall and thought it must have been an animal that got trapped in the wall’s duct-work.

I sprayed the rooms. It didn’t help. Bill said it wasn’t that bad and would dissipate soon anyway. He couldn’t smell anything downstairs, but his nose has always been, shall we say, insensitive. It didn’t matter, though, because I could smell it– and I was not happy.

Bill could hardly smell it at all after a while. Defective olfactory equipment. No more, no less. I considered moving from the family room sofa to sleeping on the back porch. I would have done so had I not been worried about spiders. If it’s not one thing it’s another.

I called a duct cleaning company.

Here’s what I learned –

The “Why” of residual smells after duct cleaning: Sometimes the rodent will be sucked out by the company’s vacuum “but occasionally pieces of the animal, due to the bodily fluids, will be left, (not to gross you out) stuck to the duct-work.” No odor will dissipate until its time has come.

Containment Strategies: “The cold air return will suck the smell back through the furnace and filter it through the rest of the house. That’s why there are pockets of odor in different places in the house.” I sealed off the cold air return with duct tape.

Why weather matters: “With a small animal, heat and air will dry the dead thing out faster, so the smell dissipates sooner, especially if it’s in the ducts. But if it’s in the wall, it reeks for the duration.” Which seems like years.

They looked everywhere – even in the attic – sometimes the smaller animals get in the walls, get trapped, and die up there – and then there’s really nothing you can do but wait it out.

Isn’t that good news?

I toyed with the idea of burning the house down, but that was an action I’m certain the insurance company would likely not have condoned. Nor subsidized.

The duct company’s total “catch” can be summed up this way – one small skeletal remains of “something” that once upon a time might have been a mouse. No meat on them there bones. How could it have devolved to this extent in only three months? The smell was so vile, you’d have thought an entire cow had died on the upstairs landing and been left there to decompose.

Mr. Duct Cleaner continued: “Six or seven times a year, we have ‘vermin’ issues: mice, rats, snakes…” I made him stop there. I already had enough nightmares to last a lifetime.

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