The House Smells Like Dog Pee: Should I Buy It? And Other Smell FAQs

Posted on Nov 02, 2021


The housing market today is incredibly competitive. Move-in ready homes that have the updates and amenities people want are often getting snapped up in a single day - and receiving multiple offers over asking price. Not surprisingly, some homebuyers are unwilling - or unable - to play that game. 

Homes that have imperfections or need a little TLC are getting more attention from people who are willing to deal with outdated shag carpeting for a while if it means finally owning a home. 

Smell is one such imperfection that buyers are re-evaluating. A home that may have never gotten a second glance now has homebuyers wondering: is there a way to get rid of this smell? And if so, how much will it cost?

Here's what the experts have to say about smell removal and buying a home.

Buying a House That Smells Like Dog Pee: Should You Do It?

When it comes to pet urine, tread carefully - because there’s often a lot going on under the surface that you might not be aware of. 

Although a carpet that smells like dog or cat pee may sound awful, it’s often the best-case scenario because you might have the option of simply replacing the carpet in order to eliminate the smell (or if you’re tempted, there are ways you can try to remove the urine smell from carpet - but these methods are best for treating small, limited areas). If the whole house smells like dog urine, however, the problem may be deeper than just the carpet.

When animals have peed on floors over and over, urine can soak through the floor and enter the subfloor. You may have heard of cleaning solutions for removing urine smells from carpets and floors, but if the urine gets beneath the floor, no amount of Angry Orange or white vinegar solution is going to remove the smell completely. In extreme cases, it’s possible that there was enough urine for it to soak up into the walls as well.

Cost:

It is possible to replace parts of the subfloor and eliminate the crystallized urine that is producing the smell. However, this can be a fairly large project, and a costly one as well - according to Fixr, the average range for replacing a subfloor is $600 to $2,400 - but costs can go higher depending on where you live and how much of the floor needs to be replaced.

So does the smell of pet urine mean a home is unsalvageable? No, but proceed with caution and get a quote from a contractor if you plan on asking the seller to reduce the price in order to cover the cost of having to do work. 

Before you buy a house that smells like pet urine, here's what you should consider:

  • "Pet urine on your carpets isn't just an aesthetic issue - it's something that is often indicative of extensive damage beneath the carpet," notes Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, Founder and President of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, a cleaning and smoke damage restoration company. "Pet urine is acidic and it creates stains, odors, and also moisture that damages the carpet and padding."
  • "Pet urine can soak into your subfloor, and when you replace the carpeting, the new carpet will pull the urine from the floor and become ruined. There is no way to get rid of years of pet urine damage on flooring except to rip it out and replace it," warns Melanie Musson, a home cleaning expert with USInsuranceAgents.com. "I’ve seen homeowners forced to tear out original Victorian hardwood floors because it was the only way to get rid of the urine."
  • "Pet urine creates a sharp scent of ammonia, which is an irritant to the lungs. While there are DIY methods of cat urine odor removal, in most cases they will not fully remove the odor. Only professional odor removal from a trained technician will fully remove odors from affected materials in your home," explains Rodney Lynch, Associate Instructor at Rainbow International Restoration, a Neighborly company.
  • "Home inspections don't typically inspect for pet urine, so it's something you should ask to have included in your inspection," recommends Rodriguez-Zaba. "Sometimes pet urine damage isn't even visible, so it requires specific detection methods. We recommend removing all carpet and padding and sometimes baseboards."
  • "The damage done by pet urine also depends on the number of animals in the home and how long they have been urinating in the house," notes Lynch. "They are also creatures of habit so they will tend to go back to the same spot. Urine in one spot over time can cause structural damage."

Should I Buy a Home that Smells Musty?

A musty smell is a warning sign that homebuyers should not ignore because where there’s musty smell there’s typically mildew (a type of mold), and when there’s mildew there’s often moisture. A musty smell is often a warning sign of a more serious issue with the home. Mold sensitivity and prolonged exposure to mold spores can spell trouble for you and your family’s health. 

A musty home doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy the home - however, if the source of the smell can’t be determined, make sure that any offer you make is contingent on the results of the home inspection. You can also opt for a professional mold inspection, which costs an average of $650 - or you can do it yourself with a test kit, which will run you about $40. 

Cost:

The cost of fixing a musty smell really depends on its source. If the problem is a leaky sink, the fix might be cheap. If the problem is a leaky shower and moisture that's entered the flooring, however, the costs can be exorbitant. 

Mold remediation will fix the issue in many situations. According to LawnStarter, mold remediation services typically cost between $1,373 and $3,325.

Things to consider before you buy a house that smells musty:

  • "A must smell in a home is generally associated with mold and mildew. This is especially true for basements as they tend to be damp which is where mold and mildew thrive," explains Nora Mitchell, Editor-in-chief of Household Advice. "Pet accidents can also cause this smell when not attended to, so make sure to check areas they could use the bathroom that may not be in your line of vision. I always recommend checking all areas of the basement and the corners and closets of bedrooms and bathrooms.”
  • "A musty odor is a red flag for mold. If a home is musty, it likely isn’t well ventilated, may have water damage, and likely has mildew. Mildew and mold can be dangerous as they release mycotoxins into the air," notes Musson.
  • "Typically, musty smells come from wet sources, so if there is a leak or plumbing concern, early identification is key. Be sure to check areas where water is a main source, including sinks and toilets," recommends Lynch. "Once you find the source, get it fixed and check for mold. If there is mold, act quickly as it can spread easily, causing greater health concerns."

Should I Buy a House That Smells Like Smoke? 

You found the perfect home, but there’s one big problem: it smells like smoke. Although smokers are typically prohibited from smoking indoors, there’s one big exception, and that’s the private home. Over time, the particles present in smoke cling to the walls and persist in creating that “smokey smell” long after the cigarette is finished. 

Past smoking can potentially expose you to the effects of thirdhand smoke long after the last owners have left the house. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “When you smoke in a room or car, toxic chemicals like nicotine cling to walls, clothing, upholstery and other surfaces... Results of a study published in 2010 found that when this nicotine reacts with nitrous acid in the air, it forms carcinogens.” This can be especially concerning when you have children, due to the impact secondhand smoke can have on child development.

Expect that a lot of cleaning will be required before the home is clean again: you’ll need to scrub down every wall and ceiling, along with any surfaces, and you will need to either clean or ideally, replace anything porous, such as fabric (ex: drapes), furniture, and carpet - as it will have absorbed smoke.

Cost: 

Experts say that smoke remediation typically costs thousands of dollars.

"In my experience, the average cost of smoke remediation from cigarette smoking is between $4,300 and $4,500. However, it’s maybe lower or higher depending on how distributed the damage is in your house," says Andrew Barker, Founder of HomeownerCosts. "You may need to pay more if every room in your home needs to be treated. Damage from toxic chemicals from cigarettes is not only harmful to you and your family but also to your home."

According to Sean Chapman, Founder of Tools'n'Goods, some homeowners will pay far above the average: "the cost is always based on unique circumstances or the treated space. The service provider will consider the size of the area, affected materials, and the quality of ventilation in the area," he says. "The averager remediation plan costs around $4,000 but it may also vary from $2,000 to $12,000, depending on the listed factors."

When it comes to eliminating smoking smells from a home, here's what you need to keep in mind:

  • “Removing smoke (nicotine) residue from a home is an extremely labor-intensive job. Depending on how bad it is, it can require multiple passes over each wall in the home. Wiping down walls in a home that's been smoked in heavily is no easy task, it can require some serious scrubbing," explains Dustyn Ferguson, Co-Owner of Cleaning Zoom
  • "If you have any flat paint in the home (most commonly on the ceilings), it can be nearly impossible to remove. Sometimes, it will be much cheaper to just sand and repaint the ceiling," says Dustyn. "For these reasons, depending on how much and how long the home has been smoked in, these types of jobs can get into the thousands of dollars range to have done." 
  • Heavy smoking can even permeate the drywalls of the home - you may need to seal the walls with stain-blocking primer and re-paint them in order to keep the smell at bay.
  • New air filters in your HVAC system will also be important to have so that your air is filtered and you’re not just pumping air back through already contaminated filters.

New Home Smells Can Hurt You

If you’ve purchased a newly constructed home, you might notice it has a peculiar scent. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are the result of evaporating paint, sealants, etc. as well as chemicals from treated wood, flooring, and more. Long-term exposure to VOCs can lead to health issues like asthma and kidney damage, and in the short term, it can lead to headaches and nausea. 

To get rid of that “new home smell,” one of the easiest solutions is to “bake it out,” which involves keeping the home consistently heated at a high temperature for several days along with airing out the house. You then need to let the home air out entirely for several days with open windows.

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