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Fish Odor in the Home

Occasionally people smell mysterious dead fish odors or fishy smells in their homes. Often such problems go undiagnosed for several weeks, months, or even years before the source of the fishy odor is uncovered. People who are trying to be helpful may suggest that these smells are from dead fish in the yard, or dead rodents in the walls; others may suggest they are the result of sewer gas backing out of your plumbing system, or mold odors resulting from wet building materials.

Though the above may cause unusual and foul odors, they are typically not the source of the fishy odor you are detecting. Being led down the wrong path can be disastrous. The source of fish smell in homes is sometimes from a dangerous condition. It is sometimes the result of plastic electrical components heating up in your homes or even in your walls. Overheating light switches, outlets, breakers, and light sockets have all been found to cause mysterious fish odor.  

Why do such mysterious complaint odors often come and then disappear, only to reappear minutes or hours later?
1) Typically the reason that fish odors from overheating electrical components come and go is that the overheating electrical component is eventually turned off and cools down and slowly the smell dissipates. When the power to the device is back on, it heats up again and the dead fish odor production starts up all over again.

2) A second common reason for fish odor and other odors appearing and disappearing is your AC system. If your AC return (filter area) is near the source of odor, it will pull the odor into the AC system and distribute it to other areas of the home.This may cause odor to be diluted and disappear, or it may cause it to be blown into your face and thus become more obvious. During one investigation for the source of fishy smells in a trailer in Barefoot Bay near Vero Beach Florida, the source of odor (a overheating breaker panel) was constant; however, the AC unit caused the fish odor to appear whenever the AC kicked on because the AC return was situated in such an area that it pulled the smelly air out of the breaker panel and walls and distributed this odor to the rest of the property. 

If you detect fish odor in your home it may be something as simple as a dead fish in your yard, fish jumping out of an aquarium and dying behind the aquarium, of some other bizarre unexplained phenomena, but do not bet on it. If you detect fish smells, please consider the fact that it may very well be the result of chemicals released as a result of overheating plastic components in an electrical device.

Consult a licensed electrician immediately; also, an ASHI certified and state licensed home inspector may be able to help track down the source in addition to the electrician.

Unfortunately most people including home inspectors and even electrical inspectors, mold testing specalists, and air quality consultants, are not familiar with this condition, so you will have to be cautious when choosing someone to conduct such inspections. In either case the person inspecting for such odors should have an infrared camera to help track down any heat sources.

If overheating electrical components are found to be the source of trouble, then have any and all required repairs made as soon as possible by a qualified licensed electrician. If the source of overheating is an electrical component that is used in more than one location in the building, then consider the possibility that the other similar components may now, or in the near future, be experiencing the same problems and act accordingly.


If you are having problems with strange fish odors or other unusual odors in your home give us a call at: