Smelling like a rose?

If I ever quit the home-inspection business, I might just get myself a job smelling things. Regular Helter Shelter readers know that I have the gift of super-smell. I can sniff out a wet dog across a mall parking lot. I know who's been drinking, and what. I know who's been making love, and sometimes I know a little bit about how they did it. (That, friends, is a curse.)

I got goose-bump excited when I read an article in the New York Times detailing a day in the life of workers called "expert noses." These people work in the Netherlands, sniffing car parts for GE Plastics Europe. Their job is to keep stinky parts out of new cars. According to the Times, these people work every few days, 15 to 30 minutes at a time. Apparently, that's all the work a super-nose can stand.

That sounds like mighty fine work to me, right up there with Lil' Abner's mattress-testing job. It might even be better than playing rock 'n' roll for a living, because 1. it's a full-time, paying gig, and 2. there would be no drummer involved.

The car-sniffing jobs came about as cars began to include less metal and more plastics, glues, and sealants. The Volkswagen Golf instrument panel was an early offender. Thanks to the expert noses, VW has taken care of the problem.

Oddly, this is the second stinky-plastic story I've come across in one week. I heard the other one last weekend in Atlanta, at the first annual gathering of our online community of brainy home inspectors. One of the guys, New Jersey's Pete Engle, does Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) assessments. Pete's an engineer who recently left the world of high-tech missiles and munitions to start up a home-inspection business. He likes it just fine, but now he's seriously considering a third career as a vintner. (Want to know about uranium-tipped bullets? Toxic mold? New Jersey wine grapes? Ask Pete.)

Anyhow, Pete told me about a particular breed of plastic window screens, which stink like road kill after they've spent some time in the sun. "If you want to make a customer happy instantly," Pete said, "just tell them they can get rid of that smell by replacing those window screens."

Pete also told me that he's been finding a lot of toxic mold growing in basements and under carpets. He told me about one very sick child who's getting better now that the mold in his house has been cleaned up. Pete said that at least one IAQ company has trained mold-sniffing beagles, the way termite companies have trained termite-sniffing beagles. The beagles, Pete says, are quite good at finding toxic molds.

I'm a little skeptical about the beagles. I don't know about New Jersey, but here, I could sniff the ground, say I smelled termites, and nobody could prove me wrong. Dig up a wheelbarrowful of dirt, and you'll find some termites. I suspect it would be the same with mold. Here in our warm environment, where virtually all of the basements leak, I suspect that a person could just point anywhere and say, "There's mold over there," and chances are, that person would be right.

After talking with Pete, I'm thinking that maybe I can combine my own expert nose with the home-inspection work and start charging people to find all the stinky things in their houses. Then they could get rid of the bad smells in the house just like the people at Volkswagen got rid of the bad smells in their car dashboards.

In the meantime, I'll go ahead and tell y'all, free of charge, about some of the funky things I smell every day:

Cats and dogs. Sometimes I can tell from the front yard that there are cats in a house. I know, I know-your catbox doesn't stink; you can't smell it, right? Well, I'm here to tell you, all catboxes stink. Most of the time, I don't smell the Jowers catbox. But if I leave home for a day or two, the first thing I smell when I walk in the door is the catbox. Most likely, other people smell it too.

Now, about dogs: You might think your dog is housebroken, but it's not. All dogs pee in the house regularly. A while back, a local doggy-smelling house sold for about $20,000 under market. The owners would have saved a lot of money if they had just recarpeted. But they swore the house didn't stink. It cost 'em, well, a pile.

Cigarette smoke. Usually, I can smell it from the driveway. There are actual studies showing that smoky-smelling houses stay on the market longer, and bring a lower price, than non-smoky houses. Like pet owners, smokers would do well to recarpet-and repaint-before they sell. (And they ought to smoke outside in the interim and not throw the butts on the ground.)

Tired old fabric. A house full of truly old furniture smells musty. There's at least one company that specializes in "staging" houses before they're sold. It might pay to get their furniture in and move the funky old furniture out.