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Basement next-day headache stumper

Hi all,

I've hesitated to ask this question because I don't know how weird the thread will get ... but what the heck.

I've recently been spending more time in the basement. I've been typically finding that the next day--not the same day--I feel headachey, knotted, sore, vaguely ill, etc. While we can't possibly solve for all the unknowns here and I'm not asking for medical advice here, my best guess is that there's something in my basement. Maybe I'm wrong, but maybe not.

However, I'm stumped on what I'd mitigate.

Here's what I don't think the problems are:
1) Mold: To the best of my knowledge, I don't have a moisture problem in my basement. I've never noticed water, signs of mold, etc. This is the only suggestion that I'm getting from Google searches, but I don't buy it.
2) Radon: I've done a radon test, but that wouldn't result in next day headaches. I do have foundation cracks to seal, but radon, if it were entering, wouldn't seem related to this specific response.
3) Icynene & other spray foam: it's not installed. There's canned foam sprayed here and there, but not in prodigious quantity.
4) Carbon monoxide: I have a properly-working CO tester sitting down here and there's no detectable CO.
5) Lack of fresh air: A forum participant recently visited and looked over my HVAC, and confirmed that there's actually a fresh-air intake running from the outdoors into my ductwork. Energy penalty noted, but regardless, in any case there is fresh air....

Here are two maybes I can think of:
6) Sewer gas: I've smelled occasional faint sewer gas and have since refilled any traps. I don't smell sewer gas recently, yet the headaches and soreness are still occurring next-day.
7) A bit of OSB off-gassing: Under a year ago, I installed a small amount of OSB (~70sf) floating on XPS in one room, and who knows, maybe there's some amount of off-gassing that I can't smell. No idea.
8+) any other educated guesses?

Hopefully this forum might have some bright ideas to share. Thanks in advance for your insight.

Asked by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jul 26, 2012 4:08 PM ET
Edited Jul 27, 2012 7:01 AM ET


21 Answers

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I wouldn't rule out mold just yet...what's the temp & RH of the basement? Does it vary much over the year?

Also - just because there's a fresh air intake on your HVAC system doesn't mean it's working properly (or at all). Can you actually verify that the (fresh) air is flowing in?

What about storage of paint, pesticides, etc...anything like that down there? Maybe something's leaking?

Answered by Cramer Silkworth
Posted Jul 26, 2012 5:51 PM ET


In reverse order:

Paint cans are all sealed nice and tight, no pesticides down there, haven't done any painting down there in quite a while.

The air is flowing in. Confirmed.

The temp is pretty consistent down there year round. I don't know the RH, which supports your point.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jul 26, 2012 6:16 PM ET


P.S. I am not spending time in my basement killing brews.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jul 26, 2012 6:21 PM ET


Are you sure that the symptoms always follow a trip to the basement?
If it is that much of a mystery, try keeping a record of observations or a journal.

Have you been cutting coffee or tea out of your routine lately?
Your symptoms remind me of when I kicked my Starbucks habit years ago...

Answered by Lucas Durand - 7A
Posted Jul 26, 2012 6:35 PM ET


Absolutely fair point, but all other behaviors are holding steady.
I appreciate and understand your question, though.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jul 26, 2012 7:06 PM ET


Try going inside an enclosed work trailer at Lowes. I stepped in the one I bought years ago on a sunny day and the formaldehyde bowled my over sending me leaping outside. After purchase I opened the sky lite and kept it open all day on jobs. Much better now. I would never put a scrap of freshly bought OSB inside an existing home. I haven't used that crap in years unless it is exterior to the frame and even then I despise the stuff. Though for some reason I love plywood, good plywood, but it too loves to off gas when new. Ventilation for the first years of a new home are crucial to lower the emissions of whatever including all the moisture that has to dry out of all. Anyway, you also could be psychotic, or in need of more or less IPAs... or... brain tumor... stroke coming on... haletosis... maybe you are bumping your head daily wondering why you have to go back to the dungeon? That's it, avoidance issues... I'll email you the bill. :)

Oops, just crossed my brain that the trailers are loaded with smelly luan of some kind... not OSB... my bad... OSB definitely not as bad as that stuff. Has to be an avoidance issue then. :)

Answered by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a
Posted Jul 26, 2012 7:40 PM ET
Edited Jul 26, 2012 7:58 PM ET.


You don't say what the basement room is covered in or what the walls are made of...not easy to diagnose a problem like this without info. Sounds like mold symptoms...saw a program a while back and the symptoms were the same....hidden mold behind walls and around windows. Also, how old is your home?...
Then again.... "Limited exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to headaches, irritability, and general unwellness"...relying on your detector to tell you if carbon monoxide is present is not very scientific or good troubleshooting practice.

Answered by T Shepp
Posted Jul 26, 2012 9:22 PM ET
Edited Jul 26, 2012 9:34 PM ET.


The part that interests me is that it is a day later. I get a similar effect from a couple of mild food allergies -- msg, some beer hops, etc.

Answered by JoeW N GA Zone 3A
Posted Jul 27, 2012 8:22 AM ET


Joew, I find that part interesting, too. I'm carefully attuned to my food issues already and this seems independent of them.

T Shepp, I realized I'd neglected to mention that--thanks. It's a 1925 home, and the walls are hollow 12" concrete block. I've been getting around to insulating the walls, but they are mostly painted concrete block without signs of mold. That aside, I'm not completely sure how better to test for the presence of CO than with a tester, but I'll investigate.

We cannot use my irritability as a determinant. That switch is stuck at "on."

AJ, noted about trailers from Lowe's.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jul 27, 2012 8:54 AM ET


Most of the time when I have those symptoms it's because I have not been drinking enough water, or ingesting coffee, beer or salt without drinking extra water to compensate.

Does your basement have full-height ceilings? If you cannot or do not stand up straight it can throw your body out of whack.

Formaldehyde makes my eyes burn and my throat sore immediately, and I'm not that sensitive to chemicals. I wouldn't rule it out, but often the simplest answer is best....

Edit to add: radon gives you cancer, but you shouldn't notice ill effects directly.

Answered by Michael Maines
Posted Jul 27, 2012 8:55 AM ET
Edited Jul 27, 2012 8:57 AM ET.


Actually low levels of radiation may maintain health.

Answered by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a
Posted Jul 27, 2012 9:02 AM ET


I had one person come up to me at a trade show and say they didn't like concrete because it had negative ions. It was the only time in 9 years I ever heard that mentioned.

I didn't look into it because a) I couldn't be sure the person wasn't high at the time of the conversation and b) I don't believe there's anything anybody can do about it.

Odd theory, but you've seemingly checked into almost everything else.

Answered by user-946029
Posted Jul 27, 2012 11:11 AM ET


Hahaha. Wow, Mike.

Michael, thanks. Yep, I can stand up to full height in the basement, and I'm drinking plenty of water daily.

I can check more carefully for mold, though I haven't spotted any. I should also say I've been running the central air quite a lot lately (exceptionally hot weather) and it's not humid in my house, basement included.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jul 27, 2012 12:17 PM ET


Just a quick update to say the gas company sent a guy this morning who confirmed there's no gas leak and no CO. (I often am sitting a foot or two away from the gas meter down there.)

As an aside, we were pleased that he said the words "recovery ventilator" when he was helpfully trying to offer other solutions. That's a big step. Pretty cool!

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jul 30, 2012 10:49 AM ET


Bump. I am experiencing this again after spending time in the basement again yesterday. So, I've poured more water into under-used floor drain traps today just in case it's sewer gas, and am wondering more seriously about mold. When I feel slightly less crappy I'll have to poke around the internet, but if there are posts/blogs/pages on GBA that discuss mold comprehensively that anyone would like to point me to, I'd be interested in reading them. Thanks.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Nov 9, 2012 4:05 PM ET


Some websites have been known to exaggerate the potential health effects of indoor molds, so use common sense when evaluating information you find on the Web. Here are two reputable sites:

Mold facts from the CDC

Health Effects of Indoor Mold (from the North Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services)

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Nov 9, 2012 4:20 PM ET


Perfect. Thanks.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Nov 9, 2012 7:13 PM ET


Update: MOLD LOCATED. Mere feet from where I've been sitting. Nice detective work, people. Thank you.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jan 7, 2013 5:04 PM ET


So, the fiberglass batts, framed against concrete block that a previous owner installed in the early 80s is going to have to come out, and I'll work on remediating the mold.

Question: although around the rest of the basement perimeter, I'm insulating against the block and in the rim joist area with polyiso: in the area where the previous owner has framed and run electrical already (partially finished basement) may I successfully replace the fiberglass with mineral wool and leave the framing, so long as the interior of that wall has primed/painted/sealed gypsum? I really am not anxious to rip out that framing and re-run electrical.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jan 7, 2013 5:18 PM ET


If you don't have sufficient R between the rock wool and foundation (particularly on the above grade section) you'll have mold coming out your EARS at the end of every winter! You can't really use an interior side vapor retarder to keep the wintertime moisture from adsorbing/condensing/frosting against cold concrete & rock wool either, since that will trap ground moisture in the stud-bays.

The best you can do short of pulling the framing is to put an inch of closed cell spray foam on the concrete between the studs (taking care to "picture-frame" it, filling in as much as you can behind the studs before foaming at center-cavity), then compressing the batts into the available space. If it's 2x4 framing R13s would do (it's hard to compress R15s that much). If it's 2x6 framing you'll need more than an inch of closed cell to avoid the condensation issue, so go for two, in which case R15s can be used at full loft.

With the edge of the stud sealed to the concrete it is still somewhat susceptible to rot issues, but the vapor retardency of standard grades of lumber is about the same as closed cell foam, so it won't adsorb a whole lot of winter moisture- the risk is primarily from exterior moisture drives. If the foundation is well drained and you have sufficient overhangs such that you don't have snow/rain saturating the above grade exterior of the foundation that risk is pretty low.

Answered by Dana Dorsett
Posted Jan 8, 2013 6:02 PM ET


Ah, thanks, Dana, that's a great answer. I'll see what kind of space I've got (and what condition it's all in) when I tear that wall open. Thank you.

Answered by Mojave Disaster, 3B
Posted Jan 8, 2013 6:16 PM ET

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