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Asphalt Roofing Odors and Indoor Air Quality

Having someone put a new roof on your house doesn’t seem like it would be an exhausting experience, but here I am, physically and emotionally drained after a week of construction. You need some background to understand why I’m so wrecked, but I’ll keep it short because who really cares about my roof?

With my super-sensitive nose, I was reluctant to get an asphalt roof. After reading as much as I could find (not much) and talking with air quality experts, I was finally convinced that I wouldn’t be able to smell the roofing materials indoors. This was convenient because any changes to our roof would require special approval from the city’s historic preservation office, a fight for which I have no energy and Hart has no time. Also, another material would cost at least twice as much, which isn’t possible considering that we’re a year into starting a new business.

Demolition day produced an alarmingly strong odor in the house, which, of course, triggered a migraine attack. The odor — and the migraine — got worse each day. Although I kept the bedroom door shut and ran a medical facility-quality air filter in there, even the bedroom reeked. Not only were we woken up at 6:30 each morning by men tramping across and pounding on our roof, I was awake throughout the nights, convinced we’d just made an expensive decision that would worsen my migraine attacks.

Today, the roof is finished. It looks great, and, even better, doesn’t leak. Leaving the house open all night and a special $40(!) air conditioner filter diminished the odor greatly, though the smell is worsening as the day warms up. An hour ago, I believed I didn’t make a terrible decision that will exacerbate my migraine attacks. Now I’m not so sure. We’ll see how the house smells in a few hours. Let’s hope I have a good report that can reassure migraineurs and odor-sensitive people everywhere that asphalt roofs won’t worsen the condition.

13 Responses to Asphalt Roofing Odors and Indoor Air Quality

  1. Chris says:

    I had to post a short comment… My wife sometimes will joke about my “super” sense of smell. Whether or not this directly links to my migraines I don’t know. What I do know is that I often smell something that no one else does. Often, after sniffing around others will pick up on the scent, but I am usually the first one.

    I have similar experiences with sound. There are times, especially during migraine, when I seem to hear things that are either not detectable by others or are so faint/soft that most people do not hear them.

    Thankfully I do not see things that others cannot!

    These senstivities often seem heightened during a migraine.

  2. Janet Gorkes says:

    Did your house ever stop smelling like the roof shingles?
    I too am super sensitive and after this new roof, the kitchen, breakfast area especially smell like a new driveway. It affects my nose, throat and eyes.
    Hot weather is making it worse.
    You can smell the roof outdoors when a breese is blowing and this is a two story home.
    I feel it is entering through the skylight area since they used GAF weather watch on the sides of the skylight curb where before it was metal under the shingles.

    The roofer has not responded to this problem affecting my health

    I read of others with similar situation but no follow up.

    Any help?

    The smell is tolerable in early morning but gets unbearable after the noon sun is out.
    Location is Atlanta Ga.

    • Hi Janet,

      Unfortunately, the roof still smells like tar when it is 90 degrees or warmer. I had my air conditioner sealed; it helped only a little bit. I’ve been told that no matter how tightly sealed your ducts seem to be, they still let some air from the attic in. If the odor is seeping into your attic, it will make it into the ducts and, ultimately, the house. I think this is an issue with almost every house, it’s just that most people have scented products in the house and/or aren’t sensitive, so they don’t notice the tar smell. Running medical grade air filters in the house helps some. I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you.

      Take care,
      Kerrie

      • Ruth says:

        HI Kerrie
        I spoke to a contractor and what he says makes sense but still the smell is there
        He explained there is a layer of ply and then tar paper and then the asphalt shingles
        That heat rises and really the shingles should not smell in the attic or the house
        But every summer we smell it
        Our roof was installed 4 years ago…right when I had my twins 🙁

        • Hi Ruth, I still smell it at my house, too. I think part of the issue is that most people use a ton of scented products in their homes, so they don’t notice the odor. Since I use none, the odor is very noticeable. I had the AC ducts sealed, which has definitely helped. I also use a medical grade air filter (made by Austin Air) in the house all summer. I still notice the odor on really hot days, but it’s a lot better than it was. If you can stand the smell of any essential oils, it may also help to put some on a cotton ball and put that in the air duct return. I did that with peppermint oil for a while and it helped. I hope you’re able to find a reprieve from the smell!

          Take care,
          Kerrie

  3. MC says:

    We had our flat roof, re-roofed, on 6/13/2016, and on a hot day the inside of the
    house still stinks. Did any of your smells disappear yet? We are in South Florida.

  4. Julie Galaski says:

    Is there a way to avoid the shingle smell? We just tore offf a 25 year old roof and because we have a low pitched roof I put down 2 rows of CertainTeed Winterguard which is soooo toxic once the plastic back is removed. We also used 30 lb felt paper and the roof is tongue and grove so there are gaps and the smell of tar is unbearable as it seeps through the insulation and into the house. We would have done better to roof over the existing roof!! I have acute chemical allergic reactions to petro chemicals.. Even if I take the roof off and start over I am not sure how to make it non toxic. Any suggestions??

    • Hi Julie, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. It is such a stressful problem. In my case, the odor mostly comes in through the air ducts in the attic. I had the air ducts checked for leaks and sealed, which made a big difference. I also use a medical grade air filter in the house all summer. While I can still smell the odor some, it is MUCH better than it used to be. Best wishes finding relief from the odor.

      Take care,
      Kerrie

  5. Julie Galaski says:

    Thanks… desparate in Oregon

  6. Ruth says:

    Did anyone out there get an answer?
    My roofer is family and he says in 2 years he has never heard of this
    We redid roof 4 years ago…
    Every summer it smells
    Esp in certain areas of the house
    Logically it makes not sense as there is ply then ta rpaper then shingles that off gas upwards as hot air rises

    • Hi Ruth, I don’t think the tar paper is much of an odor barrier. My AC company said that the asphalt smell builds up in the attic in the heat and comes in through tiny cracks in the AC ducts.

      Take care,
      Kerrie

  7. Denise says:

    We just had our roof re-done and the smell of the tar is whats bothering me…is the smell going to harm my 2 week old how do i get rid of the smell my room is litterly right below the roof

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