Coping, Triggers

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.

36 thoughts on “Asphalt Roofing Odors and Indoor Air Quality”

  1. I am so concerned about this. I am curious if everyone had ridge roof vents installed when the roof was replaced as they let more air into the attic. All the roofers that gave us estimates mentioned tearing out our old square vents, and replacing with ridge vents. We don’t use central air so the ductwork won’t make a difference like those using central air. We are having a new roof put on soon, and they are taking both layers of shingles off and putting new plywood and shingles on. The roof directly above my bedroom is flat, so they need to put rolled rubber down. I am so scared it’s going to stink from this. I have had multiple chemical sensitivity for 25+ years. 🙁
    Anything I can do to prevent this would be great.
    I built a home back in the 90’s and didn’t smell the roof then. Never did when my parents had theirs replaced either. Something has obviously changed for this to be a problem.

    1. Hi OhioGirl, the flat roof was actually the best on my house. It had an adhesive that didn’t smell. And I stayed at an Airbnb while their roof was being redone and had no trouble. The roofer mostly nailed the shingles into place and only used tar in places he absolutely had to. So I know it’s possible to get a less smelly roof, but I don’t know how to find a roofer who will take the time to consider different materials or minimal use of tar.

      Take care,

  2. As I wrote you before…..we have had this smell throughout our home particularly when the air conditioner went on in previous months, the smell came in worse than ever.
    So you have it only in the kitchen area…I do not know if you read my email to you?
    Again, I would suggest you get another roofer to look at might be that in that particular area, the tar seipped in closer to the ceiling of the kitchen making the smell of tar more apparent.
    Those roofers always deny everything. I hope another roofer can see what is creating the problem……As I said in the email to you this afternoon, it has been a year and half and at times particularly when it is very hot outside, if we use the air conditioner we can still feel the smell to a certain degree. It has not completely dissipated as the roofer said it would and it has taken a very long time …We are thinking of now contacting the state contracting board………

  3. I re-roofed yesterday. I have been reading all the comments and am also experiencing “smells” coming from one corner of my kitchen. It gives me an immediate headache and sick to my stomach feeling. My contractor said he can’t smell it and they’re are no harmful chemicals used!! Well there are, but it strikes me odd that it only smells in one place. What I want to know is how long is this going to smell. The roofer did go on the roof to see if everything was properly sealed and it is. just want to get rid of this smell. How can I do it?

  4. I’m getting these smells from my neighbors roof bc we have a bad seal on a window and the wind blew to us that day. Same story about the roofer never having a problem before. Even my husband smelled it on day one. Its day three, and I’m running filters, washing everything, and in general at my witts end on what to do. The constant burning in my nose and throat and metalic taste is driving me bonkers. It is nice to know I’m not alone in smelling it, but how do I get rid of it if I can’t open up the house bc all the windows are on “that side” of the house????

  5. Hello, I am chemical sensitive and we need to replace our 10yr old roof from hail damage. This roof hasn’t given me any problems. After explaining my concerns to the roofing company they recommended that I use a product called Rhinoroof as a barrier or place the new shingles over this roof that hasn’t given me any problems. I believe that cuts the warranty and half, but as long as there is no offgassing in the house, we are good with that.
    We thought about metal roofing which is very expensive, but they would still be using Rhinoroof as a barrier and some foam accordion type product underneath the metal to prevent denting. I worry those products could also offer gas. Does anyone have any experience or recommendations?

  6. I’ve read all the comments dating back years…Here we are Aug 2019….In April we renewed our roof with a roofer who did some work on the front portion of our duplex, gutters and all and did a good job. He was professional, etc. He then did the roof recently and suddenly we cannot use our air conditioner at any time during the day when the heat/temperature goes up .Could never use the Air in the mornings! Here in Los Angeles presently, the high temperatures have now shifted to about 1:00 in the afternoon instead of the mornings and when we turn it on we know we have to turn it off immediately because of the smell of TAR. I have contacted our air conditioner people and they tell us that the smell may be coming from the DUCTS of our air conditioner due to the fact that it may have absorbed the smell of the TAR used in doing the roof. So this now means that as soon as the heat of so-called summer is gone that we will change the entire air conditioner and Ducts with a new system. I only hope that this would solve this really sickening problem that makes you have headaches and nausea.
    The Roofer only replies that he has never had an experience like this with anyone in 35 years of business……Can I really believe such Nonsense……………NO!

  7. We also have a house that has a toxic odor because of a new roof since Oct. 2018…we also had air quality test, VOC,all clean, air conditioners cleaned..My question, has anyone ever solved this problem and if so HOW..we are anxious to hear from you…

    1. hello, i just posted about our problem since April of this year, 2019, the smell of TAR has permeated our Duplex when the Heat goes up. The Roofer takes no responsibility about it and says it will dissipate…but it has not. I contacted the Air Conditioner co. that did by parents home and they tell me that possibly the smell of TAR could have gone into the Ducts and I should consider replacement of the air conditioner and Ducts which they do anyway when placing in a new Air. As soon as the heat of summer is gone, I plan on doing this because the air system is old anyways. I just hope that will solve the difficulty! I hope this helps you….Please feel free to respond. Much Luck!!!!

  8. just had some asphalt tiles put on the roof and I very sick from it. Anyone find a way to reduce the fumes? We were thinking of replacing those tiles with something less toxic but at least 1 company says we must redo the entire roof (it’s on an overhang not the roof itself) or it might not seal properly…

    anyone solve this???

  9. I had my roof redone in the past few months and we went for 2 months in the florida heat with no tiles, just tar and tar paper. My house stinks like tar which smells like bad BO. I can’t stand the smell and need to get rid of it. I’m embaressed to have people over. Please help!

  10. My mom is 86 and cannot leave her 400sf efficiency that was formerly a carport attached to our home. We just re-roofed and had two flat decks replaced and tar was used in several areas. She said she can’t smell it, but I smell the tar stronger in her area probably as there is little ventilation and she has the flat roof. Are the odors toxic or just annoying since she has not said anything is bothering her like eyes or throat? I don’t want to set panic in her, but want to make sure she is safe if she feels safe.
    She has a bathroom with an exhaust fan – she we leave it running?

    1. Hi Lisa, I’d leave the exhaust fan off–it brings in some outside air and can increase the smell indoors (it did at my house). If she isn’t noticing any symptoms from it, then she’s probably fine. If you want to clean the air, I recommend a medical grade air filter, like Austin Air, that has a charcoal filter to manage odors. They’re expensive, but really work.

      Take care,

  11. Okay so you all are scaring me. My landlord is putting a new roof on tomorrow I have Lupus and literally every little smell affects me. Has the smell went away for any of you and how long did it take??

  12. Can someone please explain what sort of harm can come to children? Are there any studies on how likely a child is to be harmed by the smell/fumes? Anything to look out for? Anything that can be done post-exposure to limit harm? Fretting about past exposure…

  13. Can everyone please describe the smell? My house is old and the roof isn’t plywood it’s 1×6 boards with very large gaps exposing a large amount of tar paper. To me it’s smells like Raid roach spray.

    1. Nathan, The asphalt/tar smell is like when a road is being redone or has been freshly patched. I can’t think of any other way to describe it, but it’s pretty intense. I don’t know what Raid smells like, so I can’t compare it. Best of luck solving your problem.

      Take care,

  14. My city just finished paving my street and the tar smell has permeated my home. I feel sick all the time because everything I eat or drink tastes like tar. This has become intolerable for me.

  15. These are great comments. The HOA just reroofed my condo on August 21, 2017. The smell has permeated my entire place. I had to leave to another location because I had an allergic reaction to the chemicals. I have used air purifiers, charcoal filters, duck tape. nothing keeps the smell out. I am having the air quality tested for VOC. From what I have read and what I felt, the VOC from the off gassing are extremely toxic. I would be worried about small children. I am now going to have the air ducks sealed and all the walls sealed. But I am beginning to think that is not going to really matter. I live in “hell hot” Florida. Any comments welcome.

    1. Hello. What test did you have done? I would like to be tested. The smell that comes in every summer , makes me feel soo sick. It’s terrible.

  16. Denise, yes the smell will harm your 2 week old….. move the baby to another room and/or move to another house! There are several chemicals combined that make up the tar smell. Initially it is the light oils that are out gassing and create the most strong ofor. Hotter days excite the molecules more and the smell gets stronger. The best air filter you can buy is from a company in Canada called Airpura (better than Austin Air…. has 3xs the amount of charcoal). I was tested and my liver and gall bladder were on toxic overload. Mora treatments, homeopathic detox, and special detox baths helped. And if you are nursing your milk will be effected and thus your baby. Most roofers forgo the old tar paper and replace it with synthetic… this is where most of the problem/smell comes from, the paper. Protect your baby and move out for as long as you can. You could pull off the shingles and replace the tar paper with synthetic… that would take care of it.

  17. 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

  18. 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

    1. 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,

  19. 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??

    1. 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,

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

    1. 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,

      1. 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 🙁

        1. 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,

  22. 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.

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