Question: I have an 1,100-square-foot house. When we cook, the odour lingers in the house for at least two days, which is worse in the winter months.
I have an HRV. I shut all the bedroom, bathroom and basement doors and all the closets to keep the smell out. If it gets into my hall closet, I have to wash everything in there.
I currently only have an exhaust fan in the bathroom upstairs and a non-vented range hood in the kitchen, which helps somewhat.
I was wondering, should I get a vent put in the stairwell and a another in the hallway, both hooked up to the HRV, to see if that would help the situation? I’m not sure how expensive that would be, but I am getting an estimate. One company I called said they only do that if the basement and walls are open. So, now I’m hoping you have another idea.
Thank you for any advice or suggestions you may have.
— Joan Yahiro
Answer: Excessive cooking odours in a home can be a problem if you have inadequate ventilation or other issues. Installing a range hood with a proper exterior exhaust should minimize the problem, but checking your heat recovery ventilation (HRV) for proper setup and operation may also yield significant improvements.
Lingering cooking odours, especially if you do a lot of frying or use a large amount of spices, can be a noticeable issue in many homes. I can often tell what was on the menu for last night’s dinner when I do a morning pre-purchase inspection, if the home is occupied. This is indeed much worse in the heating season, as natural ventilation from windows is minimal to non-existent, which can help quite a bit in reducing leftover cooking smells in the warmer months. I am a little surprised that your home has this noticeable a problem with a functional HRV, which can often minimize the issue. So, that should be the first item to address.
While I think it is unnecessary, and even counterproductive, to install additional intake ducting and vents to your HRV, some work needs to be done on the unit. Many HRVs that I see are being improperly used by the homeowner, have inoperable controls, are very dirty or are imbalanced. If you have not cleaned the air filters, or the main core, in more than a year, that could lead to poor operation. Also, most units are balanced when they are first installed, but often become imbalanced over time. Balancing ensures the same amount of air is coming into the HRV unit as is being expelled during normal operation. If this is not happening, the inside of the home may have low or high air pressure relative to the exterior. This imbalance can cause a host of issues, including prevention of proper air exchanges through the HRV.
While the ventilation system in your basement may be part of the problem, there may be a much easier upgrade that will simplify the expulsion of smelly cooking odours before they become pervasive. Since your range hood is not vented and is merely a glorified circulation fan, it cannot currently help much with the smoke or steam coming off the range. The simple solution would be to add ducting and an exterior vent hood to this fan to blow the products of cooking directly outside at inception.
One of the main problems with cooking odours is that you may produce oily or greasy products coming off your range or cooktop. These types of compounds can be more easily embedded in soft materials like fabric furniture and carpets than other types. For that reason, range hoods are designed with filters to trap some of those greasy byproducts. These range from removable aluminum or stainless steel filters, to disposable charcoal models. Most of these are designed to be periodically removed and washed to work properly and prevent damage to the range-hood fan.
Difficulty in removing normal cooking odours from your HRV-equipped home may partially be caused by a dirty or improperly balanced and set-up ventilation system. Calling a licensed HVAC contractor to service the unit may help, but replacing your kitchen range hood with a more powerful, properly vented model should be the most valuable solution for your smelly problem.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.