We just moved into a 60-year-old house and most of it was recently painted with low VOC paint, although one original wall is a medium-color wood finish which is putting out a strange smell. One of us is feeling sick from the smell, although the other wants to keep the "wood" color instead of painting over it.

What could we do to easily coat over the old wood finish so that it will stop off-gassing? This wall with old wood finish is NOT very shiny. Is shellac the way to go? Will we need to sand it?

If we paint over this old wood finish on the wall, what kind of low VOC paint would seal it the best, and would we need to sand it before painting it?

  • There's no way a 60-year-old finish is off-gassing anything remotely detectable. It should take a month or two, tops — and the vast majority of that in the first few days. You must be smelling something else like mold, as @jaschwa says. – Hank Mar 14 '13 at 5:28
  • @Hank PVC off-gasses for its entire lifetime. He can test his home with a test kit. But there have been some studies that have shown 60-year-old homes being cleaned up and ventilated only to be quickly filling with unsafe levels of formaldehyde. Consumers are very worried about this in China. A lot of homes are 60 years old, and the material was very popular. – Wolfpack'08 Dec 17 '20 at 11:53

60 year-old wood should not be "off-gassing." I suspect there's moisture behind the wood and you're dealing with mold and wood-rot. Did the home inspection note anything about it?

I would hire a indoor environmental service to test the air near the wood to determine the problem. If it is moisture, you need to get the leak fixed, lose the wood, fix the structural damage, treat for termites and then finish up with drywall and wainscotting or paneling.

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