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Another Tale of "Whats That Smell?"

Posted 10-21-2009 at 05:14 AM by faucetman886

Well I would have thought by now that I had covered every possibility when it comes to “Whats’s that smell” but yet the questions keep coming. Frankly I’m happy for the letters and comments along with the chance to be of help. That is why I do this blog. Late last night I received the following comment from one of my HubNet articles:
“Hi. Interesting reading! I'm trying to figure out why a sewer gas smell would appear at my mom's house, after not smelling it for the 3 previous years she's been there.
She lives on a concrete slab, cluster home about 13 years old. A month or so ago, it started smelling around her washer machine drain and she says sometimes the kitchen sink, but I have not really smelled the sink yet, however the washer/dryer are located in her kitchen, albeit on the opposite side from the sink.
I would think the code just 13 years ago in our metro area would require a P or S trap for a washer drain, but I'm not sure. Today, I ran a piece of wire down the drain to see if I could feel a trap. It showed some resistance the first try about a foot down, so I figured it has a trap of some sort, but trying it again a few times to be sure, it seemed to pretty much go straight down near the floor and stop. Could the trap be that far down?
She uses the washer at least once a week, so don't think it has dried out. I do wonder where and how to check for a sewer vent? I assume on the roof, but what does it look like and how many are there on a typical house? Would a person have to run something down any or all vent pipes and how far?
My mom is elderly and had a stroke 6 months ago, which seems to have made her sense of smell even more keen so I really need to help her. I just don't know if I should start cutting on the drywall to look for the trap or not? I hate to call a plumber just yet and not sure I trust them, sad to say.
I did have the county water co. come out today and check to see if her sewer line was clear. They told her to flush, etc, while they saw the water run into the main line and they said it was clear.
She told me that she has seen dampness around her concrete driveway where there is a crack that follows the sewer line to the street. I guess it's possible that the pvc pipe has cracked someplace, causing that, but not sure it would cause an odor inside, if it were the case. I have not seen that dampness myself, but the crack has been there for a long time.
Any ideas of where to start, I'm all ears, as Ross Perot once said!

Let me start by answering the simple questions first. All cities with building codes require a “P” trap system so it’s not likely that your Mother’s problem is a lack of “P” traps but the traps may be involved. More on that in a minute. Secondly you would generally think that water seeping up through a concrete driveway would be water under pressure, so that could be a broken yard irrigation line or a break in the main water line coming from the water source. I would certainly suggest that you check your Mom’s water bill and see if it has recently increased. This type of leak would become more visible with the ground super saturated as with the recent heavy rains in your area.
So now my guess is that it is a vent problem. Vents become clogged with leaves and debris and sometimes animal nests. Here’s where the traps come into play. With a clogged trapped, every time you flush a large amount od water down the drain, such as a washer the drain is starving for air and actually can suck the water out of your “P” traps to be able to breathe. To explain the general principle of why you need a vent, think about playing with a straw in a glass of water. If you hold your finger over the top of the straw water in the straw will not flow out. Plumbing drain lines are the same. They are a closed system that must have a source for air to allow the water to drain out of the house. If the vent is clogged small amounts of water like a bathroom sink or maybe even a toilet will gurgle or bubble while trying get enough air but a washer has enough power to just suck it’s way to the air that its needs. A simple fix before I would think of breaking sheetrock or concrete is to have the vents augered. The vents are a straight non-capped pipe that stick up out of the roof and she probably has one or 2 depending on the size of her condo and how many fixtures. If you are not adept at climbing on roofs and using a long auger call a plumber. A simple clog can be cleared also with a high pressure garden hose. Even if it weren’t a vent problem you would use a smoke test to check for a broken pipe so don’t even think of breaking into solid surfaces until you know if there is a leak somewhere.

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