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WHat is that smell?

Posted 02-25-2009 at 03:25 PM by faucetman886

As I originally stated when I started this blog, I really wanted to help people with their plumbing problems and what I couldn’t answer, which is probably 95% of what you would ask, my friends at National Builder Supply would help me find the answers. Well ive had the site up for a couple of weeks and you guys are either not finding me or just don’t have any problems? So Ive decided to address some things on my own and see if they strike a chord with any of you.
I am retired and disabled and spend a great amount of time entertaining myself with my laptop computer reading and responding , everyday, on approximately 30 DIY sites and a few that involve Mercedes Benz autos (my passion other than my children and grandchild). With that in mind I want you to know that the most prevalent question that I see DAILY…. Is “ I have a horrible sewer/septic tank smell that comes from the basement, from the kitchen drain, from the laundry room, etc, etc.” Having experienced this very problem myself and first checking my son’s room to make sure that the smell wasn’t coming from him, I called the friendly local plumber. Now on the forums I’ve read there are several answers to the problem. The most prevalent having to do with a full septic tank, a stopped up line to the sewer , or a clogged vent line. But the easiest to fix and yet least expected is a dry “p” trap.
First let me see a show of hands for those of you that know what a “p” trap is and where to find it?? I don’t see many hands! When indoor plumbing was first invented the wise forefathers thought all you had to do was to just run a pipe from the sink, commode, shower, etc straight to the septic tank, cesspool or whatever. They never even thought of the fact that sewage from the home begins to break down from bacteria (a good thing by the way) and those little bacteria give off methane gas. This gas can do a lot of things more offensive than just smelling bad. It can explode if dad sneaks into the bathroom to smoke, it can suffocate the whole household and both did happen with some frequency. This called for some way to stop the gas from coming back into the house. Thankfully and early genius, whose name escapes me, came up with a simple fix…the “p” trap, simply an elbow in the plumbing line(see the pic above) that stays filled with water and keeps the gas from coming back into the house. They also keep Mom’s diamond ring from falling straight down and into the sewer when she drops it in the sink ( a function not originally thought of). If you look under your kitchen or bathroom sink you will see this elbow just below the pipe connection to the drain. There are similar devices built into toilets (more the shape of an “S”), built into walls for plumbing lines like a washing machine drain or other drain lines. If this trap becomes empty then the methane gas backs up into the house and thus the smell and danger.
How does the “p” trap lose its water? Evaporation from a lack of use of a drain, i.e. the spare bathroom that no one ever uses, an over active dehumidifierin the central a/c system(very prevalent in humid states), a washer drain line and you have no washing machine or even something as simple as an old trap that has rusted out in the bottom and so no water can collect, instead you get a small leak and then comes the smell. Where’s that coming from? Somebody use that fancy air freshener I bought for the Bathroom PLEASE!!!.
Now I have seen some other answers for the smell. Even one where the pipes to the septic tank clogged up and backed up against the underground outside wall of the basement and the gas seeped through the concrete block, but that one was rare. My own experience came from buying a vacation home in a rural mountain area with little or no plumbing code and inspections. We soon started smelling a foul odor from the basement and being the plumbing genius I am I thought OK we haven’t installed a washer so the “p” trap for the drain doesn’t have any water in it. Simple fix, pour some water into the drain until we start using a washer. Still had the smell. Now here is where the part about the drain being in the wall and the no code plumbing come into play. To get to the drain line you have to tear out the wall. Was the smell bad enough to make me want to tear out sheetrock and have to replace the whole wall, retape and try to match the paint? Darn right it was . When the wall was torn out and the drain was exposed we found that our mountain no-code, no inspection plumber had just run a straight line from the washer drain pipe out of the house and to the septic tank with no trap. So then we not only had the expense of replacing the wall board, etc we had to figure out how to install a “p” into a wall with little or no room. Too long a story and too much money to even go any further, just know that there can be many issues causing the smell some real simple and others complicated enough to buy a lot of air fresheners and list the house for sale quick.
HOPE THIS HAS INFORMED AND ENTERTAINED YOU. I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR STORYS. GIVE ME A COMMENT AND SHARE IT WITH ME AND OUR OTHER SHY READERS. WAIT UNTIL I GIVE YOU THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF PLUMBING PROBLEMS IN THIS SAME HOUSE. YOU WILL FIRMLY BELIEVE IN CODE ENFORCEMENT AND ALWAYS USING LICENSED PROFESSIONALS.
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