End sewage smells through process of elim­i­na­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - ARI MARANTZ

QWe live in a ru­ral area and have a well, sep­tic tank, ef­flu­ent pump and sep­tic field. The house is a 1,400-square-foot bun­ga­low with a partly fin­ished base­ment. We have a strong sewer smell com­ing from the laun­dry room down­stairs. There does not ap­pear to be any “liq­uid” leaks from the pump. We thought it might be the down­stairs toi­let seal and re­placed it. We checked all the drain “P” traps and put wa­ter through them to make sure they are full. The lower shower is not used of­ten. The roof was leak­ing from around the front vent stack and shin­gles were re­placed and the stack made taller last June. An HRV sys­tem was in­stalled in Oc­to­ber. The only time we no­ticed the smell be­fore the roof be­ing done was when the down­stairs toi­let would “burp” and drain the “P” trap. When the fire­place is be­ing used, the smell ap­pears to be strong­est and we turn off the HRV unit. If it is left, on the house seems to be in a vac­uum and we get back-draft from the fire. If it is left off, the smell is not as strong. Is the HRV sup­posed to put the house in a vac­uum? Is there a way of sourc­ing the ori­gin of the sewer smell? Thank you. Al Braun I read one of your ar­ti­cles on sewer lines and had a ques­tion on smell. My daugh­ter bought an older home in Riverview, built around 1949. We think the pre­vi­ous peo­ple ren­o­vated the bath­room and we have had some is­sues. There was a smell from the sink and wa­ter was not go­ing down. We had a rooter firm come out and they said it wasn’t plugged. They said we needed a plumber, who came and said it was the pipes that were put in wrong, so he changed them so the wa­ter could flow and not sit and make a smell. There is still a smell and we now think it is com­ing from the toi­let. Some­times when you flush it smells, other times no. It is not back­ing up, so I be­lieve it isn’t plugged. We would clean out the sewer but feel we should wait till spring. What do you think is caus­ing the smell and is there any­thing we can put down there to get rid of it? Would we be wise to get the sewer cleaned now, or wait? Any help on this you can pro­vide would be great. I love your col­umn, it al­ways has good ar­ti­cles.

Gerry Ben­nett An­swers: Odours from plumb­ing fix­tures or sewage smells can be some of the most an­noy­ing prob­lems that oc­cur in homes. While the ex­act lo­ca­tion of the cause may some­times be dif­fi­cult to pin­point, a proper fix should be pos­si­ble by a sim­ple process of elim­i­na­tion. Sewage and other common bath­room odours of­ten smell some­what sim­i­lar, but may be re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent in ori­gin. Typ­i­cal smells from sinks, bath­tubs and other ar­eas in our homes can be a sim­ple mat­ter of ex­ces­sive hair, grease or soap residue trapped inside the drains or over­flows. Th­ese may be first no­ticed when drains be­come slug­gish, but can oc­cur even when they ap­pear to be quite freeflow­ing. This may be the first area to check when com­plaints about plumb­ing-re­lated odours are noted. Clear­ing the drains of this de­bris is the key to this first course of ac­tion. It may be ac­com­plished with the use of chem­i­cal drain open­ers, or more cost ef­fec­tively and en­vi­ron­men­tally sound by re­mov­ing the traps un­der the sinks. Most sink traps are in­stalled with hand-tight­ened fit­tings that can be re­moved man­u­ally or with a pipe wrench. Once re­moved, any gunk can be flushed out and emp­tied into a toi­let or garbage bag. After clear­ing the drains, the trap should be re­in­stalled, filled with wa­ter and the sink tested to see if the odour is elim­i­nated. Clear­ing tub and shower traps may not be pos­si­ble in this man­ner, due to lack of ac­cess, so us­ing chem­i­cal drain open­ers may be the only prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion for those fix­tures. Also, most bath­room sinks and tubs have over­flows, which also can get full of hair and soap scum. Clear­ing th­ese may re­quire tem­po­rar­ily block­ing the drain with a plas­tic bag be­low the over­flow exit, so that liq­uid drain opener can sit inside the over­flow long enough to par­tially dis­solve any for­eign mat­ter, be­fore flush­ing out. If all your traps have been cleaned near the lo­ca­tion of the odour and it does not sub­stan­tially sub­side, it is likely due to im­proper or blocked vent­ing. When am­a­teurs ren­o­vate bath­rooms and kitchens, im­proper trap and vent in­stal­la­tions are common. This is the likely sce­nario when back­vent­ing is seen or sus­pected, as sewer gas that would nor­mally rise by con­vec­tion up­ward and out the top of the stacks is sucked back down the pipes. If there are proper traps, they should pre­vent this nox­ious gas from re-en­ter­ing the liv­ing space. This should be eval­u­ated by a li­censed plumber, to en­sure all traps are prop­erly con­fig­ured and cor­rectly vented. In rare cases, a neg­a­tive pres­sure cre­ated in the home may be strong enough to pull the sewer gas through a poorly in­stalled P-trap, which may be the cause of the is­sue in the first ques­tion. In that case, in­stal­la­tion of a fresh-air in­take or HRV should elim­i­nate the neg­a­tive-pres­sure sit­u­a­tion.Be­cause you are still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems, your new HRV may not be func­tion­ing prop­erly or re­quire bal­anc­ing by an ex­pe­ri­enced HVAC tech­ni­cian to elim­i­nate the back-draft cre­ated by the im­proper pres­sure dif­fer­en­tial. It should help elim­i­nate the “vac­uum” you de­scribe, not make it worse. Plumb­ing odours may range from nui­sance smells from ex­ces­sive hair and gunk inside drains or cleanouts to se­ri­ous is­sues with sewer-gas in­tru­sion from im­proper traps, vent­ing or air-pres­sure dif­fer­en­tials. The way to solve ei­ther of th­ese is­sues is by eval­u­at­ing and clean­ing all the drains in the ar­eas in ques­tion, and then take mea­sures to equal­ize the house air pres­sure if the prob­lem per­sists. 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.


Typ­i­cal smells from sinks, bath­tubs and other ar­eas in our homes can be a sim­ple mat­ter of ex­ces­sive hair, grease or soap

residue trapped inside the drains or over­flows.

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