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    Thread: Why am I smelling sewer gas inside the house?

    1. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      02-01-2009 02:00 PM #1
      I'm pretty embarassed to put this here, but our house has developed a gross odor. This started about 3 weeks ago and was very faint. With three grown men and a 7 year old, we all thought it was due to someone else not using a fan. Temps here have been in the teens or lower this entire time.

      Well today the temp is up around 40 or so and sunny. Snow is melting and the scent is MUCH more noticeable.

      Our house is on crawl-space that up until yesterday I thought was pretty much unaccessible. When investigating the smell I found a removeable panel that had been painted over. I went into the crawl space I could smell the odor and it was coming from below the ground. There were NO breaks in the plumbing that I could see. Some of the galvanized pipes had been replaced by PVC sometime a long time ago. There also was a labelled "Sanitary Sewer Cleanout" section of PVC with a cap. Might this all just need a cleaning? Could the downspouts be clogged or caused a clog in the system (leaves and such)?

      Any ideas? We're calling a plumber tomorrow, but the smell is pretty gross.


    2. 02-01-2009 04:40 PM #2
      Quote, originally posted by silverspeedbuggy »
      With three grown men and a 7 year old...

      Sounds like an episode of Full House.

      I've got some roots penetrating my sewer line outside of the house. I know it's time to get it roto-rooted when the drains slow or I can hear a bubbling sound coming from the toilet/sink.

      Have you noticed any of these symtoms? If so, you may have roots or a breach of some sort in your sewer line.

      Let us know.


    3. Member
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      02-01-2009 05:00 PM #3
      I was thinking 2 1/2 men.
      I am with thesteve. Sometimes my basement would get a bit stinky when it was time to have the line snaked due to tree roots.

    4. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      02-01-2009 11:17 PM #4
      This is sooooo weird. The faint scent was here for 3 weeks or so. Snow/ice starts to melt and the scent gets worse. We leave for a few hours, come home, and the scent is GONE. Totally GONE.

      Old houses are weeeeeird.

      Yes, we tried to have the main line roto-rooted (our city does it for like $75) but they (the city) couldn't find the clean out drain last fall. I'm going to kill off the tree lawn/borrow a metal detector to find it.

      What's strange is we only get the sewer/very stagnant water scent. No soap or bleach scent from the washer. That's what puzzled me.


    5. Member Phrost's Avatar
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      02-02-2009 02:01 AM #5
      Do you have a toilet or sink that is rarely used?

      My parents house has about 9 bathrooms so not all of them are regularly used of course. But if the drain is not regularly used, the "u-bend" pipe below could have all the standing water evaporate, thus letting sewer gases flow into the house. Because of this they have to walk around and flush/run every toilet/sink about once a month or so.


    6. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      02-02-2009 08:18 AM #6
      Quote, originally posted by Phrost »
      Do you have a toilet or sink that is rarely used?

      My parents house has about 9 bathrooms so not all of them are regularly used of course. But if the drain is not regularly used, the "u-bend" pipe below could have all the standing water evaporate, thus letting sewer gases flow into the house. Because of this they have to walk around and flush/run every toilet/sink about once a month or so.

      We do have a spare bathroom that is rarely used. I know I used the toilet about a month ago, so perhaps that has something to do with it. I'll flush the toilet tonight when I get home and run some water in the sink as well (just in case).


    7. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      02-02-2009 08:25 AM #7
      The only other thing that changed from yesterday afternoon to the evening is I removed a HUGE chunk of ice from dripping gutters that was in front of our front porch. This thing was easily 7 inches thick and 2 feet by 3 feet in size. It looks as though water was getting under the front porch (slate). The smell was coming from the front entry, so could the water have been pooling under the porch and stagnating? then as more water melted, more got under there increasing the smell? I removed the ice before we left, so this stopped more water from getting under the porch, thus giving it time to drain?

      Just a hunch.


    8. 02-02-2009 08:53 AM #8
      Quote, originally posted by silverspeedbuggy »

      Yes, we tried to have the main line roto-rooted (our city does it for like $75) but they (the city) couldn't find the clean out drain last fall. I'm going to kill off the tree lawn/borrow a metal detector to find it.

      Quote, originally posted by silverspeedbuggy »
      There also was a labelled "Sanitary Sewer Cleanout" section of PVC with a cap.

    9. Senior Member spockcat's Avatar
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      02-02-2009 08:58 AM #9
      You might also check the waste vent stack. Our house in VT has a metal roof and one winter sliding ice and snow broke off the vent stack inside the attic. While we didn't notice a lot of sewer gas because the attic is pretty well vented, I believe that we could have should it not have been so well vented (and the house was used more).

    10. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      02-02-2009 11:16 AM #10
      Quote, originally posted by thesteve »

      Should clarify:
      - The city will only clean out the drain from the cleanout at the street. We contacted the city last fall, but they couldn't locate the cleanout in the tree lawn. They don't look it up on plans, you call them and some city maintenance dudes just come out and poke around a bit.
      - The PVC pipe labelled "Sanitary Sewer Cleanout" is in our crawlspace (inside the house). I just discovered this label this past weekend. Probably a previous owner had the cleanout added so they could have a private plumber come in to cleanout from the house to the street. Or perhaps it was added because our house just doesn't have a cleanout at the street. The city will cleanout from the street to the house.

      The front lawn is in rough shape so I had every intention of killing off the lawn and reseeding in the spring. I'll be looking for a cleanout when I do this. Meanwhile we're going to have a plumber come and clean out the drain from inside the house.


    11. 02-02-2009 12:52 PM #11
      Quote, originally posted by silverspeedbuggy »

      Should clarify:

      Ahhh....that makes sense.

      Oh, and btw....I don't think a metal detector is going to help you find that other cleanout, if there even is one. If it's newer, it's going to be made out of PVC. The older ones, at least in my area, are made out of this ceramic/clay material.

      I bet your best bet would be to just have a private plumbing company come out and snake your line through that PVC access in your crawl.

      Here's what I would do, and keep in mind that this is imaginary internet advice and I am NOT a plumber.... ....I would make sure nobody has run the water for a few hours....I'd get down in the crawl and have a buddy upstairs standing by a sink.....I'd remove the cap for the "Sanitary Sewer Cleanout".

      If there is water already at the brim, you've got a breach......get it snaked.

      If there is no water at the brim, yell up to your buddy to run hot water through the faucet...run it for a little while....if you can see/hear the water running freely through the pipe, you're probably okay. If the water begins to run up/out/over the brim of the cleanout...shout to your buddy to shut off the faucet, and then get it snaked.

      I just had my outside cleanout snaked this weekend, and this is how the professionals determined that there was a breach.

      Spokat's idea is a pretty good one to.


    12. Senior Member SAPJetta's Avatar
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      02-02-2009 01:12 PM #12
      Just light a match.....

      I have nothing useful to add, so here is a bump to help you figure it out.

      Where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?

    13. 02-02-2009 01:46 PM #13
      You said it an old house so it could be any number of things, and in this case im going to surmise its a combination of factors.

      one there is probably a break in the sanitary sewer somewhere that is getting into the storm sewer. The storm sewer is probably then frozen over, and the gas from the sanitary waste entering it is what your smelling.

      I do have to admit though that this is just a guess because it could be any number of things.


    14. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      03-09-2009 07:09 PM #14
      Do sewer cleanouts have a yellow cap?

      UPDATE:
      Had the line snaked from the house towards the street. The plumber suggested having the main line snaked from the cleanout at the street towards the house to ensure the entire line had been cleaned. After snakingthe smell has greatly reduced, but there's still a lingering faint odor. It intensified yesterday during and after some heavy rain, but the smell was only about 50% as strong as pre-snakeage.

      We tried to have the line snaked from the street toward the house last fall (the city will come and do this for a nominal charge), but the city could not find the cleanout. Since the weather has warmed up I took the shovel out to the treelawn to start poking around. I noticed two low spots in the treelawn and wondered if either were the cleanout. One low spot was due to moles or chipmunks or something, but the other one, on the second shovel, produced a metal cap for a pipe. It appears to be the sewer cleanout, but I'm not sure. It's not a gas line cap because there is a small 1/4" hole in the lid and it is not a cap that seals in any way, just bolts in place.

      Well, it would be bolted in place if the whole freaking top 4" of pipe hadn't sheared completely off.

      I am pretty sure this is what's causing the smell: water (and mud) is leaking into the cleanout and down in to our line and blocking the flow or even flowing backwards toward the house. Since the top of the pipe is 6" below ground level and right next to the sidewalk the water is being funelled right into the pipe. Rain goes right in and down. And if warm/hot air is coming up the pipe, it was melting the snow causing water to flow right down the pipe as well this past winter.

      Is my thought process logical?

      I'm calling the city tomorrow to have someone come and look at the cap. I'm wondering if the city repairs the cap or if that is our responsibility.

      Cap:

      Cap that has sheared off:

      Cap placed next to the pipe:


    15. Member Tornado2dr's Avatar
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      03-09-2009 08:16 PM #15
      Quote, originally posted by silverspeedbuggy »

      Is my thought process logical?

      Absolutely. I'm in the business, and it makes good sense.

      Do you know if your cleanout (street cleanout) is in the Right of Way or on your Property?

      Either way, you should inform the city that they are responsible for maintaining the lateral (your sewer pipe) up to your property. They should wish to clean this pipe so you don't suffer any permanent and costly damage. They'll probably perk up, but i'd just try to be reasonable first and explain the issue.


    16. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      03-09-2009 08:19 PM #16
      Quote, originally posted by Tornado2dr »

      Absolutely. I'm in the business, and it makes good sense.

      Do you know if your cleanout (street cleanout) is in the Right of Way or on your Property?

      Either way, you should inform the city that they are responsible for maintaining the lateral (your sewer pipe) up to your property. They should wish to clean this pipe so you don't suffer any permanent and costly damage. They'll probably perk up, but i'd just try to be reasonable first and explain the issue.

      I have no idea who maintains. I'll find out tomorrow when I call the city.

      Most of the homes in my suburb are pre-1930s, so they (the city) are used to old plumbing/lines and are traditionally very helpful with homeowners.

      I've also noticed that the cap and the section of pipe it is still attached to is wider than the pipe coming out of the ground. Seems strange that the whole pipe/cap piece slips over the existing pipe.


    17. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      03-09-2009 08:34 PM #17
      Oh yeah; ever since the snaking, our kitchen drain gurgles from time to time. It never did that before.

      ???


    18. 03-10-2009 08:18 AM #18
      I could always tell when the roots in my line were about to totally plug it up, by when the toilet and kitchen drain started gurgling.


    19. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      03-10-2009 02:31 PM #19
      Talked to the city today. We are responsible from the curb to the house. This includes the cleanout. I'll be visiting the ol' Home Depot and perusing the PVC section to see if I can fab up something. Should be easy: short pipe section, screw top cap, and pipe clamps. I'm even wondering if i should go from a wide pipe to a narrow pipe where it junctions with the existing line. The wide pipe would only be a few inches or so long then it would narrow to the smaller pipe.

      Once I have the new cap on I'll call the city to have the line snaked fro mthe cleanout towards the house.


      Modified by silverspeedbuggy at 2:32 PM 3-10-2009


    20. Member peecee's Avatar
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      03-10-2009 04:06 PM #20
      You don't want to go thin. I would guess that the diameter of the pipe is so that you can get a really long plunger in there for plunging out the line. I know in my area, the city sewer maintenance guys carry around these super long galvanized poles with blue plungerso n the end for plunging out these pipes. Generally they go down about 5'-6', where they meet up with a "T." You'll want to maintain at least the same diameter, which explains why the top portion just slide over the pipe in the ground.

    21. Member Tornado2dr's Avatar
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      03-10-2009 08:44 PM #21
      Quote, originally posted by silverspeedbuggy »

      I've also noticed that the cap and the section of pipe it is still attached to is wider than the pipe coming out of the ground. Seems strange that the whole pipe/cap piece slips over the existing pipe.

      Looks to me like you are missing a piece of the bell. The pipe/lower cleanout section is wider at the top to accept a drop in cap, or so it looks to me.

      When you hit the lowes depot, you're going to want the look for a FERNCO brand or equal rubber coupling to transition from your existing broken pipe (it actually is a pretty clean break, imo) to the new. From there you can do any style of cleanout you would like, i suppose.

      To be honest, you might want to try and find a Waterworks Supply warehouse in your area. Something like HD Waterworks (owned by home depot's parent co) Ferguson, or commercial type place.
      Those guys will actually know how to put together what they are selling you, and do it right the first time.


    22. 03-10-2009 11:03 PM #22
      I just did my first cast iron repair last month, it was really easy. Like the previous poster said, you can get a rubber connector that will allow you to go from cast iron to ABS. You can put whatever style riser and cap on it. I don't see a reason to go smaller, the ABS stuff is dirt cheap. Your break looks pretty good, but you can hit it with an angle grinder to clean it up a bit.

      All this being said.. if this opening is in your lawn and your house smells inside, I'm guessing there's a problem somewhere else. I would see if the problem is with the traps in any of the drains in your fixtures. You can also have a roto rooter guy camera your lines and give you a DVD of everything (get the popcorn ready). My house still has the old terra cota lines and there's literally a break every 2'.


      Modified by GetOuttaMyWay at 8:04 PM 3-10-2009


    23. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      03-11-2009 10:02 AM #23
      Just a couple of clarifications:

      While it's difficult to tell from the photos, this cleanout is only like 3" across. It's not a 6" pipe. I am thinking about having a 6" cap that tapers to the 3" pipe to be more open at the top for when it needs to be cleaned out.

      The existing (useless broken) cap has a small hole in the lid, probably to let some of the gas escape. I'm planning on drilling a similar sized hole in the new cap and then every few months I'll check to make sure it isn't plugged up with grass clippings or debris.

      Once I have the new cap on I'll call the city to have the line snaked.


    24. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      03-12-2009 08:45 AM #24
      Here's what I bought (and pre-assembled) last night:

      --Screw-on 3" PVC cap--

      --3" PVC 'female' end (threaded)--

      --3" to 3" rubber connector with included pipe clamps--

      --3" to 2" PVC section--

      --2" to 2" rubber connector with included pipe clamps--

      Did a test fit of the 2" connector on the cleanout and it is the perfect size. I'll have to cut the cleanout down a bit so the cap sits below the ground surface, but that shouldn't be a big deal. I should have this all wrapped up this weekend and can have the line snaked next week.


    25. Moderator silverspeedbuggy's Avatar
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      03-15-2009 12:22 PM #25
      UPDATE:

      What I thought was the sewer cleanout is NOT the cleanout. What is in the pictures above is the pipe that leads to the main gas line shut off valve. I was pretty suspicious of the 2" pipe, but the cleanout in the basement is either a 3" pipe, so I guess I was holding out hope.

      Luckily, I found the cleanout (and it IS the cleanout) in the first place I looked yesterday. I was preparing myself to possibly tear apart the yard searching for the buried pipe, but I took a thin metal rod and was going to start poking around. The first area I drove it in I heard a hollow 'thunk.' I grabbed the shovel, and there it was.

      The cleanout pipe is in PERFECT condition, but who knows what the actual sewer pipe looks like. It could be collapsed. From the dirt packed in on top of the cleanout and the grass that had grown over it I'd estimate that the last time it was cleaned out was at least 4 years ago. Seeing as we bought the place 1.5 years ago and the place was vacant for 2.5 years, and the previous owner did ZERO upkeep in the 3 or so years she owned the place, we're probably looking at 6 to 8 years since the last cleanout.


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