- Posted by Hinged
What’s that smell?
Every winter we get at least one call about unpleasant home odors. The home has a distinct smell and the owner can’t figure out where it is coming from and more importantly, how to make it go away. Around here, houses are sealed up pretty tightly in the winter, so it doesn’t take a lot of odor to create a problem.
If it smells like a sewer or septic system, it probably is. Modern plumbing fixtures rely on a simple mechanism, commonly known as a “P” trap to keep air from your sewer system from getting into your home. The P trap, aptly named because it resembles a P lying on its side, works by allowing water to sit in the bottom part of the P and seal off the drain from the rest of the waste water system.
This low-tech solution works great until we get into the heart of the heating season. The air in your home is dry and moisture evaporates into it quite rapidly. In a little used drain, the water in your P trap can evaporate to a level where it no longer seals your pipes and the result is a big stink. Every time water goes down the drain, the P trap refills, so usually the problem is with a fixture that doesn’t get used very often. Wet bars, pool baths, guest rooms and basement sinks are often the culprits.
Turning the faucets on for a couple of seconds every couple of weeks is all it takes to prevent this problem. Keeping all the drains shut will prevent a lot of the evaporation to start with, but if you have showers or laundry drains that aren’t used very often, you will still have to run the water.
If you’re going to be away for a while, you can pour a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil down the drains before you go. The oil will float on top of the water, forming a seal that will take longer to evaporate. Too much oil could lead to clogs forming in your pipes so use this tip sparingly.
If you have a septic or rotten egg smell and you have natural gas or propane supplied equipment in your home be very concerned that the problem is actually a gas leak. Natural gas and propane are odorless, but the versions that are used in homes have sulfur additives that give off a rotten egg smell. If there is any chance that the smell is from a gas leak, leave the house and call the fire department immediately.
Most basements are warm and dry in the winter, so mold and mildew are unlikely causes of odors this time of year, but if you have an unidentified smelly situation check your basement and attic for leaks. With the right or really wrong combination of temperature and precipitation, ice dams can form on your roof and cause water to leak into your attic or walls. If this water gets trapped, it can fuel the growth of mold and mildew, both of which can cause odors.
Another source for unidentified smells can be pests. When the weather gets cold small critters will move in. Occasionally a mouse or other pest will get trapped in a wall assembly and die. Their decomposing bodies will smell for weeks. If your pet is scratching at the same wall all the time they are probably trying to show you something. We uncovered 40 years of mouse skeletons in a wall between two closets this way. Apparently for years, mice were falling into the cavity between the two doors and getting trapped. Our new puppy kept trying to claw through the wall in the same spot, it was pretty gross, when he finally got through.
Trying to solve a smell problem in the winter by venting can alleviate the symptoms, but won’t solve the problem. If you can’t find the cause and where the unpleasantness is coming from the easiest solution is to schedule a Hinged professional to come out and evaluate the situation. They have experience and specialized tools like moisture meters and inspection cameras that will make solving your problem a breeze.