Case study: Tracking down a really stinky smell |

Case study: Tracking down a really stinky smell

One the Houseby James & Morris CareyGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Home repair and maintenance can sometimes be a rough and time-consuming ride. Here’s an example. Recently, we noticed a smell near the back door. Most all of us have, at one time or another, had to deal with a funny smell. How to track its source? The first thing that comes to mind is a dead rodent stuck in the walls, floor or attic. Just in case, we decided to pull out the refrigerator and see what lay behind it – possibly a mouse? That would have made the problem easier to solve. But there was just a lot of lint, grease and dirt. Naturally, we used the opportunity to scrub the fridge and the normally hidden floor and walls. Looking back, it was a good thing we did this: Cleaning the cooling tubes on the back of the refrigerator help to make it operate more energy-efficiently. Next, maybe the closet, we thought. So the closet also got a complete scrubbing and organizational overhaul, another good thing accomplished – but still no mouse. We were puzzled, to say the least. Not behind the fridge, not in the closet. How do those little suckers get into the walls and why is it that they smell so strong when they die? Maybe it wasn’t in the wall. Maybe one of the sinks or plumbing fixtures that we rarely use has a dried-out drain trap – you know, the P-trap, that squiggly little thing in the drain system below all the sinks in your home. Every plumbing fixture has a trap. It’s what keeps sewer gasses from backing up into the home. If a fixture isn’t used for a long time the water in the trap can evaporate and sewer gasses escape into the home. This still wasn’t the answer. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to pour water into every sink, shower and tub in your home and wake up the next morning to the same terrible smell? Next, we decided it was the disposal. Grease and food trapped inside can really stink big time. After running a tray of ice cubes and an entire lemon rind (cut in half and juiced), the rotten smell persisted. By the way, we saved the juice for cooking, and the kitchen smelled better almost instantly. Unfortunately, even though the disposal needed cleaning, we hadn’t nailed the problem. The stink continued. Then, we figured it had to be that a nail had been driven through a sewer vent in the wall. We haven’t hung new pictures lately, but we installed a window outside the kitchen sink. That had to be it. We must have driven a nail through the sewer vent pipe when we were replacing the window or trim. By this time, the smell was really strong. “Odoriferous” became an understatement. The one place we hadn’t looked was under the house. Opening a nearby crawl access cover we were disappointed to discover that there was no smell. Days passed and the smell got stronger and stronger, enough to cause a gag reflex. It was definitely coming from beneath the house. So under the house we went again. And there it was: a little lake science experiment. As terrible as it smelled the ultimate discovery was a joyous event. We’d finally discovered the problem and could deal with it. The sewer line beneath the kitchen sink had cracked (we think from disposal vibration) and there was a small lake of sewage in the crawl space. We had to remove flooring so that we could access the area from above. Here’s what we did to solve the problem: • First, we stopped using the kitchen sink and used duct tape to temporarily hold back the sewer gases. • Next, we poured lime powder onto the tepid liquid. It took two 50-pound bags. You can find lime in the ready-mix concrete section of your local home center. The lime absorbed all the water and helped to kill the smell. • Then we dug out the lime and wet dirt. • This was followed by a bath of pure bleach chased with more lime to absorb the excess liquid. • We spent the rest of the day digging out the bleach, lime and more dirt. • Once the smell was under control, we repaired the sewer line. We will continue to bleach the ground and dig out more of the contaminated soil until we are sure that the odor is permanently eliminated. More home improvement tips and information are available on the Web at: or by calling 1-800-737-2474, ext. 59.

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