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Pay Attention To Basement Smells - They Can Make You Sick

Pay attention to basement smells - they can make you sick.

This is a renter who wants to purchase the house they have been living in for a while.

I always ask if there are issues with the house they have noticed while living there.

Yes, there was one in this house.

Sometimes the basement smells so bad they get sick, and can't use it.

Looking around there was a small room off the furnace room.

It had been closed off with a curtain and was used as a store room.

The space was originally located there to be a bathroom, if/when one was installed.

I knew that meant there would be drain lines in the floor, plumbing which could be used when the bathroom was completed.

Moving around boxes I found an uncapped access port to a drain line.  While it had been previously capped with wonderful duct tape, it was not exactly sealed.

This would open to the sanitary sewer, where everything goes.

You know what that means. 

Question -- So why the smell sometimes and not others? 
Answer -- When the plumbing is used the volume of the waste water displaces air in the drain lines.

All plumbing should have vented openings, usually through the roof.  Those vents are there to expel sewer gas into the air, higher than it can be smelled.

But if there is an uncapped location inside the house, air will be expelled there also.  And if the plumbing is used, say the dishwasher after dinner, and someone is near this uncapped location in the storage room, perhaps watching a movie, as the drain fills with waste water and air is displaced, that person will probably get the full benefit of the experience if nearby.  And the basement could generally smell awful!

Sewer gas is not exactly healthful air!

The great mystery is solved.  Gluing a solid cap onto that tube, as the builder should have done years ago, will permanently seal the opening until it is used for a bathroom.

My recommendation:  this renter was smart to have a home inspection before buying this property.  Often there are problems renters know about.  But even living in a house there can be unseen issues that might only be found by someone with experience.  That someone would be a home inspector!  Call one!  You'll be happy you did.  And maybe healthier.

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 41 commentsJay Markanich • September 16 2015 02:20AM

Comments

wow - I was just in a house that had duct tape on the pipe - now I know the rest of the story! Thanks! 

Posted by Lise Howe, Assoc. Broker and Attorney Licensed in DC, MD, VA, (Keller Williams Capital Properties) almost 4 years ago

Fortunately, here in Florida we rarely encounter homes with basements, so the issue to watch for are disconnected vents going through the walls or in the attics. Thanks!

Posted by Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI, Presence, Persistence & Perseverance (HomeSmart Realty West & Geneva Financial, Llc.) almost 4 years ago

Jay, suspected where you were going with this! I always recommend a home inspection. Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) almost 4 years ago

At the right time you could have found out then, Lise!

I have found openings in those places too, S&N.

Wayne - wasn't hard to figure out.  And the nose knows.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Good Wednesday morning Jay. I was in a house the other day that was full of mold. Made me sick.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) almost 4 years ago

Great explanation Jay Man. We had discovered a similar situation in a bathroom that had not been used in a while after my son moved out. The shower drain had dried out and gases began filling the air. We ran the shower for a few seconds and the problem is fixed.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) almost 4 years ago

Michael - mold adds stuff to the air too!

Tom - the same thing can happen to dishwasher drains as they dry out.  Traps have to be kept full.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

I can't believe that renter didn't say anything sooner to the homeowner. I would not have tolerated that awful smell!

Posted by Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert, Broker/Owner of Zion Realty ZionRealtyAZ.com (Zion Realty) almost 4 years ago

This renter says the homeowner wants to fix everything and does a poor job Nicole!  In fact, makes things worse.  They had brought it up before, without any solution to the problem.  Calling me solved the problem though!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Where I come from that is just fresh country air.  You have to love all of our dairy farms.

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) almost 4 years ago

Pewwww! I can smell it from here, I say just burn it off...

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) almost 4 years ago

Smart renter. 

I almost rented a room recently from the owner of a beautiful home, but a tour of the house disclosed a very wet basement. 

Even renting, I wanted no part of it.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 4 years ago

Jay Markanich Once again, another specific example of why it's so important to have a home inspection.

Posted by Tony and Suzanne Marriott, Associate Brokers, Serving Scottsdale, Phoenix and Maricopa County AZ (BVO Luxury Group @ Keller Williams Arizona Realty) almost 4 years ago

What an informtive post!  I cannot believe that nobody did anything about this before.  It is amazing that the tenants didn't complain about this and see what was going on or attribute this smell  to some other.

this post reminds me of a property I managed for a client.  The tenants complained about the frequent flickering lights, insisting  the house was haunted.  (I'm sure ghosts and hauntings are the first things that comes to mind when determining the cause of flickering lights, right?  But this is California...).   Further investigation revealed that a squirrel had chewed the electrical line at the pole, which compromised the flow ofelectricity going to the house. The only ghost was probably that of the squirrel who learned his lesson about not chewing electrical wires the hard way.

Posted by Althea Kippes, Esq., Serving all of Silicon Valley and San Francisco (Catarra Real Estate, Inc.) almost 4 years ago

Wet basements are a specialty of mine Lenn!  Glad you didn't do it.

Here is an oldie but a goodie:  http://activerain.com/blogsview/4375296/this-is-what-you-and-i-see-and-this-is-what-a-thermal-camera-sees-

Thank Tony.  There are a zillion and one reasons!

Althea - those ghosts are everywhere!  I did not know they came as squirrels, but I learn everyday.

To the right is a thermal image of a ghost I took while on a roof.  He's asking for ghost treats.

Really.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Great post and a great reminder of why we always need a home inspection:)

Posted by Vera Gonzalez, Gonzo For Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban, Inc.) almost 4 years ago

Thanks for stopping by Vera!  Inspections are crucial, to be sure.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

I can't believe the builder left that uncapped. Glad these guys called you.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) almost 4 years ago

Single mother, Debbie, who saw this many times and never connected it to the main drain line or the smell!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Jay Markanich  Great & informative information here . Lucky these tenants/buyers called you

Posted by Hannah Williams, Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-953-8818 (Re/Max Eastern inc.) almost 4 years ago

Thank you Hannah.  I like to think I'm lucky when they call too!

But they are definitively lucky!   ; >)

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Our sense of smell is very important to human survival as much is me forget about it. Good luck with this one!

Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) almost 4 years ago

We all can think of ourselves having
the good fortune i'm getting some good advice

Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) almost 4 years ago

Laura - it will be easy to cap off.  Even if she wants to do it herself.  I think the plastic cap costs $5.

And I think she got some good advice!  That is my department!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Stephen and Fred - I commented to both of you yesterday and now it's gone!

To you Stephen I said that growing up in Kensington we went to Gaithersburg for the county fair every year and I did not find the dairy air so great!

Fred - we did a little of that in the Boy Scouts.  It had to do with lighters.  But I won't get too graphic.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Thanks for a great tip!

Often there are problems renters know about.  But even living in a house there can be unseen issues that might only be found by someone with experience. 

Posted by Sham Reddy CRS, CRS (H E R Realty, Dayton, OH) almost 4 years ago

If it smells like a duck but hides like a sewer rat, then it must be a duck. Right? That makes perfect sense to me. Good catch. I love our job.

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) almost 4 years ago

Sham - she knew about the smell and knew about the thing in the floor, but didn't put the two together.

Hola Scott.  See answer to Sham, but as soon as I saw the thing I knew what was up!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Wow that was great info - thank you.

Posted by Gloria Laughton Allston, Realtor(NJ)/Broker(NY) (COLDWELL BANKER RESIDENTIAL BROKERAGE) almost 4 years ago

Thank you Gloria.  My client thought so too!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

OOOhhh that smelll (cue the Skyrnd Band)

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) almost 4 years ago

Oak tree you're in my way...

There are a lot of other lines I didn't want to cue, Andrew.

But the cue works!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

They were lucky to have found this out.  It would seem very dangerous if there were small children, or anyone who may suffer from asthma or any other respiratory issue.  

Posted by Dan Derito (Success! Real Estate) almost 4 years ago

Thanks Dan.  This would affect everybody and actually create a respiratory issue! 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

I have always found that if there is a funky smell in a home it is created by something. Just have to look. Thats why you always do inspections.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) almost 4 years ago

Smells are sometimes difficult to diagnose, Bill, but in this case I was able to!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

Wow, open sewage gases eminating into the house.  Got a match?

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) almost 4 years ago

Jay Markanich it is important why that 'funky' smell in basement! Always helps to go deep....

Posted by Praful Thakkar, Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale (LAER Realty Partners) almost 4 years ago

I see that sometimes in attics, Stephen, but seldom in the basement!

Funky to say the least Praful.  

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

As I read this I remembered The Griswalls Christmas Movie !!!

Posted by Michael J. Perry, Lancaster, PA Relo Specialist (KW Elite ) almost 4 years ago

I don't remember the scene, Michael (don't think I've seen the movie), but appreciate the reference!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago

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