What I'm Seeing Now


A Strange Smell Nobody Could Diagnose - Call A Home Inspector Instead!

This house had a strange smell nobody could diagnose - call a home inspector instead!

Many companies had been in the house - air quality companies, mold search and destroy companies, pest companies looking for dead animals, HVAC companies - well, the term "many companies" applies.  Their solutions were each different, each complex, and each EXPENSIVE!

The smell?  A mixture of jock strap, running shoes after a rainy marathon, morning breath, old shrimp shells, and, um, sewer gas.  The basement smelled!  They said it smelled worst in the morning, and they would not go into the basement.

The smell was most pronounced near the HVAC equipment.

I noticed a few of things:

1.  A new HVAC system.
2.  Sheet metal taped over the hole in the metal duct where the old humidifier used to be.
3.  There is no humidifier now.
4.  The old humidifier drain line was laying on the floor.
5.  The old humidifier drain tubing, with a P trap, was uncapped.

My diagnosis took less than 1 minute.

This was an easy one! 

The hint is the red arrow.

We have just come off a winter with a new furnace and an unused humidifier drain line.

Since the old humidifier was removed, no water had drained into that line indicated by the red arrow for many months. 

And over that time the water in the trap had evaporated.

The trap TRAPS  water to prevent sewer gases from re-entering the house from the sanitary drain system.

If there is no water, there is nothing to TRAP  the sewer gases, and they enter the house when the plumbing is used.

What happens in the morning?  Showers, morning hygiene and kitchen activity.  The sanitary drain fills with flushed and drained water.  As the water enters the drain, the putrid air inside is displaced.  Air will go where it is allowed to go.  It is supposed to exit through the vents on the roof.  But!


And they smelled it!

My solution:  a plastic drain cap glued over the hole indicated by the red arrow.  Cost - about $5.

My recommendation:  a home inspector is a detective who has no financial interest in the problem(s) he is asked to objectively identify and perhaps solve.  The solution to this problem was logical and cheap.  And the problem was solved.  May I suggest you contact a home inspector first?  Who knows, you may just find he comes through big!



Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

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


Comment balloon 9 commentsJay Markanich • April 28 2016 03:16AM


Oh gee Jay Markanich  your nose knows...and your keen detective sense of inspection saved the day...the smell...the house !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) about 3 years ago

It didn't take long S&D.  I am impressed by the other companies - I have to wonder how many knew what the problem was but their "solution" was for something else.  If they knew, what do you bet that sometime during their "repair" they would have suggested capping that drain line "just because..." ??  Then they would have made their money and nobody would be the wiser as to the real fix.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

Good morning Jay,

At least they called the right person to get to the bottom of the problem.

As is the case so many times it is something simple.

Make yourself an astonishing day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) about 3 years ago

Ay, Cap'n Raymond.  They did.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

That sewer gas does smell pretty bad Jay Markanich. I have had to deal with it a few times.

Posted by Sybil Campbell, REALTOR® ABR, SFR, SRES Williamsburg, Virginia (Long and Foster REALTORS® 5234 Monticello Ave Williamsburg, Virginia) about 3 years ago

Well, if that red arrow was there.... 

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) about 3 years ago

Jay, I've encountered similar with vacant homes.  Over time the toilets and sinks lose the water in the traps and the sewer gas comes in.  Had a listing once with the water turned off, seller in California and that smell appeared.  Had to haul in water in jugs to refill the traps.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) about 3 years ago

How did all those other companies not catch this? I guess the answer is they all had their own agendas and eyes on money instead of solutions.

Posted by Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert, Broker/Owner of Zion Realty ZionRealtyAZ.com (Zion Realty) about 3 years ago

As well it should, Sybil.  Its composition is, well, is in the sewer.

The arrow was the dead give away, Fred.  I was shocked nobody else had noticed it.

Bliz - me too!  As soon as I saw the set up I knew what it was.

Nicole - it could very well be they did!  What if I said the plan MAY have been to solve the problem with a cap on that line, but go ahead with the complex and expensive "fix" proposed to the homeowner.  Would that be ungracious of me?


Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 3 years ago

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