Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My House Smells Like Sewage with a Twist of Peppermint

UPDATE: The PVC pipe in the concrete for our bathroom rough-in was cracked in half.  Ryan Homes had to chip away the concrete to get to the PVC pipe and fix it.  This resolved the problem. 

I think we have one of the worst problems that can go unresolved... SEWAGE GAS.  It is entering through our basement storage area and dissipating throughout our house.  It happens about every two weeks and last for 3-5 days.  Apparently, atmospheric pressure is causing the pressure to build up in the sewer vents.  This is forcing the gasses to escape from an opening somewhere in my basement storage room.  Note: We have an underground septic tank, not public sewer.     

Initially, I thought the smell was coming from the Chick-Fil-A boxes that we had used to move.  I thought they had oil on them that had gone rancid.  The smell is rotten, just like sewage.  Well, it is sewage.  I unpacked all of the Chick-Fil-A boxes and the smell came back a week later.  It was so bad one night, even with all of the windows open, that we debated on whether it was safe to sleep in the house or not.  The septic gasses flood the basement and make their way all the way to the third floor.  We have been getting by with opening the windows and closing all of the vents for the past few months, but now that the winter months are upon us, it is not practical.

The plumbers and I tried to pinpoint the smell, but it was so overwhelming in the storage area, that we could not pinpoint the exact location.  We narrowed it down to one section of the storage area.  They decided to schedule a peppermint test.  This is where they pour peppermint oil in the sewer gas vent on the roof and wait for the peppermint scent to seep out through the pipe that is not sealed properly.

The day came and the roofer climbed up to the roof while the plumber, service manager and I waited in the storage room.  We heard the peppermint oil being poured down the pipe, followed by a bucket of water.  I started to panic, because I heard it traveling down a pipe next to the heat pump.  The plumber followed the sound and found that the oil was being poured down the radon pipe.  The plumber did not have a second bottle of peppermint oil, so we scheduled a second peppermint test.  While he was at my house, he replaced the wax ring on our powder room toilet.  This toilet sits above our unfinished storage area in the basement.  We were hoping that this was the cause and would solve the problem.

The plumber and roofer returned about 2 weeks later for a second shot at the peppermint test.  The roofer went up and poured the peppermint oil down the correct vent, followed by a bucket of water.  We waited a few minutes and did not smell anything in the basement.  We thought we had passed the test.  That evening, my husband went down to the basement to watch the Redskins play the New York Giants.  He asked me if I smelled the peppermint.  I had not, so I went downstairs and sure enough the basement smelled like peppermint or more like a candy cane factory.  The peppermint scent was the strongest in the storage room, just as the sewage gasses had been.  We kept the storage room door closed, but the scent still made its way upstairs.  I prefer the peppermint smell over sewage, but the peppermint oil is potent and it does not take long to give you a headache.

Back to square one.  I contacted Ryan Homes.  The plumber said that he had never experienced the scent leaking out hours later.  They offered to come back and do a second peppermint test with two bottles of peppermint and hope for instantaneous results.  I let them know that I did not think that would solve the problem.  The peppermint scent is leaking out in my storage room right now and I cannot pinpoint the exact location.  Apparently, this is the first time this has happened to a Ryan Home and it had to happen to me!  Why me, why me, why me???  I Googled "peppermint test sewer gas septic" and came across the following website:
It sounds like I need a "smoke test".  I am going to forward the above website to Ryan Homes and hope for the best.  Here are a few excerpts from the website:

Sewer gas is created by the decomposition of waste materials that are found in public and private sewer systems and private septic systems. The characteristic odor can be overpowering and it is toxic. To add further insult to injury, the gas is explosive as it often has a methane component.
Sewer gas leaks can be quickly discovered by a plumber who owns a very cool machine that generates artificial smoke. The smoke is simply visual and does not create a lasting odor nor does it stain any surfaces in a house. The plumber connects the smoke generation machine to the plumbing drain system and then blocks off the drain pipe leading to the sewer and caps off all roof vent pipes.

Once the smoke machine starts, it begins to slightly pressurize the plumbing system. If there is a cracked pipe or a fitting joint that is loose, the smoke readily exits at that point before it would bubble up through a fixture trap filled with water. Usually the source of the sewer gas leak can be discovered in less than one hour.

Has anyone ever experienced this problem?

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