How to Track the Source of Sewer Gas Smells and Septic Tank Odors
TRACK SEPTIC ODORS to SOURCE - CONTENTS: How to track septic odors or sewer gas odors to their source. What diagnostic questions to ask when finding the source of a septic or sewer gas smell. How to prevent or cure sewer gas odors from septic systems, building plumbing, & other causes. Sewer gas smell diagnosis - plumbing checklist. Septic gas smell diagnosis - septic system checklist
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How to find and fix septic tank or sewer odors:
This septic odor track-down article describes how to track down the source of septic or sewer gases as a step in the procedure to diagnose, find, and cure odors in buildings including septic or sewage or sewer gas smells or "gas odors" in buildings with a focus on homes with a private onsite septic tank but including tips for owners whose home is connected to a sewer system as well.
What makes the smell in sewer gas? Sewer gases are more than an obnoxious odor.
Watch out: Because sewer gas contains methane gas (CH4) there is a risk of an explosion hazard or even fatal asphyxiation. Sewer gases also probably contain hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) In addition some writers opine that there are possible health hazards from sewer gas exposure, such as a bacterial infection of the sinuses (which can occur due to any sinus irritation).
Depending on the sewer gas source and other factors such as humidity and building and weather conditions, mold spores may also be present in sewer gases.
Track the septic odor strength to a source: The photo shows how this pays off. A family room over this crawl space had the strongest septic odors. An abandoned waste line was no longer connected to a bathroom but it had been left open in the crawl space, permitting gases
from the septic system to enter that area.
Is the sewage odor stronger outside or indoors? If indoors, is the odor only at a specific bathroom or fixture? Perhaps there is simply a particular bathroom which is missing
a plumbing vent.
If the sewage odor is strongest outside that suggests a septic or sewer gas problem in the septic or sewer system, but don't rule out unusual site or wind conditions discussed below.
Track the septic or sewer odor source to its strongest point. Before tearing up your own property or drains or building, let's
be sure the odor is coming from your property and not from a neighbor or other facility.
Before proceeding to the more detailed septic odor diagnostic articles listed at the top of this article, see if you or other friends and family members can make these simple diagnostic observations. Each of these answers can point to some of the specific odor causes we list in our detailed articles below. Don't worry if you don't know the answer, just collect what data you can and then proceed to the detailed articles we list below.
Where is the sewer or septic smell strongest? Indoors, or outdoors?
Indoors odor tracking: on what floor of the building and in what room(s) is the odor strongest? This may lead to a specific drain, trap, plumbing fixture, or similar problem
Outdoors odor tracking: on what side of the building is the odor strongest? Does the odor get stronger if you walk away from the building or towards it? Is the odor coming from your property, a storm drain, a neighbor's property?
How does the septic or sewer gas odor strength vary? Is the variation associated with:
Weather conditions: sun, sun shining on certain sides of the building or property; rain, freezing weather, snow cover, wind direction.
Time of day: odors may be associated with periods of plumbing system usage; also temperature and wind conditions vary by time of day.
Season of the year: snow cover and freezing weather can make odors appear or disappear.
What plumbing or flooding or other events have happened that may relate to odors: such as septic flooding during area flooding, a burst sewer pipe, a sewage leak in a crawl space that was not cleaned up, a change, addition, modification, or repair of the septic system, sewer line piping, or other mechanical systems in the home.
Does the building water supply smell funny? Hot water and cold water both or just hot water?
When did someone first notice the septic odor or sewer gas odor? and How old is the building?
Has the odor always been present or has it developed recently.
What else happened? If the sewer gas or septic odor began recently, what changes in the building or events at the property can be placed at about the same time as when odors were first noticed? Have there activities such as remodeling, demolition, or plumbing repairs that may have disturbed or affected the building drain waste vent piping, chimneys, gas appliances, or use of chemicals? Dead animals?
Your answers to these questions will help you make sense out of the diagnostic suggestions in the septic or sewage odor diagnosis & repair articles that are listed below at More Reading.
Also see Sewer Odor Tracking for more site and weather factors in locating the source of a sewer gas smell.
Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
clothes waster makes sewer gas smells
(July 11, 2014) Roger M., Northern MI said:
Have sewer gas smell from septic tank when clothes washer is run!
A drain vent clog or missing vent that is causing siphonage of water out of nearby traps
clogged drainfield or septic line pipes that back up when exposed to the extra water volume of the clothes washer
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Thanks to Slade Franklin for the reminder that a leaky wax ring at a toilet can lead to septic odors in bathrooms. 11/2007
Thanks to J.V. (privacy protected) for the reminder to make a detailed inspection of the plumbing vent system when sewer gas odors are present. 07/2008
Thanks to Roger Hankey & Cheryll Brown, www.hankeyandbrown.com, ASHI home inspectors in Minnesota, for the deteriorated transite pipe gas flue vent photograph and comments. Mr. Hankey is a past chairman of the ASHI Technical Committee, serves as co-chairman of ASHI legislative committee, and has served in other ASHI professional and leadership roles. 7/2007
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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