New to septic - odor issues inside house?

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Old 08-12-15, 11:19 AM
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New to septic - odor issues inside house?

We just bought a house with a septic system - first time we've ever had one. The house is about 35 years old and was recently flipped; according to sellers, the septic was last pumped about 3 weeks before we closed. We did NOT have the septic system inspected separately before buying - we had a regular home inspection and they didn't inspect the septic as well. We didn't realize at the time that we should get a separate septic inspection.

We noticed shortly after we moved in that there was a sewer odor coming from the drain(s) in our master bathroom/closet area - the washer/dryer is in the closet and we didn't get them hooked up until a few days after we moved in. The morning after running our first loads of laundry was when we first noticed the smell, confined to the bathroom area for the most part - we also have a separate washer hook up/drain downstairs in our half-basement area, and we noticed the smell there, too. My husband read about the p-traps drying up and we figured the house had been vacant for awhile, so running the laundry might have triggered some odors. He poured some water down the laundry drain downstairs (since it wasn't being used like the upstairs one was) and the smell dissipated throughout the day - gone when we got home from work. That was about a week ago.

Last night, I did a load of laundry (have done other loads since then without smell issues) and we noticed a hint of a smell in our bedroom. Couldn't figure out where it was coming from and it seemed to go away. This morning I got up, took a shower in the master bathroom, didn't notice a smell at all. Then about an hour later, after my husband was up we went back in the bathroom and noticed a very strong sewer odor. We opened the cabinets beneath the sinks and the odor was strongest there. I tried my best to smell the laundry drain and it smelled okay to me.

So, now we are back to square one and really have no idea what we are doing. Should we just bite the bullet and call a septic company out to inspect it and tell us what needs fixing? Or is there something very clear we can do to fix it ourselves? I'm nervous to DIY it since we've never owned a septic before, but at the same time, we've spent a lot of $$ on moving into a new house and would like to avoid a pricey call out if it's an easy fix. Appreciate any thoughts or suggestions.
 
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Old 08-12-15, 01:45 PM
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Follow the drain pipe from the washer. See if there is a vent on a vertical pipe attached to it.
 
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Old 08-12-15, 03:47 PM
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I doubt that the smells have anything to do with your now having a private septic system for waste disposal . . . . the venting blockage would be the same with a municipal sewage system.

Besides for Pulpo's suggestion, take a look outside at your roof and make sure that the roof penetration is clear of debris (like a dead bird), or intentional covers. Anything up there may be impeding the venting of gases that must be displaced by the water that is sent down the drain(s).

If the septic tank was just pumped a few weeks ago, there's probably a report on file revealing their findings, at the Company the provided the service, and you should be able to obtain a copy just by asking . . . . as a business courtesy.
 
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Old 08-12-15, 05:00 PM
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Since the smell is coming from your master bath I would check the toilet's wax ring. It's a common culprit for letting sewer gas into the home. It may not be an issue during normal use but the surge of water from a discharging washer may force air/sewer gas out the leaky toilet seal.
 
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Old 08-12-15, 07:15 PM
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Thanks everyone. I'm going to show these suggestions to my husband and go from there.
 
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Old 08-26-15, 10:32 AM
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So, I'm back. We did follow the suggestions from earlier - I found the septic inspection report and date of last pumping in our closing papers. We got on the roof and checked the vent up there - no blockage that we could see. My husband called our home warranty service and they sent a plumbing company out on Friday. The guy that came agreed there was a smell, especially on the roof near the vent. However, our home warranty doesn't cover doing work based on smells alone...we have to have proof of a blockage somewhere. He said we could have them run a camera down the vent to check, but it's $135/hour. Back to square one.

We hadn't had any smells inside the house since the last time I posted, but this morning I ran the washer and about an hour later our master bath smelled again. My husband suggested we just don't run the washer in the mornings as that is when we have had trouble almost every time.

Any suggestions for how we can "find" this potential blockage on our own or any last DIY suggestions for us so that we can prove there is a problem and home warranty will fix it? Thanks in advance.
 
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Old 08-26-15, 11:40 AM
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The guy that came agreed there was a smell, especially on the roof near the vent.
Well yeah, that is where it all vents to.

You said you checked the P-traps but did you check ALL of them? Every drain will have a trap. Every sink, every toilet (the toilet itself is the P-trap), every bathtub/shower, and every floor drain. It is very common for a laundry room to have a floor drain, make sure that has water in it. Also check other places like near the furnace and garages.
 
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Old 08-26-15, 01:40 PM
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I guess that makes sense...so it's normal for it to be smelly up there? The plumbing guy made it seem like it wasn't. I'm very new to all this, didn't even know we had a vent on the roof until recently.

Our washer/dryer isn't in a separate laundry room, but rather in our master closet/bathroom combo. There is no floor drain, it's about halfway up on the wall (maybe three inches above the top of our washer) and we have the tube fed up from the washer to the drain...so the water actually has to go up the tube rather than down into the floor. Hope that makes sense. As for the p-traps, we use all of the sinks/fixtures upstairs regularly. We have a downstairs area also that hasn't been used really at all since we've moved in...there's a kitchen sink and bathroom. We've turned the fixtures on once or twice but that's about it. We actually are renting the bottom level out and our renters are moving in today...so hopefully their regular use of the drains down there will make a difference? It's just odd to me that the smell ONLY comes from our master bathroom. And it's honestly more in the bathroom than the closet (where the washer is).

Thanks for your help!
 
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Old 08-26-15, 02:05 PM
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Did the prior Owners use that drain for the Washer ?

Sometimes, certain detergents will leave deposits on the drain pipe that slowly build up and constrict (or slow down) the drainage; and it may be that an accumulation of sewer gases has built up within particular drain pipe and a bubble of it makes an exit when the Washer displaces it in an effort to push the washwater past the restricted area.

I once sold a residence (my own) where we had never even used the washer drain; but the new Owners complained that it was actually caked shut by soap from the Owners prior to us.
 
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Old 08-26-15, 03:19 PM
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Is there a pan under the washer in case it overflows? That might also have a drain someplace.

I have a very poor sense of smell compared to my wife. Your plumbing guy may not have smelled it.
When we first moved into our house my wife kept complaining about a smell. I would only smell it half the time. Ended up breaking the basement floor and found a cast iron floor drain that had rusted out. It wouldn't hold water.

It is also possible that a pipe has broken in the wall. I have seen that before. Or a fitting that wasn't glued properly. Had that at our cabin.
 
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Old 08-26-15, 04:37 PM
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Did you ever check the wax ring under the toilet?

You keep saying "blockage" but all you've mentioned is a smell. That does not indicate a blockage. Something is open or broken and allowing sewer gas into the home. The first and easiest are making sure the traps have water in them. After that my suspect would be the toilet wax ring. Then if that's not it then it gets difficult since you're getting the smell so infrequently.
 
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Old 08-26-15, 11:19 PM
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sorry - I am very new to sewage-like smells in our home, this is not something I've ever dealt with before. We've never owned a house as old as this one, nor one with septic. I am truly a fish out of water here in my knowledge of how things work. I'm only using the term blockage because that's what the plumber said - he couldn't do anything (covered by our home warranty) until we proved there was a blockage, or otherwise identified the source of the smell. That's where we are lost.

What do you mean by the toilet's wax ring? Is that the caulking in between the bottom of the toilet and the floor? Visually that looks ok...how should I check it? Again, this is all new to me.

As for the washer drain being clogged by detergent, the house was flipped by the previous owners and the master bath and laundry room area are a totally new addition. Therefore, the washer drain has never been used by anyone other than us. The washer is on a plastic tray since our closet is carpeted, however we don't have the tray attached to any drainage system.
 
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Old 08-26-15, 11:28 PM
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The smell is back tonight...we checked to see if it's stronger around the toilet, but it seems to be coming most strongly from the cabinet below our sinks. We have two sinks and it smells stronger under one, the other is a little smelly but not as bad.

This is our master bathroom and both sinks we use multiple times a day. Could a pipe underneath need to be sealed more properly?
 
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Old 08-27-15, 06:20 AM
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The wax ring is literally a wax ring that connects your toilet to the houses drain plumbing. When the toilet is set in place it squishes and should for a gas and water tight seal. But, they are a common source of failure.

If your toilet is caulked around it's perimeter it can prevent sewer gasses and leaking water from escaping around the toilet instead trapping them under the toilet. The sewer gas can then emerge from somewhere else. It's also a common problem that causes the flooring to rot as most people preffer to just ignore it. After all, who likes dealing with a toilet problem. But if it's leaking the gas and water can be getting into the space under the floor and your sinks have holes where the plumbing passes through and might be letting the smell escape there. It's also possible you have a cracked pipe or leak somewhere in the wall.

Leaks in the wall and under floors are difficult and destructive to find. Pulling the toilet and replacing the wax ring is quite inexpensive. The toilet is heavy but it's a pretty straight forward task to replace it yourself.
 
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Old 08-27-15, 07:22 AM
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Thanks Dane. I guess it's worth a shot but I'm hesitant because it's a brand new bathroom...could the wax ring really have been damaged already? The bathroom was added probably less than a year ago. Could it just have been installed incorrectly somehow?
 
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Old 08-27-15, 08:18 AM
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Originally Posted by jnngott
". . . could the wax ring really have been damaged already . . ."
Maybe never fully tightened (or squished to seal), or put on slightly ajar and allowing some seepage, or maybe including a small crack from the factory . . . . none of which would have been noticed until a family moved in and actually started using the appliance, like yourselves.
 
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Old 08-27-15, 09:54 AM
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Got it. Ok, I will suggest to my husband that we check it this weekend. Will we know right away if that is the source? I'm just wondering if we should just plan to replace it no matter what. Or will we be able to tell if it's just ajar in there and can be re-situated?
 
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Old 08-27-15, 05:10 PM
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If you pull the toilet you will need to replace the wax ring. It's a single use item so even if your current one is good it will have to be replaced after you remove the toilet to see if it was good or not. There is no way to inspect it without removing the toilet which damages it. You've gotta love that part.

The toilet flange. The bit in the floor that is the end of the house's drain piping can be at different heights depending on how the house was built. Then there is variation in toilets. Some have their outlet close to floor level while others are higher up. So, the correct height wax ring must be chosen when seating the toilet. If too short a wax ring is used it might not leak liquid by virtue of it's funnel shape but if it doesn't properly squish and seal against the toilet it can leak sewer gas.
 
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Old 08-27-15, 06:11 PM
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Thanks for using my word "squish" . . . . NOT straight out of the National Plumbing Code . . . . but really the most appropriate word in this application; and a word that deserves more usage it gets these days.
 
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Old 08-27-15, 11:22 PM
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Ok, we replaced the ring tonight - used a waxless Sani-Seal replacement. Took about 5 mins and cost $12...hoping this solves it! I would love for it to be this easy...fingers crossed. Thanks again guys.
 
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Old 11-04-15, 10:09 AM
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Sewer smell from the toilet - New construction

I was getting a sewer smell, very occasionally, from the toilet in a new house I just built.
The smell seemed to be linked to when the air exchanger, kitchen fan or dryer were on (vacuum) . I changed the wax ring on the toilet 6 times, opened up two walls to check on the vent pipes (one wasn't glued) and the smell kept coming back. I finally changed the toilet for a better, known model and the problem was solved. I'm fairly certain that the path that the water travels from the tank and the path that the grey water travels out to the sewer were connected. This meant that any vacuum in the house could pull the sewer gases up through the toilet trap and into the rim of the bowl.
Moral of the story. Spend a few bucks on a decent toilet.
 
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Old 02-04-16, 12:29 PM
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It's been awhile, but I thought I'd come back and update in case anyone stumbled along my original post through a search (maybe with a similar problem) and wondered what the outcome was.

Changing the wax ring worked...for about three months, then the smell came back. During that time, we also added a washer/dryer combo downstairs for our tenants that live on our first level. The addition of their regular clothes washing/general water usage seem to cause a change. We changed the wax ring a second and third time, but when that seemed to be doing nothing, we moved on (BryanBowse - we also considered getting a new toilet but wanted to get a plumber's opinion as we suspected a deeper problem).

After a horrible experience trying to get a plumber out to even attempt to diagnose (most didn't even call us back after hearing it was a smell-based issue), we finally got a guy from our local Roto-Rooter to evaluate it. He gave us some troubleshooting ideas and admitted that smells are very hard to pin down. When his troubleshooting didn't work, he returned and got on the roof to check the vent system. That is where the problem is, apparently.

When the master bath was added, along with the upstairs laundry room, a proper vent system was installed for the toilet, but not the washer. When we do laundry in conjunction with showers/any washing or showering activity from downstairs, the vent system is overloaded and the fumes have nowhere to vent to from our laundry area. Plumber suggested adding another vent from the laundry drain.

Obviously we wanted to go through our home warranty as we bought the house without knowing about this prexisting condition. However, we just found out today that our warranty company (First American) doesn't want to cover the repairs due to the fact that they "don't cover smells" (going all the way back to our first experience with them when we called someone out via their service months ago). Our argument is that it's a construction/design flaw when the house was renovated...so we'll see where that leads.

This has quickly escalated into what is no longer a DIY situation as we don't feel comfortable installing the additional venting ourselves, sadly. However, I did want to update the post with new information if anyone is interested! I can truly say this has been one of the most frustrating experiences in all seven years we have been owning different homes!
 
 

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