Old House With Smelly Pipes

I recently bought a house, an old one built in like 1930s. It is semidetached. My problem is on the bedroom level, the bathroom and more so the bedroom next to the bathroom has an odor - a bad odor. It smells like rotten wood and backed up sewer.

The bedroom has paneling. It also has a panel door where if you open it, you can see the pipes and stuff and smell the odor. I am assuming these are the toilet pipes? When I walk in the house, it smells like fish of some sort. The half bathroom on the kitchen level also smells, but with a different smell.

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How do I get rid of this odor. I spray lysol everyday when I come in. Could the the paneling have something to do with it? It has been there for some time. The whole house had the paneling but I took all of it out so this is the only room left with the paneling.

Do I need to just change the toilets? Would that help? Or do the pipes need to be changed as well? Isn't that expensive? What else should I do? I plan to make that room my baby's room, but I am not sure if that is safe for him/her?

Please help,
Pooh from DC

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August 27, 20050 found this helpful

First, you should never "smell" pipes. If you do, you've got a leak somewhere. Check that panel area with the pipes. Try to pinpoint a leak spot. Touch it with paper or your hand to see if it's wet. You might not have to replace pipes, but just re-join them: solder, pvc glue, etc.

Your toilet wax rings might need replacing, and you might have a leak around the bottoms of them, but I doubt that since you smell so much stink in the pipe area. Wax rings are easy to replace and cost about a dollar, so that's a home-run. They have instructions on the rings when you buy them at home centers, hardware stores. The bouquet the wax rings hide from the world is truly a marvel. You won't ever forget the smell. Ever.

Your water might also be to blame. Mine sure stinks. Sulfides (iron, sulfur, and others) smell like rotten eggs. When I run my taps or flush the toilet the whoooole house smells, and it's new!! That's easily fixed with a water filter. In my case, I'll need to filter the whole house (I already soften it) so that not just my drinking areas are cleansed. Man, does that stink.

You shouldn't have to replace pipes unless they're 1) lead or clay, and even then you are most likely grandfathered in and probably the pipes are sound, if a little suspect health-wise, 2) leaking in non-joint areas and lots of them, or 3) ya just feel like doing a lot of plumbing.

Replacing pipes would be expensive, since you'd have to bust open walls and probably ceilings, if you have any upstairs plumbing or a finished basement, and you'll need a permit for it most likely. Plumbers aren't cheap, but to give you an idea I spent about 5 grand for my entire house to be rough plumbed. It's new construction, though, so it was easy for the plumber and didn't take and demolition first. I had to do the final plumbing myself, which wasn't too bad except for the showers. They would have cost me another $800 for the 3 showers I have. I live in the rural midwest and I think the plumber cut me a smallish break.

I'd get someone from a water treatment business to come and test your water, or send a sample in to the state. It might just be stinky inherently. If it's only your water, you're golden. After that, find a possible leak in a joint. Sounds like that's probably it, since you smell rotty wood. Dry off the suspect area real good, put cardboard or dark paper down to catch the drips (if any) and then check by feel later on when you've given it some time to leak again. Get lots of quotes from different plumbers before you hire anyone. Always shop around.

Hope this helps. I'm not a plumber, but after building my house I feel like I've seen pretty much anything that can go wrong (it did), and plumbing was no exception.

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August 27, 20050 found this helpful

Did you have a home inspection before buying? Was this a pre-existing conditions that previous owners failed to disclose? If so you might have legal recourse.

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August 31, 20050 found this helpful

I did have an inspection. It proabbly was an exsisting condition. what is legal recourse?

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September 21, 20050 found this helpful

Make sure that all the drains have a section of drain pipe that is a "J" shape......under the sinks, tubs, and showers. That "J" section needs to always be in there because that lower loop will always have water standing in it... which is what blocks the stinking sewer gas from coming into your house. Sometimes a novice do-it-yourself handyman may think it's cheaper and easier to just run a "straight pipe" down the drain. Also, if you have drains that are rarely used (sinks or FLOOR drains), that water in the "loop" will evaporate and allow the sewer gas to come in and stink things up in your spare bathroom or the garage or where ever. Always pour a quart or two of water down any unused drain every few weeks. Another thing may be that the wax rings or seals that are inserted between the base of your bathroom stool and the sewer pipe/floor may have gone bad. They do need to be replaced occasionally. Those are the things I'd be checking first.

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September 11, 20070 found this helpful

I had a smell in my house also, in the sinks mostly. Here's what it was. In the bathroom the pipe that leads to the waste pipe was full of grunge (lead pipe). There was barely space for water to flow. Also, it was tilted towards the sink when it should be tilted towards the down pipe. The sitting water was causing the smell. I also had to replace my clay drain pipes under the basement. (just finished it yesterday). It was awful. The weeds grew so much inside the pipes that there was probably an 1.5" of space for waste to flow...causing backup.

If you have a problem with your toilet plugging, your sink draining or backup in the basement, these might be your solutions. Good luck.

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