About the House: More solutions for smelly waterOriginally published in the Worcester Telegram
Q. Hello, I love your column in the Worcester Telegram. I have seen questions about smells coming from people’s water and just wanted to pass along a tip I got years ago. As in our home, it may not be the tap water at all. Our smell came from waste water sitting in the trap below the sink. When we ran the water we would get a brief foul smell. It turned out the smell from the trap was being forced from out of the sink’s overflow outlet. We were told to pour a cup of bleach down the drain and let it sit for 15 minutes to destroy the bacteria creating the odor, then run the water to clear the bleach. It worked. So we still do that every six months or so and we no longer have a stench. Oakham, MA via email
A. I assume that you are referring to your kitchen sink. In your case, and similar ones, the solution to eliminate the smell is bleach, which you have used effectively.
But smelling sulfur in cold and hot water in all fixtures is a different story; it is most likely a well water problem caused by bacteria in the well or the rock through which the well was drilled.
The well may need to be shocked with bleach, and it may need to be done frequently.
But it is best to have a water specialist investigate and offer what may be a different solution.
If the rotten egg smell emanates only from hot water faucets, it is likely to be from the destruction of the sacrificial anode in the water heater, which has been eaten away over time by the chemicals in the water. This is why it is caused a sacrificial anode; it protects the tank itself.
These anodes are generally made of magnesium and they can be replaced with anodes of the same material or aluminum, which have their own nefarious drawbacks.
I usually recommend replacement with a powered anode, which takes very little power and should last for the life of the water heater and more. It should be installed by a licensed plumber.
AND HERE ARE A COUPLE MORE TAKES ON THE SUBJECT: “I had the same problem as you relate today. I solved it in a most unexpected way. A technician/plumber/engineer told me the problem started some years ago when the EPA forbade the use of lead in the alloy comprising the sacrificial anode. The salts formed from these alloys could nurture bacteria.
“He suggested just taking out the anode, which is easy depending on the model. The result might cost a couple of years of use on the back end of the device, but it would solve the problem.
“I am a practicing chemist and found all of this to be intellectually non-convincing, but one can’t argue with success. I haven’t had any smells since!
“If you have a better explanation for what I actually did, I would appreciate it. Thank you.”
Indeed, removing the sacrificial anode and not replacing it will cut short the life of the water heater, which is why sacrificial anodes are installed in water heaters.
What you did is one solution, but I can’t recommend it. Instead I prefer to suggest powered anodes, as mentioned in the above question.
AND THIS ONE FROM ELBURN, ILLINOIS: “A reader complained about sulfur in their well water and rods that were inserted to try to remedy the situation.
“We lived in a house with well water for seven years that had a terrible sulfur smell. If nothing was done with it we would get this black ‘gunk’ inside our toilet tank. We bought a filter through the well company that completely took care of it. Our water was crystal clear with no odor at all. Instead of fooling around with rods, this is all the reader needs to do. There were tanks of a medium, something like sand, that had to be changed every so often, much like when you change the filters on a reverse osmosis system. When we started to smell sulfur, we knew it was time to call the well company and have them come out and change the filter medium.”
The gist of it all is that the rotten egg/sulfur problem is widespread and there are several reasons for its occurrence.
Again, the best approach is to have a water specialist test the water and recommend the best way to deal with the problem.
Q. We recently moved into a newly-built house and love it, but we are experiencing a very disturbing problem.
As soon as we turned the heat on when the outside temperature dropped enough for us to do so, we began to sneeze, cough and feel ill-at-ease all over. We have a warm air/central a.c. system.
Where do you think these allergic reactions come form in a new house? Massachuset via email
A. It sounds as if construction debris of all sorts fell into the duct system because the outlets and returns were not sealed during construction and the builder did not have the ducts cleaned before the house was put on the market.
I suggest that you contact the builder and insist that he or she has this done as soon as possible. It is very unhealthy and it should have been done before you moved in.
Q. I am requesting your expertise for a problem in my house. I bought and moved into a circa 1918 brick house. I knew that it needed work, but it turns out to be a LOT of work. The concrete basement floor is a mess. I’ll bet that it was not laid properly, probably over a dirt floor. It was covered with area rugs and I relied on the building inspector, who is also a structural engineer, to note all problems. His report did not say anything about that. Is there a cheap fix, that maybe I can DIY?
I had to retire early due to injury, therefore money has become an issue. I planned to work, until I was well past 65 years.
The floor is chunked up all over; small and larger areas. Various areas appear dark, at times. Water or moisture, I guess. Sorry, no pictures, but I’m sure that you can imagine what I’m describing.
I have not had any concrete repair people here; don’t know who to trust, especially as I am a female. I no longer plan to be here much past 5 years. I just want a mobile home, now!
Thank you, I hope you have some recommendations. I just feel lost. Via email
A. I am so sorry for your problems. It seems as if the inspector should have flagged the poor condition of the concrete floor unless the area rugs you mention were so effective at covering the poor condition of the concrete. It may also be that he considered this normal in a house of that vintage, but a mention should have nevertheless been made.
The standards of the home inspection industry do not require inspectors to remove or move anything, but some do anyway; it’s an individual inspector’s choice.
You may be right in your diagnosis of the concrete floor condition. It was not uncommon in the early 1900s for a concrete slab to be poured directly on bare soil and to be very thin. In the course of my years inspecting many old houses, I have encountered many concrete floors not any thicker than an inch or two and poured piecemeal at different times.
The best approach would be to have the failing concrete removed and a proper slab poured over a stone base, but this will be expensive, as it may require some digging if headroom is a problem, and dealing with some appliances.
Sorry, but I have no better news. For the sake of your health, you may decide to hasten your plans to move to a newer factory-built home.
Henri de Marne is a syndicated columnist and author of “About the House with Henri de Marne.” Visit his website at www.henridemarne.com.
Date : 11/12/2017