Sunday, December 31, 2017

I would've said this could only happen on Matinicus

We've been tormented by a malevolent winter spirit in Bristol. Once the temperatures go down, stove gets packed and the furnace kicks on, an unwelcome visitor always calls. It invites itself into the basement next to our laundry machines- just one of its devious tricks designed to confound our attempts to locate its source and kill it.

Based on some research I'd rather not have done, sewer gas is not only unpleasant, but toxic and potentially explosive. We moved in in May and didn't know we had a problem until the following winter. Some days it was faint, but if laundry was done, toilets flushed or showers taken, the stink-kracken became ferocious and embarassing to us in front of company.

One particular piece of sheetrock behind the laundry area has been on and off at least a dozen times over the last couple of winters. The smell seemed to be coming from a small enclosed space between the laundry and a bathtub only accessible by walking through the basement to the far end of that floor. On one occasion, I scrunched myself into the space, dug up what I could, reached as far as I could and at one point yogaed myself around and upside downish so I could shine a light under the cast iron tub. Underneath the tub, which could only be gotten to exactly this way, I retrieved a very rusty .22 revolver. As many great plot scenarios as this discovery invited, it brought me no closer to finding the source of our tormentor.

One or another variation of this exercise was reenacted every so often when the stench drove us over the edge. One time I was so sure I was tracking the smell, I decided to tear up a floor, only to find dry flawless concrete and a well sealed drain line headed under the slab to parts outside.

4 plumbers and 4 figures later, nothing had improved or made any difference at all. There were many false starts. Enzymes? It worked! Thank heavens! Oh no it didn't.  Ventilation, covering things up, reinstalling traps right side up and opening windows all led nowhere. 'Must be a dry trap... a buried floor drain...broken pipe...clogged vent.' Calls and emails to our realtor and home inspection professional were futile. The liberal use of air fresheners when the house was shown to us made more sense now.

Yesterday, we decided to try again as this long stretch of below zero to single digit weather has emboldened the beast. Off comes the sheetrock, away go the camping gear, tools, garments, bikes and other storage items so we can get at the walls.

Part of the challenge is having no real idea how one part of the floor configuration and plumbing relate to rooms, walls and piping in other parts of the same floor. Peering through a breadloaf sized hole near the ceiling where heat and water supply pipes come out, I could see a drain pipe a couple of yards down the line in the other section of the floor. I was also blasted by a steady river flow of badbad smell. Lots of measuring and running back and forth between different sections of the house got me to the point where I had some idea where the wall was that enclosed the drains.

That was as good as it got. I went to bed baffled and discouraged. None of it made any sense. The smell seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. The places where it was the worst had no openings from which the foul spirit could emerge.

This morning I decided that exploratory surgery in the ceiling of the other section was the only option. I measured and cut out a section where the drain I'd seen from the ceiling of the other room was supposed to be. Using a mirror and a squirt bottle of soap suds gave me the posture of a guy who had a clue, but yielded nothing else.

In for a penny, in for a pound. I decided to open up another part of the ceiling and got a stronger smell. I cut one more section and out fell the answer to our 3 winters of suffering. An orphaned vent pipe hung open to the world spewing nastiness. At my feet was a plug intended for use when pressure testing new plumbing. It must have fallen out years ago. Why the thing wasn't capped properly I can't imagine.

The problem was ultimately found on the furthest side of the house from where the smell seemed to be the worst. The corridor in the ceiling somehow carried the smell to the other end of the floor due to the furnace running and the woodstove sucking air into that end of the house.  Possibly.

2018 should smell better here. The gas creature is back in its lagoon where it belongs.