What to do if you smell sewer gas in your home

If you smell sewer gas in your home, it could be a sign of a damaged vent stack. Call a plumber at the first sign of this smell. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Marc E.)

If you smell sewer gas in your home, it could be a sign of a damaged vent stack. Call a plumber at the first sign of this smell. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Marc E.)

The smell of rotten eggs or sewer gas in your home should not be ignored, as it indicates the sign of a plumbing problem.

It’s not healthy to breathe sewer gas. The foul smell is hydrogen sulfide, a gas that comes from decaying organic matter – sewage. In a residential home, it exists in low levels and can occur if a plumbing problem exists. When the home’s plumbing system is working properly, the naturally-occurring hydrogen sulfide is directed up and out of the building through a vent system, which exits through the roof. No smell should be present.

When we smell this gas in homes, many times it is the cause of a small problem, such as a dried out water seal in a floor drain. Other times it is a sign of a bigger problem, such as a broken sewer or vent stack. Diagnosing this problem can be simple or complicated, depending on the cause of the problem.

Hydrogen sulfide is dangerous even at low levels. Prolonged exposure can cause irritability, headaches, fatigue, sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, loss of appetite, poor memory and dizziness. It affects people and pets that are exposed to it over a long period of time. Even if the smell comes and goes, it needs to be addressed. Likely there is a blocked, broken, cracked or deteriorated pipe allowing the gas to enter your home. It’s not going to go away until a repair is made.

Hydrogen sulfide is a heavy gas and is strongest near the floor or ground. Once exposed to the smell you will become desensitized to it, which causes you to think it is no longer present. Hydrogen sulfide never occurs in high levels within homes because of the small amount of sewage and the amount of fresh air that moves through the system.

In large municipal sewers and in industrial settings, this gas can be found at much higher levels and cause sudden death. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) has put strict regulations in place at industrial settings where proper equipment to measure the levels and respirators are used.

If you smell rotten eggs in your home, you do not need to evacuate the building. Call a plumber as soon as possible.

The Scottish Plumber is the trusted drain and sewer professional for Chicago and its suburbs with fast, reliable service from its friendly technicians.

As of June 29, 2011, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check AngiesList.com for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.


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Comments

We bought a dream home newly remodeled all interior, new kitchen, new bathrooms very nice. When we moved in and we dicovered a bad smell sewage/rotten egg smell only in the summer mostly when the air conditioner was on. I was having an issue in my home of a sewage/rotten egg smell only on the 2nd floor when the air conditioner was on and the smell traveled through out the house. After spending alot of money on plumbers, experts and heat & air conditioner companies. No one could find the problem. We spend alot of money trying to figure it out. We had air ducts cleaned, 2 new coils, 2 new furnances, upgrated to 24 hour water softner, this year new water heater and rotted out the main sewage drain thinking it was that. Then next expense would be purchasing 2 new air conditioner units to figure if that could be it or I had a sick house. We were disappointed of spending money and the still have a smell problem. My husband decided to do an investigation himself through out the whole house from roof, attic to basement and he is no expert. I don't know if this can be a problem in your home, but one of our vent stack pipes was near two return vents in the bedrooms. This year my husband went on the roof and with a hose ran water down the vent stack pipe to figure out if there is a leak or its clogged. This process can cause water damage in your home. We discovered a water leak in the basement. We tracked the water leak. My husband ripped open the wall in our 1st floor bathroom guessing to find something. The bathroom is right above where we discovered the leak in the basement and right above the bathroom are the two bedrooms. It turns out that there might have been a cabinet sink before and who ever remodeled did not cap the sewage pipe that connected to the sink and that pipe connected to the stack pipe and that was causing the smell and my return vents were right next to it. When the bathroom was remodeled they added a new type of sink, pipe setup and left the old stuff there in the wall. We bought the house remodeled so had no clue of this. This has been a headache for all these years trying to solve the problem. My husband capped the pipe we have had no smell. It ended up being something simple and no camera would have found it. Now we have to spend money on fixing the wall and painting the bathroom. I am writing this information because it may help someone having a similar problem. It is difficult to detect a sewage smell in a home and this was the problem in my home. We were lucky to find it and guess, otherwise we could have torn several walls in the bedrooms to find the leak. I am so happy we finally fixed the problem.

My symptoms are the same as Beatrix (above). I have just complained to apartment management. I will feedback later.

Hi my name is Beatrix Days and i have been exposed to sewer gas inhalation and are having many health problems. I have address this problem to my land lord, and DHEC and so far a statement was made and the studor vent was changed. The problem is i'm still smelling some odor that's not as strong as the sewer that's got me with red eyes, chest pains, muscle spasms, chills, fever, and just recently another UTI. I need to know who else could i talk to to get this issue resolved?

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