LESLIE: Anne in Illinois is on the line with some sort of basement drain odor coming around her money pit. What’s going on?
ANNE: My mom is 87 and she was born and is still living in the exact same house. And she has a basement. It is a cement floor and it has two floor drains. In one drain, the air conditioner and furnace drips into. And then in the other drain, the shower and the washer drains into that. But periodically, we get that old, earthy, old smell that waffles around the basement and comes – starts coming upstairs. We’ve tried, for years, a bucket of water down the drain hoping that that gets rid of it but that really doesn’t last for long. So, do you have an easy solution for me?
TOM: Do you have any idea where these drains go – where these floor drains go?
ANNE: Yeah. No, I don’t.
TOM: Yeah. You don’t know if they’re connecting up with the main waste line of the house or not. Floor drains should, in a perfect world, connect with the rest of the waste lines for the house. And they tend to sometimes get a drain odor in them because the traps dry out. And the solution to that is, like you know, is to put a bucket of water in now and again. Because then that U-shape part of the pipe fills up with water and stops the sewage gas from backing up.
Is the smell that you’re getting a sewage-gas smell? Or is it just a dampness smell?
ANNE: It’s a damp, earthy smell.
TOM: Do you have any other evidence of moisture in that basement? Do you see efflorescence or mineral deposits on the walls? Does it look like they’ve leaked? Have you ever had a flood, that kind of thing?
ANNE: Nope, no flood. Occasionally, a crack in the foundation that …
TOM: Well, I think the first thing you need to do is figure out where those pipes are going. And one way to do that is to have a drain-cleaning company run a camera down there. It’s a pretty common test these days. It’s like a camera on the end of a snake and you can stick it in the pipe. And they can basically figure out where it’s going. Because if it’s not installed right, then that is an issue.
You might also consider abandoning some of those drains. And instead of running the – what was it? – the shower and the sink and the washer, sorry, into that, what you would do is you would install what’s called a “lift pump,” which is kind of a sealed container that gets filled up with water. And then a pump carries that water up high enough to let gravity drain it into the main waste line of the house. If that’s the case, then you could seal off that drain and not have to worry about it.
ANNE: Have you ever heard of something called a “drainger” (ph)?
TOM: That’s a good idea. And that’s an approach. And basically, what it is is it’s a drain that also prevents back-gassing or backdrafting out of that drain. So it’s kind of like a ball valve that the water can flow through it but the valve itself – the check valve – stops the sewage gas from getting back in. If you want to keep running that washer and that shower into the drain, then that’s probably a good option. But I really don’t like the idea of the washer and the shower running into that drain. I think it should be properly plumbed through a lift pump so it lifts it up and out and directly into the waste line going out of the house.
ANNE: Thank you so much.
TOM: You’re welcome. Good luck with that project.