Monday, February 13, 2017

Attempting to Sniff Out the Source of the Stench

If Arizona has taught me anything, it's that I have to learn to be flexible.  Things are constantly changing and each day is loaded with unexpected obstacles.  It's a far cry from the lifestyles I had in California and Nevada where I could plan out my days and execute them as planned without some unrelenting negative force coming out from left field to thwart my plans.  I used to keep scheduling books with slot for every half hour, but now I just keep a whiteboard for appointments and a To Do List with no deadlines.  What I can and can't do often revolves around the weather, the wildlife, random people who interfere, natural disasters, the health of my pets, my own health, and the cooperation of inanimate objects.

My daughter came over to go out to brunch with us this weekend, and right before she arrived, we got slapped in the face with the worst stench our house has emitted yet.  Sometimes our house smells like a garbage disposal, sometimes it smells like urine, sometimes it smells like grease, but on this day it reeked of fresh, hot, smoldering, rancid diarrhea.  My husband and I were each throwing open all the windows and doors, pointing at each other asking, "Did you...?"

No.  This was a smell that was emanating up from the floor while the washing machine was running.  This stench problem has been going on since Christmas of 2015.  That first Christmas we dealt with it by pumping our septic tank, only to get hit with it again right before guests arrived for the Christmas of 2016.  That time we called the septic company out again, and since the tank didn't need pumping, they just cleaned the filter.  However, within a few days of that cleaning, the smell kept coming back.  So, I followed instructions from the Internet on how to clean our dishwasher and washing machine, and that did nothing to improve the problem.  We've been tolerating it for well over a month.

We've tried doing our own sleuthing, but there isn't a strong pattern other than that the stench seems to arrive right before company does, which is when we tend to use a lot of water to clean house.  We run the dishwasher and the washing machine more than usual.  The smell most often congregates around the dishwasher, but the dishwasher usually isn't even running when that happens.  This weekend the smell was next to our refrigerator just outside of the laundry room.

My trail ride that got canceled last week had to get canceled again today because of the weather.  There was a potential for rain, which did clear up before sunrise, but the rain was a thunderstorm during the night, which kept the dogs and their anxiety awake, which in turn kept me awake, so when morning came, all I wanted to do was sleep.  Of course, the horses wouldn't let me sleep because they were hungry and banging on their gates, so I fed them and tried to go back to sleep.

I decided to use the day to set up appointments to solve various problems that have been plaguing me for a while, which included the mysterious stench.   I've been trying to avoid appointments so that I could go trail riding, but other things just keep getting in the way of the trail riding, so now I'm back to setting up appointments just because I want to get something -- anything -- done.  I need progress.  I hate being stuck in the same old ruts.

So, I called a plumber.  I was hesitant on which one to call, because every time I find a good one, the next time I call him out I get somebody different who is totally incompetent.  I thought I had deleted all the plumbers I didn't like off my contact list, so I called the one that was still on it, knowing that he did something last time that bothered me, but I couldn't remember what.  The receptionist told me that someone would be out in a couple of hours, and he would call me to let me know when he was on the way.

So, I took a two-minute shower, got dressed, took two of my three dogs outside, came back in the house, and DING DONG!  The dogs went nuts, running for the door and barking.  Midge and Scrappy actually can't hear anything, but they see Stewie charging the door and they know something is up.  I opened it a crack and told the guy he'd have to wait a minute while I locked up the dogs.  Oh yeah, that was why I didn't like this plumbing company anymore.  They always promised to call ahead, and never did.

You can bet that by the time the plumber left, the one dog I wasn't able to get outside ended up peeing in his diaper.  I tell everyone to give me a 15 minute heads up before they show up on my doorstep, because I need that time to take all the dogs outside to relieve themselves, and then I have to lock them in a room with some water.  Once someone is on the doorstep, it's really difficult for me to catch the dogs and lock them in a room.  It hurts my back to have to bend over, pick them up, carry them, or bend over to grab their collars and hook up a leash to a moving object.  But an even bigger problem is that they get so excited that they pee all over themselves and the floor.  That's why I have to take them out within 15 minutes of someone coming into the house.

Anyway, I gave the plumber a ton of information regarding this mysterious stench, and right off the bat, he looked under my kitchen sink and offered to install a vent.  I was skeptical over how he could come up with that solution without further examination.  At the very least, I wanted him to get up on a ladder to check to see if our existing vents were clear, but he acted like he'd never seen those types of vents before and doubted that they could have any issues that required repair.  I asked him how much experience he had as a plumber.  I didn't mean to be rude, but he was saying "I don't know" to most of my questions, and my skeptic alarm was going off, and this was just too serious of a problem for me to waste my time on wild guesses.

As it turned out, he didn't have much experience.  He offered to have his boss come out to give a second opinion, and I accepted.  I think I surprised him by agreeing to meet with his boss, but I wanted all the help I could get on the diagnosis of the stench.  Most of the stories I read on the Internet involved plumbers coming out multiple times and doing thousands of dollars in repairs, yet never getting rid of the smell.

When the boss showed up, he didn't call ahead even though the previous plumber warned him that he needed to do so.  I had to chase the dogs around the house and make them wait.  When I opened the door, the guy pointed at his partner and said, "It was his fault.  I told him we should call."

So, these two guys came in and didn't even let me explain the history of the problem and the troubleshooting we've already done, so right off the bat I was skeptical again.  How can you solve a problem if you're so busy talking that you can't listen to what the problem entails?  But he did bring up one topic that I had not considered, which is that you have to flush water down all your drains occasionally, because dry drains can become an outlet for septic smells.  I remember my neighbors telling me to run water through their drains and flush toilets while they weren't living in the house so that they could avoid letting septic gasses leak into the house.  We do have one full bath/shower that only gets used when we have overnight guests.  It's not anywhere near the locations of the stench, but perhaps that tub drain is belching gasses and they are floating through the house, getting trapped in the same general location.

These guys checked under my washing machine and dryer for floor drains, because sometimes gasses come up through there, but it turned out that we didn't have any.  They didn't find the source, but I was happy that they tried as opposed to just tossing some recommendation out without doing a serious inspection.

He was talking to me and asking me questions when someone else came to the door.  I kept telling him to hang on, because I had to get the door, but he was basically yelling over me from another room and couldn't hear me, so I missed most of what he was saying.  It turned out to be the original plumber at the door, so now I had three plumbers all helping me.  They were able to eliminate a few possibilities, and all concluded that I should flush out the pipes overnight with a solution that I pour down the drain.

I'm still skeptical, because from what I've read, those products are just a waste of money, and I vaguely remember someone telling me to never allow a plumber to pour any chemicals down our drains for some reason, but they said there is a very good chance that this will fix the problem, and if it doesn't they can install a P-trap to my main line to the septic tank and that fixes the problem 99% of the time while requiring cleaning maintenance.

At first, the boss said that you should flush out your pipes with this solution once every ten years.  Then he told me that he has to do it for some restaurants every week.  Since it's costing me $240 to flush out my pipes just this one time, I definitely do not want to do it on a weekly basis.  We have some of weirdest problems with this house that we never had to tolerate at any of the other houses we've lived in.  Just the maintenance alone is mind boggling.  I've never had to clean or change so many different filters in my life.  Everything comes with a filter.

The only other options are for them to tear up the walls of our house and run smoke through the lines in search of leaks, and having them tear up the floor of our house to replace the septic lines.  I had hoped they'd have more advanced, less invasive methods to detect leaks by now, but I guess not.  They doubted this was a case of leaks, though, because the house isn't very old and the materials are good quality.

It seems like the main choice that most people with septic tanks that emit stinky gasses have is to either install a P-trap onto their main line and not have to deal with smells, but then as a trade off, they have to clean the P-trap constantly or they will get clogs.  It doesn't sound like a very good choice.  I could tolerate the occasional stench as long as it doesn't make an appearance right before house guests arrive, but it seems that it prefers to rear its ugly head at those times, and if it isn't the septic gasses acting up, it's the dogs getting sick.  I'm at a point where I don't even want people coming to my house anymore.  I'd rather set up some neutral location where we can meet.

My sign on the door tells people to call ahead so that I can lock up the dogs for their safety.  I put it up in part to scare off burglars.  When the plumber saw my dogs, he said, "Oh, you have little ones."  I could see he was confused over how they could hurt him.  It's complicated -- definitely more complicated than I can address on a door sign.  They might bite someone, but more likely they would jump on the person, and in the case of my 80-year-old friend, knock her down.  They could also escape out into the desert when I open the door to let someone in.  Two of my dogs are deaf, so they can't hear me telling them to sit and stay.  It's just easier on me if people call ahead, regardless of how small and harmless my dogs seem to be.  It's easier for me to put leashes on them when they are lying still, and to lead them into a back room and quietly shut the door without all the excitement of someone standing on the porch ringing the bell.  It also allows me to avoid having to wash doggie diapers and scrub stains out of carpets.

In other news, my husband relocated the rattlesnake that was nesting in our sprinkler control box.  He fashioned his own snake hook, avoided getting struck while lifting it into a trash can, and then ran it out into the desert.  I missed it.  He purposefully didn't tell me that he was doing that, because he didn't want me to distract him or get in the way.  I was horrified when he told me he didn't have a lid on the trash can.  It was one of those tall plastic kitchen cans.  He said the snake was rattling and pretty pissed.  So, he's been busy replacing parts for the sprinkler system so that we won't have anymore problems with shut off valves not shutting off and running our well dry.  I really hope that we can get a break from all the well and septic problems for a while.

I always tell myself that if these types of troubles keep up, I'm going to move into a motel room.  The only problem with that logic is that I'd still have to go home every half an hour to take the dogs outside.  I can't do motels that accept pets, because I'm allergic to cat dander.  As these septic and well problems persist, my old house back in Nevada is starting to look pretty good as far as dwellings go.  I'm tempted to kick the renters out and move the dogs and horses back there despite the problem neighbors.  I check the status of those neighbors and their house online every once in a while, hoping that they sold it or naturally reached the end of their lives in the obituary section of the local paper, so that I can move back there some day, or at least, sell the house.  No one would buy the house from us because those dang neighbors turned their property into a junk yard and they always came running over to stare at prospective buyers who came to view my house, so we got stuck having to rent it.

I'm actually happy that we've been renting it, because we've made a little money that has allowed me to stay at home to take care of the animals, and we still have the house in our possession, even though the bank technically owns it until we make our last payment.  I miss having a dog yard and living in a small town in an uncomplicated house that always has water and clean air.

But from what I read in the news, that area is having too much water.  The county has deemed itself a disaster zone due to repeated flooding.  The main highway had to be shut down, people had to be rescued, and there were 100 mph winds at my house.  We're expecting to be notified that my barn roof blew off, because it only can withstand 90 mph winds, and no one has been tightening down the bolts on the roof each year like my husband did.  Also, we had to deal with a lot of power outages at the old house due to the high winds.  We have high winds during monsoon season here, but the power company seems to be on the ball and can usually restore power within an hour.  I suppose it's easier dealing with the technical difficulties of this house than it would be having to deal with Mother Nature at the old place.


TeresaA said...

is is possible that the trap was not installed correctly or at all? that will cause gases to leak back into the house

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Teresa - That's actually what we've been considering most recently. That's why I was so disappointed in these plumbers. They didn't really take the time to inspect our existing water lines. On the other hand, we didn't have this problem for the first three years we lived here.

Crystal said...

I guess there is always something in every area that's great and not so great.
I hope you can figure out whats causing the stench that's no fun and gets expensive trying to troubleshoot

Mrs Shoes said...

Septic systems seem much more common in the States (unless I'm mistaken & it only appears that people who live in town boundaries often have septic systems) so you would think plumbers would have a check list to troubleshoot through. Whenever you write about this I pay close attention because this is the first place we've owned as adults that has a well & septic field.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Here's a tip for anyone using a plumber: If he tries to sell you a product, ask for the name of it, look it up online, and see how much it really costs. I'm pissed, because the guy claimed that the gunk he sold me was $80 a bottle, but it was actually $80 for a case of 6 bottles. Needless to say, I've deleted this plumber from my contact list and will be writing a scathing review for him being dishonest.