Your Nose Knows: What To Do When You Can Smell Your Sewer

If you have a septic system, you already know how important good maintenance is. Left to itself, your septic and sewer system can really kick up a big stink - literally! While you should be having your tank pumped at least once every three years, as recommended by the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, your nose might detect a problem before this amount of time has elapsed since the last pump-out. Here are some of the potential problems that you might sniff out.

Foul Odors in the House

If you can smell sewage odor in your home, it's important to act quickly. In some cases, toxic fumes can build up and make your family sick. When your septic tank requires pumping, it's common to detect a slight odor around the shower drains; if this is the case, call your septic service to have the tank cleaned.

For smells that permeate the house, however, consider these causes:

  • A frozen roof vent could be trapping gases in the home. You need to have it thawed; then the gases will be able to escape.
  • Your sewer pump might need to be repaired. If solid and semi-solid waste isn't getting pumped through the system efficiently then a sewer pump repair company will be able to help.
  • Improper plumbing around the septic system. One common problem involves not using the power of gravity to help the sewer pump work. If the odors are coming from a first-floor bathroom but the upstairs bathroom is working fine, this might be the issue. Call in a qualified plumber to assess the situation.

Sewer Smells Outside

First, don't assume that outdoor sewer smells are necessarily coming from your septic system. In some cases, the problem could be the septic tank of a neighboring house; in others, it could be that an animal has decided to make your yard its personal bathroom. Investigate the situation before panicking and calling a professional. Some signs that you do need to contact a septic or sewer repair company include:

  • Seeing sewage seeping up on your property. This is a major health hazard and must be dealt with immediately.
  • Finding that the cover of the septic tank is loose and not able to be put back properly. It might need to be replaced.
  • Walking and finding that the ground is saturated when it hasn't rained or snowed recently. Again, this could indicate a serious problem.
  • Hearing the septic alarm going off. Don't confuse this with hearing the chirping sound of a faulty alarm battery! If you are hearing chirping, then just replace the battery in the unit; if it's the actual alarm, then call your septic maintenance company right away.

Other Smells That Merit Concern

There are a few other odors that you might wrongly attribute to your septic system, but which actually may require the services of a different sort of professional.

  • Natural gas odor. This is an emergency. Do not pick up the telephone, turn on or off any lights or do anything else that might cause a spark. If you smell gas, it's probably not coming from your sewer. Go to a neighbor's house and call 911, and don't enter the house again unless the fire department says you can.
  • Sulfur smell in the water. Most of the time, this does not mean that your septic system is affecting your water supply. Stop drinking the water and have a well specialist come to check it. It's possible that sulfur is getting into your system through the ground, or that your water softener is not working properly.

When dealing with your sewer system, remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don't let problems fester, as they will tend to get worse (and smellier!) over time. Instead call in the pros as soon as you notice a problem.