To put it simply, sewer gas can be dangerous and if you smell it in your home you need to take immediate action. It is made up out of various gases but the main component is hydrogen sulfide which can be dangerous at even low levels.
This gas can cause sudden headaches, dizziness and breathing problems in many people. The smell is a bit like rotten eggs, and is stronger closer to the floor as this is a very heavy gas.
It can be flammable so you need to take care not to light fires or cigarettes. The best advice is to get out and call a plumber straight away.
What causes a buildup of sewer gas?
Rotting organic matter, sewage, produces sewer gas and is normally an indication that you have a blockage or damaged pipe. It can also mean that one or more of the traps which are suppose to stop the gas entering the home have been damaged.
Sewer gas will not go away of its own. You will need to get the problem fixed. There are a lot of articles available about this topic on the Internet, but you really need to get some professional face to face advice.
Piping and Plumbing fixtures
Dried out piping and plumbing fixtures can cause sewer gas to flow back into the home. Most of the time, it is caused when the water barrier which should always be present in the pipes have gone dry. This is more common in a bathroom that is not used frequently, or infrequent flushing of a toilet. Maintenance is important, and pouring water down infrequent used drains is a good idea.
Cold weather and earth movements can lead to pipes cracking. Old pipes should be inspected once in a while to make sure there are no cracks in them. However, a crack in a drain pipe often leads to a leak, and this could be behind the smell of sewer gas in the home.
If your HVAC system is installed too closely to drains you may notice a smell of sewer gas. Contractors are now more aware of this problem, and HVAC systems are now always placed a distance from drains. This problem can be fixed by adding vent pipes, or altering the height of the unit.
Why do we ignore the smell of sewer gas?
Most of the homeowners that I speak to often ignore the smell of sewer gas, and say that they open the windows and it goes away. The problem is that all heavy gases can stay in our homes for a long time, and may not immediately cause health problems but can do so over a period of time.
The presence of sewer gas in the home is not only associated with acute health problems. It is known to cause irritability, poor appetite and long term respiratory disease. That is what sewer gas can do to you, and you need to ask yourself what is going on in your plumbing system.
Should there be a major problem, and an insurance company finds that it is down to poor maintenance, they may not pay out. This is worth bearing in mind. Also, who wants to live in a smelly home? You may have become used to the smell, but I bet your visitors will wonder what is going on.