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  #1  
Old 09-03-2011, 01:55 PM
Brown Eyed Girl Brown Eyed Girl is offline
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"Gas" smell coming from water faucets?

We recently moved into a cheap, 40-year-oldish apartment complex a few blocks away from the house we used to rent. Ever since we moved in, I've smelled gas (whatever scent they put in natural gas) whenever the water is running from every faucet in the apartment. It's strange because our water heater and everything else is electric. I can't imagine why I would smell gas only when the water runs.

Here's some additional info that may or may not be relevant: our complex is about a quarter mile from the water treatment plant; and the two-lane road we are located on is in the process of being widened and having gutters and storm drains installed.

The smell does not emanate from the water itself, but from the pipes and is noticeable only when the water is running. As if their is a natural gas leak in the water main. It has been consistent for the month we've lived here and when my spouse mentioned it to the landlord, he said something to the effect of "Yeah, the water does smell funny" but didn't elaborate or show any concern.

Should I be concerned? The last time I smelled this it came from the closet behind our gas fireplace in the old house and stopped as soon as I had the gas shut off to the house.
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  #2  
Old 09-03-2011, 02:57 PM
Hellbeast78 Hellbeast78 is offline
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You're probably smelling sewage gas escaping the drain's s-trap when the water runs. Keep in mind they put sulfur compounds in natural gas for safety, so it's chemically similar enough to sewage gas to smell the same. Sewage gas is flammable and toxic, so you might want to get that looked at. I had this same problem in an apartment I used to live in, which was a similar age. It turned out that the pipes were iron and had been filling the ventilation pipe with rust scale for years, which in turn prevented the pipes from venting properly. They ended up snaking the vent pipes, which fixed it to some degree, but the problem was still there till I moved. I'm not a plumber, but that was my best understanding of what the plumber told me.
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Old 09-03-2011, 04:49 PM
Brown Eyed Girl Brown Eyed Girl is offline
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Originally Posted by Hellbeast78 View Post
You're probably smelling sewage gas escaping the drain's s-trap when the water runs. Keep in mind they put sulfur compounds in natural gas for safety, so it's chemically similar enough to sewage gas to smell the same. Sewage gas is flammable and toxic, so you might want to get that looked at. I had this same problem in an apartment I used to live in, which was a similar age. It turned out that the pipes were iron and had been filling the ventilation pipe with rust scale for years, which in turn prevented the pipes from venting properly. They ended up snaking the vent pipes, which fixed it to some degree, but the problem was still there till I moved. I'm not a plumber, but that was my best understanding of what the plumber told me.
If it's coming from the drain, why do I smell it when the faucet is running? It doesn't smell any different whether the drain is plugged or not. Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't smell like sulfur. Is there another smell that they add to natural gas?

Also, is there an agency that I should call? The landlord doesn't seem all that concerned about it and it doesn't appear to be something he's going to anything to address it.
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Old 09-03-2011, 05:46 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is online now
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I will wager it's hydrogen sulfide produced by sulfate-eating bacteria in your water. The bacteria are harmless, but if you have hard water that includes a lot of sulfates, they will consume the sulfates and emit hydrogen sulfide, which gives the water a "rotten egg" smell when it first comes out of your faucet.
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Old 09-03-2011, 06:23 PM
Magiver Magiver is online now
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Originally Posted by Fear Itself View Post
I will wager it's hydrogen sulfide produced by sulfate-eating bacteria in your water. The bacteria are harmless, but if you have hard water that includes a lot of sulfates, they will consume the sulfates and emit hydrogen sulfide, which gives the water a "rotten egg" smell when it first comes out of your faucet.
That would be true but the op said the water itself didn't smell.

I'd vote sewer gas in the drain. It's possible the vent stack is clogged. I run into this from time to time. The running water just stirs the pot so to speak.
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  #6  
Old 09-03-2011, 06:35 PM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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So here's an easy test. Fill up a bucket with water without letting any down the drain. I understand the clogged vent theory and it makes perfect sense, but if the OP notices the offending smell without disrupting the drain, that would be a strike against it.

It should be noted that for this test to work, the traps will have to be full of water. Otherwise you might be smelling sewer gas just because you are standing near the drain. If the vent is clogged they might not be. Depending on how the vents are setup in your apartment, making sure they are full could be tricky. You should be able to make sure the traps are full by just running a trickle of water down each drain for a 30 seconds or so.
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  #7  
Old 09-03-2011, 06:58 PM
Hellbeast78 Hellbeast78 is offline
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Originally Posted by Brown Eyed Girl View Post
If it's coming from the drain, why do I smell it when the faucet is running? It doesn't smell any different whether the drain is plugged or not. Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't smell like sulfur. Is there another smell that they add to natural gas?

Also, is there an agency that I should call? The landlord doesn't seem all that concerned about it and it doesn't appear to be something he's going to anything to address it.
OK. First answer is no, they only add sulfur compounds to natural gas, either hydrogen sulfide or more often methanethiol. Both of these are a product of anaerobic organic decay along with methane, so sewage gas does indeed smell very similar to a natural gas leak because it contains the same compounds in roughly the same ratios and everything else in both gases except ammonia is odorless. As far as it only occurring when the water is running, that has to do with trap plumping and ventilation. If there is a clogged ventilation pipe then the sewage gas behind the trap (which is normal) becomes compressed when water flows into the drain (also normal). However, if the gas cannot escape through a vent pipe then it has to escape through the drain causing a foul odor every time you turn on the faucet. I'm assuming it's a vent problem and not a dry trap because you say it's happening on all of your sinks. Keep in mind also bathroom sinks have an overflow drain. So even if you plug the primary drain, gas can still escape through the overflow drain because the running water creates a lower pressure area in the sink relative to the gas pressure behind the trap via the Bernoulli principle. Truth be told, it's usually more of a nuisance than an actual health hazard. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems like something your landlord would be legally obligated to address. It would probably only require him or a plumper to snake the vent stack for your apartment. Maybe if you explained that you think it could be a vent pipe problem causing sewage gas to seep into your home it would seem to be a less nebulous explanation of the problem and it might be addressed (assuming he doesn't already know from other people's complaints and is just being an evasive tightwad). Sewage gas is far and away what usually causes the problem you're talking about. It's a lot less likely that it's the water itself causing the smell, but one sure fire way to tell would be adding one of those Pur water filters to one of your sinks. If it still smells then you know for sure it's not the water.

http://www.renovation-headquarters.com/sewer-gas.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trap_plumbing

Last edited by Hellbeast78; 09-03-2011 at 07:00 PM.. Reason: wanted to add some links
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  #8  
Old 09-03-2011, 06:59 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is online now
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Originally Posted by Magiver View Post
That would be true but the op said the water itself didn't smell.
Right. She said the smell occurred when she ran the water; this is characteristic of bacteria-produced hydrogen sulfide, which dissipates soon after the water leaves the tap.
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  #9  
Old 09-03-2011, 07:35 PM
Brown Eyed Girl Brown Eyed Girl is offline
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Wow, great info! Thank you.

First of all, we are on the same city water as our last residence less than two miles away. If there is any bacteria in the water that would be causing the odor, it would have to be coming from the local pipes as the water smells exactly the same as it always has: distinctly chlorinated.

I'm thinking a vent clog sounds quite possible. What's the likelihood that several of the apartment buildings in the complex which are not under a tree canopy have clogged vents? We do not live in the same building as our landlord and he's noticed it as well, apparently.

None of our sinks have overflow drains, but our bathtub does. I also smell it when I run the tub faucet and shower. As to blocking the drain, I have run water in the kitchen sink with a rubber stopper in both drains and still smelled it. I have run the water directly into a Brita pitcher allowing no water to escape into the drain and still smelled it. I have run the bath with the drain stoppered and smell it quite strongly in the small confines of the bath stall. In every case, once the faucet is turned off the smell abruptly dissipates leading me to believe the smell is coming through the faucets, not from the water or the drains.

I'll mention it again to the landlord and specifically indicate I smell sewage gas emanating from all of the faucets only and see what he says. I'm not that convinced I'll get any action on this, however, as few of the maintenance issues we reported upon moving in have been addressed or corrected. The place is kind of a dump; our kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanity are literally plywood boards hacked together. It's not a pretty sight, but it's liveable. It could be worse. But what I would like to be certain of is that this smell, while weird, is not going to present a health hazard to my family. I've got to draw the line somewhere. That seems like a reasonable thing to insist upon.
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  #10  
Old 09-03-2011, 07:43 PM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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Hmmm, If you fill up something with water and move it to another location, away from the sink, does it still smell? If you wait a few hours, does it then not smell?

By chance, could it be Chlorine?
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  #11  
Old 09-03-2011, 08:03 PM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brown Eyed Girl View Post
First of all, we are on the same city water as our last residence less than two miles away. If there is any bacteria in the water that would be causing the odor, it would have to be coming from the local pipes as the water smells exactly the same as it always has: distinctly chlorinated.
Yes, it can be localized to the pipes in the house, or even just the water heater. Do you notice it with hot and cold water?
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Old 09-03-2011, 08:10 PM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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I didn't notice that you mentioned in smelled chlorinated in your last post.

The water at my house is (to me) undrinkable because of the chlorine taste. I charcoal filter (in my fridge) takes care of it just fine. My ex-MIL is on the same water supply, to the best of my knowledge, and I never noticed it at her house.

If it smell distinctly chlorinated, it's more then likely just chlorine that the city is adding and I wouldn't be at all worried about it. As I'm sure you noticed, the Brita filter takes care of the taste and smell (as will just letting it sit out over night). If you're really worried you could call the city and ask them to check it out for you.
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Old 09-03-2011, 09:06 PM
Magiver Magiver is online now
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Your first post stated that the water itself doesn't smell yet you say it smells regardless of whether the drains are stoppered. These statements seems at odds with each other. There are a number of possible scenarios in play that I can think of and people can add to them:

1. sewer gas from the drain
2. cold water water contaminated
3. hot water contaminated in tank
4. water ports contaminated

I would run the cold water for a minute and pull the glass aside for a sniff by someone else and do the same with the hot water. I would also repeat the process by having someone else run the water for an extended period and then doing it yourself to see if you still smell it.
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Old 09-03-2011, 10:18 PM
Brown Eyed Girl Brown Eyed Girl is offline
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Originally Posted by Fear Itself View Post
Yes, it can be localized to the pipes in the house, or even just the water heater. Do you notice it with hot and cold water?
Yes, hot or cold running water. It smells like gas.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey P View Post
I didn't notice that you mentioned in smelled chlorinated in your last post.

The water at my house is (to me) undrinkable because of the chlorine taste. I charcoal filter (in my fridge) takes care of it just fine. My ex-MIL is on the same water supply, to the best of my knowledge, and I never noticed it at her house.

If it smell distinctly chlorinated, it's more then likely just chlorine that the city is adding and I wouldn't be at all worried about it. As I'm sure you noticed, the Brita filter takes care of the taste and smell (as will just letting it sit out over night). If you're really worried you could call the city and ask them to check it out for you.
I don't drink water straight from the tap. I can smell the chlorine in the water when I wash my face or take a bath.

The smell I'm describing, though, is distinctly different from the chlorine smell. It's a natural gas odor (although it doesn't smell like rotten eggs to me) that I smell quite strongly while the water is running, but not when it's standing. I smell the chlorine in standing water.
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Old 09-03-2011, 10:35 PM
Brown Eyed Girl Brown Eyed Girl is offline
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Originally Posted by Magiver View Post
Your first post stated that the water itself doesn't smell yet you say it smells regardless of whether the drains are stoppered. These statements seems at odds with each other.
What I meant is that I can only smell the odor while the water is running, but it's not coming from the drains because I smell it while the water is running with the drains stoppered. I do not smell it from standing water in the sink with faucets turned off. I do not smell it from the drain when water is not running.

Quote:
There are a number of possible scenarios in play that I can think of and people can add to them:

1. sewer gas from the drain
2. cold water water contaminated
3. hot water contaminated in tank
4. water ports contaminated

I would run the cold water for a minute and pull the glass aside for a sniff by someone else and do the same with the hot water. I would also repeat the process by having someone else run the water for an extended period and then doing it yourself to see if you still smell it.
The water in the glass does not have an odor other than chlorine. The problem with running the water for an extended period of time is acclimating to the odor. For example, the other day I started a bath and smelled the odor as soon as I turned on the faucet. Over the course of running the bath I noticed that I could still smell it but it wasn't as strong and as the bath filled, I started to notice the chlorine odor of the water. I've also noticed over the past few days that if I'm home a few days in a row I don't smell it as distinctly but then after a full day at work, I come home and the odor hits me hard as soon as I turn on the kitchen faucet.

The other thing I've noticed is that our bathrooms when we first moved in strongly smelled of cat pee (ammonia?) to me or insecticide to my husband.* I don't know what it was but the linoleum in both bathrooms were cleaned vigorously and the smell did not dissipate. I feel like it might be related to the gas odor that comes out of the faucets. I should have a friend with a sensitive nose over to see if its still there and I just don't recognize it anymore.

*As an aside, we were assaulted by many obnoxious odors upon moving into this apartment with very thin walls, smokers next door, filthy plywood cabinets and new, cheap carpet. It took multiple days of intense cleaning, several cans of Febreze and weeks of acclimation to get to the point that I didn't want to hurk every time I walked in the door.
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Old 09-03-2011, 10:43 PM
Magiver Magiver is online now
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My post about moving the glass away and having someone else smell it relates to your recognition of the olfactory sensation. Bringing in a 3rd party nose would help identify odors.

Last edited by Magiver; 09-03-2011 at 10:44 PM..
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