"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Demon of Bad Smell (the Plumber as Hero)

We live in an old farmhouse.

People who live in an old farmhouse, can I get an "awwright?"

People who live in an old farmhouse built before 1950, can I get an "oooooh kay.....?"

People who live in an old, owner-built farmhouse from before the era of modern building codes, can I get an "I feel your pain?"

And lastly, people who live in an all-of-the-above in a damp, moldy part of the Pacific Northwest, can I get an "I know a really good handyman?"


We live in an old, owner-built farmhouse (circa 1942) in one of the rainiest, greyest, coldest, windiest parts of the country. We get about 60 inches of rain annually, and howling, 70 mile an hour winds four months of the year. When we had this house inspected prior to buying it, the inspector (a good ol' boy from right here) said "you know, you get an awful lot of weather up on this ridge." So sue me, but I didn't recognize this as a straightforward warning not to buy.

After he inspected the house, he said, "I'm not gonna lie to you...."

That's a really really bad sign, when the person telling you he's not going to lie is the brother-in-law of the person selling the house.

But we bought the place anyway. Why? Well, ok, that's a fair question. We bought it because it's the most beautiful piece of property we'd seen in over two years of looking. We bought it because back when we were first looking, we used to drive this road every weekend, and right about as we passed this spot, we would turn to each other and say, "Man, I wish we could afford something here on this hill." We bought it because we were flat-out blown away by the beauty of the five acres the house sat on. Check out the sidebar if you want photographic proof.

And also because my mom said, "the only thing you can't change about a piece of real estate is the location. You can fix anything else." She's right of course - if you have an unlimited supply of money. But we don't. We kind of spent most of our money on the land. Then we spent a lot of the rest before we moved in on:

1) the roof ("should have been replaced five years ago" said the good ol' boy. "Maybe ten.")

2) plumbing issues (ditto)

3) rot issues ("I don't even know where to begin...." said the carpenter. "I'll do the best I can.")

We dropped about twenty thousand dollars just making the place habitable. Or SO WE THOUGHT (cue dramatic organ music). Ever since we moved in, we have been plagued by a mysterious bad smell. It's a gaseous, nasty, sewery kind of smell. It comes and goes - it might leave us alone for as long as two or three months, and then come roaring back with strength enough to make us all want to puke for a week.

It's an insidious smell - it roams around the house. You might be washing dishes in the kitchen, or you might be unloading the washing machine, or just walking down the hall, easy as you please, when suddenly you are overcome by the disgusting miasma.

As you can imagine, this has put a serious crimp in our social life. Most of the time, the smell is either gone entirely or so faint that we don't notice it. But then we have house-guests over and the strained look on their faces lets us know without a doubt that in fact we have become accustomed and the smell is insupportable to normal people.

That's a pretty embarrassing situation. So after this happened most recently (sorry, Sarah), I called a reputable plumbing company. Don't get me wrong - we have, in fact, called several plumbers before. At least three licensed and bonded plumbers have, at various times, been called upon to address the situation. And all of them have failed to find the problem. We got tired of paying people to say "I dunno." This time, I decided to call a large company, and also to negotiate before I hired them. I explained what had been going on, and I said that while I was prepared to spend whatever it took to fix the problem, I was flat-out done spending money on NOT figuring out the problem. Give me a guarantee, bitches.

Shout out to Sullivan Plumbing of Bellingham, Washington. Special shout out to Josh. If you have a tough plumbing problem, call Sullivan and ask for Josh. Josh was professional, on-time, dedicated, and took our problems seriously (he is also extremely handsome, but that's neither here nor there.). He listened closely and he put some hard core thought into the problem. In short, Josh is exactly what we needed: a forensic plumber.

Also, he was willing to crawl through nine different circles of stinky, wet hell to fix shit. As it turned out, we had more than one issue going on, but the most serious was that a drain pipe from our kitchen sink had broken. For some unknown length of time, the sink had been draining directly into the crawl space. Not only had the drainage been causing a nasty smell (as my sister pointed out, cheese season canNOT have been beneficial), but the break in the drain pipe had been allowing sewer gas to bubble up and escape from the septic tank. A vast and unimaginably horrid lake of sludge had formed under the house.

Josh valiantly braved the lake to fix the broken pipe (something that was clearly above and beyond the call of duty - normally plumbers will not venture into such a quagmire) and so my sink was immediately rendered functional. However, Josh informed us that the cleanup of said rancid subterranean pond was not in his job description and offered us the name of a different company that could handle the situation.

That company, when contacted, said they were pretty freakin' busy (what the owner actually said was "It's pretty hard to find people - kids don't want to go into this business these days." I thought but didn't say "Hire Mexicans, dumbass!") So we are currently on the waiting list. I'm not sure what the prescription is, but I think this company will pump out the evil stinking morass; remove the old contaminated vapor barrier; lay down a buttload of lime; and install a new vapor barrier. Hopefully at that point the problem will be truly and for all time corrected.

I'm not so sure, though. The smell problem has been deviously tenacious. When one issue is fixed another will pop up. Send a half-gallon of white vinegar down one bathtub drain, and the washing machine will suddenly develop a mildew situation. Clean out one sink trap, and a bathroom vent will back up. On the day after I paid the plumbers, just as I was thinking that the pervasive smell was clearing out somewhat, one of the dogs developed a sudden, serious case of diarrhea and pooped all the hell over the living room.

If the plumbers can't solve it, I am just about ready to call in an exorcist. I am not even kidding.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's monkeys.

Nekkid Chicken said...

GOD! I love your sense of humor. :O)

Judy T said...

I feel your pain! We live in a 1954 owner built house. While we don't get the weather you do we frequently run across the "What the H*** were they thinking?" problems as we rehab this place. Over the summer we replaced the septic system that was original to the house (before regulation!) What a stinky mess.
Hang in there and good luck.

Tonia said...

Our old house was built in the 1900-1920.. Not sure on the date but it was OLD.. Use to be a log cabin and was added on too..
We had a hard time with sewer smells things always backing up and never could find the problem.. No crawl space. We had replaced everything from the house to the lagoon.. So we ended up tearing up the BAthroom floor around the toilet.. I say we but it was My husband and dad who did all the handy work!Lol
Anyway the toilet pipe had broken off and was flusing under the house and down the pip some. It would stop up and not flush. We had a sump pump(I think that is what its called and pumped some out but then it clogged so then they went to buckets and scooping it out.. Talk about NASTY! Then they bought a bunch of lime fixed everything and put a vent in the foundation there. No more smell and the toilet flushed so very beautifully... I woudl flush it just because... Well not really because I dont like to waste water.. but it was sooo nice.
Now if the people living there can get a leak that springs every other month in the main water line they maybe good for a while!Lol
Our house now was built in the early 1940's but has had some extensive remodeling.. Doesnt need much and is absolutely wonderful!
Yeah for a cute plumber! Much better then a crack showing plumber..LOL

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Anonymous said...

I will give an "awwright?", an "oooooh kay.....?", an "I feel your pain?" and an"I know a really good handyman?"
We have a 1941 farmhouse we bought for the land and location and did a major renovation (somewhat described on our web page). We had a major malfunction during a visit from work colleagues. I appreciate what you are going through.

Michele B said...

Ummmm .... is Josh single? Did you scope out a ring on that special finger? ;-)

Gail V said...

poor dears. Yes, our none too special 1908 farmhouse was clean and serviceable, so we took it-- because it had OUTbuildings, and trees...
and yes, we blew our nest egg within 2 years on roofs, furnaces, plumbing. Now siding? Is worth what the whole house is, I think...
anyway, I do get it. Good luck.

sunset pines farm said...

We have had our share of things to fix thanks to the good ole boy who inspected our house when he shouldn't have due to a conflict of interest...
Your problem sounds really huge, but it also sounds like you are getting a handle on it.
I feel your pain, as we have fixed one piece at a time for money and sanity reasons. Sending positive thoughts your way.

Katrina said...

I second Nekkid Chicken - love your sense of humor. I already sent two of your posts to friends just this morning.

Best of luck getting this situation under control. I don't envy it, that's for sure. We live in a 1960's ranch house in the city & even we have problems - need roof repairs & a plumber, as a matter of fact!

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Sheryl at Providence North said...

LOL! Sorry, I had to laugh. You have a great sense of humour and write very well!

We live in a very, very old farm house too - very old! Most of the time it has a musty smell from the constantly damp basement. The basement has a cement floor and a sump pump but rivulets of water run across the floor in all but the coldest of winter months. We just leave it alone. In truth, we hardly smell it anymore, just in spring when we turn the furnace fan on.

We have had other basic sewage, drainage and driveway problems that come with a house of this advanced age.

I do feel your pain!! That plumber sounds like a great find!