What is Sewer Gas? | Identifying Sewage Smell in The Home | Roto-Rooter Blog
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What is Sewer Gas?

August 04, 2015

Sewer gas smells can often be a problem for home owners when they have leaks, cracked pipes, blocked vents or even clogged drains. But what exactly it sewer gas? Sewer gas is a combination of toxic and nontoxic gases that when combined can produce a poor odor or a methane gas smell. More specifically, sewer gas is a byproduct of natural human waste when the waste begins to breakdown it begins to release gases. In high levels, sewer gas can be dangerous but generally it's not a major health concern if you are smelling it in your home. However, you should seek professional assistance if there is a sewage smell in your home as it can become more dangerous over time.

Sewer gas is comprised of the following gases:

  • Hydrogen Sulfide
  • Ammonia
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Methane

What Causes Sewer Smell?

When you smell sewer gas from the kitchen drain, it often means there is a blockage in the vent or the drain pipes inside the wall. If either of these are clogged, there is no place for the water to go without first forcing the air, which is combined with sewer gas, back into the room. The most common causes of sewer smell in your house are:

  • Cracked Sewer Pipes: Sewer Pipes are supposed to be reinforced and protect your home from sewage smell. So when one of these pipes cracks it can lead to the methane gas smell you might have in your home.
  • Clogged Drains: Drains are responsible for transporting the waste from your kitchen to your septic system. When these become clogged they can cause a sewage backup resulting in the sewage smell in your home.
  • Blocked Air Vents: Air vents are meant to circulate air and allow toxic gases to diffuse bringing the odors away from your home. If you have a blocked air vent, from debris or other items, then it may not be able to properly ciruclate the air.
  • Leaking Pipes: A leak, small or large, in your plumbing system can be a direct cause of sewage smell. Sewer pipes are meant to direct sewage to your septic system and if there is a leak then that means not all of the waste is making its way to the correct destination.

What Does Sewer Gas Smell Like?

Sewer gas has a very distinct odor like gasoline that is easy to detect and associate. It gives off a sulfuric type odor that smells more like rotting food. The sewage smell is largely contributed to by the different gases that when combine create the poor odor. Sulfides, ammonia, methane and the other compounds in the sewage all combine to create the sewage smell you are familiar with. In small quantities, sewer gas dangers are minimal, but in larger quantities it can become problematic.

Can Sewer Gas Make You Sick?

There are sewer gas dangers people should be aware of due to the gases that comprise sewer gas.

Hydrogen Sulfide - This is the primary gas found in sewer gas and is toxic to humans and other animals in large quantities. It can cause very adverse effects when exposed to it in large quantities for extended periods of time. Typical symptoms can be organ damage or even death.

Ammonia - Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in the air will result in the burning of a person's eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract. This can lead to blindness, lung damage and even death. However, these symptoms do not usually occur from sewer as ammonia is not the primary gas, but it is still present in sewer gas.

Methane Gas - Is a relatively nontoxic gas and is generally the smell that most people attribute to sewer gas. In large quantities methane gas can become extremely flammable. This mixed with ammonia creates a very dangerous situation and make sewer gas a potential fire hazard.

Remember that sewer gas dangers are not an issue if there are low levels of sewer gas. However, the dangers of sewer gas increase as the quantity of gases builds up over time.

Call Your Local Plumbing Professional

If you're worried about sewer gas dangers or are have a methane gas smell in your home you should call one of your local plumbing companies to diagnose the real issue. These types of plumbing problems should be left up to professionals who are familiar with residential plumbing.

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