New House & New Sufur Smell - What do we do?!
June 24, 2007 8:23 PM   Subscribe

We've just moved into a new house and we've noticed a strange odor both inside and outside most nights since we've been here. It's our first house ever and we're at a loss with regards what to do...

We just moved into a house in Nashua, NH. We have noticed that many evenings over the past two weeks, there has been a slightly sulfur smell inside the house and also outside.

At first we thought that it might be because the dump is 2 miles away, but that seems kind of strange that so many people in our relatively nice neighborhood would tolerate something like that. We also used to live near a swamp so we thought it might be something swampy...but it doesn't quite smell the same as a swamp. Definitely more acrid, and less like frogs and mosquitoes.

Tonight I noticed the smell again, as did my husband. We noticed it mostly in the garage and in the upstairs hallway. I went outside to compare concentrations and I can barely smell it outside. So now I'm freaking out that it could be the house...

We do have LP tanks outside (opposite side as the garage where we are smelling the odor) and another concern is that it could be sewer gas.

Our plan is to call the gas company first thing tomorrow to have them come by and check our tanks & everything. Then our plan is to call a plumber to check for sewer gas or anything plumbing related. these seem like reasonable things to check out? Is there anything else we should look into if we can't find an answer?

And how do we find a good plumber if it comes to that??? We are new to this area and don't know anyone around here. I'm really kind of worried and upset about all this. I don't even trust my own nose. My husband thinks I might be overreacting because I do tend to go towards the worst case scenario, but I don't think it's unreasonable to find a nightly sulfur stink in my new house unacceptable.
posted by tastybrains to Home & Garden (30 answers total)
Well, first question: Was the house inspected before you moved in? If so, did the inspector notice anything?

Second, why would it only be occurring at night? Is it simply because you're not at home during the day, or do your nightly activities differ in some way--running certain appliances or some such?
posted by DMan at 8:31 PM on June 24, 2007

another concern is that it could be sewer gas

You guys got a septic tank or a civic sewer connection? The tank may be full or backflowing. Might need to be bacterially recharged.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:32 PM on June 24, 2007

Pour water in every drain in the house so that all the Ptraps do their job keeping sewer gas out of house.
posted by hortense at 8:32 PM on June 24, 2007

Do you have well water? More.
posted by gimonca at 8:36 PM on June 24, 2007

posted by ruwan at 8:37 PM on June 24, 2007

If nothing else turns up, industrial smells can drift and confound people sometimes. Great swaths of Northeast Minneapolis smelled like circus peanuts (the candy) for a few days a couple of years ago, and nobody ever got a clear answer why.
posted by gimonca at 8:39 PM on June 24, 2007

A lot of factories only vent (or whatever it is they do) at night, or at certain times throughout the day, to avoid stinking up the place all the time. You might ask your neighbors if there's anything like that in your vicinity.
posted by frobozz at 8:46 PM on June 24, 2007

When I was bicycling through New Hampshire years ago, I ran into smells I would have used terms like yours to describe a number of times.

In every case, the source turned out to be a pulp mill.

Find out where the nearest one is and go there to see if you recognize the smell. Ask your neighbors about it, too. It could be a closed mill or even be a manufacturer of mill machinery-- they do have to test them, after all.
posted by jamjam at 8:49 PM on June 24, 2007

Response by poster: The house was inspected, and no problems with the heating (e.g. the propane tanks) or electrical systems were found.

We have public water & sewer. No septic tank or well.

All drains have been in use since we started moving stuff in.

It's definitely not a skunk.

I'm just having a really hard time determining if the smell is coming from inside or outside. We'll have to touch base with our new neighbors to see if they smell it too. Tonight it feels like it's just inside, but another night it seemed to get better after I closed all the windows.

I have no idea why it would get worse at night. We've been here during the days as well, moving things in, painting, etc. If it has been present at all during the day, it hasn't been strong enough for me to notice - or else it could just be because we're busy with stuff and not really paying much attention.

Can anyone think of reasons why a sulfur smell might be coming from outside? There are 2 ponds in our development, the dump is approx. 2 miles away (and my husband says they may burn off some chemicals at night, or something), and not very far from the Nashua River. Would any of these things result in a nightly odor?
posted by tastybrains at 8:50 PM on June 24, 2007

i second the p-traps suggestion - or if you don't have them at all (as i still don't on the basement washer drain line) i suggest you get them!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:01 PM on June 24, 2007

Oh God ... I just thought of something, and you're going to hate me for bringing it up ... but it happened to a friend of mine ...

There could be a dead rat/possum/mammal inside a wall or crawlspace.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:25 PM on June 24, 2007

You might have plumbing vents on your roof that are emiting the sewer gas smell outdoors.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:28 PM on June 24, 2007

Response by poster:
Oh God ... I just thought of something, and you're going to hate me for bringing it up

No, you see, I would be happy if that was the case because it would be something that once we found we could relatively easily fix. And because it would mean I wasn't in danger of exploding or sniffing dangerous fumes.

Pluckysparrow - Plumbing vents on the roof?!

So do you guys agree I ought to call the plumber to check this stuff out?
posted by tastybrains at 9:35 PM on June 24, 2007

Cool Papa Bell: You may be right, but that small is constant and does not tend to come and go (in my experience).

On preview, I'm with gimonka. I used to live 25 minutes from a dump that was in the next county and we could always smell it if they did not treat it in the morning, which they did by covering it with something that I think was mulch.
posted by 4ster at 9:35 PM on June 24, 2007

er, small = smell
posted by 4ster at 9:36 PM on June 24, 2007

The house we rent has that occasionally. Ours it turned out was a cattle feedlot/processing plant nearby that causes the smell. It gets inside around windows and ventilation i guess. Ask your neighbors and they will likely know the cause. For us fortunately it's only 5-10 times in a year that it's bad and only for overnight for some reason.

If it's inside as you say and not strong outside, is there a shared wall for garage/hallway that you notice it in? Vent pipe for water heater etc (if it's gas)?
posted by clanger at 9:51 PM on June 24, 2007

If the washer was disconnected for a while, the trap could have dried out, letting noxious gas into your house. Just pour some water down the drain to fix. We just had to do this on a house we recently bought.
posted by Ostara at 9:54 PM on June 24, 2007

Yes, plumbing drainage venting goes on the roof of a house. Toilets flush and drains properly drain due to air pressure, which would not be possible without venting.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:06 PM on June 24, 2007

Best answer: I tend to go with the theory that the smell is originating outside. It's possible for the smell from a factory, paper mill, water treatment plant, etc. can be carried and remain trapped in the house even after the breeze has blown it away outside. This happened all the time in a couple houses I lived in, in different states. One was a papermill, miles upwind. The other was an oil refinery, again miles away. Talk to your neighbors, but they could be so acclimated as to not notice anymore.

Obviously, be sure it's not something inside, as suggested above. But the outside source is certainly a candidate.
posted by The Deej at 10:13 PM on June 24, 2007

There's a plant which grows near my bedroom window, which lets out a pungent, smell late at night. It's only ever at night, and I cant remember the name of the plant. It does smell a little like sulfur...
posted by chrisbucks at 10:29 PM on June 24, 2007

It is also possible that it's usually there and the people in the neighbourhood are desensitized to it.

My friend once visited relatives who lived within sniffing distance of a sewage treatment plant. Has asked them about the smell. `What smell?' was their answer.

Kind of like how your house smells weird if you've been away a while, you just lose the ability to pick up that scent.
posted by tomble at 11:12 PM on June 24, 2007

Anaerobic decay in a local pond or sewer (nightfall can cause a temperature variation which churns the water), volatiles from a night-blooming flower, neighbors spraying deer repellent?
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:27 AM on June 25, 2007

If not a wandering skunk, then maybe another type of animal. Odors travel in funky ways, depending on the winds. A skunk walking by smells different than fresh skunk spray, so if you are basing that "not a skunk" on the smell you could be wrong.

Also on sewer gases. Either your vent is clogged (with a nest) or there is a situation where with just the right conditions the vent stack odor is wafting into the house.
posted by Gungho at 4:23 AM on June 25, 2007

Best answer: You might give your county extension or agricultural office a call. If there's a dirt, plant, animal, or facility that makes that smell, they'll probably know about it.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:38 AM on June 25, 2007

If not a wandering skunk, then maybe another type of animal.
Porcupines smell really, really awful. Kind of like rancid pee. They're mostly nocturnal, and they can climb trees.
posted by jrossi4r at 6:48 AM on June 25, 2007

I agree with jamjam--pulp mill. We lived over 20 miles from a pulp mill growing up, and on hot, humid nights, we'd smell it. I cannot imagine what it'd be like closer to the source.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:11 AM on June 25, 2007

Best answer: Paper (and pulp) mills produce tons of hydrogen sulfide as a byproduct, which smells like rotten eggs. Polluting industries will often release more crap into the air at night because neighbors are more likely to be indoors. Paper mills are usually located on rivers because they discharge large amounts of effluent.

It's a paper mill.
posted by naomi at 7:13 AM on June 25, 2007

Seconding chrisbuck's suggestion - there is some plant that smells very odd (kind of skunky and weirdly sweet at the same time) in my neighborhood at night during the summer. The scent can be quite potent. I assume it's some night-blooming flowering plant or tree -- I've never tracked down what it is, but we get it every year.
posted by aught at 8:00 AM on June 25, 2007

Response by poster: After doing some Googling and talking with my husband, we think that it being the result of some mill is the most likely source. It definitely seems to originate outside and appears to be following some sort of schedule. The Nashua River, which we are approx 3-4 miles from, used to be one of the most polluted rivers in the nation due to the mills. I am trying to determine if there are any currently active mills still around this area and where they might be - there is a Nashua River Mill about 4 miles away, but it appears to have been turned into a corporate type of office building. I know many of the old mills are being converted into apartment buildings, museums, and offices in these New England mill towns (some of my friends in Lowell live in an old cotton mill turned apartment complex). But I suppose that knowing that Nashua was a very prominent Mill City and having such proximity to both the Nashua and Merrimack Rivers as well as the garbage dump/recycling center and also now being informed that they release a very sulfurous smell as a by product of some industrial processes makes this seem like the right track.

I've got some more research to do, and chatting with the neighbors. I just want some peace of mind with regards to our personal safety and to find ways to keep the house from being stanky at night (maybe some air filters and better fans would help).

Thanks everyone for your suggestions and help!
posted by tastybrains at 11:54 AM on June 25, 2007

Response by poster: actually, it's the landfill
posted by tastybrains at 12:14 PM on June 25, 2007

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