My central heating unit smells like farts
March 17, 2008 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Is my central heating system killing me slowly?

I've lived in a garden apartment for the past two years. Right after I turned on the central heating system my first year living there, it broke and the landlord had it replaced with a new unit, which is in a sort of closet type thing in between our kitchen and living room. Whenever the thing runs, it smells strongly of sulfur. We've told the landlord and she had someone look at it, but said there is no problem with it. Does anyone have any idea what the smell could be? Am I slowly killing myself by breathing it in, or is the real problem just how embarrassing it is to have to explain to first time visitors that really, no one farted? I'm definitely moving out when my lease is up in a few months so I'm really just curious where the smell might be coming from and if it's something harmful.
posted by lxs to Health & Fitness (3 answers total)
Is there a drain in the closet where the furnace is? From Wikipedia:

Traps are used in plumbing to create a water seal that prevents sewer gases from entering buildings. In addition, plumbing vents allow sewer gases to be exhausted outdoors. However, infrequently used plumbing fixtures may not pass enough water to keep their water seals from evaporating with time, especially in dry weather. The result is the most common means of sewage gas entering buildings, and can be solved easily by regularly using the fixtures or adding water to their drains. One of the most common traps to dry out, possibly unnoticed, are floor drains like those typically placed near home furnaces and water heaters. Infrequently used utility sinks, tubs, showers, and restrooms are also common culprits. Trap primers are available that automatically add water to remote or little used traps such as these. Blocked plumbing vents, typically at the roof, can also cause water seals to fail via siphoning of the water.

We had a strong sewer smell coming from the closet area where our furnace is located on the main floor of our house. A couple days of pouring water down the drain a couple times a day fixed it. Might be worth investigating.
posted by Otis at 8:37 AM on March 17, 2008

I like Otis's suggestion. Whenever the unit runs, it needs air for combustion and it pulls it out of the sewer. It might not be a floor drain, but an open pipe with a trap, with a copper drain line running into it.
posted by beagle at 9:24 AM on March 17, 2008

I had this problem last year in my apartment (2nd floor, no less). The cause was cracked cement around the sewer drain, letting sewer gas into the basement and then the heater, which blew it up into our unit.

I got a name-brand baking soda air filter and used duct tape over the cracks as a temporary solution until the landlord could get the cracks cemented. The half-gap measures helped a lot, especially the odor eliminating filter.

Might make life a bit more bearable until moving day.
posted by bdizzy at 1:09 PM on March 25, 2008

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