What's making a stink in your sink? It may be your P-trap
As warm weather and vacation season near, ensure that water evaporation isn't breaking the seal under your sinks and tubs.
Most of us don't live in a sewer.
But sometimes, when we return home after a long vacation, our ground-floor bathroom inexplicably smells like one.
Or we find that all the air fresheners in the world cannot cover the unpleasant odors in our vacant investment property.
One solution: Check your P-trap.
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You may know the P-trap as the curvy bit of pipe under your sink. Below the drain, you'll notice that the plumbing often forms a half-loop, before heading out at a 90-degree angle.
When this bend is filled with water — as it should be — it forms a seal, helping to stop anything from the other end of your drain-vent-system from coming up the other way. Just like that, your sink or tub is protected from nasty, noxious sewer gases floating through your plumbing and into your living space.
U.S. plumbing codes require P-traps in every drain opening. The codes also specify the proper angles and materials for the traps; they can differ in other countries.
Over time, however, the water inside P-traps can evaporate, breaking the seal and allowing these fumes to stink up your place — or, in extreme cases, explode.
As we near warmer months and may plan to leave town for an extended spring break, it may be wise to run the bathroom sink a bit before any long absence. It could be a task for whoever is watering your plants or looking after your place while you're gone.
Popular Mechanics recommends pouring boiling water down these drains weekly, to prevent clogs, as well.
A trap primer, which adds water to traps that don't see regular use — think basement or garage drains — also could be an option.
The P-trap gets its name from its shape, which also resembles a J. And just in case your mind wandered in this direction: Toilets typically do not have P-traps. If you suspect there is a septic-system odor emanating from your toilet, it could be coming from an improperly installed toilet flange, which mounts your toilet to the floor, or a leak in the wax ring that seals the flange to the toilet bowl.
— Tony Stasiek is a producer/editor at MSN Real Estate.
As for leaving your home unattended for a period of time, my suggestion would be to turn off the main water supply to the house and the gas or electric to your water heater. If you live in a cold climate then also drain the pipes, the water heater, plus (after the main is turned off), flush all the toilet bowls. This way if the heat fails while you are away, there is nothing that can freeze hard and crack.
Now for folks who have steam heat, I would suggest you call your plumber. Years ago my grandmother's oil fired steam furnace failed in the dead of winter while she was away on a work assignment and the steam radiators and supply pipes froze hard and literally exploded. The flying metal punched holes in the walls and ceiling, not to mention the water damage.
I am a plumber also I always incourage shutting your main water valve off if you are leaving your home for a period of time like even a long weekend I have been to too many houses up here in MN in the winter that the heating sytem quit while they were gone and a water pipe froze and split and then flooded the house. I was at a townhouse that had 42 different splits in the piping through out the house. try using Rv anti freeze in those drains that is how we winterize every house.
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.