Water heater is likely source of awful odor

Posted11/11/2012 4:43 AM

Q. We have stinky water rotten egg stinky. It hasn't always been this way. Some 12 to 15 years ago, there was no smell. We did an inorganic chemistry analysis of water back in 2003, testing levels of arsenic, chloride, copper, iron, lead, manganese, sodium, nitrate, uranium and hardness. All levels were well below the acceptable limits, and hardness was measured at 200.

We recently replaced our electric water heater. A plumber once told us heating the water would exaggerate the smell if the heating elements had a buildup of minerals. The smell never changed with the new heater.

It seems much worse when we use water that has been sitting in the heater for a long period. If I am doing laundry in hot water, running the dishwasher, etc. (where the water is heated and used right away, not sitting in the heater for hours and hours), the smell pretty much disappears.

Do you have any idea what can be causing the odor and what, if anything, can be done to get rid of it?

Thank you for your time and expertise in this matter. It's not a life-threatening problem, but it is annoying and hard to explain to guests!

A. Rotten egg smell often results when certain chemicals in the water eat the magnesium sacrificial anode installed in water heaters to protect the interior lining. This is what likely happened with the older heater you just replaced, which, by the way, gave you good service if it lasted 15 years.

It appears as if the new heater's anode is being attacked early in the life of the heater. This phenomenon occurs when water has been sitting in the heater for hours, just as you experienced.

You can have the anode rod removed, which would solve the problem. Hopefully, you have enough clearance to the ceiling to get the rod out without having to drain the heater, disconnect it and put everything back in order. If the rod in your heater is a newer type, it will have links dividing it in several sections.

You also should consider having your water tested again. It may have changed in the last few years for the smell to occur so soon after the new heater was installed.

Q. I read your column every week and have read many times about a kitchen cabinet cleaner, but I can't recall the name. Would you please refresh my memory?

A. The magical product in question is Milsek furniture polish, which works beautifully on wooden cabinets. You can buy it online at milsek.com and in some hardware stores, including Ace, True Value and Do It Best. For other retailers, check out the Milsek Store List on the Milsek website.

Q. I have had a problem for a number of years and can't find anyone with the answer. I have dryer lint all over my first floor. The dryer is in the basement and is vented up and out a hole in the basement. About 2 feet away from this opening is the Jenn-Air vent. The dryer hose is tight, and there are no leaks. It has been changed often in trying to find the source of this leak.

We have an oil furnace and have been told that can cause a back vacuum or negative pressure that would suck in the lint, but we can't find out for sure. Do you have any ideas? The furnace is new, but we had the problem with the old furnace. We have new replacement windows in the whole house, so it is a tight house. This problem occurs all year, not just in the winter when the heat is on and the windows are shut.

I read somewhere that maybe our chimney is not high enough, causing a vacuum. If you can shed any light on this problem or tell me what kind of an engineer to call to evaluate this, I would appreciate it. It is driving me nuts, and I not sure it is healthy to have this lint back in the house.

A. I don't think that either your old or new furnace is responsible. I assume the old one was vented through the chimney. Even if the new one is, too, the chimney is too far to draw lint, even if it is the conduit for the makeup air needed because the dryer is creating a negative pressure in the house.

The culprit is more likely to be the Jenn-Air vent, which is the closest makeup air conduit. Please check that its flap is closing tightly and has not been damaged or is stuck open.

Q. In a recent column, you addressed the issue of insulating houses that have face-brick exteriors and little insulation in the stud cavities. Our house fits that bill. You mentioned the possibility of having cellulose blown in these stud cavities. Please elaborate. How is the insulation blown in, and what kind of companies do this work?

We have ruled out substituting the present drywalls with more insulating ones that you spoke of because of the prohibitive cost in relation to what our house is now worth in this depressed market.

A. If your house has any type of insulation that fills the entire stud cavities, it makes no sense to do anything to it. However, if you know that you have only what we used to refer to as masonry insulation (about 2 inches thick), it can make sense to blow cellulose in these cavities.

This is done by drilling holes in the interior walls to blow in the insulation. The holes are then repaired and covered by molding or repainted, depending on where they were drilled. The insulating contractor should survey the situation and decide where to drill so that all the cavities are fully filled.

You can find insulating contractors in your Yellow Pages under that title.

The alternative I mentioned was to add rigid foam over the existing wall finish and install new drywall over the insulation. This requires altering all existing trim.

Q. Is there any hope for removing old urine drip stains in the tiles of white marble with gray markings that are under a wall-hung toilet? We purchased an older home, so the stains are not new. I tried letting bleach sit there for a while, but it did not remove it.

A. Try DuPont Oil Stain Remover, or make a paste with Ajax, Zud, Bon Ami or Comet mixed with 35 percent hydrogen peroxide (not available in drugstores or supermarkets; you can get it at a pool supply store). Cover the poultice with plastic wrap overnight and repeat if needed. Remove the poultice and clean the treated area.

You should seriously consider sealing the marble with DuPont's BulletProof. Both of these DuPont products are expensive, but they work well.

Comment from a reader: "I'd like to tell you how much I have enjoyed your column over the years and, more important, how much I have learned.

"At your instruction, my wife has been lifting the bath mat from the bathtub and drying it after every use. Lo and behold, no more mold problem under the mat.

"Like the individual who had a mold problem with his shower stall, I thought that leaving the door open after I showered would help alleviate the mold problem I was having, and it worked. I shower about 5 a.m. and leave the door open till I return at 2 p.m., and that has stopped about 95 percent of the mold. I hope this helps."

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via email at henridemarne@gmavt.net. His book, "About the House," is available at www.upperaccess.com and in bookstores.

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.