Chronicling the cleanup and restoration of our house and property in northern Michigan

Chronicling the cleanup and restoration of our house and property in northern Michigan

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The blog of eternal stench...

Have you ever smelled something so foul that it stays with you for long after, even when the smell is long gone?  A smell so bad that your face squinches up and your stomach churns just from the memory of it?  A smell so vile that it's all you can do to stay near it, let alone finish the project that will address it.  For me, unfortunately, that was today.

The aforementioned project is the correction of a bad decision by the previous owner.  One of the oddities of this house is that the sump pump is in the root cellar, and not in the basement.  That's not the project, though.  I don't actually mind that it's out there.  With the floor of the root cellar a good 2-3 feet below the floor of the basement, the water table is held that much lower.  With the basement in the process of being finished, having the water table held that far at bay gives me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling.

In addition to the sump pump and cistern in the root cellar, there is a sump pump cistern, with no sump pump, in the basement with three 3 1/2" runs of PVC that enter into it.   Two of the PVC runs are from floor drains, and one drains from the cistern in the basement and underground to empty into the sump pump cistern in the root cellar.  There is a sink in the basement that ties into one of the two floor drain lines, which means exactly what you probably think it means.  This sink drains into the basement cistern.  When the level of the water reaches the height of the drain to the root cellar...well, it drains into the cistern in the root cellar where it is pumped to an undisclosed location by the sump pump.

There are two big, glaring problems with this setup.  First, we have standing, and mostly stagnant water in a hole in our basement.  This adds both dampness and an unpleasant musty odor.  Second, the line running from the root cellar has no J bend to block air from coming into the house.  There is a pretty good draft coming through there at all times, and an absolute RUSH of air when the clothes dryer is running.  As we're pumping warm clothes dryer air out of the house we're sucking cold air right out of the root cellar.  Even when we're not running the dryer, the vent for the pilot on the LP boiler is sending warmed air up the vent and drawing cold air through the drain pipe.

By now you might be wondering about that stink I started out talking about.  Yeah...we're to that now.  The previous owner, for whatever reason filled half of the basement cistern with gravel.  In addition to the gravel, as I was cleaning the cistern out, I also found half of a cinder block, and under that an anti-freeze container.  No, I don't know why.  We're not supposed to ask why anymore...remember?  Just taking the cover off of the basement cistern released a stronger odor, but the "best" was yet to come.  When I used a shop vac to remove the water from the cistern and exposed the gravel to the air, it was then that...GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY, DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!!  There I was, with my face right there at the opening of the cistern, when the smell of THAT hit me full on.  THAT being the gravel mixed with a slime consisting of whatever was put down the sink drain over the past 30 years.  My eyes started watering, I gagged, and I nearly vomited.  The only thing that prevented the latter was the thought of the smell of vomit mixed with the stench of THAT, and the knowledge that I'd have to clean up vomit enhanced THAT.

I  knew immediately that there was no way I was going to be able to bring myself to dig through THAT to get THAT out of the cistern.  I immediately turned the sink on to drain fresh water into the cistern to cover THAT back up.  I then thought, why not leave the water running and stir THAT so that the worst of it will slowly drain out into the root cellar and the sump pump, leaving only some far less offensive gravel to empty.  This meant putting my hand into THAT to stir it, but I was betting that the texture would be less nasty than the smell.  Surprisingly, it was.  After doing this for a while, and making several trips up the stairs and outside to empty the shop vac, I was able to get the cistern completely cleaned out.  A good wipe down of the cistern with some bleach water, and stench begone!

This is after cleaning out THAT.  I didn't really think you'd all want to
see a picture of THAT.  The left PVC is the floor drain including the sink,
the right PVC is a floor drain, and the top PVC is the drain
to the root cellar cistern.
The next step in the project won't be even remotely as offensive.  I'll be tying the three lines in the basement cistern together, to remove the standing water issue, and include a J bend to put a stop to the air infiltration.  I was hoping to finish it up today, but I need to pick up a few more pieces to get it all to fit together.  I did add the J bend to the drain pipe and filled it with water to test my plan.  It immediately stopped the cold air from bleeding into the basement, and the temperature in the basement climbed a few degrees almost as quickly.

This far and away tops my list of disgusting home projects.  Until now hair clogs in sink and tub drains seemed bad, but on the Home Project Nastiness Scale this has drain Wookiees beat by a clear mile.

Until next time.  :)

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