One of the most common requests I get as a home inspector here in Connecticut has to do with trying to identify a strange odor in the home. This request is often made by a woman. This is probably because a woman's sense of smell is keener than a man's. This also probably explains why at least half the time I can't detect any "funny smell" in the house. That also applies at home too.
Most offensive or unwanted odors in home are going to generally emanate from one of two rooms, the kitchen or the bathroom. There may be exceptions, but these two rooms are big odor generators.
Both of these rooms have plumbing. Half of the plumbing is the drains or waste pipes. In order for a drain to work properly and also be safe, yes a drain can be unsafe, the waste pipes must have vents. What the vent does is help the water to flow through the pipes easily.
The best example of how the vent works is pouring a bottle of water. If you tip the bottle straight down, the water pours out sporadically as it fights against the pull of gravity and air forcing its way in to replace the water. If you put a small hole (a vent) in the top of the bottle, the water flows out quickly and smoothly.
The other and more important reason for the vent is to prevent the drain traps from being siphoned off. The bend in the drain under the sink is not for catching your wedding ring or earring if you drop it down the drain, all though that is a nice side benefit. No, the purpose of the trap is to form a seal against the sewage gases that are present in the drain lines. Some of these gases are unhealthy, even deadly in large enough quantities.
So it stands to reason that the drain lines in the home must be vented outside. Most every house has at least one through the roof while some older homes have them through the foundation wall above grade.
While inspecting an attic the other morning, I ventured down near one end. There I found that the addition had been connected to the original attic. I wasn't expecting this because the room I saw in the home had a cathedral ceiling.
I was glad I found it. Upon slipping through an opening between the framing I was greeted by this, one of the original plumbing vents through the roof. The builders had never extended the pipe through the new roof.
As I turned around and enter the other small attic space for the addition I was introduced to this gem. I couldn't help myself and let out a laugh.
If you aren't sure what you're seeing, that is the bathroom fan vent hose on the left connected into the waste vent for the additions plumbing. I wonder how the drains work when the fan is running. Or if the bathroom reeks when the fan isn't on.
My guess would be not pleasant and potentially dangerous.
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