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 Posted: Mon Jul 26th, 2010 03:59 pm
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ashley
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I realize I don't have much info yet, before going home and thoroughly inspecting my water heater (I rent, and have never looked at it before). 

I've got a very strong bad odor, like that of a hair perm, coming from just one source in my house- the master shower.  I've read around online, and various places have suggested replacing the sacrificial anode, (I've never attempted this, but I'm willing to try,) but that to me suggests a more system-wide hot water problem, that I'd probably smell (at least a little bit,) in other showers or hot faucets.  The thing is, I don't.  I know that showers are closed-in areas with the hot water vapors making smells more prominent, but I really can't detect it anywhere else in the house, even in the other showers which have similar set-ups. 

Do you think this is a sacrificial anode issue, or something going on in the shower head or specific pipe leading to just this one shower?  We use this shower at least twice daily, so it's not an occasional-use thing.  Also, I don't have a water softener, and the water in my area tends to be pretty hard, I think. 

Is this sacrificial anode something I could replace, just to see if it might help, with relative ease and without danger to myself?  (It wouldn't HURT anything, right?)  I get confused with water and electricity... it's a gas water heater.  Do I need to turn any power off before touching the water heater?  I'm guessing I'd need to turn the water off to the water heater before doing anything.  I know I should probably just call a plumber, especially because I rent, but I feel like the annoying tenant and if this is something I can fix with a relatively inexpensive part on my own, I'd rather do that.  Thanks for any advice. 

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 Posted: Mon Jul 26th, 2010 04:48 pm
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eleent
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Hello:  If it were a water heater problem, the perm smell would be at every hot tap (as you suspected).  The odor likely is something to do with the drain line instead.  Is the master shower a dedicated shower or a shower/bath?  Running water down the drain may be causing fumes to come back up the overflow if a tub is involved.  Also, sometimes the drain gets piped wrong so it isn't venting as it should.

Another thought is that the hot or cold line is plumbed in some plastic piping than could add odor to the water.  I've only ever experienced this with vinyl tube.  As a test, run only cold water and see if the odor is there.  Try it again with just hot.  Let us know what you find.

Is this a new problem?  Did you just move into the house?  Has anything plumbing-wise changed?  This odor sounds unhealthy.  If we can figure out a fix for it from afar, that's good.  Otherwise, getting the landlord involved is not necessarily a bad thing as he/she would likely want any property defect taken care of.

There are some really good plumbers who visit this site.  Having the use of their collective brains might be even better than just calling a plumber who would need to go through the same troubleshooting process ;)

Yours,  Larry

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 Posted: Mon Jul 26th, 2010 04:51 pm
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elenano
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Changing the anode isn't going to solve this. You are right: if it was an anode issue, you'd have it everywhere. That said, if the heater is older than six years, you might need a NEW anode. They don't last forever, and when they are gone, so is your water heater.

I frankly don't know what could the perm odor. Sometimes we have people look for other causes in a bathroom -- bacteria in the overflow of sinks or some lurking sewer issue can cause odors. If your tub has an overflow, think about that.

Randy Schuyler

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 Posted: Mon Jul 26th, 2010 04:58 pm
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ashley
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Hi Larry,
Thanks a lot for your thoughts. 
The shower is a standalone shower, no tub attached.  (There is a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom, but we haven't yet used it.  It's a fancy bathroom!) 

I'll try the just running cold and just running hot and see if I notice a difference, and then I'll re-post. 

We moved in about a month ago, and the problem has been there the entire time.  Though I do think the odor is getting stronger- at first I was the only one who noticed.  Now the other person notices it too, and I can smell it from about 15 feet away, if I open the bathroom door while someone else is showering.  Nothing plumbing-wise has changed.  The house is only 6 years old, so I'm guessing the plumbing is pretty much as it was when the contractor installed it.  I wasn't too worried about it at first, but I'm starting to feel like it could be a health problem as well... it's almost made me cough a couple of times in the last week.  Regarding the drain pipe versus the shower nozzle, the smell sure seems to be emanating from the nozzle and not the drain, though I'll keep investigating.  If it was the drain, I wonder if the smell would be so permeating that it SEEMED like it was coming from up around where my head normally is during a shower.  (the nozzle area)

As I'm reading this, I know I should get the landlord involved.  I just hate involving them if it's something minor I could do on my own (I say this as a landlord myself who's dealt with a lot of corny things that are easily self-serviced) to everybody's convenience.  But I think I might be out of my league on this one. 

Thanks again. 

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 Posted: Mon Jul 26th, 2010 05:25 pm
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eleent
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Hello:  Here's a modification to the hot/cold test.  Put a damp wash cloth down over the shower drain before running any water.  It will prevent any fumes from coming out of the drain.  That way, if you run cold then hot and still get no odor, you'll know the drain is the culprit.  There may still be a break or disconnect in the drain line that odors could come from, but this test will give you more information. 

Is the house on a slab or is there a crawl space underneath?  That crawl could give a lot more info if needed.  Also, is the house on septic or public sewer?  Is there a beauty salon next door? :D

Yours,  Larry


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 Posted: Mon Jul 26th, 2010 06:04 pm
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ashley
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Hi Larry and Randy,
Ah ha, I will try the damp washcloth as I'm testing the hot/cold. Good suggestion.
The house is on a slab. This particular bathroom is on the second story, if that matters. And it's public sewer- no septic tank or anything.
Thanks again for exploring this with me. I'll hopefully have some more details/answers tomorrow.

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 Posted: Tue Jul 27th, 2010 03:27 am
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ashley
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Hi,
I checked the other showers and taps, and there's definitely no odor from them. Then I did the wet washcloth over the drain in the offending shower, and lo and behold I think it IS the drain causing the fumes. Both cold and hot water smelled equally okay when the wet washcloth was placed over the drain. And before I ran any water, I stuck my nose right down near the drain, and instantly regretted it.
At this point, could it be bacteria in that drainpipe? Think pouring a little bit of bleach down the drain would hurt, to see if that might resolve it without resorting to calling a plumber? One of you mentioned that the drainpipe might not be properly venting. If that's the case, would the bleach pour be a bad idea?
Thank you so much for the advice!

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 Posted: Tue Jul 27th, 2010 07:07 am
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eleent
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Hello:  I thought about suggesting you sniff the drain, but thought it might be seen as micro-management, so passed on it.  I'm glad you did though :)  I'd try hydrogen peroxide rather than bleach first.  It might work and it doesn't stink like bleach does. There is no down side to trying it, even if the drain is wrong.

A question:  when the shower is in use, does the water level in the toilet fluctuate at all?  (Yes, I know, most people don't watch the toilet when they shower...)  How about if you put that washcloth over the shower drain and put an inch or two of water in the pan... then pull away the wash cloth and let-r-rip.  Does that affect the toilet water level?  This would indicate a blocked vent pipe.

I'm told I might have to pay now to answer questions as I seem to be having too much fun :dude:  Ashley, you're certainly finding plumbing to be a gas!

Yours,  Larry

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 Posted: Tue Jul 27th, 2010 01:24 pm
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ashley
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I certainly appreciate all of your help on this.  And yes, who knew plumbing could be so fun?  ;)

I definitely feel much more armed to deal with this situation now, if the peroxide doesn't take care of it.  Even in the discussion with my landlord- I can say I did my due diligence to try and resolve it on my own first. 

Thanks for your expertise!  Have a great day!

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