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Bad smell in basement could be sign of damage in home

Keeping the air in your basement clean and fresh can present extra challenges for homeowners. Many basements don't have windows or patio doors that can be opened to let in fresh air. And air circulation can sometimes be a problem.

That makes it tempting to shrug it off when something smells funny when you walk down the steps to your lower level. Resist that temptation, and find the source of the odor. It could be something simple − or a sign of damage about to begin.

Basement odors usually come from two sources: mold or sewer gas.

A bad smell in your basement could be a sign of water damage or mold.Mold

Mold can easily grow in basements, especially in those that don't have sump pumps and/or dehumidifiers. If you've had flooding or water seepage like we had last summer during the heavy rains, mold can start in carpets and padding that got soaked, like in the basement in the photo, and weren't quite dried out, or baseboards and drywall that got soaked.

Homeowners who suspect mold is causing bad odors will need to pull back carpets to check for black, pink or other discolored spots. They may also need to cut open some drywall to check the backing and insulation as well.

Minor cases of mold growth can probably be handled with appropriate home-cleaning procedures. For large areas, however, some experts recommend calling in professional help.

"While rare, it is possible for mold (especially "black mold") to be harmful, toxic, and/or carcinogenic to humans," according to Basement Systems in Seymour, CT. "Other molds are allergenic and may cause allergic reactions in some individuals."

Homeowners also need to be careful about the fumes created during the cleaning process, and be wary of combining cleaning products.

"Additionally, improper removal of mold can result in further mold issues down the road," Basement Systems says. "It can be common even among professionals to miss a mold source, leading to serious health and home renovation implications later on."

Sewer gas

That "rotten egg" smell in the basement is sewer gas, or hydrogen sulfide. It comes from decaying organic matter like sewage in your plumbing lines, according to The Scottish Plumber on Angie's List.

"When the home’s plumbing system is working properly, the naturally occurring hydrogen sulfide is directed up and out of the building through a vent system, which exits through the roof. No smell should be present," The Scottish Plumber says.

A gas odor can be a sign of a small problem, like a dried out water seal in a floor drain. On a bigger scale, it can also indicate a broken sewer line or vent stack.

Ignoring the smell can cause health problems for you and your family. "Hydrogen sulfide is dangerous even at low levels. Prolonged exposure to sewer gas can cause irritability, headaches, fatigue, sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, loss of appetite, poor memory and dizziness," The Scottish Plumber says. "It affects people and pets that are exposed to it over a long period of time. "

If you smell something strange in your basement and aren't sure what it is, call ABT Foundation Solutions at 920-733-4ABT (4228) or contact us online to set up an appointment for a free inspection. We can help you locate the source of the problem, determine the best solution, and help you keep your basement clean, dry, safe and odor-free for years to come.