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Why Does My Basement Stink?

Have you ever started down the stairs towards your basement, only to be met with an unpleasant smell? Or have you brought things out of basement storage only to find they smell moldy or musty? While there are many reasons your basement might stink, it is essential to identify the source of the odor. In some cases, a basement becomes smelly due to an unresolved water or mold issue and this can be not only unpleasant but can pose a health and safety risk. In older homes especially, there’s a good chance that there will be some issue with moisture in the basement, which can result in some of these unpleasant smells. Even if you’ve installed a sump pump, it may not be enough to combat the moisture and mold. Sometimes these smells are related to blockages in the plumbing, vents, drains, or HVAC system. A reputable home inspector can help you determine the cause of the odor and advise you on what possible repairs or installations will work to remedy the problem.

Is it Normal for a Basement to Smell Musty?

Basements present ideal conditions for a mold or mildew problem, resulting in a musty smell that can be stubborn and difficult to remove. Because some (or all) of the walls of a basement are built underground, the cold, damp soil that surrounds the walls can leech moisture into the basement. Moisture can also get into a basement from improper drainage or standing water issues. Mold and mildew thrive in areas where there is substantial humidity. While it is not nice to have a stinky basement, it is a common issue, especially in older homes.

What Causes a Smelly Basement? Why Does the Basement Smell Like Sewage?

Some of the most common causes of a stinky basement are:

High Moisture Levels – Water and moisture will find a way into the basement if there is one. Whether that is due to cracks in the drywall or flooring, improper ventilation, condensation build-up, or standing water. High moisture levels can also be the result of appliances that were installed incorrectly or do not have adequate drainage and ventilation.

Sewage/Plumbing Issues – If your basement has a sewage-type odor (as opposed to a musty smell) there is likely an issue with the drains in the basement floor. These rarely-used floor drains in your basement are the most common source of the sewer smell. They are designed with a trap to hold a minimal amount of water which works to seal the pipe and prevent sewer gases from escaping into your home. Over time, that seal can break as the water in the drain dries up, and can result in the release of sewer gas into the basement and result in an unfortunate odor. In some cases, a sewage smell in a basement can be due to the sewer line being damaged. If the damage is close enough to your home, sewage water (and its smell!) can back up into your home.

Animal Smells – Sometimes, a smelly basement can be the result of something unrelated to moisture, drains, or sewage. The most common of these are animal smells. Whether it is cat urine, animal feces, or the smell of a decomposing animal, these odors can be incredibly potent and difficult to remedy.

How Do You Get Rid of Basement Smells?

The first and most important step towards a nice-smelling basement is to identify the source of the smell. Start by doing a visual inspection of your basement, keeping an eye out for any signs of standing water, moisture damage, or mold. It can also be helpful to identify what kind of smell you are experiencing, as that will help to narrow down the possible causes. In many cases, identifying the source of the smell can prove to be very tricky and should be left to a professional home inspector to identify.

Once the source of the smell has been identified, the next steps will depend on the cause and severity of the smell. A home inspector can not only help to identify the source but can also offer sound advice on how to proceed. Some basements may require significant repairs, reinforcement of the walls, or the installation of a sump pump. In some cases, the floor drains may need to be resealed or completely replaced.

Basement smells can be stubborn and upsetting, and getting rid of them isn’t always simple or easy. A reputable home inspector is your best resource when it comes to eliminating this type of problem. If you want to learn more about how a home inspector can help with a stinky basement or to schedule a home inspection, contact us at Building Insights today!

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