Each year, thousands of Arizona residents email or call our radio show with questions about everything from preventing fires in their chimneys to getting rid of tree roots in their sewer systems. Our goal is to provide answers that suit the specific lifestyle wherever someone lives in Arizona. Here are questions about home maintenance and improvement from the Tucson area.
QUESTION: Sometimes I detect an odor that smells like sewer gas coming from my plumbing. Do you know the cause and how I can fix it?
ANSWER: There are three things we always suggest as possible solutions when homeowners complain about plumbing odors in their home or backyard:
Sometimes that semipermanent bad smell in your bathroom or kitchen or backyard is really a problem starting on your roof where your plumbing system has a vent. In many cases, the vent isn’t tall enough. When a gust of wind comes along, it can blow those smelly gases across your roof and into your yard. The wind can even blow methane gas back into your house through a window or back down the vent. This isn’t just a problem for older homes; it can happen in new construction. But it can be fixed with minimal effort. First, you need an extension of ABS pipe on the end of that vent pipe. That should do the trick.
If not, add a charcoal filter to the vent to absorb the gases or an in-line powered ventilating fan to blow them away or do both.
Pour an enzyme-based cleaner down the overflow on your bathroom sinks. I also do regular maintenance by pouring it down my drains at night, and then rinse all the drains with water the next morning. If you have a bathroom or sink that doesn’t get used on a regular basis, flush the toilet, and fill the p-traps – the curving pipe under the sink — by running water down the shower and bathroom drains on a monthly basis.
Q: How often do you need to empty your septic tank? Is there a rule of thumb?
A: The rule of thumb for preventing septic tank problems is directly dependent on the number of people that are living in your home and how much use the septic tank gets. It can be years between pumping, if it’s just a couple’s summer home.
At any rate, call a pumping company to inspect your septic system every three to five years. Depending on how much sludge has built up in your tank, you may have to have it pumped, or you may have to have it pumped and cleaned. Pumping removes the liquid and the scum that floats on top of the water; cleaning removes the sludge that settles on the bottom.
The best way to decide when to pump the tank is to watch for the warning signs! Listen for gurgling in your sinks throughout the house – mainly the one closest to the tank itself. Another indicator is when the water in sinks or toilets starts to come up before it goes down, or if an odor develops outside. When in doubt, call a reputable septic service company before you end up with a nasty flood on your hands.
Q: I can get almost anything to grow from seeds in my vegetable garden here in Southern Arizona, except for chile peppers. I’ve tried different soil mixtures; I’ve tried doing it in the dark. Nothing works. Should I try soaking them in vinegar first before putting them in the ground?
A: Chile peppers are definitely some of the hardest plants to grow from seeds. Sometimes soaking seeds in a mildly acidic solution like vinegar does help them to start germinating. Why don’t you give it a try? Either that, or you’re probably better off buying seedlings from a nursery.