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October 29, 2004

The House Detective's Top 10 Home Defects


Barry Stone is "The House Detective," and he writes a weekly syndicated column that appears in the Saturday Washington Post Home section.

It's quite interesting and sensible advice he gives, though he mentions things that sometimes are a bit scary and perhaps over-the-top unlikely.

For example, last Saturday a homeowner asked the following question:

Q. My vacation home sits vacant for months at a time. When I return, the water always has a strong sulfur smell, like rotten eggs. What could be causing this problem? Is it unsafe? How can I keep it from happening?

A. Water heaters contain a specialized metal rod known as a sacrificial anode.

Its purpose is to absorb the corrosive effects of minerals in the water and thereby prevent deterioration of the water tank.

Gradual deterioration of this rod produces small quantities of sulfur and hydrogen gases.

When the water heater is used daily, these gases pass from the plumbing system without being noticed.

When the house is vacant and no water is drawn from the tank, the sulfur and hydrogen accumulate.

The sulfur dissolves in the water, causing the rotten egg smell you notice.

The way to eliminate this smell is to drain the tank to the yard, by way of a hose.

The sulfur itself isn't harmful; hydrogen, however, is highly combustible.

Hydrogen accumulates at the top of the water heater tank.

When it is released through open faucets, it can ignite or explode if exposed to a flame or spark.

For example, if the dishwasher is the first fixture you operate after you have been away from the property for a long time, the fixture can become filled with hydogen.

A spark from the electronic controls can cause the appliance to blow up.

For this reason, draining your water heater to the exterior is doubly recommended.

To prevent the formation of gases in your water heater, you can winterize the plumbing system.

This involves opening all faucets, turning off the main water supply valve to the building, and draining the water heater.


Seems like an awful lot of effort to avoid a home Hindenburg-like event, which I must say I've never ever heard of happening.

Of course, I said the same thing about the urban legend of cell phones exploding and burning their users at gas stations.

Until I read a report a couple months ago that it really happened to a college student in upstate New York.

They quoted the firemen who responded by name in the story, so I gotta believe it's for real.

Still, exploding dishwashers?

Enough of catastrophizing.

Here's something useful.

Below, find a list of the House Detective's Top 10 Home Defects

• Roofing Defects

• Ceiling Stains

• Water Intrusion

• Electrical Safety Hazards

• Rotting Wood On & Around Plumbing

• Building Violations on Additions

• Unsafe Fireplaces & Chimney Conditions

• Faulty Installation of Water Heaters

• Hazardous Conditions Involving Gas Heaters

• Firewall Violations in Garages

October 29, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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