Your Place: Tracking a strange sewer odor to its source

We'll begin today's exercise with advice from Bill Saunders of Whately, Mass.

"A recent reader raised a question about an unexplained sewer odor in his bathroom.

"I had the same problem and came up with all kinds of theories - dry drain trap, leaks. After a very long time, I stumbled over the answer. There is a lever mechanism in the drain just below the sink, and hair in the drain water gets caught on this lever and accumulates into a thick, sticky wad. If left long enough, it rots and stinks to high heaven. It is easy to remove by using a length of stiff wire with a hook on the end."

Another bit of advice from Joyce Gerritsen, about cracking paint on older plaster walls:

"I am currently repairing the walls in a 1947 cottage that has many areas of cracking paint over the old plaster walls.

"I asked our home inspector about it before we purchased, thinking it might be a moisture problem. He found no moisture but said he sees it a lot in these older houses, usually caused by using latex paint directly over the old lead paint.

"His recommendation was to get all the loose or cracked areas off, then use an oil-based primer before repainting. I don't know if this is the problem you were contacted about, but it sounds similar.

"I am still repairing and repainting room by room, but the cracks have not returned in the first rooms I redid."

Question: We own a GE side-by-side refrigerator that is about 6 years old, with the water and ice dispenser in the freezer door.

Several months ago, the water dispenser stopped working, although the ice dispenser and ice cube maker work fine.

I called the serviceman, who diagnosed a frozen water line in the door. His solutions were to replace the door, at a cost of about $600, or to turn off the fridge and let it thaw out. This is not practical, as we don't have another refrigerator to put the food in.

Also, what's to prevent the line from refreezing?

I got a second opinion from a different guy, and it was basically the same solution, except he said that over time, the insulation in the door probably had absorbed moisture, causing it to freeze.

I would be interested to get your opinion as to what can be done, if anything.

Answer: A YouTube video dealing with this very problem said there is a heating kit you can attach to the line that will stop it from happening. The video is at

There is also an eHow entry that covers the topic at

Safety first. Hurricane season is upon us, and recalling how Irene affected many parts of the region last August, you should at least create an emergency kit.

Here are some things to include, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Water. One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.

Food. At least a three-day supply of nonperishable food.

Communication. Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both. 

Flashlight and extra batteries.

First-aid kit.

Whistle to signal for help.

Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place.

Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.

Manual can opener for food.

Local maps.

Cellphone with chargers, inverter or solar charger.

More information is available from


Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.