Q: I have a 1951 Ballard home that emits an unpleasant odor (call it sewer-like) from a basement floor drain occasionally. It is intermittent and...

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Q:
I have a 1951 Ballard home that emits an unpleasant odor (call it sewer-like) from a basement floor drain occasionally. It is intermittent and especially strong during rainy periods.

All drains and the toilet are working fine.

What are the possibilities of sources for this fine smell?

A:
Your floor drain is connected to the same sewer system as your toilet, sinks and external downspout drains (of that vintage — newer homes’ external downspout drains do not connect to the sewer).

All these points of entry into the sewer system have “P” traps that prevent gases and smells from moving upward. Toilets, sinks and downspout drains continually are refreshed with new water.

Floor drains have less usage, so water in the traps tends to evaporate more readily. Leave a house vacant for a few months, the traps dry and these smells emanate from all fixtures. Phew!

Newer floor drains have automatic priming mechanisms that keep the trap full of water.

So where does that leave you and your stinky floor drain? You need to become the manual priming mechanism.

Once every few months take a large glass of water over to the floor drain and dump it in. This should fill the trap and eliminate the smell. If it were only so easy with my gas problem!

Q:
I am looking at installing the long-delayed trim in a few rooms that we have updated inside our home. I am confused about all the different styles and materials available. The guys at the local lumberyard seem a bit bewildered and aren’t much help, either.

Specifically, in one profile, why are there so many different materials, such as MDF, finger-jointed, hemlock, oak, etc.? What is appropriate?

A:
MDF (medium density fiberboard) is a composite material that is very easy to work with, never splits and paints up with great results. Plus, it is very cheap.

All great qualities indeed, but get it wet and it explodes like the proverbial wet paper bag. MDF should never be used where it could get wet, such as in a bathroom.

MDF is primed in the factory and therefore cannot be used where the look of stained wood is wanted. MDF gets painted only.

Finger-jointed wood is built of real sections of wood bonded together end-for-end. Finger-jointed material does not stain well, as the joints are readily visible.

It also should be limited to painted surfaces. Being composed of real wood, it will hold up better than MDF, and be straighter and cost less than traditional lumber.

Hemlock, fir, cherry, oak and other trim lumber are more expensive than the manufactured materials, but hold up better when subjected to extreme usage or water exposure. And they can be stained to provide the rich look of exposed grain.

Real wood is much harder to paint successfully; usually more difficult to work with; is subject to splintering, warping, and splitting; and costs more.

Another consideration is the difference between baseboard and casing in the same “profile.” Baseboard is used for trimming the floor, and therefore has a sharper edge at the thick end to allow it to butt closer to the wall and floor. Casing generally has a rounder edge to prevent injuries where people graze against a window or door trim.

So while you may be seeing two pieces of material that are complementary and look the same at first glance, you may in fact be dealing with two pieces that cannot be joined together.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages several rental properties. He answers readers’ questions. Call 206/464-8514 to record your question, or e-mail dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.