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JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

Is there a way to prevent cigarette smoke from passing through walls?

Asked by JeSuisRickSpringfield (6988points) March 29th, 2015

I live in a duplex, and my new neighbors smoke. This wouldn’t be a problem except that I can smell it in all of the rooms that share a wall with their apartment (which is annoying, but also triggers my allergies for some reason). Is there anything I can do from my side to prevent the smell from passing into my apartment? Alternatively, is there something the landlords could put in the walls to keep the smoke on their side?

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17 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Are your walls papered or painted? Short of painting the wall with something completely impenetrable that would keep out every bit of air I don’t know what would work. And that might be hard to get paint to adhere to it. And I’m guessing you’d still get some infiltration from other sources. Any way to check Health Department regs or talk to the landlord? I would hate that situation.

janbb's avatar

Do you share any vents with the next apartment? My campus is smoke-free but we can tell immediately if a student is smoking outside because the smoke comes in through the ventilation system. Like you, I have an allergic reaction to it now.

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe The walls are painted. I’m trying to put off talking to the landlord because I’m not sure if they’re even allowed to smoke in the apartment, and I don’t want to be the guy who tattled before talking to them about it. But I will if it comes down to it.

@janbb Good question. I don’t think we share any vents, but I can’t be positive. The smell is always strongest against the wall, though, so I have no evidence that it’s coming in through the vents yet. I’ll see if I can check them today.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Do live in a temperate climate? I will assume “yes”.
Rather than venting your house and running an exhaust fan, use a fan to blow fresh air in. That will slightly pressurize your living space and reduce infiltration of your neighbor’s nasties. Turning on the bathroom fan or kitchen vent will draw air in from your neighbor and that is counterproductive. If you must use the vent be sure to open a window to allow fresh air in.
If you live someplace where it is cold, the positive pressure will cost you too much – unless you install a heat exchanger.
You always want the intake to be pushing harder than the exhaust.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@LuckyGuy Exactly. Get a positive air pressure in the rooms next to the neighbors would help keep the air from moving into his rooms if it’s practical.

Shovon22's avatar

Hi,really it’s a great post.Smoking is really very disgusting.Living in an apartment block, it can sometimes be a trial if you are plagued by the effects of secondhand smoke seeping into your home from another residence. The law may, or may not, be on your side and even where it is, the time needed to institute legal responses might result in secondhand smoke continuing to impinge on your quality of life for a long period of time. If you cannot move, there are some proactive steps that you can take to protect the quality of air that you breathe in your home.I think you should try to locate the entry point(s) of the secondhand smoke. Do not forget to consider balconies and outdoor patios as another possible source. Unfortunately, even the ventilation system can be a source.you can fit door draft excludes under doors that open into corridors or common areas.you may Install extractive window fans.

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ibstubro's avatar

Some suggestions gleaned from the net:
“We had the same problem in our bedroom, we pulled off the quarter rounds at the bottom of the baseboards and used great stuff expanding foam (http://greatstuff.dow.com/) shot into the crack around the floor. it worked like a charm.”
“I had this problem a while back and it seems like it was coming through the outlets on a wall between the apartments.” You can buy foam insulation blocks.
Have a blower door test done.
“Get an ozone generator. The small ones like ashtrey size don’t work get a good size one and you will never smell it again.”

If the expanding foam is too much, maybe just caulk.

jerv's avatar

Have you ever considered the possibility that your neighbors have nothing to do with this at all and the odor is the result of previous tenants? I mean, my neighbors tend to have some pretty fragrant cooking but it never seeps through the walls; it’s only when I go out on the shared porch or open a window in the front of my apartment that the odor get in. The only way I can think of odor going through a wall is if you and your neighbor are separated by a curtain… and a gauzy one at that as many fabrics are pretty opaque to odor, and most building materials (like sheetrock) are even moreso.

If you have any windows or doors, then the only thing that will really have any effect is positive ventilation as @LuckyGuy suggests… with either bottled air or an intake that pulls air from miles away to avoid sucking in “polluted” air because @Shovon22 is correct that the ventilation system could be a source, and since the odor seems to be coming in through your windows and doors.

But honestly, if you are that sensitive to cigarettes smoke, then living within a mile of anywhere that a smoker has been within the last month will cause you issues. But if you can be anywhere near a running automobile (which spews out FAR more of the same toxins) without going into anaphylactic shock and dying on the sidewalk, that tells me that it’s more of a psychosomatic thing than anything physical.

@ibstubro True, in practical terms there is no real difference between a vent duct and a hollow wall. Some places insulate interior walls/floors solely for purposes of sound dampening, so they aren’t truly “hollow” for purposes of ventilation, but as that adds cost while providing no benefit as far as heating/cooling goes, the practice is not universal. One easy way to tell is how easily one can hear their neighbors.
I do question the use of an ozone generator though. While high-level ozone is good for blocking UV rays, low/ground-level ozone is good for causing many of the same issues as smoking. As a person who doesn’t feel like losing up to 20% of my lung function or risk killing asthmatics who visit me, I think I’d pass on that one.

dabbler's avatar

Along with @ibstubro‘s suggestion to check the floorboards and other edges of the shared wall, I suggest to check the electrical outlets, air can easily get past the plates that cover them.
There are small plastic sheets, just smaller than the covers that seal to the wall and have cutouts for the outlets or switch. They’re made for people with allergies to molds that can live in walls but they’d work for smoke, too.

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

@LuckyGuy Technically, it counts as a “humid subtropical climate.” I’ll give the fan a try.

@ibstubro @dabbler Thanks! I’ll give all those things a try!

@jerv I’ve lived here for four years, They’ve lived here for six days. I’m pretty sure it’s them. And for what it’s worth, I can smell them cooking through the walls, too (just as I could with my old neighbors). But I don’t know why you think the odor is coming in through windows or doors. As stated in the OP, I only smell it in rooms along the shared walls (which don’t have any doors except out into the rest of my apartment). I do not smell it in any of the rooms with doors to the outside.

I also have my doubts that my reaction is psychosomatic. For one, I assumed it wouldn’t matter at first. So I started out with a psychological predisposition against having a reaction. Second, allergies don’t work the way you seem to think they do. People can be allergic to completely harmless things, so just because I’m allergic to cigarette smoke doesn’t mean I’m allergic to one of the toxins in it. Or to the ones it shares with car exhaust. And since I said nothing about the strength of my reaction, it’s a bit much to assume that car exhaust should kill me.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JeSuisRickSpringfield That’s great. It means a fan blowing into your apartment is not a big deal. Remember you want positive pressure in your place so you’ll need to blow outdoor air in – not the other way around. You only need the slightest pressure difference to do it. You can measure it with a Dwyer magnehelic (which you do not have) or, on a day when the wind is still, you can slightly open your front door and see if it swings closed or swings open – closed means positive pressure.
Good luck.

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

Thanks everyone!

@LuckyGuy Awesome. I’m going to look at fans tomorrow. Any recommendations, or does it even matter what kind of fan I get?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I was hesitant to recommend the candle test to detect air flow, but I’ll defer to @LuckyGuy‘s opinion.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I’m penurious- frugal, thrifty, practical, cheap, etc. I like the relatively inexpensive Lasko Ultra window box fans. They usually have 3 speeds and some come with a thermostat so they turn on and off automatically. I have one in my living room to circulate the hot air from my wood burning stove. When the temperature in the room is a little above 72F the fan turns on and blows the heated air down the hallway. When the stove burns out at night and the room cools down the fan turns off. Perfect.
Of course you can just leave it on and switch it manually. They move a lot of air. As further proof, have a friend turn it on and off while you stand in the bathroom with the vent fan on. You will hear the bathroom fan speed up when the window fan turns on, and slow down when it is off. Neat huh?
Remember you have to stop using your exhaust fans to “air out” the house. They cause negative pressure and draw in odors from next door.

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