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House is full of toxic fumes from neighbor's renovation -- what to do?
December 4, 2012 7:20 PM   Subscribe

The workers renovating the unoccupied twin (semi-attached) house adjoining ours have been using various solvents of unknown origin. Whatever they are, the smell is terrible. I peeked through the windows of the house and it looks like they might be sealing the floors with polyeurothane. They're not ventilating the house and they close all the windows at night. Due to health concerns we have left the house and are staying at a hotel for the night. I would like to know what risks, if any, there exist from these kinds of fumes, what I can do to resolve this, and whether it's at all possible to get some kind of compensation from the house's owner.


I'm pretty upset about this. This is not the first evening we have had problems with fumes. We even called the fire department once because it genuinely smelled like a gas leak coming in through the shared wall into our basement. I suspect that whoever owns this house is trying to flip it as cheaply as possible and is going with cheap and fast drying (and therefore not low-VOC paints, primers, etc.)

We've tolerated the loud noise and dealt with the fumes as best as we can in the past, including opening all of the windows and using every fan in the house, along with a window fan. This time it just didn't work: the fumes are everywhere and smells genuinely toxic.

Just to be clear: a twin home is basically two mirror-image homes built into a single building with a shared separating wall. It's very common in the neighborhood where we live.
posted by Deathalicious to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I should add that we have a young 14 month old toddler and that played a large role in this as well. We definitely did not want to expose him to whatever fumes are pouring into our house.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:23 PM on December 4, 2012


nobody will be able to answer your question about compensation possibilities without knowing your jurisdiction.
posted by russm at 7:34 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it makes a difference whether the home is owned by someone who intends to live there or not. I would check the local (county level in US) property registry (often online) and see if the unit was sold recently. Also, I assume you own your property; if not, I would suggest going through your landlord.
posted by Morrigan at 7:35 PM on December 4, 2012


Profile says Philadelphia.

Have you talked with the owner?
posted by amanda at 7:35 PM on December 4, 2012


I don't think there is any connection between toxicity and smell. The smell of natural gas is artificial, it's added so you can smell a gas leak. Dangerous stuff can smell bad, as can harmless stuff. It might suck, it might smell bad, but the odds of any health issues (assuming you are all generally healthy) from a couple of days of smelling floor varnish are slim to none. That said, a reduction in rent (if you are a renter) for your home not being habitable from the smell is certainly a reasonable thing to ask for. Doesn't mean you will get it, but you can ask.
posted by COD at 7:37 PM on December 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Knock on the door and ask them what they're using and when they think they'll be done.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:47 PM on December 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


To expand on what others have suggested, I think conversations are a good starting point: with the contractors and the owner of the unit. They should be able to improve the ventilation pretty easily.
posted by alms at 7:58 PM on December 4, 2012


What you would want, if it were possible, would be to request the MSDS of whatever is being used over there. Without knowing what it is, there's really no way to say what the risks are. VOCs are probably a good guess (because they're in a ton of household products), and if you aren't having any symptoms after your exposure, then there is probably very little to worry about (most of the low level symptoms are like eye/throat irritation, nausea, headache). Some such compounds are also carcinogenic, but a few hours of mild exposure isn't going to impart significant risk. Really, it's impossible to speculate on these things without knowing what you were exposed to, how long you were exposed to it, etc.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:32 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


amanda: "Profile says Philadelphia.

Have you talked with the owner?
"

Yeah, sorry. It's Philly.

We have never been contacted by the owner. The only people ever there are the workers. We're planning on going back to the house and ask them for the owner's contact information.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:37 PM on December 4, 2012


Morrigan: "I think it makes a difference whether the home is owned by someone who intends to live there or not. I would check the local (county level in US) property registry (often online) and see if the unit was sold recently. Also, I assume you own your property; if not, I would suggest going through your landlord."

We own our house.

I am nearly certain the owner is flipping the house. It sold this September for way below market (although it was in some disrepair). It was never really listed or advertised.

ThatCanadianGirl: "Knock on the door and ask them what they're using and when they think they'll be done."

The workers have been remarkably unhelpful in this. The communication with them is extremely poor, not helped by some language issues. When we had issues with this on a previous occasion they told us they wouldn't be doing any more painting (which is why we assume this is not just paint) but overall they shrugged off our concerns and haven't made any real efforts to improve ventilation. Of course, this does lead me to wonder about their health too. :)


COD: "I don't think there is any connection between toxicity and smell. The smell of natural gas is artificial, it's added so you can smell a gas leak. Dangerous stuff can smell bad, as can harmless stuff. It might suck, it might smell bad, but the odds of any health issues (assuming you are all generally healthy) from a couple of days of smelling floor varnish are slim to none. That said, a reduction in rent (if you are a renter) for your home not being habitable from the smell is certainly a reasonable thing to ask for. Doesn't mean you will get it, but you can ask."

We're owners so there's nothing we can do on that front. Our concern about safety came from this related question about polyurethane fumes. Up until that point we were contemplating roughing it out in the house. Since we don't know what exactly is in the house, and since every inch of the house is filled with fumes that were making my wife feel sick and dizzy, we thought we should play it safe and head to the hotel.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:52 PM on December 4, 2012


I really think you need to find out who the owner is asap, and contact him/her. Not sure how you would go about this, as I am not even in the same country as you, but there must be some kind of registry. Do you know/remember the name of the real estate agent the property was sold through? Not that they'd necessarily give out those details to you, but they might be willing to pass your details on to the owner.

What I would *not* do, in your shoes, is camp out in a hotel for any period of time and then rely on getting compensation out of the owner after the fact. (Not implying that you're doing this in any kind of scammy way, at all; I totally understand your concerns. Just worried that you may end up out badly out-of-pocket.)
posted by Salamander at 9:08 PM on December 4, 2012


If you look on Redfin for your area and select "Sale Records" in the options dropdown, you ought to be able to at least find out the name of the buyer's agent. This should give you enough to get in touch with the agent who could presumably then put you in touch with the owners. If this property was ever on the MLS at all, the sale record ought to be on there.
posted by town of cats at 9:14 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's almost certainly - as you guessed, polyurethane floor coating. The reason they lock the house up tight is that as it's drying any dust or particles will stick into it and ruin the finish somewhat.

To help put your mind at ease, From this website:

"Solvent based polyurethanes typically contain 40-70% solvent which is highly volatile; 24 hours after application, almost no solvent is detectable."

You are basically out of the woods, now, safety-wise.

Chronic exposure to this sealant can be harmful, for sure. But the wonderful thing about VOCs is the "v". They will be and are evaporating. This process can vary depending on humidity and weather, but in my experience, assuming it is neither too warm nor too cold, will noticeably reduce in terms of stinkiness before or around day 3. The good news for you is that the oil-based coatings - which smell much worse - also dry much faster.

After a week the smell will probably still be noticeable but not annoyingly so.

I feel for you, this stuff really stinks. But most of the problems with VOCs arise from chronic (i.e. constant and long term) exposure, not what you are experiencing. This is not to trivialise the unpleasantness of it, or the low grade symptoms you may have (irritated eyes seem to be common) - or the placebo effect after reading about VOC poisoning symptoms. But, unless they have used a shit-tonne of coating and are pretty much blew the fumes directly into your house, and you proceeded to lie on the floor huffing, it would be unlikely your exposure levels will be harmful over the long haul.
posted by smoke at 9:21 PM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


You can get owner names from tax records (a la http://www.phila.gov/revenue/realestatetax/default.aspx). That's a start at least, if the workers next door won't give you any info (though you may just want to ask them when they next expect the owner to pop by the property; can't imagine they're working completely unsupervised).
posted by jenh at 9:24 PM on December 4, 2012


Search the dumpster to see what product they are using and to see if there is a contact number or consumer number on the container. I would call them first, although their info is somewhat suspect. I would then call poison control and ask them what they think.

I think asking the workers for the owner's info without some sort of conversation with them about what it is they are using and doing and for how long will come across as hostile and may get a poorer response than you already seem to have gotten from them on other issues.

I would do my best to explain that whatever it is they are doing is causing the young deathalicaous to feel sick and you just wanted some information to tell the doctor. Appeal to their softer side.

Not sure what talking to the owner will do. S/He will simply tell you they are fixing it up and need to paint and refinish the floors. I am not even sure they will know how long in a specific way each item will take. My guess is they say they expect the entire project to be finished by the first of the year or some such vague date.

I would explain your concerns especially about toddler and see what they say. I would make it as personal as possible so maybe they feel guilty or want to get off as a good neighbor. "Do you have any kids? When are you moving in? We would love to have you over as soon as you get settled in." Type things. If they go hostile or tell you they are flipping it, somehow remind them that it is really hard to sell an attached house when the neighbors to be are loud, cook smelly dinners, have a loud dog, or whatever other annoyance you can think of or actually might have. Leaving the front of the house looking like crap with kids toys and trash cans etc, will make finding a buyer harder too.

Somehow get the point across that you are both better off working on a solution together.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:20 PM on December 4, 2012


I think that if they became hostile I would be direct and say something like "you understand, of course, that when trying to sell a house it is an asset to be on good terms with the neighbors, especially in an attached home - so we both have an interest in finding a solution together." Rather than making any sort of veiled threat that would imply you would try to sabotage their home sale.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:27 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe smoke’s post is doing you an incredible disservice. He’s basically saying you’ve got nothing to worry about when he has no way of knowing that. He starts with It’s almost certainly - as you guessed, polyurethane floor coating. And then links to a site about safety concerns. Well what exactly is that site, it isn’t the EPA, it’s an Australian building site and the referenced article deals with worker safety, which is not toddler safety. So you’re starting with the assumption that poly is what is being put down, and then assuming the information on the site is accurate?

Let’s assume it is poly being put down, these coatings are almost always sanded between coats. Have you ever tried to sand and area of a house and close it off to other portions, it’s nearly impossible. smoke is wrong when he says oil based coatings dry faster, water base dries fast, oil bases can take many days to dry, and because of this workers are famous for turning on the heating system to aid the drying process , dispersing fumes and sanding dust everywhere. Countless families have been sickened after moving into brand new homes and turning on HVAC systems whose ducts are filled with sheetrock and building dust.

I’m sure you know the toxic level of fumes from coating is not the same for children as it is for adults, read the warnings on the side of a low VOC latex paint and decide if you’d want a toddler exposed to that. And the dust could pose a far greater risk. Because particles from sanding operations are so small, they can pose enormous risk as they lodge in the deepest recesses of the lung and stay there.

But, unless they have used a shit-tonne of coating and are pretty much blew the fumes directly into your house, and you proceeded to lie on the floor huffing, it would be unlikely your exposure levels will be harmful over the long haul.
This is the most incredible statement. Firstly, the fumes are already in your home, so assume anything that’s floating around next door is also in your house, and your toddler is on the floor, collecting dust that’s there and transferring it to his mouth. (This is precisely how children get lead poisoning) And it’s unlikely your exposure will be harmful over the long haul, is that the assurance you want for your child’s health, it’s unlikely?

If you have strong odors from fumes in your house, ASSUME THEY ARE HAMRFUL TO YOUR CHILD, and remove him or her. And keep the baby out until you KNOW what is there and what they’re doing. Your kid can’t protect himself and you can’t undo certain types of damage.
posted by PaulBGoode at 1:06 AM on December 5, 2012


I'm very skeptical than hazardous levels of anything can be getting into your place, but oil-base poly fumes are really unpleasant and you have my sympathy. Have you tried to figure out how the fumes are getting from the neighboring house into yours? The stuff doesn't go through painted sheetrock, and the two HVAC systems should be completely separate. Are the basements separated by a concrete wall? Any leaks down there, maybe between the foundation and the wood framing? If you get lucky, you might find a gap that can be filled with a $5 can of spray foam. I'd also sniff along the baseboards on that shared wall, to gauge whether a bead of caulk there would help.

Wherever it's coming in, part of the reason is going to be that you've got various appliances going that lower the air pressure a bit -- the furnace, especially if it's not a newish high-efficiency model, is likely to be pulling combustion air from the house and sending it out through the exhaust. Bathroom fans and kitchen range hoods do the same. When air gets pumped out like this, it's like turning your house into a vacuum cleaner. Replacement air gets sucked in from any available source, including though unsealed gaps in a shared wall.

Besides sealing up gaps, you can try to tip the balance in your favor by using exhaust fans as little as possible, and by cracking a window open in a wall as far as possible from the neighbor so that the furnace/bathroom vent/range hood/etc. draw most of the replacement air from the great outdoors. You might also ask the workers (pretty please, here have a 6-pack, thank you so much, good luck with the job) to switch on a bathroom vent fan over there, and to leave it on even overnight, to lower the pressure relative to yours. A bath fan won't screw up their floor finish, and will actually work even better(for your purposes) if their windows and doors are all tightly closed.
posted by jon1270 at 2:05 AM on December 5, 2012


OP, here's an American page with some more info from the NYC board of health. Emphasis mine.
Are MCUs dangerous to health?

MCUs contain solvents and reactive chemicals that evaporate into the air and cause strong odors. Brief exposures to elevated levels of MCU vapors can cause temporary irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, worsen asthma, and cause health effects such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Very high and/or long-term (e.g. lifetime) exposures can lead to more serious health effects such as organ damage, birth defects or pregnancy complications, chemical allergies, and, possibly, cancer.

How can I avoid health problems if my neighbor or I use MCU on wood floors?

First, you should always consider using a safer and less volatile product. If MCU is being applied in your home, it is recommended that you leave your home until the product fully cures (more than 48 hours) or until the odors subside. When you return to your home, open windows and doors to air out lingering odors. If your neighbor uses MCU and you live in a multi-family building, ventilate common hallways and stairwells during application and curing to remove odors and vapors.

Will the finished product cause health problems?

After the MCU is applied, the curing process begins and the liquid coating is transformed into a hardened surface. The hardened surface is generally considered to be inert and non-hazardous.
I suspect this won't put Paul's mind to rest, but it may yours.
posted by smoke at 2:41 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Update: due to the generosity of our kids doting grandmother, we have been put up for another day in the hotel. Based on the fairly significant amount of fumes in our house seems like it makes sense for us to stay here, especially if smoke's comment, which was meant to downplay the risk, itself says you should not be in the house during the 48 hour curing time. My hope is that they did all the floors in one day, but as it's a 3 floor house it's entirely possible that this will stretch over a few days. At which point we will at least look for a cheaper place to stay and/or consider staying with friends.

jon1270's comments are interesting; it never occurred to me this might be due to a vacuum imbalance. This is a very old house and the shared wall may not be sheetrock; it's probably plasterboard. Not sure if that makes a difference. But it probably means that the solution I tried -- turning on a window fan -- might actually be sucking more fumes up into the house! I will definitely ask the workers if they can turn on any exhaust fans that there are in the house, although I suspect that there aren't any other than maybe from the range hood (although that may not even be installed & operational yet). The smell is definitely strongest in the basement so it must be coming in through some gaps or cracks in the wall. Unfortunately overall the smell is so overpowering there that I doubt I could locate the source of the leak into our home. We opened a window in the basement; I am not sure if this helps or hurts in terms of air pressure. Maybe adding a window fan that was blowing air into the basement would help.

One thing that hasn't really been answered -- does anyone think it is reasonable for me to ask the owner to compensate me for my hotel costs?
posted by Deathalicious at 6:00 AM on December 5, 2012


Geez, I'd call the city/county building inspector and talk to them. "Hey, the guy in the house next door is rennovating and using really noxious smelling products. It's so bad I've removed my family. Is there anyone who can stop over there to check out to insure that the products they're using are appropriate for the job. Also, what have they pulled permits for? They won't talk to me and the noise and fumes are disturbing me."


You can shut this down INSTANTLY if they're doing unpermitted work.

Google the address, home sales are public records, so you should be able to get the owner's name from them.

Send a demand letter to the owner, outlining the situation and showing bills from the hotel. At the very least it should open a dialog.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:09 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


You can use the vacuum imbalance effect in your favorite by reversing the direction of your window fan, i.e. turn it around so it blows air *into* your house. You'll be sucking in clean air from outside and increasing air pressure in your house which will make it harder for fumes to infiltrate.
posted by alms at 6:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The bunny may sound ruthless but there's something to that perspective. If you don't know the owners and there's a high likelihood of it being a flip then there's not much value in a relationship with them. So 'going nuclear' and playing the permit card might sound extreme but it might also be your best recourse for getting the situation put right. It will certainly make the job take longer though, so you'd have to decide if that's tolerable or not.

I'd start by getting the actual owners on the phone, or in person, and having a reasonable conversation about the hassles the work is presenting for you and your family. The owner might be a lot more reasonable that what the subcontractors are presenting. Or they might be jerks. Better for your own sake to at least try the person-to-person route first before playing other cards...
posted by wkearney99 at 7:02 AM on December 5, 2012


Returned to the house and there are no workers here today. I really wonder if they're gone precisely because of the fumes.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:13 AM on December 5, 2012


If jenh's link doesn't provide any results for the property owner, you can try this one.
posted by orme at 9:37 AM on December 5, 2012


The smell is definitely strongest in the basement so it must be coming in through some gaps or cracks in the wall.

I also live in Philly, but in a row home. You may be able to seal around where your floor joists go into the party wall, as this is a good place for openings to exist between the two homes. When I renovated my kitchen, I actually found openings at the second floor joists that were big enough that I could see the drop ceiling in the next door kitchen! Get some expanding spray foam insulation and go to town.
posted by orme at 9:44 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Deathalicious, I think it's reasonable for you to ask the owner for hotel costs under the circumstances, but just in case you aren't reimbursed, I recommend calling in favors from friends and family first. (When the floors were done in my home, we were told it was safe to stay on the other side of the house and continue our lives as normal, but the smell from the coating made me so dizzy and nauseous, by that evening I was violently ill. It took me weeks to get back to normal. Don't try to tolerate those fumes if anyone in your family are already suffering the effects; it's not worth it. Just get out.)

Start documenting. Make note of when and how many times you tried to contact the owner to resolve this and the results of those encounters. Keep receipts for any and all expenses this issue has caused you to incur. Go to the doctor and keep notes on what ill effects your family members have suffered. Hopefully, the owner will be easy to locate and reasonable to deal with, but just in case you have to go to small claims court, at least you'll be prepared.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:27 AM on December 5, 2012


You can search by address in Philadelphia on the Philadelphia Office of Property Assessment website, which might be of assistance in determining the owner. I am not sure how often it is updated, so if the sale took place recently it might be out of date. A call to the office in that case might be more fruitful.

http://opa.phila.gov/opa.apps/Search/Disclaimer/disclaimer.aspx?url=search
posted by citygirl at 10:34 AM on December 5, 2012


Plaster or drywall, makes no difference. There have to be some sizable holes for the sort of problem you're having. The most likely area is the basement, and the fact that the smell is strongest there is pretty solid confirmation. Grab a flashlight and, ike orme suggested, look at the top of the shared wall where the framing meets concrete or stone. That's a very likely area for it to be coming through. Post a pic or two, and I'd be surprised if we can't draw arrows pointing to the problem.
posted by jon1270 at 11:26 AM on December 5, 2012


Well, smoke suspects right, his link does not put mind to rest, just the opposite, and it shouldn’t put yours. It is not an exaggeration to say these MCU coating are a toxic soup. Xylene, benzene, toluene and diisocyanates are all incredibly hazardous substances for which I would guess there is no safe level of exposure for an 18 month old child. The idea that you could run around your basement trying to stuff up the cracks and it would somehow change the fact that current environment is dangerous for your child I think is misguided. Ya know, trying to get a negative air pressure in your house is good idea, but if it gives you a false sense that it’s now ok for the kid to come back, then it’s a bad idea.

Also from smoke’s link to NYC Board of Health..MCU contains diisocyanates, typically toluene diisocyanate (TDI), as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), predominantly xylenes and ethyl benzene. These volatile chemicals are released into the air during MCU application and curing [1,2,3]. The DOHMH investigation demonstrated that VOCs — particularly ethyl benzene and xylenes — and TDI were found outside of apartments in which the MCU was applied [1].

The reason you smell this most strongly in the basement is that these fumes are heavier than air, so it’s sinking down there. John1270 wrote Plaster or drywall, makes no difference. There have to be some sizable holes for the sort of problem you're having. Well right on the first part wrong on the second. Composition of the wall makes little difference, but you don’t need sizable holes, we’re talking vapors not golf balls. The vapors will seep through any spaces in baseboard molding, shoe molding, floor cracks, plumbing and electrical fixtures, any space, of which there is abundance in old homes. The point is you can’t seal these vapors out, it’s impossible.

From the CDC.. data suggest that pregnant women, fetuses, and very young children could be unusually susceptible to the toxic effects of xylenes [11]. The ability of fetuses and very young children to metabolize certain xenobiotics (i.e., chemicals not naturally found in the body) is reduced because of their immature enzyme detoxification systems There are differences between children and adults in chemical exposure rates, absorption, metabolism, and organ development, making children uniquely vulnerable to environmental hazards.
Because children are still growing and developing, they have “windows of vulnerability” when their target organs could be more susceptible to environmental toxins. An example of this “window of vulnerability” involves the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is generally incompletely formed until age 2–3 years, increasing the potential for neurotoxic effects from certain exposures]. In addition, growing and developing children are vulnerable to toxins, which have the potential to reduce or arrest some aspect of growth and development.


What you do know is there are some dangerous compounds floating around inside your house right now, what don’t and can’t know is the level of risk you’re exposing your child too. On a scale of 1 to 100, it’s not 0 and not 100, but what level is acceptable for an 18 month old. And for people to presume they know and tell you to caulk up the cracks and put a fan in the window to my mind is irresponsible. I certainly don’t know how dangerous that environment is, but you can at the very least keep the child out until you no longer smell fumes, why take a chance.
posted by PaulBGoode at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2012


orme: "The smell is definitely strongest in the basement so it must be coming in through some gaps or cracks in the wall.

I also live in Philly, but in a row home. You may be able to seal around where your floor joists go into the party wall, as this is a good place for openings to exist between the two homes. When I renovated my kitchen, I actually found openings at the second floor joists that were big enough that I could see the drop ceiling in the next door kitchen! Get some expanding spray foam insulation and go to town.
"

Yup, checked the basement and there are totally gaps where the joists are. I'll definitely look into filling them in.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:38 PM on December 5, 2012


LuckySeven~: "Deathalicious, I think it's reasonable for you to ask the owner for hotel costs under the circumstances, but just in case you aren't reimbursed, I recommend calling in favors from friends and family first. (When the floors were done in my home, we were told it was safe to stay on the other side of the house and continue our lives as normal, but the smell from the coating made me so dizzy and nauseous, by that evening I was violently ill. It took me weeks to get back to normal. Don't try to tolerate those fumes if anyone in your family are already suffering the effects; it's not worth it. Just get out.)"

We absolutely contemplated it. There were a couple of mitigating factors: 1) we had a houseguest, so we didn't totally feel great about inviting him into a friends' home as well 2) every one of our nearby friends has a young kid now, so we didn't feel right to impose on them in the very last minute. If we had made the decision to leave the house in the afternoon, we probably would have looked into that as an option, but by the time we considered it it was nearly 9 pm.

Of all things, that's what I feel the worst about: he had to pay for a hotel room too. I think he wouldn't want us to pay but I doubt we'll be able to get reimbursed for our stay, let alone his. If we do get reimbursed just for ours, I'm covering his costs first. He's had to find last-minute accommodations for the rest of his stay.

Oh, and Update: after a whole day of windows open and furnace off, there doesn't seem to be any remaining fumes in the house, so we can definitely return first thing tomorrow.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:47 PM on December 5, 2012


Between smoke and Paul I feel I was able to get something like a balanced viewpoint. I don't think we're in great danger but I'm glad we didn't shrug it off and spend tonight there.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:08 PM on December 5, 2012


you don’t need sizable holes, we’re talking vapors not golf balls.

This may get deleted as a derail, but so be it. You don't need sizable holes to allow small amounts of gas to pass through; you got that part right. But when you're talking about relatively high concentrations of vapors, as the OP clearly described, moving quickly from one space to another with the small pressure differential that can reasonably be expected to exist between 2 halves of an old house, you do indeed need rather large openings.
posted by jon1270 at 6:27 PM on December 5, 2012


FOLLOWUP:

Not sure how it was that the gas was getting through but I can confirm that there were no visible large openings that I could see. There were a couple of holes maybe the size of dimes or quarters; maybe that qualifies? I still haven't filled them in; the construction/rehab of the house has completed and so smells aren't an issue for now.

I am somewhat concerned since through the window I can see they installed some kind of fireplace. If there is some kind of cross-ventilation happening in our house I would hate for our side to suddenly fill up with smoke. If that happens you'd better believe I'm calling all kinds of city departments.

The owner of the house, who again I'm pretty sure has no intention of living there, did not respond to a note we left on the door saying we needed to get in touch with him. When I checked back, the note had been removed from the door but we heard from no one. We do have a mailing address and will send a certified letter to the owner once we return from visiting the family for the holidays (I realize we should have done something right away).

No one got sick from the fumes; I don't regret at all spending the two nights away from the house; my only real disappointment was our guest who is out the money for the hotel and who opted to find a hotel to stay at rather than crashing at our house for the remaining days of the trip. I feel really bad about it, but I doubt the owner will cover that. If we get any money from the owner it will go to my friend first, since he was in some ways hit the worst by this.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:02 PM on December 31, 2012


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