Sealing a door from exhaust fumes. Difficulty level: rental.
September 15, 2013 9:32 AM   Subscribe

There is a door between my apartment and my landlords' garage. On the garage side, the cracks around the door are taped over with some sort of tape, and there is a big piece of styrofoam which blocks noise reasonably well. There is a nice air exchanger system in the apartment. But right next to this door is a bathroom which is a bit of an air circulation dead-end, and still smells a bit exhaust-y on occasion. What additional non-permanent steps can I take, affecting my side of the door, to further seal it off?

I'm thinking tape + plastic sheeting + something attractive to cover over the ugly? But what sort of tape? Painters tape would protect the paint on the door frame, but probably not be the best option for airflow impermeability. What are some other reasonable options? Thanks!
posted by eviemath to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Can you still open the door? If so, I'd attach some foam weatherseal tape strips along the inside of the door jamb, so that the door compresses against the foam when it closes, which will provide even more of an airtight seal.
posted by suedehead at 10:02 AM on September 15, 2013

I've had lots of success filling cracks and cavities with expanding foam. Try putting a bright light in one of the rooms and keep the other dark - see if you see any gaps filled with light. If so this is the first place to start. If it's inside the door frame foam might work, around the frame itself get some weather stripping...Another trick is to buy/borrow an IR thermometer and search for cold or warm spots on the wall indicating the lack of insulation and/or the flow of air...

Do not assume that the door is the only source of air flow between the two rooms - or that the paths are visible.

Not quite on topic but - I would stick a carbon monoxide detector in the room...if you start to see appreciable levels ask your landlord to fix the problem.

One final suggestion if this is a useful emergency exit do not do anything so permanent that it might restrict you from exiting in a real emergency...
posted by NoDef at 10:38 AM on September 15, 2013

Here's what the CMHC has to say about it. Weatherstripping is your first option. Then you have two further things you can do:

1) Create a pressure differential so that the air moves from your apartment to the garage and not the other way around; unfortunately the easiest way to do it is to install an exhaust fan inside the garage, which will require your landlord's intervention.

2) Improve the airtightness of the wall between your apartment and the garage. I can't see a way of doing this in a temporary and effective way; you'll need to talk to your landlord for this too.

One possibility to do 1) without your landlord's intervention might be to set your air exchanger so that it pushes more air into your apartment than it pulls out.

Making sure exhaust fumes don't get into your apartment will benefit you and any subsequent occupants. If the weatherstripping doesn't solve the problem, I would try talking your landlord into doing the exhaust fan (fairly cheap, it could be connected so you're the one paying for the electricity), or the air sealing. Sealing would be more expensive, especially if you put foam inside the wall cavity: you need a professional to do it as the DIY stuff won't seal properly. However, just going for gypsum board + tape + paint and sealant on the garage side might be enough.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have a good plan, but two points - painter's tape doesn't protect paint long-term, so probably you're right to set that aside. It removes easily within a few days, but if you leave it for months, it can pull paint up. (Ask me how I know.)

And seconding that you want to have a carbon monoxide detector in that area. They're as cheap and easy to install as a smoke detector.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:41 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of great suggestions, especially having a carbon monoxide detector in any apartment, especially one next to a garage! They are available in smoke alarms as well.

Do you live in a place with a winter climate? I'd seal that interior door just as I would my windows in winter, with heat shrink plastic sheeting. The idea is that it blocks drafts, and in your case that's essentially what you want. Kits are available for windows and for sliding glass doors, so you just make sure your largest dimension is covered by whatever kit you buy. Available starting in fall just about everywhere that has a winter climate. Hardware stores, Walmart, probably even larger grocery stores.

Just follow instructions by running the double-stick tape around the periphery, trimming the plastic with a generous allowance all round, then pressing the plastic against the sticky and running a hair dryer or heat gun gently over the whole thing until it tightens up. It's pretty remarkable how well it has worked in my experience.

BUT: Because these aren't really designed for regular doors, you'll likely need to create a shim across the doorway at the floor so it is flush with the rest of the taped surface. You need an unbroken taped surface that prevents all air from escaping. Keep in mind that if you seal off a trimmed surface, air could still creep in from beneath the trim. So...maybe remove the trim altogether?
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:51 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: 1. I do have a carbon monoxide detector.
2. I do not have access to the other side of the door, and I could not open the door without messing up the current anti-air-flow measures (which are all in place on the other, garage side of the door).
3. I mentioned weatherstripping to the landlords. They re-taped their current setup, which has helped, and I told them I'd let them know if I was still getting fumes. While I think they'd be unhappy if they had to do more work ("previous tenants didn't complain about it" etc.), they do seem fairly responsive and would likely install some if I pushed the matter.
4. I do not know how the air exchanger controls work, really. There is a dial, and I've figured out the off position (the one that makes one of the two lights turn off, on the other side of a "click"), but it seems to be labeled in seasons, with a tree at various stages of leafiness. There is also something that looks like a switch that should slide left or right, but it doesn't move, in actuality.
posted by eviemath at 1:26 PM on September 15, 2013

I gather you don't use this door into the garage. AnOrigamiLife's idea of using heat-shrink film is a good one. You could then toss up a nice piece of fabric to completely cover the door. This still allow access to exit if you need it.

NoDef is correct in saying that may not be the only source of air circulation. One of the cheapest ways to tell is to take incense during the coolest and the warmest part of the day and see where the air currents are. You may have a heating vent that could be sealed off or some other source where air from the garage is coming in.

Nthing the carbon monoxide alarm.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:59 PM on September 15, 2013

Why are there fumes in the garage? Is he running the engine with the doors closed? Can he leave the garage doors open for a few minutes after pulling in or pull out of the garage if the car is going to idle awhile? I have lived with an attached garage most of my life and have never smelled any fumes in the house.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:44 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have any electrical outlets or switches in the adjoining wall, they should be sealed with foam inserts.

Assuming this is a modern-ish construction with drywall and a rudimentary baseboard, I would pull the latter back, carefully using a metal putty knife or plaster spreader as close to any nails as you can get. Very cheap composite baseboard can easily break during this operation, so slow and steady wins the race. This could easily reveal a surprisingly large gap where the drywall does not actually meet the floor.

Make absolutely sure there is no HVAC into the garage that could, when idle, draw fumes back inside. (This would be a code violation for new construction.) Since you have a bathroom, check all pipe/wall interfaces as well. Having a metal wall plate by itself is basically no protection against air leaks whatsoever. Expanding foam works well here. If you have any built-in sink cabinets, there may be hidden gaps there as well.

Again assuming this is drywall, it's actually just recently been confirmed that CO can seep through gypsum wallboard. So if you've sealed everything else, and you're getting CO smell, look back to the source -- the car should run in the garage as little as possible, of course, but ventilation options there should be considered. You can get an exhaust fan with a timer that will pull air out of the garage for 5/10/15 minutes, for example.

I have lived with an attached garage most of my life and have never smelled any fumes in the house.

There are a lot of variables here relating to construction techniques of various eras. I'll just note that attached garages are a common source of CO poisoning events, including two deaths in my city a couple of years ago.
posted by dhartung at 3:31 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's a product that may reduce any paint damage: Seal 'N Peel Removable Caulk (there are similar brands). It's designed for seasonal weather-sealing.
posted by dhartung at 4:03 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

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