Cigarette Smoke from Downstairs Neighbors Wafting In
March 4, 2014 1:30 PM   Subscribe

So just moved in to a temporary living situation and found out that the downstairs neighbors are chainsmoking alcoholics.

The smoke is really obnoxious. I'm keeping the windows closed but it's still coming in. I'll only be here for 2 months but I've got to find some kind of solution to keeping the air as clean as possible. What are my options of maintaining some non-toxic breathing space while I'm here?
posted by watercarrier to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
air humidifier which also filters the air.
posted by cacao at 1:36 PM on March 4, 2014

Are they smoking outside, in their apartment, or in common spaces (interior stairs/hallway)? If it's the last, your landlord may care, as that can set off building fire alarms and lead to the fire department coming out. (Also, it's against local regulations in some areas.)

I have neighbors who smoke, and I find the windows aren't the main source of infiltration. It's more likely to be ventilation (do you share any ducts/vents with the neighbors?) or air flow between units (e.g. cuts for utility lines, cracks in flooring, badly fitted doors).

If the smoke is coming in around a door frame -- and it's amazing how much smoke can get in that way -- taping up the doorframe with painter's tape may cut it down. (Disclaimer for possible fire hazard, though. Although it is possible to open a door with painter's tape on it.)

If you have any HVAC and/or forced hot air heating systems, you can upgrade the filters.
posted by pie ninja at 1:50 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived above a bunch of chain smoking alcoholics once. I feel your pain.

I used multiple air purifiers and taped plastic coverings over the insides of the windows.
posted by winna at 1:51 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is one of those classic annoying apartment life things that you most likely have no real control over.

Nthing maybe some kind of air filter, and looking into where the smoking is actually taking place and if that's something you can talk to your landlord about, but when I have experienced this, there was nothing really to be done about it.
posted by Sara C. at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Notify your landlord or property manager and if they don't take action, notify the health department and housing board. This is a serious health issue -- your neighbors are free to smoke, but not make you smoke with them. Period.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 4:42 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, you are only there for two months, so if the landperson / housing board doesn't want to or cannot get them to stop smoking inside, you'll likely be out of there by the time a health department tries to intervene.

You can ask the people directly if they could smoke outside. Perhaps you could tell them that you have severe allergies to fragrances and smokes etc (i believe there's a term for this) and the smoke is making you physically ill-- which, in the longterm, it actually is. But if you say they are alcoholics, not a high probability that they will stop, although it might mitigate the behavior a little.

Other things you can do-- Buy oxygen enriching plants.

Get a HEPA Air Purifier. Tape the windows and other entrances into the apartment shut. (Or open windows, if this helps in some places.)

Keep your receipts. Photocopy them. If landlord / housing board take no action, take the costs you spent on plants, air purifier, and related supplies out of rent, enclosing a note explaining situation along with copies of receipts. Or, if you already paid both months, send landperson a bill for them (although they might not pay).
posted by cotesdurhone at 5:00 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

FWIW when we lived in a place where neighbors' cigarette smoke was mysteriously making it way into our apartment, we discovered the reason was that neighbors were taking a smoke break in the the (shared) furnace room. It was cold and they didn't want to step outside, so they would just step into this unfurnished room in the center of our 4-plex where all the furnaces, water heaters, etc, were housed. End result: their smoke was being sucked directly into the intake of our furnace and thus distributed thoroughly to each and every furnace outlet in the entire building. They couldn't possibly have created a more efficient building-wide smoke distribution system if they had set out to design it on purpose.

So, in general, 2nding the point mentioned above, that ventilation systems are likely to be a major culprit in this type of problem. Is there a shared basement or the like where neighbors might be taking their smoke breaks? Are they smoking right near a ventilation intake for the building? Do you share ventilation or furnace intakes or outlets with these neighbors?
posted by flug at 6:00 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The upside of the fact that you're only there for two months is that you don't have to worry too much about ongoing good relations with the neighbours.

There is no way I'd live two months in an apartment stinking of smoke, and I don't think you should have to. I'd start by sealing cracks under doors or around windows, but it's highly likely that the smoke is coming in through air vents.

I'd go and talk to the neighbours first. Find out exactly where they're smoking. Tell them the smoke is bothering you, and see if you can come to a compromise.

In the (likely) scenario that they are uncooperative, put it in writing to the landlord. This is a serious health/quality of life issue, and you're not being unreasonable to want it fixed.
posted by Salamander at 6:35 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I once lived in an apt like this and realized it was coming through pretty much any hole in the wall, ie the electrical sockets. There was no escaping it. It was nasty. There wasn't even shared ventilation and it was bad. For me, opening the windows was better than closing them.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:45 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look up the heat chimney effect. This will likely abate if the temp outside warms up to be hotter than the temp outside. Otherwise, hardcore air purifier is the only thing that works IME.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

So - these people are Sudanese refugees who just came in from a war zone and they're filled with anxiety and angst and this is their way to deal with their shit - there's no discussing. It is - deal with it or get out. Next - the smoke is coming in from all directions. As the wind blows - the smoke flows. I need oxygen - so I've got to keep some kind of window open - even a crack. Unfortunately these cracks are vents for the smoke. F it but I need something to absorb the smoke and not get it in me. Maybe a rock lamp of some sort and then an air purifier till I can get the hell out of here.
posted by watercarrier at 12:26 AM on March 5, 2014

This is one of those classic annoying apartment life things that you most likely have no real control over.

No, some cities have adopted no-smoking ordinances for apartment buildings. If your city is one of them you may* have recourse, which I would initiate with your landlord.

*My city adopted this law a year or two ago, but since I lived in my apartment before the new law I'm grandfathered in here. I'm a former smoker, but I also decided not to waive any rights I didn't have to, so I could start smoking again in here tomorrow.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:56 AM on March 5, 2014

Blueair makes our air purifier and we were very happy with it. Loud white noise, though, if that's liable to bug you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:07 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

HEPA filter and a humidifier should help a lot.

If you're thinking about one of those rock salt lamps, skip it and save your money for a HEPA filter!
posted by inertia at 10:19 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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