Is my new housemate smoking indoors?
November 19, 2016 9:48 PM   Subscribe

My new housemate smokes. He is supposed to smoke outside exclusively, however bits of our house still smell of smoke. I've never seen him smoke indoors but we are often in separate rooms. Is the smell normal or is he smoking indoors sometimes? He has lived here for 3 weeks so far.
posted by EatMyHat to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It could very well be smoke smell carried on his clothes, hair, and body. Cigarette smell doesn't just go away even when the cigarettes are smoked outdoors, and the lingering smell can be very strong to non-smokers. Unless you notice that, say, the bathroom really reeks of smoke after he's been in there for a while, my first guess would be that he's smoking outside but carries the smell with him.
posted by snowmentality at 9:58 PM on November 19, 2016 [21 favorites]

IME, there are two kinds of smoke smells associated with tobacco cigarettes. First kind is the immediate smell of burning tobacco or exhaled smoke. The second smell is the kind that clings to the clothing and hair of someone who smokes.

It's likely that what you're smelling is the second type. Unfortunately, tobacco smoke tends to stick around long after the actual smoking is done.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 10:02 PM on November 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Depending on how drafty your house is, the smell could be coming in from outside as well.
posted by Toddles at 10:06 PM on November 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I will say that when I was in a similar situation, we eventually found out that our smoker roommate who was forbidden from smoking indoors was, yep, smoking indoors.

He himself smelling a little like cigarette smoke, especially if he's a heavy smoker or if he smokes in his car or indoors somewhere else he spends a lot of time, would make sense. But if areas of your house smell like someone has been smoking, and your roommate isn't currently in the room, it's because he's smoking in there.

In my experience smokers think they are super slick at hiding the fact that they're smoking in the house, and yet almost never are doing even a remotely good job of hiding it. Maybe because their sense of smell is affected by smoking?
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 PM on November 19, 2016 [19 favorites]

I think it could just be outdoor smoking depending on how sensitive you are to smells and also, I think, what kind of cigarettes they smoke. I've lived with smokers where I didn't really notice, but also one person where I could smell if they'd been in the room before me. I don't know how sensitive to the smell you are, but based on my experience visiting the smokier parts of Europe, indoor smoking is pretty unsubtle.
posted by noxperpetua at 10:40 PM on November 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

My old housemate used to drive me nuts doing this- I could tell by smell that she was smoking weed out the window in her bedroom, but couldn't prove it and I never went in her room. But one day she left her window wide open with the screen removed (not removing the window screens was an agreed-upon house rule, to protect our pets from falling out- another aaargh) so I had to go into her room to close the window, and I saw her ash and cigarette butts on the sill. So annoying.

Maybe you could be a Sherlock Holmes and check the ground under the window? If there are butts down there that aren't stomped flat, he's probably smoking upstairs and tossing them out the window.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:42 PM on November 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Sara C. & snowmentality FTW. Smell on his clothes would follow him; smell baked into his coat from multiple layers of residue + the elements would be very distinct (extra extra nasty). (I doubt the smell of e.g. less than five cigarettes smoked out of a window, and spread out over several weeks, would irredeemably set into a room, I think it takes a little more than that.) Another smoker coincidentally moving into an adjacent apartment at exactly the same time is possible but seems unlikely.

Source: smoker, who wouldn't take a room without immediate 24/7 access to a balcony / patio / main entrance if sharing with non-smokers who weren't ok with occasional smoke odour [some are]. Have a conversation, why not. I would crack in the first second of that convo, but then I wouldn't lie about that to begin with (or share with nonsmokers absent a balcony, more to the point). But you might get something out of him and maybe an agreement to not smoke. If he's not going to stop (probable) and you're stuck together, ask him to buy a couple of (2) HEPA filters for inside his room, and another for the hall, & something soft and dense to block the draft under his door. (That combination made *regular* smoke smell undetectable to three nonsmokers I know, per their answers to questions about it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:07 PM on November 19, 2016

The previous renter of my room was an outside smoker. When I opened the closet door to hang up my clothes it reeked of cigarettes. It took a week of baking sofa placed in various spots and a good scrubbing to get the smell out. Are his outerwear, like jackets, sweaters, gloves hanging up in any of the common areas? It could just be his clothes that you smell.

As an ex smoker I know that I was in denial of how much I smelled of cigarettes. He could be smoking inside or it's following him in. You could ask him.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:52 PM on November 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are they bits near windows? We are in an airbnb right now for an extended period and two things:

1. I smoke pot (legal here) outside. The upstairs tenants have accused me of smoking pot inside and I absolutely was not. Weed has a strong smell, though the smell of it being smoked and just sitting around are different in my opinion. Anyway my point is, even super smellers can be wrong. We got into a huuuge argument with them and I swear to you I WAS NOT smoking. It's too risky considering what we're paying to stay here and the fact we have no other options ugh.

2. The upstairs tenants smoke cigarettes outside. I know they're outside because I hear them and see them, but our entire unit smells of cigarettes multiple times a day because of this. We have very small windows that are occasionally lightly cracked and the smell is still very prominent.

I think you should just ask and see what they say, and go from there.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:37 AM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just as a point of reference, if someone is smoking outside at the back of my house, and the door is not closed all the way, I can smell it in the house instantly.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:29 AM on November 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Which bits of the house smell? If its places where he keeps his belongings, then it could be residual smell on his stuff. If its near the bathroom or bedroom window, he's smoking inside and blowing his smoke out the window. If he were just plain smoking inside and not even blowing it out the window the smell would be unmistakeable.

Don't underestimate the power of the lingering smell though, we had something delivered by a smoker, he only stood in the hall to deliver the package, when I came downstairs hours later, I could smell it, I knew a smoker had been in my house.

A friend who smokes weed stayed in my guestroom for a night and I could still smell weed a week later - although I have a tiny suspicion that he smoked and blew it out the bathroom window
posted by missmagenta at 1:45 AM on November 20, 2016

Thanks for all the helpful responses so far!! Just to answer a couple of questions:
I think my sense of smell is probably average for someone who's always been a non smoker
I checked the ground under his window - no butts there
The parts of the house that have smelled are : my room, the top of the stairs near his room and downstairs in the living room. All of the smells have been transient and not especially near windows.
posted by EatMyHat at 2:07 AM on November 20, 2016

I live in a fairly new building with a ventilation/airflow system and I can smell when my upstairs neighbours smoke or cook. Thank you air vents in the ceiling!
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:29 AM on November 20, 2016

1) Person smokes in their car with windows up = supersaturated smoke smell that will follow them

1.5) These people won't understand that they reek of smoke

2) Person only smokes outside = if incurious, may not know how to smoke 'upstream' and will have clothes that smell of smoke''

3) Concientious smokers who know what their impact is and takes steps to ameliorate their impact = tell them that their amelioration schemes aren't effective/sufficient

I know it sucks having a roomate who smokes, but there are definitely ways to ameliorate infringement. My friends tell me that I'm a 'surprise smoker' - couldn't tell by smell - I even go outside during the summer when my neighbours have windows open and take a walk when I smoke so I don`t expose my neighbours to second-hand smoke.

If you think that they're smoking out of their window - I did when I was living with my parents but it was the ash rather than the smell that my dad called me out on (I put my butts into a used plastic water bottle with a cap; no smell indoors) - you should call them on it if it drifts into your space.

Your endgame is not smelling any smoke, so it's probably going to be getting rid of the roomate.
posted by porpoise at 3:29 AM on November 20, 2016

I think it's clothing. I'm an ex-smoker (about 4 years!). The reek of someone's clothing can be enough to make me nauseous.
posted by Goofyy at 3:29 AM on November 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live in a house with really weird airflow and I get smells from all over the house in random places, plus smells from outside. If the smells are transient and in places where he obviously was not smoking, like your room, I vote for airflow weirdness and smelly clothes. I think that if he were smoking inside, furniture and inside stuff would start to develop permanent smells of smoke and the rooms where he was actually smoking would smell more strongly and permanently. (My house used to be owned by smokers, and you can still get whiffs of old cigarette in certain places when the air is damp - ew!)

Maybe discuss with your housemate just where he's smoking outside to see if you can seal the nearby window or put an air filter in that room?
posted by Frowner at 5:01 AM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband is a smoker and the butts absolutely reek. If those rooms contain trash cans, which contain cigarette butts, that could be your answer.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:37 AM on November 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a former heavy, heavy smoker and one of those people who had cigarette smoke just attach itself to me like a facehugger. I reeked, and left the smell of cigarettes everywhere I went.

Seconding also what everyone is saying about ventilation; the woman below me was burning incense and my apartment smelled so bad it would wake me up. It eventually required an intervention from the manager. On the other hand, my former next door neighbor let me know that she could smell my smoking in her apartment. She suspected the bathroom vent and simply closing the door solved the problem, so there may be a very easy solution.

Like everyone said, you should just talk to him. Many smokers are extremely conscientious and will go out of their way to mitigate their presence, and if he's not, at least you know what you're dealing with.

And if there's a certain room you think hrs smoking in, look at the walls, blinds, or curtains; it doesn't take long for the tar and crap to build up.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:30 AM on November 20, 2016

> The parts of the house that have smelled are : my room, the top of the stairs near his room and downstairs in the living room

He might be a sneaky indoor smoker, but as someone who lives in a 3rd floor flat, I can tell you that the stairwell acts like a chimney and the smoke of anyone who smokes on the stoop will creep in and climb the stairs (unless you have a well-insulated door/entryway). The guy who lives downstairs from us smokes on the front stoop sometimes, and I always know when he's been there.
posted by rtha at 9:31 AM on November 20, 2016

On your followup, your roommate is almost certainly smoking in the house. There's a degree of plausible deniability, but unless he smokes like a damn chimney and never does laundry, the smells you mention are much more consistent with your roommate smoking in the house than anything else.

For what it's worth, when I had a problem with this, we *also* had ventilation issues of people smoking outside in the stoop and it backflowing into our apartment. But we could tell the difference, because our roommate's smoking smells were not near windows or exterior doorways with a direct path to outdoors.
posted by Sara C. at 12:34 PM on November 20, 2016

It's almost irrelevant whether they're smoking in the house or not. The problem is that you can smell smoke in the house. Address that problem. Approach this as 'hmmm, I smell smoke in the house. I don't know where it's coming from, but since you're the one who smokes around here, and I didn't have this problem before you moved in, can you help me fix this problem?'.

Bring it up to your roommate and ask for their input on a solution. They may not realize you can smell it. Maybe they can keep their 'smoking jacket' outside. Maybe they can smoke further away from the house, but at any rate, they need to know that it's bothering you, and that you're a team to help fix the problem. This will probably go further than any accusations. And if they ARE smoking in the house, this will let them know that you're onto them...
posted by hydra77 at 3:31 PM on November 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

> The parts of the house that have smelled are : my room, the top of the stairs near his room and downstairs in the living room.

If he is smoking in the house, he's certainly not smoking in any of those locations. So I suspect it's weird drafts being picked up into your HVAC from wherever he smokes outside. (I have witnessed this sort of weirdness in friends' houses.)
posted by desuetude at 11:08 PM on November 20, 2016

We have housemates that smoke outdoors (or, in one case, out the window - but it's a floor up and on the other side of the house). One of them doesn't seem to carry the smell, but the other one... I can often tell if he's walked through the kitchen recently, and I can identify his windbreaker by scent. He sometimes puts bottles/cups containing butts in the trash can, but I think that happens less since we mentioned how badly it reeks. I can only assume his nose is so accustomed to the smell that he isn't aware it's so pervasive.

Either way, sounds like your best course of action is to tell him that parts of the house smell like smoke and see if/how he's willing to address the issue.
posted by sibilatorix at 9:21 PM on November 21, 2016

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