Window air conditioner that filters out cigarette smoke etc.?
May 23, 2020 12:44 PM   Subscribe

We live in a ground floor apartment and our only windows face a walkway where people like to gather to smoke cigarettes and sometimes use as a toilet.

The smell is too bad for us to open our window for fresh air and I have asthma that is triggered by cigarette smoke, but could we get a window air conditioner unit and put in some sort of super filter that would block the cigarette smoke and the odor of urine and feces?

Or should we give up on the idea? I don't want to spend a ton of money on an AC unit and filters only to learn they're not going to work because AC filters just aren't strong enough.

Please advise, thanks!
posted by Jacqueline to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As I understand it, a/c units aren’t designed to pull in outside air, they use the home’s interior air. However, window a/c units are Notorious for pulling in air from around the unit and the window frame, they’re not sealed properly. That is the problem. (The air takes the path of least resistance).

Most window units, sealed well and used with a HEPA filter, should work well.
posted by artdrectr at 1:45 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

I can't recommend an air conditioner, but just wanted to mention one other longer-term possibility. Is the walkway part of the apartment complex rather than a public sidewalk? Where I live, it's illegal to smoke on the grounds of apartment buildings (except if there's a designated area at least 25 feet from the building). I think there are templates/resources out there to help other cities pass this kind of law. In the shorter term, maybe your landlord could be persuaded to hang a sign asking people not to smoke there, or you could hang a sign requesting nicely, mentioning your asthma, etc...of course, this may not work if it's a public sidewalk.
posted by pinochiette at 1:46 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

When I was in college (years ago) my roommate and I had this issue - the spot where all the smokers gathered was very close to our dorm room's only windows. We successfully used the A/C unit instead of opening the window to avoid smoke smells.

Also, thinking about the placement of the filter in my current cheap window A/C unit, what artdrectr said about A/C units drawing interior air makes sense. The filter is on the side of the unit that's closest to the room, and judging by which side of the filter gets dirty and where air comes out, I believe room air gets sucked in through the filter (and then spit out the vents on top.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:27 PM on May 23

Unless there is a specific "fresh air" feature on your prospective A/C they don't exchange air from inside to outside (even units with that feature the feature is mostly a gimmick; the port is like the size of a postage stamp). Use some closed cell weatherstripping foam when installing the A/C between the unit and the frame and then seal any cracks with some duct tape (available in a myriad of colours nowadays).

This won't be 100% because the interior coil drains water to the exterior so there is a small drain channel but it'll be essentially effective.

Also the noise of the A/C might get people to gather elsewhere.
posted by Mitheral at 3:22 PM on May 23

I had no idea that the air being blown out by the AC comes from the inside, not the outside! So, if we seal well, we should be fine?

I don't know if the walkway is public or private property but it is one of the only places around here for the homeless to get out of the wind so I don't want to try to deprive them of the space.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:51 PM on May 23

Do you need the air to be cooler? If not I'd suspect that sealing the window and getting a really good room HEPA filter air purfier might help a lot.
posted by oneear at 6:40 PM on May 23

Yes, we need the air to be cooler. My husband is miserable and lethargic to the point of being unable to function when it is 80+ for too long. A fan is insufficient.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:52 PM on May 24

Air conditioners are "heat pumps" meaning they move heat, rather than air, from inside to outside.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 5:01 PM on May 24

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