I need some fresh air.
August 13, 2008 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I need creative ideas for remedying a stale apartment.

The home I own has about 1300 square feet upstairs where we live and 600 sq feet in an apartment we rent out downstairs.

Our first two tenants were drunk construction workers and never complained about a thing, but our last two folks have said the apartment smells stale or smokey. I have noticed that the last two tenants who cook a lot make the whole house smell like stale food. So it seems like air is not circulating at all.

The stale food doesn't bother me, but it does bother me that he can smell our cigarette smoke, particularly in his bathroom. The house shares central air and there is only one return in the whole place. We have a whole house Aprilaire high efficiency air cleaner on the furnace.

We are willing to try filters in vents, baking soda, room size air purifiers, smoking only in certain rooms of the house, caulking up everything in site, a portable air conditioner or window unit down there.

I don't know about how much adding extra returns or whatever would be and I know that realistically we aren't going to start smoking outside anytime soon.

I really don't understand a lot about how ac units work. He seems to think the stale smoke smell is coming from the vents not from seeping down the stairs or floorboards, that is why we are focusing on those issues, but if you have experience or ideas no matter how off the wall throw them at me!

He is being really gracious about it, so I really want to do right by him.

I asked a similar question last year, but this is more about ac this time as that seems to be the culprit rather than just stank basement.
posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the best thing would be a window unit or two for his apt and then close off the vents. Nonsmokers can pick up cig smoke like a shark can detect blood in the water.
posted by ian1977 at 7:10 PM on August 13, 2008

Do you have carpet? Carpet sucks up cig smoke bad, I used to smoke in my apt but my roomate this year doesn't smoke and I used to use that powder stuff that you spread on carpets and let it rest for like 20 min than vacuum it up. Incense is good but only a temp fix, it's more potent than candles at least.
posted by BrnP84 at 7:21 PM on August 13, 2008

Response by poster: We don't have carpet or even curtains anywhere. Only wood blinds and wood floors. I want some magic smoke pill that I put in the return that makes the air fragrance free before it goes to the furnace!
posted by stormygrey at 7:22 PM on August 13, 2008

The best thing to do would be to divorce the two spaces by blocking all the vents from the main system and adding a supplemental system for his space. I wouldn't just close but use those magnetic covers to really seal the vents. This may lead to a problem in the winter if you use forced air for heating. If you you wanted to keep the central system for both, charcoal filters is the solution to oder. Im not sure what kind of filter housing you have now, but i would see if you can find any filters that would fit.
posted by ihadapony at 7:26 PM on August 13, 2008

Previous AskMe questions involving smoking neighbors: 1, 2
posted by XMLicious at 8:02 PM on August 13, 2008

Air filters aren't going to do the trick. I had a massive cleanroom-quality air filter (certified for use in hospitals) in the living room of my previous apartment (it was our designated "smoking room") and, while I'm sure it helped, it didn't stop the walls, floors and ceilings from building up tar deposits.

Most newb apartment managers will recommend using TSP on the walls, but that's not the best solution. The absolute best solution is to put Zinsser's B-I-N on your ceilings and walls to seal them up, then paint them over again. If you just put a new coat of paint on top, the nicotine and tar that's been soaked up into the paint will just bleed through eventually, and you'll end up getting the nasty stale smell once the smell of paint goes away. You have to seal up the chemicals from the smoke that are already in the paint.

FYI: B-I-N is what the pros use on walls that have seen building fires.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:35 PM on August 13, 2008

Oh, sorry, I didn't read your question right. I thought you were trying to get rid of smoke smells. Well, consider it when you want to rent the place again.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:37 PM on August 13, 2008

Have you tried advertising for smoking tenants? There are more and more places that won't rent to smokers, so highlighting that would seem to attract them easily.
posted by dhartung at 10:45 PM on August 13, 2008

Re only having one return for the ac- we considered central air this summer and were told that we had to have a return for each floor (2), even in our tiny, shoebox sized house, or else the air wouldn't circulate properly. They were contemplating running a return vertically from the basement, through a closet on the first floor, ending in a floor return in the second floor hallway.

We didn't get the ac, but my impression was if you have any dead space you can run the return through, then that part of the job isn't particularly expensive.
posted by MsElaineous at 5:44 AM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: I actually did advertise for smokers kind of. The last line was "Smokers and pets welcome!"
I also make sure that people see me smoke, know about the one system issue, and make sure they "hang out" in the apartment a while. Seemingly this smoke issue is one that does not appear until you wake up in the morning and it has accumulated in the bathroom.
posted by stormygrey at 6:21 AM on August 14, 2008

Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of the smell is to smoke outside or in your basement. The smell is really pungent to non-smokers.
posted by xammerboy at 9:03 AM on August 14, 2008

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