Dear PoP – Tobacco Smoke Seeping Through Walls

Photo by PoPville flickr user Bogotron

“Dear PoP,

I live in a Petworth townhouse. The past few weeks, a strong odor of tobacco smoke has been wafting into my house from the neighbor’s. It’s unbearable. I’m surprised that this much smoke odor could waft through solid brick walls! Thought I’d ask other Wardmanistanis if they have had the same problem and have an idea of how the smoke might be coming through the walls and how I can stop it.”

We spoke a bit about this issue with smoke leaking into apartments. For those who live in row houses – have you experienced this problem? If so, what can be done to mitigate the situation?

33 Comment

  • Wardmanistanis? Huh?

  • pablo .raw

    Did you have that problem in the summer/spring?
    If in fact air is moving from your neighbor’s house to yours through the walls, is that because your house is warmer than his and cooler air is moving in? Just a crazy idea that comes to mind.

  • We have this problem too… it has been getting worse recently, but I was blaming it on a recent renovation rather than the weather. Ours is pipe smoke too.. yuck!

  • We have the same problem!!! I thought we were the only one’s! It is an extremely strong smell like a mixture of pot and skunk. I googled that and apparently our neighbors smoke very good weed. It starts up around 9:30/10 pm every night like clockwork.

    Unfortunately, we haven’t found a solution yet.

    • Go join them! I could use a little skunk-magunk myself! Where do you live? 🙂

      and: you thought you were the only ones?! really? in the world?

  • I had this problem a while back and it seems like it was coming through the outlets on a wall between the apartments. I’m pretty sure smoke can’t penetrate solid walls, so the key here is to find the holes and cracks where it’s coming in.

    • smoke can definitely penetrate solid walls. I’ve set my upstairs neighbor’s smoke alarm off several times…and their alarm system is connected to the fire department. Quite a commotion caused by burnt toast.

  • We have a similar problem. We live in a renovated town house (there’s drywall on top of the brick wall) and whenever our neighbor cooks fish, we can smell it in our house. Does that make sense? We have no idea how to fix it, other than lighting candles.

  • I think you all must be smoking something. Maybe this is common for newer townhouses but not the old ones.

    These old houses were built to last and the shared walls are about a foot thick with at least two layers of brick.

    I have lived in my Parkview home now for close to 3 years and have smelled nothing from either side.

    Granted neither are smokers but I can’t believe neither have cooked fish in 3 years.

    Maybe it is seeping in from the outside. I smell weed in my backyard all the time so someone close by is smoking but I have never see anyone doing it.

    You know some “non-smokers” have big imaginations.

    • Maybe your neighbors are vegetarian

    • Houses are made of materials that overtime (50, 100+ years) will change and break down. Mortar gets sandy, water seeps in and gets into brick which then when it gets super cold and splits the brick. Wood expands and contract. Ground shifts when someone wants to build a Metro station or a convention center blocks away. Also lets not forget our friends the termite and Mr. Mouse. So since the place was built about 100 years ago some small cracks more than likely have appeared between the walls.
      Ciggy smoke seeps in. Ever try painting over the wall of a place of a pack a day smoker? One coat ain’t gonna do it.

    • your logic is just not sound.
      here is your argument:
      Because i have not smelled anything from my neighbors in 3 years, you must live in a new house if you do smell something. or you must be smoking something.

      do you really take yourself seriously?

  • Nope – definitely happens in older houses. We have the same problem, and ours is an old 1926 house. Our neighbor is a chain smoker and it definitely gets through our walls, particularly in the room right next to her bedroom. Any suggestions for fixing this would be greatly appreciated!

    • Tear down the wall to the brick and seal it with whatever stuff they use when they do “exposed brick”. Then go back up with your wall of choice. Id saw put a vapor barrier, but I’m not sure those work with smoke.

      • While this will likely work, it is a bit extreme for an initial measure.

        We had the same problem in our bedroom, we pulled off the quarter rounds at the bottom of the baseboards and used great stuff expanding foam ( shot into the crack around the floor. it worked like a charm.

        A word of caution, this stuff sticks to ANYTHING so be sure to mask off areas with plastic/painters tape or you can ruin wood floors/baseboards. It also sticks to your hands so wear plastic gloves and practice a little outside because it shoots out of the can fast!

  • Of the top of my head I’d agree that it’s unlikely that it could come through the brick and mortar…unless you have a seam in your brick or a crack somewhere. Then it would be easy for it to come in. My house has a distinctive vertical seam between the front and rear of the house where I guess they added on at some point. You can easily develop a crack along one of these. Also, I have areas where the brick wall has been chiseled out to allow for a baseboard electrical box. If the chiseling was too deep or damaged something else, I could see something getting through.

    Also, likely: If they have an exhaust fan or chimney or other vent shaft located near your chimney you could be scooping their exhausted air. Or, if your windows aren’t tight…

  • Definitely comes through the brick common wall of my 1910 rowhouse. Candles and running the ceiling fan works well enough. It’s irritating that I have to put up with her chain smoking, but my bigger fear is that she will set the place on fire as she is also quite addled.

  • It’s not that smoke is freely blowing into my house – I would say her room is smoke-tar saturated because it has a very dirty old smell and the smell is present all the time.

  • I also have a problem with pot smoke coming through the exposed brick wall in my attic. It’s not that big of an issue but I notice that the smoke only penetrates where the adjoining wall is exposed brick.

    If you’re in the same boat, I’d suggest sealing the brick and/or putting up a thicker dry wall.

  • Hire someone to do a blower door test, you’ll find every last leak for sure!

    • Yes, and then thank your neighbors for giving you an indication that your residence is poorly insulated. They may have saved you some money on heating/cooling.

  • Solution: take up smoking

  • Start with the easy stuff – you can buy outlet foam insulation thingys at any hardware store for pennies and install with only a screwdriver and they make a big difference for drafts – so possibly also stink.

    Great stuff expanding foam might be a bit much – hard to control for tiny baseboard cracks – perhaps a bead of clear silicone caulk?

    Or you could always go the Poe route and just poison the neighbor and seal him/her up in a wall. . .

  • I once was very bothered by a neighbors super stinky and loud diesel motorcycle starting outside my window every morning. I was very kind and friendly and talked to him about it. I was surprised but he was very kind.

    You could try it, but the suggestions for the insulation are good.

  • diesel motorcycle?

    • I have no idea actually. Whatever, super smelly, toxic gaseous wake-me-out-of-a-deep-sleep air! Super loud wall-shaking engine. Also, I meant to say, this guy was so nice, he changed his behavior. He never started the motorcycle near the window again and would roll it out far, far in the mornings.

      You never know if you’re nice and just try asking what can work out. I know our situations are different, but I swear it’s so easy if it works!

    • I’m guessing two stroke. Wouldn’t mind getting back on a RD350 myself these days.

  • Get an ozone generator. The small ones like ashtrey size don’t work get a good size one and you will never smell it again.

  • Blower Door test is the easist bet. It’ll figure out where you’re sucking n the polluted air, and probably give you some solutions to the problem.

  • My husband and I have the same problem with food smells from our neighbors in our 1920 rowhouse in Petworth. Haven’t figured out a solution yet.

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