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“we’re pretty sure babies should not be exposed to pot smoke”

by Prince Of Petworth May 3, 2016 at 1:00 pm 69 Comments

no smoking
Photo by PoPville flickr user District Shots

“Dear PoPville,

We live in a rowhouse in Petworth, next door to a heavy pot smoker. Even when all of our doors and windows are closed, our house still smells like his pot. This is happening every day. it is a big problem for us because we have an 11-month old, and we’re pretty sure babies should not be exposed to pot smoke. We’ve talked to our neighbor about it, but he is not willing to accommodate us. The smell seems to be coming through the basement, but we don’t understand how.

Can pot smoke go through brick walls? We’ve been trying to fill in the gaps in the mortar but that doesnt seem to be making any difference. Anyway, I was wondering if anyone else has had this problem, and if they have any suggestions. How is his pot smoke getting into our house? Could an air purifier get rid of the smell? Is there anything else we should be trying?”

  • textdoc

    Sorry to hear that the neighbor won’t accommodate you.
    Have you had a mason come out to look at the brick?
    Is the brick in the basement exposed brick, i.e., not covered by plaster and lathe the way your upstairs walls are? I wonder if covering the brick — either with plaster/lathe or with something else — would solve the problem.

    • textdoc

      BTW, this search string brings up some past PoPville threads that address the issue of smoke going through rowhouse walls. You might find some more ideas on dealing with the problem.

    • dat

      +1 this is a major issue with exposed brick — both odors and noise permeate much more easily. I think a lot of people don’t realize this when buying homes with exposed brick. The thick layer of plaster actually makes a big difference.

  • JS
    • anon

      What happened in that case was the judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring the neighbor to stop smoking in his house. Plaintiffs later dropped the suit (presumably the neighbor made the repairs).

  • anon

    I have had a similar problem at my place, though ours is likely coming through a gap in the wall above the ceiling line, from our neighbor’s bedroom. We have talked to some companies that will go up there and seal off the space between the two walls but it is pricey.

    The other option is creating positive pressure in the room that you have the biggest problem with. We have noticed that during the months that the AC is not being used, it is far less frequent that we smell anything. My solution for this summer is going to be putting a window unit in the room that we can smell the pot in. The hope is, it will create more air pressure on my side and push against his. thereby keeping the smoke on his side.

    • jwetz

      The window unit doesn’t suck air in from the outside, it circulates air within the room. You need to add air from somewhere else to create positive pressure.

  • K

    We had this issue when my youngest was born. My son was a preemie with chronic lung disease and was on O2. We were told before leaving the NICU to not allow any lung irritants around our son (1st, 2nd, and 3 hand cigarette and pot smoke included). Our neighbor at the time regularly smoked on his back porch at night. Before we had kids it wasn’t a problem, to each his own. We just kept our back windows closed. But after coming home with a medically fragile baby we quickly noticed we could still smell it inside. We were lucky and our neighbor changed his nightly smoking ritual after we (very calmly) explained the situation and we never smelled pot again. But on the off chance that some smoke still might get in we bought an air filter with HEPA and ran it around the clock.

    Smoke is an issue as it irritates the lungs, even pot smoke. I don’t have any suggestions about what to do about smoke coming in adjoining houses. I just wanted to say good luck.

  • Alex

    The smell of weed may be annoying, but it won’t hurt your child.

    • ANON

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume Alex doesn’t have a child. Most people would prefer to not expose their child to weed smoke under the age of 1, despite the medical opinion of a online poster.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Having or not having a child does not magically confer medical knowledge upon the parent or non-parent. I am guessing that Alex is not a medical doctor, either, though.

    • anon

      Im not anti-pot, but I don’t agree with you. As someone whose lungs are highly allergic to smoke, whatever is burning to cause the smoke, I know that smoke has particulates that you breathe in and can irritate sensitive lungs – and the irritation then causes lung damage..

      And, while pot may not be damaging to an adult, it probably isn’t the best for developing brains. Remember contact highs from second hand pot smoke? I wouldn’t want small children to be even mildly high.

      • General Grant Circle

        The *smoke* is the harmful part yes.

      • FridayGirl

        This. Any physics experts here who can clarify pot smell vs. pot smoke? I always assumed that the smell didn’t really carry without particulates also carrying, but I could be wrong. I also have smoke allergies generally (although some smokes seem to be worse than others) and while I generally don’t care what other people do, if someone’s smoking is seeping into your house, then it becomes your issue.

      • Anon

        I’m not disagreeing with what you said regarding the dangers of (any) smoke, but you would need a ridiculous amount of concentrated smoke to achieve anything resembling a contact high. Granted, that’s likely much lower for a baby than an adult, but it’s far higher than merely detecting the odor.

        • I agree that I wouldn’t really be worried about a contact high for the child. What would concern me is the effect that consistent exposure to smoke could have on the child’s lungs.

    • Philippe Lecheval

      Oh good, an established expert weighed in, with supporting evidence and everything.

    • womp

      there’s a significant difference in the smell of pot and pot SMOKE.

      • General Grant Circle

        Oh this is also true, I have noticed people confuse the two on popville before. OP is it smoke or just pot smell?

        • textdoc

          Presumably if there’s a smell, there are particulates that are making their way through, even if they’re not thick enough to form a visible cloud of smoke.
          You may or may not be aware that researchers are starting to look into the effects of “third-hand smoke” — what you smell when you’re in (say) the elevator with someone who’s just gone out for a smoke break and has particulates coming off of his/her clothing.

          • FridayGirl

            +1 to this. My allergies flare up even when I have to sit someone who SMELLS like smoke but hasn’t actually smoked near me at all.

          • This. Especially with young children involved. I have a toddler with lung issues, and for the first few months of her life, doctor’s orders were that if anyone who smoked had to hold her (i.e. her grandfather), they had to cover up their clothes with a blanket or change shirts so she didn’t come into contact with it. It is more harmful to developing lungs than other users are admitting here.

          • womp

            yep, agree with you all. i was really responding to argue Alex’s *enlightening* comment. the OP said “smoke” and i presumed (s)he was arguing the OP by saying that smell is fine, which is a null argument because the OP indicated smoking was likely the cause.

          • General Grant Circle

            Presumably if there is a smell there are particles, yes – but there is a difference between the particles wafting off of plant material, and burned plant material. The smell of pot smoke = burned plant material whereas the ‘smell of pot’ = plant material akin to smelling flowers or trees or any other plant

          • textdoc

            I think most people here (including the OP) use the words “smell of pot” to mean “smell of pot smoke.” When I walk down the sidewalk and think, “Hmm, smells like pot,” I’m thinking about the smell of the smoke, not the smell of the actual plant.
            So far, I don’t think anyone (other than GGC) is talking about the smell of the plants themselves.

          • General Grant Circle

            Some people have discussed it on this chain and Ive seen it on others which is why I am looking for clarification from OP. Some people think that if you smell pot you are smelling it burning or having been burnt but this is not the case. While burning/burnt pot smell is similar to unburnt pot, it is still different (notably – the smoke elements) from just the smell of the plant (which can smell a variety of different ways, actually, ranging from sweet or piney to gas like or skunky – remember pot and hops are a part of the same family and can exhibit a wide range of variation). I guess what I am wondering here is if the person is say growing plants in their basement vs. ripping bong the options might be different

          • textdoc

            The OP says the neighbor is a “heavy pot smoker” and specifically mentions “pot smoke” three times.
            Whatever the smell is, it’s filling the OP’s house. I’m not sure that it matters for the OP’s purposes whether the smell is from pot smoke, not-yet-smoked pot, or a combination of the two — the OP’s main question is how to stop the smell/particles from coming through the basement wall.

    • say what

      it may not hurt a child but its still smells disgusting. No one wants a house that reeks of any kind of smoke. OP, we had a similar problem. We spent about $1500 to have a bunch of holes plugged up in the basement brick work where the W/D is is. that seemed to help a lot. We never even asked our neigbhors to stop because 1) there are 15 people living there full time and 2) any house with kids where people are smoking that much pot that it stinks up the house next door, do NOT GIVE SHIT. About you or their own kids. Seriously, my house smelled bad enough but how nasty and disgusting do you have to be to smoke in your own house and live that stench??

    • anon 2

      aaannnnd queue a bunch of non-scientists/medical professionals posting their opinions on this topic (note: Alex specifically said the word “smell”!). some people man

    • Pfeiffer

      Pot smoke has a higher amount of carcinogens than second-hand cigarette smoke. Yes, it will hurt your child.

      • Anon

        Not true.

  • General Grant Circle

    For preventing smoke, making sure the seal on the bricks and good ventilation is set up is key.
    As for baby being exposed to pot smoke – there is no possibility of psychoactive effect or harm. It is no more dangerous than the car exhaust that permeates the city (which is to say, very mildly harmful, but because it is smoke)

    • navyard

      No possibility? Can you please provide links to the studies that have conclusively ruled out any possibility? mmm thanks.

      • General Grant Circle

        While I know you are just being an obnoxious troll (what a sad life…) essentially to get the pyschoactive element you have to be in a nonventillated small room with people binge smoking, smell wafting through the basement brick does not meet that:
        “Six smokers and six nonsmokers spent an hour sitting side by side in a 10-by-13-foot, acrylic-walled room in two different experimental sessions. Each smoker was given 10 high-potency cannabis cigarettes to smoke. In one session, the room’s ventilation fans were turned on. In another session, the fans were turned off, and the room became smoke-filled. This was a realistic simulation of home ventilation conditions. At the end of the exposures, smokers’ and nonsmokers’ blood, urine, saliva and hair were tested at regular intervals for THC.

        All six nonsmokers who spent an hour exposed to secondhand smoke in the unventilated room under extreme conditions had detectable amounts of THC in their urine and blood. THC in blood was observed immediately after exposure and for up to three hours afterwards. Four hours after the experiment ended, one nonsmoker tested positive for THC on a urine test with the same cutoff (50 nanograms per milliliter) used in the Federal Workplace Drug Testing Program. At intervals between two and 22 hours after the experiment, four of the six nonsmokers tested positive for THC in their urine at a lower cutoff (20 nanograms per milliliter) sometimes used in commercial drug testing programs.

        None of the nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke in the ventilated room tested positive for THC on either the more sensitive or the less sensitive urinalysis. (All the cannabis smokers tested positive for THC afterward.)”

      • General Grant Circle

        While I realize you are just being an obnoxious troll who only deserves this link ( http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_madf2tFviV1qd5yv1.jpg ) you essentially need to be in an unventilated box with people chain smoking jays, smell wafting through the wall does not nearly meet that:
        “Six smokers and six nonsmokers spent an hour sitting side by side in a 10-by-13-foot, acrylic-walled room in two different experimental sessions. Each smoker was given 10 high-potency cannabis cigarettes to smoke. In one session, the room’s ventilation fans were turned on. In another session, the fans were turned off, and the room became smoke-filled..All six nonsmokers who spent an hour exposed to secondhand smoke in the unventilated room under extreme conditions had detectable amounts of THC in their urine and blood…None of the nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke in the ventilated room tested positive for THC on either the more sensitive or the less sensitive urinalysis.. “

    • anon

      The car exhaust that permeates the city IS very harmful. Those of us who get asthma from breathing it, which is a worse problem when it is hot or overcast, get damaged lungs from it. Also, from a lung cancer perspective, I’ve always heard that living in a city with high car exhaust particulate (as DC is) is like smoking a pack a day, as far as lungs are concerned. You may not be able to avoid the air outside, but why add to if you can take measures to avoid the smoke inside?

      • Anon

        As someone with crap lungs and issues, I just *love* hearing there are worse Things out there for me. I can’t control everything. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t control what I’m exposed to, especially so nice the situation can be cumulative.

  • gotryit

    Sealing the wall and running some HEPA filter fans is probably your best bet. Is your basement ceiling finished? The most likely place for smoke to come through (unless you have some serious/obvious mortar problems) is where the floor joists for the first floor go into the brick wall.
    If you don’t have a ceiling in the basement or can cut away a couple of feet to get access, you could spray foam around the gaps by the joists that will expand and seal up the holes. You can buy the cans of it with straws at home depot or get a slightly better kit for about $200 that comes with a metal spray gun (much easier to use) and bigger cans. Beware, that stuff is evil, but effective.
    I’d also recommend putting up a coat or three of clear brick sealant if you have exposed brick (after fixing any mortar problems).

    • AnonJohn

      Good advice, especially hitting the joists. On many of the row houses the joists pockets run through the wall. Mouse highways …

      There are multiple kinds of foam sealant; you may want to get one that expands according to your gap size. For small gaps caulk may also be helpful.

      • anon

        Yes, the problem is this = that row houses built together are built connected in many ways, and are not sealed off from each other. Someone who knows about row house construction, from renovating them, may be useful if you hire someone to help seal up your place from the neighbor’s.

  • Timebomb

    I hope there’s a way to mitigate this problem by fortifying the walls/structure. Would bode really poorly for rowhouse-living and/or pot legalization if not.

  • lizcolleena

    I came to ask if smell = smoke. I’m legitimately wondering, not trolling, about the negative health effects of a smell, because the poster seems to conflate the two and I’m not certain that’s the case…

    • gotryit

      While an interesting question, if there’s enough air flow for particles that cause the odor to come through, then there’s enough airflow for the rest of the crap that gets burned to come through. Whether or not they’re the same thing shouldn’t really matter. And even if the health effects are low, it’s a pretty easy call just to get rid of an unwanted smell if you can DIY to put a few hundred dollars into sealing things up (or a thousand or two if not DIY).

    • textdoc

      See above re. “third-hand smoke,” and also this:
      … which is about this journal article:

      • General Grant Circle

        text doc you are referring to smoke though. Lizcolleena is referring to the smell unburnt, so third hand smoke is not relevant

        • textdoc

          Lizcolleena’s language might be ambiguous, but I don’t think she was talking about the smell of living marijuana plants. That’s a separate issue (which I think might’ve come up in PoPville too).

          • General Grant Circle

            She seems to be asking if smell = smoke as in “if I smell pot does that mean I am inherently smelling pot smoke” – which is not the case. If someone has even an ounce on them in a backpack, the smell is pretty noticeable, even if it is not being burnt. Note that burnt pot smells different than not burnt pot. Also if you are growing plants, which is legal, there will be a very noticeable smell, once again this smell is a different smell than the smell of the material burning

          • lizcolleena

            Indeed I was wondering if smelling pot meant inhaling pot smoke. The smell lingers for longer than just while it’s being smoked, obviously.
            The above links are helpful – thanks!

  • GG

    I wonder if the DC Council foresaw this situation as a potential problem before they legalized small quantities. I’m not a smoker, but I understood the argument for legalization because filling up the jails with small time users is insane. However, it’s now clear that the nature of the product is that it infiltrates public and private space where it is unwanted, which infringes on other people’s rights.

    • dat

      how is that any different from cigarette smoke?

      • Jill

        When I lived in Fairfax County I had a roach-infested boarding house on one side, and the neighbor on the other side had a rats’ nest in his backyard. Both neighbors and the HOA refused to do anything about these problems, and they both led to roaches in my house and rats in my yard. Unfortunately living in a townhouse or rowhouse opens you up to health hazards caused by other people that you can’t do much about. Personally I would have preferred smoke!

      • anon

        pot smoke is way, way, way worse.

    • anon

      Jails weren’t being filled with “small-time users.” Possibly small-time (or medium-time) dealers, but not users.

    • ch

      seems like these sorts of knock-on effects and unintended consequences are never thought through until after the fact. someone was telling me that in london, they legalized pot altogether. what happened? the price of pot dropped, and suddenly drug dealers couldnt make any money selling it. so what did they do? the moved up to heroin. the ready supply of heroin created its own demand, and soon london was dealing with an epidemic of heroin addiction.

  • ofriendly

    I would recommend getting a carbon air filter like this


    It will take the smoke and aroma compounds out of the air. Not the best solution but should seriously cut down on the smoke and smell.

  • clatuverata

    OP – Maybe buy the neighbor a vape? Just as effective for his purposes and no smoke.

    • LCDC

      It very well could be a vape, that still has a pot like smell, especially if you’re hitting it a lot/ all day. The OP doesn’t provide enough detail to know.

    • PettyShabazz

      +1 for creative problem solving

  • ccc

    Had a similar problem with cigarette smoke in our condo a few years back. Downstairs neighbor smoked a pack a day at home. Odor was coming in because her HVAC ducts leaked, so pressurized, smoky air would come in through our interior walls. We figured this out by having an energy efficiency company do a leak test with a blower door, which helped us find the worst leaks.

    Neighbor wouldn’t smoke outside, use e-cigs, or fix the ducts, so we bought an air purifier that uses activated carbon. It helped. The Blueair 650E uses activated carbon and was one of the quieter models, but it’s expensive. A Honeywell 50250 is much cheaper and also uses carbon, if I remember correctly. We also used spray foam to seal the worst spots (usually electrical outlets, light switches, around appliances, etc.

    Good luck!

  • Dane

    While the recommendations for HEPA filtration are good- the effectiveness varies considerably depending on the model. The best path to keeping outside contaminants out of your living space is to pressurize your house with a fan that brings fresh air in from the outside and basically uses all those interstitial pathways that are now bringing the odors in to push the existing air in your home out. The only way that exterior air (or in this case, your neighbor’s air) can enter your home is if your living space is under negative pressure with reference to the adjacent home. If you reverse that by pulling fresh air in, you will reverse the flow. This is generally an inexpensive fix and if you want to contact me via email, I’d be happy to point you to some resources.

  • Samuel

    The bottom line here is that the law was enacted without any consideration of the second-hand smoke concerns that could arise. And the problem is compounded by the fact that one can’t expect the users to respond to reasonable requests to modify their behavior, especially if they have a dependence. This law as it stands is bad public policy. Conflicts like these are no doubt going to continue to occur until the city imposes and enforces sensible regulations to protect those who do not want to be exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke. I understand the issues with Congress but that should not excuse the city from taking the responsibility to fix this mess.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think I quite understand this argument. The way the law was passed is that it’s legal for someone to consume marijuana on their private property (whether that’s indoors or outdoors). This could be the same for a cigarette smoker – they can smoke inside their house or outside their house, regardless of the second-hand smoke it generates and ultimately affects their neighbors. In fact, cigarette smokers can even smoke in certain public spaces, which marijuana smokers can not. If the “law was enacted without any consideration of the second-hand smoke concerns that could arise” should we also consider legislation to consider second-hand smoke that cigarettes cause in a similar capacity?

      I’m just wondering if people also take the same issues with second-hand smoke from cigarettes that they do with marijuana? It certainly seems that marijuana smoke is more restricted by the law than cigarette smoke. I don’t want to be exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke either yet it seems much more likely than marijuana second-hand smoke with the current laws.

  • Mark

    Create a positive air pressure system in your house. The fundimentals are easy: pump air into your house while restricting the locations for it to exit. This will result in air moving from your house through the walls into your neighbors house, and that will prevent his smoke from entering your home.
    It needn’t be very expensive. Leaving your HVAC fan on while making sure your windows are closed and your home has good weather-stripping might be enough.

  • TakomaNick

    I’m a property manager and have a similar problem on the Hill with a chain smoker. He smokes cigarettes, which is probably even worse because nobody smokes 2 packs of joints a day. The smell is most noticeable in a bathroom that shares a wall with the smoker. It’s always been a problem. Until the current tenant bought a RabbitAir air purifier. Now the house smells so good…

    I would try an air purifier. It doesn’t have to be the RabbitAir but that may be a good place to start.

  • theOPguy

    hi. im the guy with the original question (the op? is that original poster? i guess i am officially old). anyway thanks for all the advice and suggestions. (i have to say that i dont quite understand all the hubbub over the difference between pot smoke and the smell of pot. the bottom line of us is that our house stinks, because we can smell the pot the guy next door is smoking, and we don’t understand why the smell is coming into our house, but we’d like it to figure out a way to stop it). anyway sounds like folks generally think the smell is coming through the wall, as i suspected. (our basement is finished, except for an enclosed laundry room, which has an exposed brick wall on the potsmoker side of the house. the smell is generally strongest there, in the laundry room. ive been trying to fill in any gaps in the mortar, but it hasn’t made a noticeable difference). anyway a few questions: what is a hepa filter fan? also what is a vape? it sounds like the floor joist suggestion might be worth trying, though ive heard that foam stuff can be pretty toxic. that true? and thanks for the suggestions re: air purifiers. i guess we’ll have to buy one of those. anyway thanks again

    • gotryit

      I’m not a scientist, but I’ve worked with the foam a lot. It’s really sticky if it gets on you or your clothes, so you have a brief moment to get it off with mineral spirits, otherwise it’s not going anywhere. It also puts off some fumes when spraying it, so recommend wearing a mask and letting some air into the room.

      But once it’s in place, it’s solid and not going anywhere, so I don’t see how that would be a practical concern. Maybe give it a day or two to let out all the fumes before bringing a baby to play in there.

      Also, HEPA fan is just a fan with a HEPA filter built in. That filters out very small particles, including smoke. Search for “HEPA air purifier” or “HEPA fan” on amazon.

  • Dane

    The reason you are smelling it more in your laundry room is likely because that’s where the largest exhaust fan in your house is located- your dryer. The dryer exhausts huge amounts of air as it dries the clothes and it needs to pull that air in from somewhere- in this case, your neighbors house. A simple make-up air pipe into your laundry room from the outside mat solve your entire issue

  • Cindy

    I recommend getting an air purifier, I have a similar issue with both units under mine (cigarettes and pot) and the air purifier has helped alleviate the problem quite a bit. Of course, it’s a room purifier, so the rest of the house smells, but at least not the bedroom.


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