renovating a smokers house

Tips for Renovating a Smoker’s House

If you are a former smoker planning on selling your home, or you are a house flipper or landlord who has a property that has been occupied by a smoker you will want to get rid of the smokey smell before you let people view the property. Renovating a smoker’s house means deep cleaning it to remove every trace of the smoke smell, and potentially replacing some structural components of the house.

Cigarette Smoke Removal From The House

When you’re renovating an older property that has been generally well taken care of, it’s usually sufficient to simply repaint the walls and steam the carpets, or replace them if they’re slightly worn out. That won’t be enough if the property has been occupied by a smoker.

Studies conducted by the San Diego State University indicate that third-hand smoke from walls, carpets and curtains can have a significant impact on a person’s health. Toxic and volatile compounds from cigarettes build up in drywall and in soft furnishings. Children, in particular, are at risk of disease caused by exposure to the toxins from third-hand smoke.

Third-hand smoke is particularly dangerous because the longer it is allowed to remain in the environment, the more it breaks down and undergoes more chemical reactions which can produce carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These compounds are an asthma trigger, and prolonged exposure to them can increase the risk of a person developing cancer.

High Impact Cleaning Steps For A Smokers House

Anything that is porous will have absorbed the smoke, and it’s going to be hard to get rid of the smell. Steam clean carpets and then vacuum them with baking soda or a similar deodorizing/cleaning substance. If washing the curtains or drapes does not cause immediate improvement in the smell, don’t waste time and money on them. It is most likely a good idea to simply replace them.

Venetian blinds are almost impossible to clean properly, so it would be a good idea to replace those as well. It may feel expensive having to replace all of these things, but it is much better than the alternative – being faced with lower rents or a lower sale price for the property because even smokers will turn their noses up at being asked to live in a property that smells of someone else’s smoke.

Removing Smoke Smell From House Walls and Ceilings

Removing smoke smells from the structure itself is not easy. Perhaps the most effective way to do so is to use Trisodium Phosphate. This is an inexpensive cleaner which is supplied as a powder. It can be used to clean walls, ceilings, doors, skirting and architrave.

Trisodium Phosphate is a caustic cleaner, and it should be handled with care. Read the instructions carefully. Wear a mask while you are cleaning (to protect yourself from the tobacco odor as well as the solution), and wear gloves to protect your skin. Do not use TSP on glass, metal, or tile surfaces.

You will need to clean any ductwork and vents because tobacco and nicotine residue can build up in these. Cleaning those kinds of hard to reach areas is something that can be quite difficult and time-consuming, so it is worth paying a professional to do it for you.

Repainting the Walls and Floors

It is likely that the odor has penetrated the walls and floors, so you will want to repaint them or varnish them. For the walls, a shellac-based primer is a good choice. These are a good stain-blocking primer, and while they are far more expensive than other paints they will make the walls look as good as possible.

If the property has hardwood floors, then they should be sanded and re-stained. Otherwise, clean the subfloor using TSP and use a shellac primer on it, before covering it with a fresh underlay and a fresh carpet.

After the walls have dried, cover the primer with a paint of your choice. Gloss or semi-gloss works well in bathrooms and kitchens. Matte paint tends to look good for bedrooms and living rooms. Wallpaper is another option.

Flipping A Smokers House

One area that often gets overlooked when renovating a smoker’s house is the HVAC unit. Changing the filter is a good first step. You may find that while you are trying to completely eradicate the smell of third-hand smoke you have to change the filter every month, instead of every few months as would be normal for a non-smoker’s house. Run the HVAC while you are working on other parts of the property, and replace the filter as needed while you are flipping the house.

You should also clean the evaporator coil in a smokers house. When HVAC is in operation, fumes will be pulled into the evaporator coil and the smokey odor will permeate the coil. This means that while the air conditioning is running the smell of tobacco is being blasted out from the HVAC to cover the whole house.

Usually, cleaning the coil and replacing the filter is enough. If it proves not to be sufficient in your situation, you may need to replace the whole system. This can be an expensive update. However, if the unit is an older model that uses one of the ‘banned’ refrigerants you may find that replacing it will be a long-term cost-effective solution since newer models are cheaper to maintain and run. Freon is no longer being made, and supplies of it are dwindling, so if you were ever to need to ‘top-up’ the refrigerant in an older HVAC unit you might find that the repair bill is far greater than you expect.

More Methods To Remove Smoke Smell

If you have done all of the above, and there is still some lingering tobacco odor, it’s likely that there are some areas that have been overlooked. Dust from cigarettes and cigars can fuse onto lightbulbs, for example. These will then release the smell when they warm up while being used. Replacing the lightbulbs is a good idea.

Windows can also collect a smoky film which is fine enough that it is not immediately obvious, but that will start to smell when the glass is warmed up by the sun. Wash the windows thoroughly inside and out. Do not use TSP on glass, a standard solution of soapy water / warm water and vinegar will do a good job and will leave the windows looking sparkling clean too.

If all else fails, there are other methods you can apply. I had a house that after all the above cleaning was complete you could still smell the smoke. We proceeded to buy 15 gallons of KILZ oil based primer / sealer and cover all the walls, ceilings, and wood subfloors with this. This seemed to do the trick as the smell was gone after this was completed.

Set a No Smoking Policy

If you are renovating a rental property then you should make sure that your next tenant does not smoke in the property. Get this written, explicitly, into the rental agreement. As you have now seen, getting rid of a smokey smell once it is there is no small undertaking. It can be expensive to do and takes far more time than cleaning and renovating a property vacated by a non-smoker.

When flipping any house we have a non smoking policy once painting begins. Before the painting begins, while other structural or mechanical repairs are being made I am more relaxed about letting the guys smoke inside. I try to be as flexible as possible with the crews but once painting begins, all smoking must be confined to outside the house. This has worked well for me and the crews. Our houses always smell fresh and new when complete!

Final Thoughts On A Smokers House

If you are considering buying a property, and you know that there has been a smoker living in it, think twice. The renovation process can be expensive. If you are willing to invest the time, then be sure to negotiate a discount for the cleaning expense and for any potential renovation issues, such as the possibility of having to replace the air conditioning unit or repaint walls which are too contaminated to adequately clean. Do not underestimate how long these things can take, or how much they can cost. As a property investor it is your responsibility to negotiate a fair price for a property, and take into account things like tobacco contamination and the practical impact it will have on how quickly and efficiently you can turn around the property.

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