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Documents Referenced:
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Quick Fixes to Reduce Secondhand Smoke in Your Unit

The only way to completely eliminate secondhand smoke exposure in a building is by creating a smoke-free building. The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke,” concluded that there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke, and the only way to protect people from the dangers of secondhand smoke is to eliminate the smoke exposure.

However, there are some things that you can try in order to reduce the level of exposure you are receiving in your home. Whether you attempt these solutions before you talk to your landlord, or while you and your property manager are working together to solve the problem, be sure to document the solutions that you have tried. That way, if you need to bring in a building engineer or other third party, you will have information to share about your attempts.

For suggestions on how to completely eliminate secondhand smoke from your unit, see the Strategies for Tenants page and the Smoked Out of Your Apartment fact sheet (opens as a pdf in new window).

NOTE: Some of these quick fixes require modifications to the unit. Do not attempt any major repair work to the unit without first getting written permission or help from the landlord to do so. Your lease may tell you what kinds of repair work you are allowed to do on your unit.(1)

  1. Pads and Seals. Smoke can travel through spaces around electrical outlets, power switches, baseboards, vents, and other small openings. Hardware stores often sell outlet seals and other ways to temporarily patch openings. You can also try blocking the openings with heavy padding.
  2. Doors and Windows. Gaps under doorways or around door and window frames can allow smoke into your unit. You can buy special door sweeps and window weather stripping to help reduce smoke transfer.

  3. Fans and Air Cleaners. Running a fan may help move the smoke outdoors or move outdoor air into your unit. The success of running a fan may depend on other factors like the direction of the wind outside or the direction of a draft inside. Air cleaners often mask the smoke odor but do not rid a unit of smoke itself. Be aware that the problem may seem better, but you have not necessarily stopped the source of the problem.
  4. Fill Openings. There are many cracks and gaps in apartment floors and walls. Remember that an apartment is one building divided into many units. This means that air can travel throughout the entire building by means of gaps made for wiring, plumbing, vents, and other structural necessities. Tape, caulk, and latex foam may be used to fill some holes and seal around pipes. You may not be able to see or access all of the gaps in a unit or building, but filling some of the gaps may help reduce smoke in your unit.
  5. Repair Vents. Vents in kitchens and bathrooms may have vent check valves to stop odors from moving from one unit to another. These valves may have to be repaired or replaced.
  6. Heating and Air Systems. Problems with heating and air systems may allow smoke to travel to other units. These systems may have to be inspected and repaired.