Home that has been smoked in for 20 years

mamajaneApril 15, 2014

My husband and I recently sold our home and are currently renting and planning to build a new home on some land. Meanwhile, we found a small home that we could pay cash for and have zero mortgage or rent payment while we work on building the house... but, the reason it's so cheap even though it's on acreage with water rights is because it really reeks.

Standing in the driveway, just getting out of the car, the smell hits you. It of course gets stronger the closer you get to the front door. I've read the helpful threads here and elsewhere on ridding a place of smoke (eg: http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/load/disaster/msg071037188413.html). The owner and her husband smoked in it for 20 years, he died a couple of years ago; she still smokes but wants to move. I don't know what classifies a person as a chain smoker, I just know this house has a powerful odor. My husband ran over there to talk to her for just a few minutes the other day. He stood on the porch. When he came home he had to change his clothes and take a shower.

We would tear out all the carpets and replace the vinyl flooring. And as it's a very small two bedroom home we would be okay replacing drywall too. Her ceilings just from our walk through were very stained, so I think we'd just replace them rather than trying to clean & paint.

The kitchen appears to be oak cabinets. I think I'd try to clean them and then paint them if I can't get the smell out.

There isn't a lot of tile in the bathrooms, she's got those drop in fiberglass tub surrounds and vinyl flooring which could be replaced pretty easily. The master bath has carpet in it, even going up around the tub (??!!) which would all be removed and replaced with tile. I'd throw away all the window treatments.

My question is - do you think we'll need to replace insulation as well? Do you think this is crazy? We have never smoked a day in our lives and are pretty sensitive to the smell. The only reason we're considering it is because of the price. The inspector said the house itself is in good shape, it's just the smoke, and the owner knows that and has lowered the price to reflect that. It's been on the market for over a year, and she'd probably go even lower. But I don't want to take advantage, she's a senior citizen and the land is worth something even if the house needs all this work.

We could stay put while we did the repairs so we wouldn't need to live in it right away. I've read conflicting things about the ozone machines, but perhaps if we ran them while we were away, on a timer so they would be off for some time before we returned to do more work?

Anyway, are we completely nuts to be considering this? After we get our home built, we're thinking it could make a nice rental property or we could turn around and sell it for a profit. IF we can get the smoke out. What do you think?

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Why not talk to (and forgive me if I have name wrong) a remediation specialist? A company who come in and clean up after floods and fires. Smoke is smoke...so fire smoke, I'm sure, permeates everything much worse than cigarettes.

Another thought is to ask apt. complexes what they do after a fire, which are somewhat commonplace for apts.

Ask the experts. Hopefully, u will get someone helpful.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 2:42AM
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Oh, MamaJane, I'm thinking this means you are going to have TWO projects going on--first you're going to get caught up in re-doing Old Smoky, and then that's either going to distract you from planning forever house, or you're going to be dealing with decisions on both at the same time. Do you have any rough way of quickly guesstimating how much the de-smoking renovations might cost and how much you might be able to sell it for afterwards?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 6:33AM
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I'm a former smoker (just stopped in Dec.) and before being able to buy a house of my own, rented from my father for 10+ years. I kept my smoking to only 1 room of the house, a bedroom. I kept the window open, and ceiling fan going, whenever I smoked. You'd have never known a smoker lived in the home unless you went in that room. When I moved out the walls had to be washed down, then Kilzed. The carpet had to be professionally cleaned. That is just one room, that was kept VERY well ventilated. I literally sat with my cigarette inches from the window.

With having to do that for just one room, what you'd have to do to remove the smell from a house that you can smell from outside...I can't even imagine.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 11:01AM
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Lisa_H OK

There was a house across the street from us that was owned by a chain smoker. After he died, (and the house was left vacant for a couple of years) when the new owner came in we thought they would have to gut the inside of the house. They changed out the carpet and kilzed the walls, painted and that seemed to be sufficient. I didn't smell anything on the walk through. I was surprised.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 11:08AM
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I think you need to prioritize your financial plans. If it's to build a custom home, it seems unwise to drain even a portion of your savings and dedicate your time to the "smoker" house. Why divide your money and your energy like this?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 12:19PM
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If you like the house and the acerage I would go for it, as long as you do not have children or could keep them completely away from the house during remediation.

Replacing the carpets and drywall will work wonders. I would also check out the ductwork and talk to someone who cleans them to find out if it's possible to clean out that kind of nicotine buildup or if you should just replace them.

Frankly, I do not think you should feel like you are 'taking advantage' to make a lower offer. Smoking to this level in a house is something that clearly lowers value. You will have to do extensive remediation. You may make a good profit when you resell, but not without trouble and expense, and you certainly do not need to feel like you should take on the consequences of years of smoke damage just to be nice.

My sister and her husband bought a smoker's home. They did extensive cleaning and painting and you cannot smell it at all now. As a contractor friend of our says about animal smells 'it's the smell of money.' Plus, it will be a wonderful place to live while building your dream home. I would go for it.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 12:25PM
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My brother bought a condo years ago that was formerly owned by an extremely heavy smoker. He painted, replaced the floor coverings,light fixtures etc etc. Everything was yellowed because of the smoking. He even replaced all of the outlets and covers. The smell permeated everything.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 12:51PM
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I think you are a little crazy... Have you priced buying a small RV/camper/single wide and parking that on your ground while building and compare it to what it would cost to do what you are suggesting for this other house?

Are you interested in owning 2 homes?

And, do you have children who would be living in this?

Once you replace the drywall, you'll have to prime and paint. I'm thinking some kilz and paint to start will do wonders. Get an ozone machine and ozone the house for a while too. Definitely get ducts cleaned. I don't think you'lll need to replace insulation, AS LONG AS all you are smelling is cigarette smoke and not home deterioration due to mold or similar that has nothing to do with the cigarettes... (I'd think about getting a mold specialist in to verify there aren't bigger issues...)

I really liked the suggestion to talk to a remediation specialist.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:55PM
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Would it be cheaper to just tear the house down and rebuild on the existing foundation?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 6:06PM
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I think once you remove the carpet, window treatments and primer and paint the inside of the house most of the issues will be resolve. Cleaning the ducts would be helpful as well as running an ozone machine.

I had a friend who bought a condo off a chain smoker. It was so bad the paint was stained a tan color. But I couldn't smell any stale cigarette odor after he had done what I meantioned, and I am sensitive to smoke odor as well. I remember he said he used a special primer before painting- Bin (spelling?) or something like that.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 8:50PM
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These are great comments, thanks. I'm going to talk to a remediation specialist tomorrow and see what he thinks. The lady is fine with me having anyone come to the property and check it out.

It really might be nuts to attempt two projects at once... however there are some snags / red tape with our larger property (building rights and stuff) that may take a couple of months to sort out. The GC thinks we could knock this renovation on the tiny house out relatively quickly, within 6 weeks; even replacing drywall. We're still pricing everything out though, so that might be the deciding factor.

I'm torn between wanting to save money on rent while building and not wanting to get involved with a project that might end up being a nightmare. So hard to know. I'd be willing to take it on if a) the red tape with the county really does sap up another 3 months of prime building time, and b) if the amount invested would still save us a bundle on rent, and we'd be able to get something out of it at the end.

Tearing it down is definitely an option. The land is priced so that even if you tore down the house and did nothing, the price per acre is still fabulous. And it has 3 water rights which are worth their weight in gold. This is part of why I feel bad about taking advantage. If she had this listed anywhere (we found her by accident, touring our property) it'd be gone in a hot minute, smokey house and all, just for the land.

One option might be to tear it down and rebuild on the existing foundation. The footprint is much smaller than our house plans, but the GC still thought there was value there, the electrical, septic, and gas are all in, and the foundation (crawl space) could be altered to accept our home.

The last kicker is this piece butts up to the north side of our property! We'd be adding ten more acres to our existing land. It could definitely function as a guest house, housing for a farmhand...

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 10:51PM
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Especially since it is connected to your other property, this is beginning to sound like something you might regret if you do not take advantage of the deal. But I understand the dilemma--we were nervous when we made an offer on a smoker's house during our house hunt. It was a large house, so the scope of work was daunting. If everything else about your house is sound, so it wouldn't become a money pit, a quick refresh sounds doable. It isn't as if you would need all the perfect finishes as would be the case for a forever home.

But living where I do, and with the prices here, it is almost unimaginable to buy any house on ten acres just to live in as a temp residence.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 11:28PM
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Oh my gosh, I would buy that in a heartbeat! Land and water rights! It really isn't that hard to get rid of smoker smell--like someone said--it is the smell of money! If the house is in good condition, won't take much to whip it into shape.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 1:05AM
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My sister was in charge of fixing up and selling an uncle's house ... he and our aunt were both chain smokers and had smoked in the house for 40-50 years. When she was through, you could not smell any smoke.

No amount of ozone generating will do the trick - you have to physically remove the smoke from the walls, and seal in the smoke that has soaked into them.

1 - Remove ALL textiles (carpet, drapes, etc) and discard them. Remove any hard flooring you plan to replace

2 - Wash down all walls and ceilings (remove popcorn if any) and trim and windows and cabinets to remove the tobacco resins. Use a commercial deodorizing detergent from a janitor supply company.

EVERY SQUARE INCH OF EVERYTHING needs washed. Start inside the closet, then wash the room and the trim, and close the door when you are done. Remember the light fixtures and the switch plates.

You will go through a TON of wash rags, because as soon as they get brown with the tars, you have to dump in a tub of bleach-soap-water and get a fresh one. Wash them with bleach and baking soda or washing soda, dry and use again.

3 - Use shellac (that white alcohol-based stuff, or clear sealant shellac) on all walls and ceilings and subflooring ... totally seal the envelope.

Remove cabinets, use shellac on the walls behind them and the rear of the cabinets
Remember to shellac INSIDE all cabinets, and all surfaces of all drawers.

4 - Caulk around all windows and doors, even interior doors, and the baseboards

5 - Have a pro clean the vents and ducts.


Let the shellac dry, air out the alcohol smell, close up the house and come back the next day. You should not smell much, if any, smoke.

Replacing the insulation might or might not be needed - go into the attic and take a sniff.

When you have the smoke smell gone, then repaint and recarpet.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 10:16AM
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Lazygardens's post is perfect.

If a little smoke smell lingers, try leaving dishes of vinegar out overnight.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 3:23PM
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Another ditto on Lazygardens's post. Also - open all of the windows and let the air flow through while you are reading the internets and trying to decide what to do!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 10:58PM
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Lazygarden, thank you so much. Really really great.

I think we are going to do this! thanks so much everyone!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 4:27AM
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We once owned a house that had faux paneling attached to the studs (no sheetrock whatsoever) and the house was carpeted wall-to-wall (even the kitchen!). We removed the carpet, took down the paneling and sheetrocked the whole place. You could still smell the smoke when you stood near the closet (the wood had been painted, but not replaced). Also smelled it when you were near the aluminum screen doors and window screens. It's something I would seriously consider, if even a little lingering odor is going to bother you.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 12:53AM
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kilz primer is shelac based and will seal in the smoke.

I bought a home where the prior owner smoked cigars in the basement. I removed the dropped ceiling and, I washed the walls down with TSP many times before the rags stopped coming up brown. It was disgusting.

I primed with kilz and painted cheerful kid colors and made it into a playroom. It did not smell at all.

Since I cannot imagine washing down a whole house, I would guess that redoing drywall would do it.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 10:03PM
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