Cigarette Smoke damage discovered after we moved in

Dear Zillow helpers :)
We moved in to out first house. Generally everything is OK, some little things like burnt light bulbs, leaking faucet, or cracked toilet flush handle. Some small items that can be easily fixed.

We had an inspection done that did not reveal anything major. Furnace is old, but works. Roof is OK and so on.

The problem was discovered just now. After about 2 weeks since we moved in (closing was on 30-OCT-2013).
In the whole house was nice smell of air fresheners. Nothing weird, right?
Well... there is a room in finished basement which is walk out patio type (front part in ground, rear walk out - like two story).
In this particular room the carpet had some weird stain. Nothing really big, looked more like some dirt. So we decided to wash it.

And it all began.

The next day a very dense cigarette smoke smell started spreading around. It stinks so bad one can't sit in this room. It was an extra bedroom that would not be in use unless we had visitors.
I removed the carpet, but still, the smell is there. It must be in ceiling and walls, which were painted so cleaning is not really an option now.



So, the question here.

Is there anything we can do now? What is the legal status if such case?
Can we expect previous owners to d something about it?
Clearly the air fresheners were masking the smell (now they are gone so the smell is exposed).
The house has warranty, but I doubt there is any use of it.
Inspection? Was it missed? Could it be anticipated?

Now I am facing either professional cleaning or tearing down the room...

Please give me some advice what we could do... I do not want to spend a few thousands on repairs to get rid of this ugly smell.
Plus, it all goes all around the house and kids really do not enjoy it.
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November 27 2013 - Haslett
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Answers (9)

Profile picture for wetdawgs
I am so sorry to hear of this issue.   I'd be horrified.    (When looking for houses, I don't even walk in the door of houses with air fresheners or with evidence of smoking).

IMHO, it would be worth a quick call to an attorney.You might wish to read this article in the NY times.

Rip out the carpet (as you've done).

Paint the entire room with sealing primer.  This includes the floor that had been under the carpet.   Go to a good paint store and talk with a skilled employee about possibilities for the absolute best.   (After searching on the internet for brand names that really work).   Give it two layers of sealing primer.  Then, let it sit for a few days.    If that solves it, great.   If not, you need to move further into the house for the source of the smell.

Some write that the smell will go away.... I wonder how many eons one should be patient.  A friend made the mistake of buying a house where there had been smokers, and even 15 years later one can smell the hint of smoke on warm humid days.    The carpet has been replaced, the entire place painted with sealing primer.  

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November 27 2013
Profile picture for sunnyview
Seal the room so the smell does not spread further. Then work on sealing all surfaces--walls, ceiling, subfloor, baseboards, woodwork EVERYTHING. Clean the flat surfaces will vinegar and water first then paint over all with KILZ. KILZ will "seal" in the smell and give you a fresh surface to paint. Clean all windows, window tracks, air vents etc. 

You can also pay to steam clean the area and/or rent an industrial prior to painting, but often repeated treatments are necessary and painting with a sealant is more effective.

This problem is not permanent. It is fixable. I am sure that the owners knew about it as you say, but they are probably far less sensitive to smoke and may not have known that the problem would be persistent or extensive.
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November 27 2013

Facts About Tobacco Smoke and its Residue

Smoke particles can be as small as .001% of the width of a human hair, which allows them to penetrate almost any part of a house. Tobacco smoke can easily circulate through a building's ventilation system or come up through apartment floors. Tenant/tenant and tenant/landlord disputes commonly arise when smoke odors penetrate adjacent housing units.

It is not clear whether tobacco smoke odor is dangerous or if it is merely a nuisance. While tobacco smoke is a known carcinogen, little is known about the health effects of the particles that are left in the air after you can no longer see the smoke. The American Cancer Society states of cigarette odors, "Though unknown, the cancer-causing effects would likely be very small compared with direct secondhand smoke exposure, such as living in a household that has a smoker."

Odor-Absorbing Materials

The following materials are believed to be capable of absorbing or neutralizing tobacco smoke odors, at least temporarily:

vinegar. Place a bowl of vinegar in each affected room overnight.citrus. Leave a large amount of citrus peels in your home for several days or until they have become desiccated.baking soda. Sprinkle baking soda over the smoke-affected area and let it sit for a few hours before vacuuming it up. Be sure to test the baking soda on a small part of the surface to ensure that the surface or fabric doesn't react unfavorably to the baking soda.coffee grounds. Pour coffee grounds into several coffee filters and tie them closed, leaving them in affected areas.charcoal. As you would with vinegar, place charcoal into bowls and leave them in smoke-infused rooms overnight.

Removal Strategies for Smoke Odor

Open all windows and turn on fans. Ventilation is probably the best way to remove any odor.Clean light bulbs. Just as some scent-diffusers rely on heat from light bulbs to disperse the aroma of the scented oil, it's possible that the oily residue from nicotine and other cigarette byproducts is dispersed throughout the living area the same way.  Anecdotal reports suggest that light bulbs attract smoke residue.  It has also been claimed that bulbs will release smoke odors when they are turned on.  Perhaps replacing incandescent bulbs with higher-efficiency bulbs that do not get as hot would help alleviate this problem.Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces, preferably with cleaners that contain ammonia, although woodwork requires cleaners that are not as acidic.Surfaces may be painted to trap odor, although it may be possible for odors to gradually seep through paint barriers.Remove carpeting, as it is nearly impossible to remove smoke particles from carpet. Thoroughly scrub the flooring beneath before installing new carpet. If the carpet cannot be replaced, have it professionally cleaned.Soak blinds in a bathtub full of all-purpose cleaner, scrub them thoroughly, and hang them to dry.Send curtains out to be professionally cleaned or replace them.Purchase a chemical sponge to remove smoke residue from lampshades, books and other materials.Use an ozone generator. Ozone, as it has three oxygen atoms, is highly unstable and will oxidize easily. When it is introduced into an area, ozone attaches itself to the odor molecules and oxidizes them into their basic elements--carbon dioxide and hydrogen, which have no odor. Beware that ozone is dangerous and ozone generators should only be used in unoccupied spaces. Be sure to read our article on the subject before purchasing an ozone generator.Use a HEPA filter.Burn "smoker candles." Candles that contain enzymes to help neutralize and remove smoke odors are widely available. They may also be used to remove cooking and pet odors.Replace all heating and air filters regularly, as they tend to harbor cigarette odors and other irritants.


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November 27 2013
A home inspection is not required to uncover things such as lingering cigarette smoke. This has somehow been overlooked in the buying process. I am afraid there are no legal steps you can take for this. You just have to put up with it or look at ways to mask the smell/ reduce its effect.
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November 27 2013
The subfloor might need to be sealed if the smell is in the floor.

As far as legal issues, an attorney would need to give a legal opinion but my non-legal opinion is the seller won't be required to do anything. You could ask, but my bet is they will say no. You had a time period to discover issues, but missed this one it seems. Good luck with it.

tim
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November 27 2013
No need to tear down the walls. I was a professional painter for several years, before becoming a home builder, and I also had the same issue with my previous home of residence. With my own issue and when my previous clients had the same issue, my remedy was to paint the area or the room with Kilz Original oil based primer. You must use the Original oil based primer, since it is the most effective. The only issue I've had with the product is the over powering chemical oder. If you keep the room well ventilated, after applying the product and the room is allowed to dry for a day and a paint top coat is applied, the oder is a non issue.Kilz is my go to product of choice for such situation, and it will remedy your situation. Good luck

http://www.kilz.com/primer/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=5679559110f23210VgnVCM1000006b0910acRCRD
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November 27 2013
If you have kids, and you really dont like it, have it professionally cleaned, and it that does not work tear it down and replace the drywall. Nothing is worse that cigarette smoke if you and your family are sensitive to it. 

I would give up trying to go after sellers, why waste money on that when you can put it into fixing your issue. 


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November 27 2013
Really?
Get some more air fresheners. Maybe you can get fresh air insurance. An odor warranty, maybe. Get a Cat, and put the litter box in there.
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November 27 2013
There are some paints that will cover tobacco stains - I think Kilz is one of them (primer).  Ask someone at Home Depot or Lowes.  Try vinegar and bleach on the area(s).

Eventually the smell will go away but it may take longer than you're willing to wait. 
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November 27 2013
 
Related Questions
Cigarette Smoke damage discovered after we moved in
Profile picture for wetdawgs
Latest answer by wetdawgs
November 27 2013 | 9 answers
does the house have a basement
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