How to Stop Secondhand Smoke Coming Into Your Apartment

Living in an apartment block, it can sometimes be a trial if you are plagued by the effects of secondhand smoke seeping into your home from another residence. The law may, or may not, be on your side and even where it is, the time needed to institute legal responses might result in secondhand smoke continuing to impinge on your quality of life for a long period of time. If you cannot move, there are some proactive steps that you can take to protect the quality of air that you breathe in your home.


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    Try to locate the entry point(s) of the secondhand smoke. Typical places for the seepage of cigarette smoke from one apartment to another include air vents, pipes (plumbing), gaps in insulation, eaves or other places, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, cable or phone jacks, windows and doors. Do not forget to consider balconies and outdoor patios as another possible source. Unfortunately, even the ventilation system can be a source (see "Warnings" below).
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    See if it is possible to pinpoint the source of the cigarette smoke. If you have understanding and cooperative neighbors, you may be able to arrange with them to locate exit points in their residence and ask them to deal with these exit points in the same way as your entrance points.
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    Seal the gaps. Gaps should be filled with suitable filler such as insulating foam for large gaps or silicone caulk for smaller ones. Consider gaps around light fittings, electrical points, around air vents, around plumbing items etc.
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    Any vents no longer in use (common in old buildings) can be sealed by removing the diffuser/grate, cutting a plastic sheet slightly larger than the opening, and attaching the sheet to the opening using silicone caulk as an adhesive.
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    Fit door draft excludes under doors that open into corridors or common areas. This will help prevent the entry of smoke and other undesirable elements such as dust, pollen and insects. Install a threshold under the door if there is none, and attach weatherstripping on all 3 sides of the jamb.
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    Seal around windows with caulk or weatherstripping. Not only will this help prevent smoke from entering off balconies and gardens etc., but it will increase your energy efficiency.
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    Install extractive window fans. These will help to draw smoke outside and can help increase ventilation. Seek professional advice on type and installation measures.
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    Seek rectification. There are some important follow-ups that you might consider pursuing as well as the practical actions in the steps above.
    • Notify the landlord, building management or other relevant persons that you have the problem. Request that action be taken to prevent the distribution of secondhand smoke through the apartment building. Check the lease agreement or apartment building bylaws to see if you can find additional support.
    • Check local laws to see if there are bans on smoking in public places, such as gardens and common outdoor areas. It may mean that you can request property management to enforce the laws. If there are not currently laws in place to protect your family and other non-smokers, consider calling or writing to your local law makers. Don't wait for others to protect you and your kids- take action to change local laws yourself.
    • Ask for compensation from a landlord, property management or other relevant party for the repairs you have made. Keep all receipts and document all repairs made. You may not be successful but it is worth trying and it is even more important to retain this documentation if the matter turns into a legal issue later on.


  • One problematic entry point is the bath. If you live above a smoking residence and their electrical fan in their bathroom is drawing the smoke out, it may be drawing it right up into the recess beneath your bathtub. If this is the case, you will need a professional plumber to come and seal the space under the bathtub.
  • You can purchase seals made for electrical outlets and light switch points. Ask at your local hardware store.
  • If you can pinpoint the source to a neighbor and that neighbor seems unwilling, disinterested or even aggressively defensive about the smoking issue, it will be time to bring in a landlord, those responsible for general maintenance of the apartment block (e.g., caretakers, cooperative board, property manager etc.) and let these people take over from you. Make sure that you present well-documented evidence of your concern and be prepared to show them inside your apartment to demonstrate as well.
  • The floor can settle in older apartments, so you may need to seal the gap underneath your baseboard to floor.


  • Secondhand smoke is dangerous to every person exposed to it. Chemicals from smoke, such as benzene, settle on your upholstery, paintwork, food and sleeping areas, to name but a few areas of concern. Be assertive in protecting your family's health.
  • Be aware that ventilation systems and portable air cleaners do not adequately filter smoke particles. They might reduce the odor but they tend to push the smoke around rather than stop it and the health-damaging effects are still occurring.
  • If you are renting, or under strict rules about making changes, always seek appropriate approvals before undertaking remedial work. Don't forget, however, that this is urgent and you should press the urgency of the matter when seeking approvals.
  • Sealing gaps also reduces airflow in your home. This could result in stale indoor air and other health-related problems. To avoid this possibility, seek professional advice from the apartment building management or from energy efficiency experts (often attached to municipal or local governments).

Things You'll Need

  • Tube of 100% silicone caulk
  • Sturdy plastic sheeting
  • Insulating foam sealant (ie "Great Stuff")
  • Foam outlet and switch plate inserts (in the weatherization section of home depot)
  • Door threshold and sweep, if yours in inadequate
  • Door weatherstripping (rubber or vinyl)
  • Perseverance to contact the necessary authorities (landlord, lawmakers, attorneys...)

Article Info

Categories: Home Security