I have done many posts on the consequences of smoking in homes. It makes me wonder how much cigarette smoking devalues a property. There was a time when nearly everyone smoked. Perhaps then smoking’s effect on a home’s value was minimal.
Today’s home buyer is usually quite concerned about finding out the house they are interested in buying has been smoked in.
I have seen buyers walk away from heavily smoked homes.
Sellers (or more likely their agents) go to great lengths to rid homes of the signs of smoking. Houses that have not had any clean-up done are pretty easy to tell. When the walls are yellow, and where the pictures used to be are white, there is a good chance that all that yellow is staining from nicotine.
Nicotine is a serious poison that is easily absorbed through the skin of small children and it is easy for them to get doses of nicotine greater than if they actually smoked the cigarettes. This is aside from all the odors left behind.
It is pretty difficult for me as inspector to know for sure whether a home has been smoked to death or not—unless it is clearly visible or that unmistakable cigarette odor is in the air. When I walk into a home and all I can smell is new carpet and new paint, I know I am going to have to be a little more aggressive in my observations. Quite often, very difficult to get at areas will be overlooked. Like the insides of closets, behind blinds, inside can lights, and perhaps the most forgotten place of all—the inside of the heating system ductwork. Really—anywhere air movement can carry the cigarette smoke is a place likely to end up coated with nicotine. That is why it can coat the insides of poorly insulated wall cavities where there are plumbing and electrical penetrations etc. Removing a cover plate and smelling inside the outlet box will often give the condition away.
A fresh coat of paint can do a pretty good job of covering up the color, but if the walls have not been adequately cleaned and sealed before it is painted, that yellow coating will eventually bleed through the nice new paint to the horror of the new home owner. A call from such a client is not a call I want to get. Sure, my contract says that I don’t specifically inspect for such environmental hazards, but that will not likely prevent a client from either calling or being upset.
The presence of the nicotine stained ductwork may or may not be a concern in terms of being a danger to the home’s occupants. However, when the heating system is cranked up, and all that nicotine gets heated and the odors are the first clue that the home was smoked, the buyer may not be too happy. Heavily smoked ductwork is difficult to clean and replacement is usually the best course of action.
I personally think cigarette smoking should be something that is on the disclosure form just like, the presence of oil tanks, lead paint, or past wood destroying insect activity. And while we are recreating the Form 17, lets add pets to the list as well.
There are many red flags for home inspectors and it takes time and training to to learn them all. The house newly painted and carpeted from top to bottom is certainly a huge red flag. Of course it is always possible that it is all just harmless upgrading–every home needs that now and then. But when red flags wave it is a good idea to pay attention and go the extra mile to make sure.
In forced air homes I like to routinely photograph the insides of the ductwork. I do this to check to see how dirty they are but it will also give me a hint as the history of the overall house air. All the air of the home is routinely circulated through the heating system ductwork. Anything in the air that can be collected on smooth surfaces will create a history of the homes air inside that ductwork.
So painting and carpeting the house is a little bit like changing your clothes, washing your hair and brushing your teeth.
You might fool your girl friend or your husband but you won’t fool your lungs or your doctor–or your home inspector.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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