5 Surprising (and Costly) Ways Smoking Can Ruin Your Home

updated Jul 9, 2019
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(Image credit: Jenny Chang-Rodriguez)

Each year on the third Thursday in November, the American Cancer Society sponsors the Great American Smokeout—it’s an annual event to inspire every smoker to start the journey towards a smoke-free life. More resources and support for quitting can be found here.

We all know how harmful smoking can be for our health, but the damage from smoking doesn’t stop with disease. For the estimated 37 million Americans who still smoke in 2018, their habit might not only be harming their lungs and heart—it’s ruining their home, too.

Disclosure: I grew up in a household where two parents smoked multiple packs a day so I really, really hate cigarette smoke. But it’s not just me who knows how smoking at home can affect everyone who lives there and your environment. This summer the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ruled that all public housing must be smoke-free.

So here’s how it could negatively affect your home:

1. You could start a fire and burn down your house (or worse).

Smoking at home is responsible for an estimated 7,600 fires in residential buildings each year, according to FEMA. And while fires caused by smoking at home may only account for two percent of all residential building fires (cooking is usually the culprit), they are a leading cause of civilian fire deaths—to be exact, it accounts for 14 percent of fire deaths in residential buildings, according to a FEMA report. Loved ones are also at risk, too: The National Fire Protection Association states that a quarter of the deaths due to these fires at home aren’t that of the smoker.

(Image credit: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

2. You might kill your home’s resale value.

Good luck selling your house for anything near its true value. And it might even be hard for a realtor to take your listing. A survey of Ontario real estate agents and brokers found that most agents believe that it’s more difficult to sell a home where the owners smoked.

Let’s put some numbers on that: More than half of the agents said buyers are “less likely” to purchase a home where people have smoked, with 27 percent firmly stating they think buyers would be “actually unwilling” to buy a smoker’s home. Out of those agents and brokers, two-thirds agreed that smoking in the home would reduce the value by 10 to 19 percent, with one in three saying the home’s value could be docked as much as 29 percent compared to a non-smoking home. For a $300,000 home, that’s $87,000 you could be missing out on.

Not to mention, you’re reducing the pool of potential buyers. “Since secondhand smoke has been found to cause so many risks, most buyers do not want to be exposed to it whatsoever, unless they are smokers themselves,” said Illinois-based Century 21 agent Kim Wirtz. And even if you think you can skirt buyers’ expectations, it usually doesn’t work. Wirtz shared that, in her experience, non-smoking buyers are turned off by homes that show any evidence of being smoked in. “Smoke saturates into the window treatments, carpet, and rugs. There are mediation devices that are supposed to remove the smoke smell, but I’ve never seen them work 100 percent.”

And even if you don’t smoke inside your home, it could affect your resale value. “Many buyers are even turned off [by smoke] in an attached garage,” Wirtz said. “Sometimes sellers will leave ashtrays on patios or garage work benches. That is a big turn off.”

Which brings us to our next topic…

3. Smoking makes your house smell and can stain your walls.

I learned from my parents that smokers don’t know how bad the smell is until they stop. No amount of candles, air fresheners, or open windows will fix that. And it will never truly go away, which I learned firsthand working on our first fixer-upper—a house that previously belonged to a smoker.

Smoking also stains everything. You would literally not believe the sticky, gummy discoloration on the ceilings, walls, cabinets, painted fireplace bricks, windows, blinds—everything—in my house. Despite the coats of KILZ primer and paint, a few months later the stains started seeping back through.

And lest you think the yellow shade is naturally an “old home” thing, we have somewhat of a control group in just about every city in America—just check out the ceiling the next time you pass through an airport. The internet has documented plenty of instances of the yellow ceiling discoloration that builds up in the smoking section compared to the pristine main airport terminal.

This discoloration is part of a real thing call thirdhand smoke. In a 2011 report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, we get the breakdown: “Thirdhand smoke consists of residual tobacco smoke pollutants that remain on surfaces and in dust after tobacco has been smoked, are re-emitted back into the gas phase, or react with oxidants and other compounds in the environment to yield secondary pollutants.”

4. If you’re renting, you might not get your security deposit back.

What’s it going to cost you if you smoke in a rental where it’s not allowed? According to a fact sheet about fixing smoke-damaged apartments from the American Lung Association, a thorough restoration of a two-bedroom could cost up to $15,000.

Why so much? The four-day process takes three cleaning experts. After the basic overall cleaning, it’s suggested to deep clean everything from light fixtures to window frames. Then the apartment owner replaces the floors, sanitizes the subfloor, and potentially replaces the appliances.

That’s step one. Then they bring in an ozone machine and a thermal fogger. Even still, if any fixtures are “yellowed and odiferous” or “the odor has permeated” ceiling fans and cabinets, those need removing, too. The last step is to paint the entire apartment and the woodwork. It’s a process, and your landlord will likely take your security deposit for the trouble, if not much, much more, depending on your lease and local laws.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. You could be using your money for something else.

It’s an expensive addiction. I remember my parents taking a long-overdue vacation with money they saved after they quit smoking for a year. Which just makes you think: What kind of home improvements could you do if you weren’t spending your cash cigarettes?

The How Much Will You Save? Calculator on SmokeFree.gov does the number crunching for you: If you’re a pack-a-day smoker (like more than a quarter of daily smokers are, according to the CDC), based on the national average of $6.28 a pack, just about $2,300 is gone in a year’s time. With that cash you could swap carpet for hardwood floors, update your bathroom, or knock down a wall. Over 10 years that’s more than $30,000, or a pretty nice kitchen renovation.

Are you ready to quit, or want to encourage someone you love to quit, there’s help. Visit the helpful resources at lung.org or cancer.org to get started.