The lighter side of real estate

How Third-Hand Smoke Ruins Your Home

Did you know that smoking is ruining not only your lungs but your home's value? Come inside to find out how money you could be losing.

David Cross

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There’s no disputing that smoking tobacco is dangerous. There’s enough evidence that, by now, most people should know that smoking causes cancer. Still, there are a variety of different ways people can be exposed to the chemicals found in cigarettes that lead to cancer—the most common of which is second-hand smoke. There is, however, another type of exposure that has started to make its way into the public mind in the past several years: third-hand smoke.

There are few smokers in the Movoto office, but as real estate professionals we do know that those looking to buy and sell homes might have to deal with houses that were affected by third-hand smoke. If you don’t know what it is, here’s Movoto’s guide to third-hand smoke and housing.

We’ll start with the basics: a literal definition of third-hand smoke.

What is Third-Hand Smoke?

Third-hand smoke is a term created by a research team from the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. It refers to the chemicals that remain on the surface of objects after they’ve been exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke. In other words, third-hand smoke is the residue that is left after the smoke clears out; it can be found on carpet, counters, and clothing. Both smokers and non-smokers can be at risk of tobacco-related illnesses through contact with these substances, whether through inhalation, ingestion, or touch.

What Can Third-Hand Smoke Do to You?

Researchers argue that after second-hand smoke clears from a room or confined area, its various components—specifically chemicals—coat surfaces after a short amount of time. Some have argued that these chemicals can react with nitrous acid to create carcinogens found in tobacco products. If you aren’t familiar with the term, carcinogens are substances that are linked to cancer.

According to the New York Times, researchers found 11 carcinogenic compounds that could be in third-hand smoke including:

  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Butane
  • Toluene
  • Arsenic
  • Lead
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Polonium-210

Nonetheless—and this is important—research into third-hand smoke and its health effects is still ongoing. In other words, the full effect of exposure to the substances that have coated your house or car (or other objects) isn’t fully known. This means that while some have argued that third-hand smoke is worse for you than second-hand smoke, there’s still more testing needed.

How Long Does It Take for Third-Hand Smoke to Leave?

We searched long and hard for a clear answer to this question. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a source that specifically states how long third-hand smoke can stay in an area. However, according to this document, third-hand smoke can linger on surfaces for hours and even days. In other words, turning on a fan or airing out a room doesn’t cut it. Studies have shown that second-hand smoke takes at least two hours to dissipate.

How Does Smoking Affect Housing?

The simple answer to this is that smoking in your home is going to hit you in your wallet. A survey of Ontario real estate agents showed that smoking in your home can lower its value by up to 29 percent. To be clear: if you had a home worth $100,000, smoking in it can drop the price tag to $71,000. That is a huge price difference.

Here’s another example: According to the U.S. Census, the median sale price of an American home in 2010 was $221,800. This means that smokers could lose about $64,000 on average.

The Canadian survey goes on to state that 44 percent of real estate professionals believe smoking lowered a home’s value. Of these professionals 32 percent said smoking lowers a home’s value by by 10 to 19 percent, while another 32 percent of those surveyed believed it lowered the value by 20 to 29 percent.

In addition, the survey found that 88 percent of brokers believe it was more difficult to sell a home in which someone has smoked. More interesting, 27 percent of brokers stated that buyers are unwilling to purchase a home in which someone has smoked.

How Do You Remove Third-Hand Smoke?

Now that you’re good and scared (or at least well informed), you probably want to know how you can remove third-hand smoke from your home, car, or other spaces. You shouldn’t worry. It’s not difficult, but it can be time consuming—and it might be expensive. Like most things, you will get what you put into trying to rid your third-hand smoke. Here are some tips:

  • Thoroughly clean walls with very hot water mixed with detergent.
  • Paint your walls with as much as three layers of paint.
  • Steam clean your carpet. Even better, remove your carpet.
  • Wipe down all flat surfaces—smoke residue isn’t limited to walls.

The dangers of smoking and residual effects such as second-hand and third-hand smoke is easy to see. It harms your health. But if this isn’t a deterrent, think of how much it hits your wallet, and we aren’t even talking about the cost of cigarettes. Smoking decreases the value of your house. Thankfully, you know of a solution–even if its a difficult one.

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posted on: August 1, 2015
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