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Ask an Expert: Why do I always smell what my downstairs neighbor is cooking for dinner?

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Q. Everytime my downstairs neighbor cooks, it smells like she's cooking in MY apartment...and worse, we do not have the same taste in food. How is the smell getting into my place? What can I do to stop it?

A. To identify the culprit, you or a professional will need to do some detective work, say our experts.

Property manager Michael Wolfe of Midboro Management says he most often hears complaints about cooking with fish or strong spices--and that the most common explanations for drifting odors include cooking on a stove without a vent hood, a clog in the building ventilation system and/or the stovetop vent hood, or a defect in the rooftop fan that draws odors up and out of buildings with ventilation systems.  

In addition, notes Wolfe, in many new buildings, "the insulation is so tight that negative air pressure exists and a vacuum could be created" between your apartment and your neighbor's.

He suggests that you first contact your super and managing agent: "If all else fails, a specialist can be engaged to identify how the the odor is entering your apartment."

"If the situation impacts more than one resident of the same apartment line, often the building management calls in a company like ours to investigate further," says air quality specialist  Maria Vizzi of Indoor Environmental Solutions. "The major culprit is the ventilation system in buildings that have them."   (Prewar buildings typically don't.)

To check ventilation systems, says Vizzi, "We use a high tech video inspection system--in essence a video camera probe inserted inside the duct. Often we will find a breach in the duct or a blockage of sorts--due to debris from an apartment renovation--that diverts the airflow."

Sometimes the problem isn't inside ducts at all.

"Odors can permeate from other openings--from open windows, to openings in walls, light sockets, and beneath doors.   The least expensive step is to make sure there aren't any openings that can be fixed.  Caulk the holes in walls--be sure to check the closets and other hard to spot places--and add weather strips to the bottom of doors, etc."


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