Pubdate: Fri, 06 Nov 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Column: Highly Informed
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Scott Woodham


This week we won't start off with a particular reader's question as 
we usually do. In the past several weeks, we've received a few 
inquiries about the same topic: What recourse is there if someone's 
home grow smells up the neighborhood or condo building to the point 
it becomes a nuisance to others?

There's a flip-side to that, too. What can home growers do to avoid 
such a hassle?

Judging just from the Highly Informed inbox, the smell of flowering 
cannabis may be more noticeable lately, but only slightly. Maybe the 
recent spate of inquiries have come because Alaska Permanent Fund 
dividends just dropped, but maybe there are simply more brand-new or 
beginning home gardeners out there since legalization day. Most of 
the questions arose from apartment building conflicts, but someone in 
Anchorage even forwarded a message thread from the Rogers Park 
community message board in which a few neighbors were discussing what 
to do about a strong, skunky aroma on one particular street in the 
neighborhood's northern section.

That thread appeared to end when one person made a very neighborly 
suggestion: taping a note to the suspected front door saying that 
their home garden is delivering many free sniffs, and that not 
everyone is happy about it.

So, just in case those neighbors didn't follow through with a note, 
here's a news flash to whoever has flowering cannabis in Rogers Park: 
Your neighbors know. Some of them said they don't mind, but others 
objected and wondered what could be done about it. Use that knowledge 
however you choose.

As we learned in a February installment of Highly Informed, in 
Anchorage (the point of origin for all of the questions we received 
on this present topic) there are city codes that provide an avenue 
for nuisance complaints based on smell or odor.

People are free to make complaints, and depending on the situation, 
the city may or may not be able to resolve the situation. But in my 
opinion, that process should be reserved for the most intractable 
situations. Being neighbors with other people sometimes means putting 
up with unfortunate odors, like cooking fumes, springtime dog waste 
and so on, but it also means being close enough to talk to each 
other, one-on-one or in groups. Similar environmental annoyances have 
even been addressed by homeowners and condo associations, so that 
might also be a way to handle a disagreement like this depending on 
the situation.

Far be it from me to tell anyone what should or shouldn't offend 
their noses, or to tell anyone what to do with their own home garden, 
but conflicts like this don't have to happen. A home cannabis 
gardener may not even know odors are escaping, let alone bothering 
other people. And because of stigmas still in force about cannabis, 
or any number of other reasons, home growers may be thankful to learn 
they're advertising to the world and will take immediate steps against it.


Growing cannabis can be an intensely complex enterprise, but some 
small steps can help avoid broadcasting a home garden. Jeff 
Lowenfels, Alaska Dispatch News gardening columnist and author, 
advised in a phone interview that if any home growers find themselves 
in this situation, a three-point troubleshooting method should do the trick.

First, he said, check for ways air could be leaking from the growing 
space, things like leaky or open windows, small cracks, or gaps 
around or at the bottom of doors. Sealing up escape routes for odor, 
either to the outside or even into shared spaces in the case of 
condos, means making sure you're not letting air move outside the 
grow room except when you want it to, he said. It may go without 
saying, but having a good seal also means that venting exhaust 
directly outside or into a condo ceiling or shared wall probably 
wouldn't be a good idea.

Second, Lowenfels said to make sure there's enough air circulation 
for the growing chamber. "You always want to have good air 
circulation, and particularly indoors." He said that if a cannabis 
garden indoors doesn't have enough air circulating through, it stands 
an increased risk for a range of diseases and insects that will 
negatively affect the crop.

Heat and humidity can become a concern in a sealed space full of hot 
lights, and periodically pulling cool, dry air in and sending hot 
moist air out can help. Depending on the set-up, having new air 
circulating in also means the plants won't run low on CO2, which is 
necessary for the most important chemical process on earth, 
photosynthesis, and therefore happy plants. Some growers, dedicated 
ones usually, even use machines to supplement the CO2 in their grow 
chambers, Lowenfels said, because it's generally beneficial at any 
stage of growth.

Lowenfels also noted that while air circulation is good to have, too 
much of it may worsen air leakage and make scents harder to contain. 
So making sure the garden space has a good seal is paramount in 
controlling the growing atmosphere, he said.

For tips on how many cubic feet of air per minute a fan should move, 
millions of design ideas, and ideal rates of air exchange, Lowenfels 
advised searching around the Internet. There are literally thousands 
of message boards, social media groups, magazines, books, and 
websites where knowledgeable people willing to help congregate. But 
there is bad info out there, so do your homework. There are also 
garden supply places in Alaska and online that would no doubt be able to help.

Third, he mentioned odor filters. Because cannabis cultivation has 
been illegal for so long, and still is in many states, a great number 
of products are for sale, locally and online, that have been designed 
to conceal illegal grows. Such filtration systems use inline exhaust 
fans to move skunky air over activated charcoal scrubbers and then 
recirculate it or send it out of the growing chamber. The charcoal 
traps the odor molecules, and locks them away, and filters need to be 
periodically changed. How frequently depends a few factors, including 
their design and manufacture.

Filtration in action

Andrew Campbell, president of Skunkwerkz and product developer for 
Cheeky Monkey, businesses that he hopes to develop as part of the 
licensed industry, is a medical card holder who maintains a home 
garden to ensure access to his medicine.

Campbell's a disabled military veteran, and he didn't go into detail 
about his service-related medical situation, but he said that medical 
cannabis definitely changed his life for the better.

He said of his choice to grow at home, "I felt the best way to get my 
medicine was to grow it myself."

In his own garden area, when it comes to odor, he employs a double 
filtration system. "I do have a filtration set up, I just do that not 
because I have to, but because I respect that not everyone enjoys the 
smell like I do."

Campbell's set-up features two main parts: One fan and carbon filter 
combo that scrubs air and dumps it right back into the same room, and 
another fan and filter that scrub air again and vent it outside the 
room. He vents the latter fan into the house rather than outside for 
energy efficiency reasons, but he said it could be safely vented 
outside if conserving energy weren't a concern.

Because some family members he lives with are sensitive to the smell 
of cannabis, he said he also places a bucket of Ona, an 
odor-absorbing gel, near the air intake of his furnace. That way, any 
odors that may escape his growing area are squashed pretty quickly. 
But he warned that the product shouldn't be used inside the grow room 
because it will actually drain the scent molecules from the plants, 
leaving unscented herb. Carbon filters don't have that effect.

If you're just starting out a grow, and your plants haven't started 
blooming yet, you have some time to prepare. Campbell said that the 
aroma usually begins to get noticeable about 2 to 4 weeks into the 
flowering stage, and intensifies as the plant matures toward harvest.

But cannabis flowers don't all smell the same. Lowenfels said that 
some strains have a more powerfully skunky aroma than others. Beyond 
that, they have a wide variety of scent profiles, and plenty of them 
may not be as offensive as the business end of a polecat.

Summing up, there are plenty of air management options, including DIY 
versions, for home growers who want to keep even the dankest gardens 
on the DL, and keep a healthy garden environment. Given that legal 
consequences have been so great for cannabis cultivation for so long 
in the U.S., there is a wide range of readily available atmospheric 
control options, scalable to fit any grow space.

"Therefore your neighbor ought to be real satisfied, because they 
work," Lowenfels said. "Now, the question is who pays: You or the neighbor?"
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