High-tech and careful planning let cigar smoking back indoors
Cigar smokers have been banished from bars and restaurants, libraries, pool halls, beaches and even sidewalks. Ballparks have prohibited enjoying a cigar while taking in a game, despite the professed love of fine cigars by many of today’s stars. Even casinos, long a bastion of all things pleasurable, have for the most part outlawed smoking while embracing the time honored practice of gambling away the mortgage payment.
The home front has become the sanctuary, if you happen to live in a structure where the rules are set by you instead of your lease. If you’re sharing space with a non-smoker and/or kids, you may have agreed to help protect the family from second-hand smoke by restricting your smoking to a deck, patio, porch, or balcony. Which is a fine way to enjoy the elements, as long as the local climate doesn’t include drenching downpours, hammering hail, stifling heat, sub-freezing temperatures, suffocatingly high humidity, or snowflakes as big and heavy as cast-iron skillets. News reports these days imply there are few places with reasonable weather.
When transported to the great outdoors, your enjoyment of a good cigar has likely been limited to nervous chain-puffing on shorties that give you a quick taste before you scurry back inside to shelter from winter in the north or summer in the south. From your cigar exile, you may have longingly stared through windows at those people indoors and dreamed of smoking a 10-inch Presidente enveloped in a comfy leather chair, sipping an appropriate beverage and watching an entire, three-and-some-hour sports contest: baseball, football, basketball, soccer, take your pick.
There are those among us who have taken control of the situation and bravely broached the subject with their significant other: the necessity of a Man Cave. With research in hand, they make the argument for making good use of that unused guest room or office, or finishing the basement to bring a cigar room under the same roof where they and their others live. They brace themselves for a decisive “no,” but offer documentation of scientific breakthroughs that can rid a home of the cigar aroma and the dangers of second-hand smoke without the noise of an Airbus A380 parked in the side yard.
Such were the experiences of Tim Campbell, a serial entrepreneur who retired in his 50s and resides with his wife, Sue, in an upscale suburban enclave west of Chicago, and Rusty Winters, a musician who retired from the concrete industry after 45 years to a home he shares with his wife, Margi, in San Antonio. Videos of both Campbell’s and Winters’ Man Cave projects draw YouTube viewership that indicates a wide interest in solving the smoking situation.
Since its debut four years ago, Campbell’s video has had more than 1.1 million views, and he says he receives a check for about $40 each month from the service. Winters’ video of his room has been up for a couple of months but has garnered 67,000 views.
Campbell and Winters had different needs and different budgets when they decided a cigar room was in their future. With the kids finally out of the house and an unfinished basement awaiting completion, Campbell hired a designer to turn the space into a cigar room/billiard room/wine bar/media room. Winters had the talents, skills, and time to take an unused “flex room” in his home and do the work himself and transform it into a space where he could comfortably enjoy a smoke and a drink while playing music, surrounded by walls of his treasured collection of whiskey bottles, his guitars, and his humidor.
Both said they spent the most time researching ways to contain the second-hand smoke and cigar odor in the room and remove it to the outside. Because they started at different points of construction, their solutions were different, too.
Campbell chose Rae Duncan Interior Design in Chicago to develop the plan and work with the contractor and technicians to transform the open space in his home. Duncan said it took three months to design and another three months to receive all the items ordered and do the buildout. The work was done pre-COVID but he still experienced supply chain delays.
Most of the work in the project and in the cigar room was custom, Duncan said, with the build starting with the bare concrete floor and walls from the original construction. That gave Duncan a wide-open canvas to create what the Campbells wanted downstairs, including the smoking room.
“The upstairs in the house is beautifully done, very traditional with white woodwork,” Duncan said. “But they gave us the go-ahead, so we went wild.”
People entering the space come down a wide, carpeted staircase to a wine bar equipped with a round game table and a four-person bar with upholstered seats, a two-level quartz countertop, back bar, and glass-door cabinets. The walls, doors and millwork are all the same color, a cool gray. The lighting includes a three-globe light over the bar. With millwork paneled walls, windows, cabinets, and 16-foot two-level wet bar with built-in kegerator under 10-foot ceilings, the lower level is an extension of the upper floors of the home and doesn’t look like a basement.
The media area next to the wine bar features more built-ins with an 82-inch flat screen television with surround sound at the center. The area flows into the billiards room, which features paneled walls around a Brunswick table with an early 1900s design. Tufted black leather chairs frame a window and African animal skulls hang on a wall, along with another flat screen. An unused nook near the bottom of the staircase houses a glassed-in wine cellar.
Unlike most basements in the Midwest, Campbell said, the lower level was found to have no excess moisture on the poured concrete floor, allowing a couple layers of subflooring and a vapor barrier under hardwood flooring to tie all the rooms together. As a precaution, a whole-house generator and two back-up batteries for the sump pump were added.
The cigar room is behind a pair of glass doors with custom-made cobra door handles “that protect my humidor, or at least that’s the story we’re going with,” Campbell says in his video. The room features custom millwork wall panels and wall units with four leather chairs centered around a low round table over an animal skin throw and a jute rug.
Campbell’s humidor was built into the wall and trimmed out to match the millwork throughout the rooms, all done by the craftsmen at Cisneros Custom Furniture of Chicago. In his video, Campbell refers to his selection of what looks like about 100 cigars as “anemic.” In the six years since he started enjoying cigars he has some favorites: Padrón 1926 Serie, Oliva Serie V, Eiroa The First 20 Years, and Perdomo 20th Anniversary.
On one of the bookshelves is an Enerzen ozone generator with an 11,000 mg capacity, an inexpensive unit that sells on Amazon for less than $75. The unit has various speeds and is advertised by the manufacturer to “aid in destroying any lingering ‘musty’ or imbedded odors.” And while it may kill odors, concentrated ozone is not the best for humans, pets or plants. Instead of filtering air like other systems do, the generators create ozone to interact with contaminants in the air, water, fabrics, and walls, destroying odors rather than masking them. The machine works on a timer that turns it on after people have left the space. It’s advised to let the room air out for 30 minutes after the machine shuts down to allow any residual ozone to dissipate.
In Campbell’s cigar room, the ozone generator was the last thing added to the ventilation system designed to keep the aroma of cigars from leaving the room. Two ceiling vents, powered by a fan located in an adjacent storeroom and controllable through a rheostat, move the air out of the building. Campbell said he adjusts the fan based on the amount of smoke inside the room. The negative air pressure in the room keeps the second-hand smoke from entering the HVAC system and being spread throughout the house.
Besides the ventilation and ozone generator, a Rabbit Air MinusA2 Air Purifier sits on the floor behind one of the chairs in Campbell’s cigar room, using a HEPA filtration system to remove particles from the air. A traditional HEPA filter is composed of proprietary fiber material that traps allergens and particles as small as 0.1 microns as fans draw the air through it. The units are rated at a 99.97% efficiency and can be tailored to specific uses through changing out filters, with the manufacturer offering filters that target toxins, volatile organic compounds, and odors from pets, cooking, mildew, and smoke from cigarettes and cigars. It’s used in hospitals and high-tech clean rooms.
“It’s working really well,” Duncan said. “The room doesn’t smell.”
“They all sync together,” Campbell said. “You can go down to my basement, and if I entertain (friends smoking cigars in the cigar room), people can’t smell cigar smoke.” The air flow is so effective that he and three friends can smoke, have cocktails, and watch a game for a few hours and still come away without their clothing smelling like cigar smoke.
To make the air circulation system operate as efficiently as possible and keep the smoke from escaping into other rooms of his house, the spaces between studs in the walls and ceiling were filled with closed cell spray foam.
David Ludeman, owner of Koala Insulation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, explained that the foam insulation is developed from two types of composite material, polyurethane and isocyanate. When the chemicals are mixed together, they interact to form a liquid that can be sprayed and expands quickly to fill in all the space between the studs before hardening into a plastic that keeps smoke from penetrating.
“You want to use closed cell spray foam, two inches on the walls and ceiling, that will completely encapsulate the space,” Ludeman said. “It will give the room a built-in vapor barrier and air barrier.” Ludeman has insulated a few cigar rooms in South Florida but works mostly on wine cellars, where the main concern is keeping the heat and humidity out of the room through the use of two inches of spray foam. In extremely cold environments, like those in northern states, adding two more inches will help keep the cold out and the heat in, as well as the vapors, smoke and odors.
Ludeman recommends hiring a professional to do the spraying because of the toxicity of the foam and to ensure the work is done correctly with no leaks.
With an interior design firm and craftsmen paying attention to all details, choosing top-of-the-line solutions to the project, and finding those items that added the final touches to the entertainment area—such as a vintage cigar press, cigar tins and period photographs—Campbell is comfortable with having spent about $350,000 on the buildout, perhaps more than he could expect from a buyer.
“Objectively speaking, I won’t expect to see a return on my investment,” he said. The project followed the sale of his business, Vapor Beast, the largest distributor of electronic cigarettes in the country, and Campbell said he was at a point in life where he didn’t want to make the decision based on whether it made good financial sense.
“Let’s see, how many regrets do I have?” he said. “Uh, zero.”
In San Antonio, Rusty Winters had a room in his house with many uses. Having started playing guitar and singing in bands before he was in high school, Winters had a large collection of guitars hanging on walls that he would take down and play, sometimes recording videos he would post to YouTube. He regularly appears in bars and restaurants in San Antonio and records his own rhythm tracks that he plays back on stage to enrich his performances.
Winters also had a large collection of bottles of whiskey that grew to take up an increasing amount of space as he moved them from cabinet to breakfront to shelves.
On his Wintersway YouTube channel, Winters explained the bottles, rather than the cigars, were his beginning impetus for converting his flex room to his cigar/music/whiskey lounge.
“This all started because I ran out of space for my ever expanding collection of bottles,” he said.
He started thinking about the cigar part of the room about three years ago, when he started smoking cigars on the golf course with friends.
The flex space, which Winters and his wife, Margi, used as an office/guestroom/music practice/YouTube video room, became the focus of the plan. With the skills and talents to do the work, Winters took on the project himself. Like Campbell, Winters started by researching his main concern, a ventilation system that would protect against exposure of others to second-hand smoke and keep the rest of the house from smelling like cigars.
“Priority number one is to make sure no smoke [leaves] the room,” he said.
San Antonio lies on the edge of the West Texas desert at about 140 miles north of the Mexican border. The weather can be stifling hot, with temperatures during summer months regularly in the 90s and often breaking 100 degrees. So, Winters found the exterior walls of the house, which made up two of the four walls in his cigar/whiskey/music room, were already insulated with rigid polystyrene insulation, with fiberglass insulation in the ceiling and two interior walls.
“It’s pretty hot in San Antonio,” he said. “Mainly I was concerned with the humidity and temperature of the cigars.”
Winters’ plans left him with only one location for his humidor; on an outside wall of the room. He ordered a 300-cigar humidor custom made by Vigilant of New Hampshire, a maker of fine cabinetry, millwork and furnishings. Vigilant recommended against the outside wall, but Winters felt he was stuck with the location, so he added another three-quarters of an inch of hard insulation behind the opening. He also consulted with a structural engineer and reinforced the walls around the opening to support it. The woodworkers matched the stained cherry sample that Winters sent them.
“If you get obsessed with watching the temperature and humidity in your humidor, you’re going to be a very nervous person,” Winters said, which would defeat the purpose of building the room. He checks the humidity of his cigars and finds it stable at about 70%. He adds distilled water and a biocide once a month.
The cherry panels on the walls and ceiling are trimmed in with molding Winters had cut at a hardwood lumber mill. He stained everything before he installed it and then applied three coats of varnish. He said if he had to do it over again, he’d go through the varnishing process before installing and add more coats.
“The varnishing was the labor-intensive, time-consuming, tedious part of it,” he said.
Winters did the math on the glass shelving he installed to support his whiskey bottles and found it came to 238 pounds of glass and alcohol for each eight-foot shelf, well below the 1,200-pound capacity with brackets spaced at 16 inches. He used a shelf of cherry atop plywood for the bar top on the bottom shelf and applied a quarter-inch of epoxy to protect from spills.
Just as Campbell found, the real challenge Winters faced was getting the smoke out of the room when he lit up. He started with a window fan unit but found it wasn’t enough, as the smoke rose to the ceiling of the room and avoided being expelled by the window fan.
Winters then replaced the ceiling fan in the room with a Puro Fan with a HEPA filter and a light. The units are designed with a low profile and qualified for use in clean rooms with a 99.99% rating at 0.3-micron particles. The fan is rated at 930 CFM, and Winters did the math, finding the room had 1,378 cubic feet of air and figuring the air in the room would be cleaned 40 times an hour.
Winters went above and beyond by adding a ceiling vent connected to a roof vent by eight-inch flexible air ducts and an inline fan that pulls the air from the room. He said the system is used in grow houses and helped resolve another difficulty with the house as the flex room is in the southwest corner of the house and always ran about five degrees warmer than the rest of the structure.
Together, the system for keeping the cigar smoke from entering the rest of the house or the house HVAC system works perfectly, Winters said.
“It eliminates all the smoke odor,” he said. “Keeping the room at a negative pressure is the secret. Now it’s perfect. There is no smoke odor in there at all.”
The whole project took about 90 days to build and another month to collect and add the finishing touches, like the leather chairs Winters sits in when he plays guitar, sips whiskey and lights up a Plasencia Alma del Campo or a Davidoff Late Hour, his favorites.