Just off the rotunda in the Capitol building is a new sign. "Speaker of the House," it says, "Paul D. Ryan."
Behind that door is Ryan's new office, which is haunted by the ghost of John Boehner's relaxation habits. "You know if you ever go to like, a hotel room or get a rental car that's been smoked [in]?" Ryan told NBC's Chuck Todd over the weekend while conducting an interview from his new digs. "That's what this smells like."
The New York Times reported that Boehner's indoor smoking habit was a problem during the last speaker transition, too. When Boehner was elected to the position in 2011, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had to take over his old office. "The House superintendent replaced carpets, peeled the paint off the walls and repainted them, and replaced the curtains," the Times's Jennifer Steinhauer writes, "all in the name of smoke odor eradication."
Such an effort is not free. In the interest of figuring out how one actually eliminates smoke odors -- and how much it costs -- we reached out to two D.C. area companies that provide the service, Purenvironmental and Calamus Enterprises.
Purenvironmental's Art Hall mentioned right out of the gates that he'd already reached out to Speaker Ryan's office. (He has not yet heard back.) His company uses a device called PurAyr, the website for which offers an impressively science-y description of what it does. "The PurAyr™ R-15 is based on a commercially used decontamination method called Advanced Oxidation Process (AOP), also known as photocatalysis," it reads. "During this process the UV light and Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles are used to generate extremely high levels of Ozone (O3), Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) and Hydroxyl Radicals (*HO). As these oxidative gases react and break down the organic compounds into simple elements, they fall harmlessly back into Oxygen (O2)."
"We get rid of the odor from the air and surfaces," Hall promised. They show up, seal off the area to be treated, and turn on their PurAyr boxes, which produces ozone (which was the solution Ryan said he was looking at) and hydrogen peroxide. "The gases fill up that contained area and are hitting all the surfaces," Hall said, "and we're able to eliminate the odors in walls and carpets, as long as we can get our gases to it." (Padding inside chairs, he said, they couldn't do.)
If Ryan's office called him tomorrow, Hall suggested, they could have his new office ready to go by Friday. Cost? Eight to ten cents per cubic foot. With the high ceilings in the speaker's office, we're talking about more than $1,000 -- but at least that excludes replacing carpets and so on.
Except that Alex Spencer of Calamus says that removing the carpet is likely inevitable. "We found a lot of companies that will lie to people and just run the machines and won't tell them about pulling the carpet or the paint and the ductwork," Spencer said. "A month later, the smell will come back."
His company also has machines that it has juiced up for a similar sort of process as Purenvironmental. Inside the boxes are filters that strain the odor-causing particles out of the air. Their process takes about 48 hours -- and your pets and plants need to be evacuated for their health.
"Sometimes, if it's real bad," he said, "you actually have to go in and take all the vents off." They run a sort of roto-rooter to dislodge particles from interior ducts, that then get filtered through the machines. But carpets and upholstered furniture need to be cleaned separately, Spencer says -- or removed. "There's no way to get it out of paint or wood when it's soaked in like that," he said.
Calamus would charge Ryan about $600 for the air purification/vent-cleaning process, but then it's up to the House to take care of the carpet and walls, as they did for Pelosi. (In the first quarter of 2011, the House spent nearly $15,000 with a company called "Exceed Carpet & Upholstery Care." More than $760,000 was spent on new carpets, mostly for the transition between representatives.)
For the cost-conscious Ryan, there are some other possible solutions. Texas A&M has a handy flier explaining how to get rid of smoke odors, though they're focused on wildfires. "Wash, dust, or otherwise clean all household items," they recommend, "including knick-knacks." And: "Disinfect and deodorize all carpets, window coverings, upholstered furniture, and mattresses with steam or other appropriate equipment." (Here is a nearby Stanley Steemer, Mr. Speaker.) Texas A&M also points to howtocleanstuff.net, which recommends vinegar and fresh air, among other things. (Do the windows in the speaker's office open?)
Anyway, by this weekend, when Ryan is headed back to Wisconsin to see his kids, his new space could be generally odor-free. Which is good news for the new speaker given that he also told Todd that he planned to continue one tradition from his pre-speaker days: Sleeping in his office.