The Myth of fire-rated walls and doors between the house and garage.

By
Home Inspector with Charles Buell Inspections Inc.
http://actvra.in/D2G

A common mistake that home inspectors make when inspecting single family residences is related to opinions stated about the separation between the home and the attached garage.  There comments often leave them "out on a limb" when repairs are called for.

Out on a limbI routinely hear erroneous statements about compromised “fire-rated surfaces” between the house and the garage.  Statements declaring that the surfaces between the house and the garage are not “1hr fire-rated,” or that the “1hr fire-rated surfaces” are in some way compromised,are very common in inspection reports.  The door or doors placed in this “separation” are also frequently misunderstood and incorrectly reported on.

The wall between the house and the garage---believe it or not---is NOT a fire-rated assembly and is referred to in the code as the “Garage/Home Separation.” 

Requirements to meet this “separation” requirement are really quite minimal compared to what would be necessary in an actual “fire-rated assembly”  (As would be required between multiple dwelling units like condos, townhouses and duplexes.) 

Typically ½” drywall is all that is necessary to meet the separation requirement.  If there is living space above the garage, the ceiling would have to be 5/8” type “X” drywall.  Again, this is not a “fire-rated assembly,” but merely what is required to meet the proper “separation” requirements.

Regarding the door between the house and the garage, all that is necessary is to install a door that meets the “separation requirements.”  There is nothing that says it has to be a “fire-rated door,” as frequently reported by home inspectors.  While this may seem confusing, if one looks at the code it becomes clear.  It also reveals the source of some of the confusion.

To meet separation requirements, the door must be one of three types of doors:  1. Solid wood door not less than 1-3/8 inches thick, 2.  Solid or honeycomb core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches thick, or 3.  A 20-minute fire-rated door.

The first two types are fairly self explanatory but the inclusion of the third type has lead to a great deal of confusion because a door that is a “20-minute fire-rated door” leads one to think that the doors in general, and thus the walls, have to somehow be “fire-rated.”  For a door to achieve a 20-minute fire-rating it has to go through testing procedures by Underwriters Laboratories and then it receives its “UL listing” as a fire-rated assembly.  One of the things that are required to meet the requirements to be listed as a 20-minute fire-rated assembly is for it to have a self-closure mechanism.  Since door types “1” and “2” do not “require” closure devices it is little wonder that some inspectors conclude that none of the doors require them----even though the type “3” door requires one in order to meets its UL listing.  Because the words “self-closure” do not appear in the code, some builders and home inspectors (and even jurisdictional inspectors) mistakenly take this to mean that no closers are required on any type of door between the house and the garage.

Since manufacturer’s requirements supersede code, it is a little disingenuous to conclude that code does not require them.

Required weather-stripping on these doors is covered in other parts of the code both for energy conservation and as a barrier to fumes and combustion by-products.

Hopefully this post will help clear up some of the confusion.

 

Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector

 

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Ambassador
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Charles Buell
Seattle Home Inspector
Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

Glenn, it may be more about "semantics" and the official definition of words than anything else.  The drywall is to help with the spread of fire---and to create a barrier for gases from the garage to the home.  But it is not a "fire-rated assembly" as that would require details not required of mere "separation."

Suzanne, there is widespread confusion over this issue

David of course it can vary with jurisdiction and codes can be made more restrictive.  Perhaps Jim Quarello who is from Connecticut can shed some light on the requirements there.  I would be very surprised if Conn actually requires a 1hr fire-rated door from the house to the garage.

Amy, those are a few of my kids---when they were still kids :)

March 21, 2011 10:43 AM
Rainer
170,105
Robert Butler
Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection
Aspect Inspection

For our jurisdiction here (Montreal) your observations about the fire 'separation' are correct.

But the fire code requires the door to be an exterior grade assembly with full sill and frame weatherstriping that has an auto-closer mechanism that will close and latch the door from any position.

This is a safety requirement for vehicle exhaust and combustion gasses, principally CO, carbon monoxide. I remind clients that remote vehicle starters are now common and can be activated inadvertently, or by children.

I recommend that they do not use spring hinges as they will not latch the door from all release positions and the spring weakens over time. I often find them disengaged as residents don't enjoy the sudden whack to their posterior or ankles, as they struggle to get pets and children and groceries into the house.

I do recommend the arm type closer as the swing seed can be slowed to a safe range, while the latch speed can be set to latch and seal the door even when released right beside the frame.

The third recommendation is to place a CO detector in the hall or room inside that door from the garage.

March 21, 2011 12:25 PM
Ambassador
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Paul Henderson
I always put my clients first in any transaction!
RE/MAX Professionals.

Another quality post about something that few of us understand. Thanks Charles… 

March 21, 2011 05:20 PM
Rainmaker
309,766
Ernie Steele
Lebanon, PA Real Estate 717-273-3774
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homesale Realty

Thanks again Charles...I always enjoy the 'education' you provide with your posts...Enjoy your day.

March 21, 2011 06:07 PM
Ambassador
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Charles Buell
Seattle Home Inspector
Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

Robert, I would think that these requirements are pretty similar everywhere

Paul, thanks

Ernie, thanks---this one came out of a discussion I had with students while I was teaching last week.

March 21, 2011 06:36 PM
Rainmaker
1,177,574
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA Home Inspector
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

Charlie,

Some time back, in my report template, I changed stock language about firewalls to read fire-resistance, which is more accurate.

March 21, 2011 06:51 PM
Rainmaker
1,177,574
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA Home Inspector
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

Mr Charles,

Had you consulted with me priorly, this wood not have been so confusing to you.

Nutsy

March 21, 2011 08:23 PM
Rainmaker
1,216,347
Jay Markanich
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

I often hear the 5/8" drywall referred to as "fire block," which, of course, it really isn't. 

But is it anything like a splash block?

I'm surprised Kierkegaard didn't get on that one.  It's profound to contemplate...

March 22, 2011 08:33 AM
Ambassador
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Charles Buell
Seattle Home Inspector
Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

Steve, yes---I think that is more accurate

Nutsy, glad to see you are your normal confused self

Jay, about as useful as a splash block

March 22, 2011 11:40 AM
Rainmaker
626,389
James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

Like Steve I have changed the language in my report template to fire separation wall. Perhaps resistant would be better still.

With regard to CT I am not aware of of a requirement for a 1 hour fire rated door. It could be a requirement in some towns, but none that I know of. The 5/8 sheet rock is usually put in the ceiling only, not the walls.

March 22, 2011 09:05 PM
Rainmaker
229,481
Reuben Saltzman
Minneapolis Home Inspections
Structure Tech Home Inspections

Great post.  I never knew the 20-minute fire door thing required a self-closer.

March 22, 2011 09:34 PM
Rainmaker
1,177,574
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA Home Inspector
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

James,

I have this code book, put out by the code council, that explains all the stuff in human terms. Good book and it refers to it all as fire-resistance and I grabbed it when Nutsy and I realized how confused Mr Charles was by all of that, up until now.

March 22, 2011 11:39 PM
Rainmaker
226,111
Pam Jank
Your Coeur d'Alene & North Idaho Real Estate Pro
Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty

Charles, Thanks for more great useful information and setting thigs straight ......

March 23, 2011 12:25 AM
Rainer
39,955
Dale Ganfield

Hi Charles, very informative.  I agree this is often a point of confusion from both sides of the inspection report.  Thanks

March 23, 2011 07:47 AM
Ambassador
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Charles Buell
Seattle Home Inspector
Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

Jim, the requirements of a one hour fire rated door likely wouldn't be very attractive in a home :)

Reuben, thanks

Steve--a great resource you have there

Pam, you are welcome

Dale, I can't tell you how many times I hear people talk about "1hr fire-rated" in terms of the house/garage separation

March 23, 2011 09:59 AM
Rainer
108,907
Stephen Stanczyk
Home Inspector - Puyallup WA
Safe Haven Home Inspections

Pierce County allows 1/2" C or X rated drywall if the studs are 16"OC.    If they are greater than 16" OC, 5/8 X or C is required.

 

I just went through this on a new construction phase.  HVAC techs installed regular 1/2" on the walls and ceiling around the gas furnace and main duct.  They didn't much care when I called them on it.  The AHJ just happened to be on site so I asked what the county was requiring.  Then he went to 6 other homes under construction with the same company hvac trucks parked in front.  Oops.....

March 23, 2011 11:55 PM
Ambassador
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Charles Buell
Seattle Home Inspector
Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

Stephen, so are you saying that Pierce County has amended the code to make the code more strict?  Interesting.

March 24, 2011 12:47 PM
Anonymous #22
Anonymous
Don Agel Owner Agel's Home Inspections Fayetteville NC

A 20 minute window of time before the fire/smoke can breach through the walls/doors/ceilings that separate the attached garage from the living space and consuming the house and occupants is nothing to try to belittle and do a code play on wording. The whole design of the separation is to give you 20 minutes rather than 3. Place an interior door in the entry opening between living space and garage and you not only allow for the infiltration of toxic fumes from exhaust and stored fuels/chemicals but you breach the 20 minute window. Even an improperly installed fire rated entry door unit can allow for a decrease to the time. The comments that the solid wood or metal door units are not fire rated is not exact as they have also been tested to determine the amount of time taken before they become compromised and were found to be comparable to the 20 minute fire rated units on the mass market today. Sorry that the written word in the code book doesn't play to all intellectual levels such as many directions on prepared food packaging. I am angered that people would try to dumb up the general public on the importance of this separation. Can you fully wake up in a smoke filling house with flames breaching through an improper separation and not only wake your family but try to escape in three to five minutes? Most homes have no smoke-heat detection installed in the garage. 20 minutes not only gives you a "chance" at a safe egress but allows time for emergency officials to arrive and try to save whats left. Human life is more important than trying to save some money during construction and argue about code wording when you are missing the big picture as to why there is a separation requirement. JFYI, non-rigid/unsealed ducting not allowed in garage, all penetrations to be sealed with fire retardant sealants, no non-fire rated attic access allowed in the ceiling of the garage that does not meet 20 minute minimum rating, and no ceiling accesses installed in the garage if a room for sleeping is directly above. I pray that the ignorance that some of you are spreading hasn't already caused the lives of loved ones that could have been spared!

 

December 31, 2011 11:39 AM
Anonymous #23
Anonymous
George Mitchell

Do not ever assume that the door you bought is a fire rated doors. Always look for the label and if it was not there conduct some testing.

July 24, 2013 06:04 PM
Anonymous #24
Anonymous
Matt weber

It's Underwriters Laboratories not United...

 

August 22, 2013 03:19 PM
Anonymous
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