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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Rainer
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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
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Charles Buell
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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
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Matt weber

It's Underwriters Laboratories not United...

 

August 22, 2013 03:19 PM
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My blog is intended to provide information related to home inspections in Seattle, surrounding communities and anyone else interested. Sometimes I will provide information that has nothing to do with home inspections. Enjoy!

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