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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Charles Buell
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Hi Heather, among other requirements a bedroom cannot have access from the garage, and perhaps that is what the hallway is all about.
 
Oct 14, 2014 02:11 PM #27
Anonymous
James

Question, I had an inspection done on my home in NC and I am missing my "Fire Rated" Label on my service door between my Garage and Living area. How might I prove to the inspector that it is in fact a fire rated door? I remember there being a label of some sort there at one point but now it no longer exists. Any help would be appreciated.

Nov 06, 2014 12:12 PM #28
Anonymous
John

Depending on the building code standard that your home was built under, the door between the house and garage doesn't necessarily need to be fire rated. A rated door or a 1 3/8" solid core wood door that self closes and latches would have been acceptable.

For instance, assuming your house was built recently use International Residential Code as the basis for building standards, you want to look under Section R302.5.1

It will read something close to this (this one has California Amendment language added to it):

R302.5.1 Opening protection. Openings from a private
garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes
shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage
and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not
less than 1 3 / 8 inches (35 mm) in thickness, solid or honey-
comb-core steel doors not less than 1 3 / 8 inches (35 mm)
thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors, equipped with self-
closing and self-latching devices.

Exception: Where the residence and the private garage
are protected by an automatic residential fire sprinkler
system in accordance with Sections R309.6 and R313,
other door openings between the private garage and
the residence need only be self-closing and self-latch-
ing. This exception shall not apply to rooms used for
sleeping purposes.

Nov 06, 2014 12:36 PM #29
Anonymous
Larry Wolf

Can a garage entry door be a double door?

Apr 08, 2015 04:32 PM #30
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Larry, I do not see why it could not be as long as it meets the requirements for house garage separation.  I suppose both segments would have to be self closing.

Apr 09, 2015 04:35 PM #31
Anonymous
Vickie

Does anyone know what the fire code or rating needs to be on an entry door into an apartment?

May 05, 2015 02:13 PM #32
Anonymous
rich

what about the hollow wood door with the aluminum attached on the inside that passed inspection when my house was built in 1975.What a joke.are you saying that a steel door would not be an improvement even if its not fire rated? The underwriters also passed aluminum wiring,which i had to change,because they said they wa would not use it in thier houses.its all about money

May 06, 2015 08:41 PM #33
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Vickie, there are a lot of answers to that question depending on what grandfathering is in place, the age of the building, whether it is sprinklered or not, how many stories it is, whether the doors open to a common hallway or not etc.

Rich, so would you have us keep our houses less safe when we discover good reasons to make changes?

May 06, 2015 08:48 PM #34
Anonymous
Peggy

Would a fiberglass door with 20x16 double pane glass pass inspection? (Meet code)

May 17, 2015 10:22 AM #35
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It would have to be a fire-rated door (which would require fire-rated glass as well)

May 17, 2015 10:49 AM #36
Anonymous
George

My house has an open-air porch about six feet wide between the door from the garage and the front door to the house. Do the same restrictions apply to that garage door?

Jun 12, 2015 12:13 PM #37
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Charles Buell
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Not likely for the door---but there could be fire-separation issues related to the connecting roof structures.

Jun 12, 2015 12:17 PM #38
Anonymous
George

Thanks! The only connection across the gap is a pergola made of 4x4's. Part of the garage is also attached directly, but by a masonry wall.

Jun 12, 2015 12:21 PM #39
Anonymous
Cindy

We're selling our 1958-era single level house with an entry door to the garage. The buyer's inspector said we have to install a fire-rated door befor ethe house can be occupied. Can anyone point me to the local code/regs that say that? It's an odd size door (28 x 80), and I'm having trouble even finding one.

Aug 05, 2015 01:41 PM #40
Anonymous
Cindy

I need to add that we are in San Diego County.

Aug 05, 2015 01:42 PM #41
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Charles Buell
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Cindy, you would have to contact someone in San Diego familiar with the codes there but I doubt that they are too different from here.   The first thing I find very odd is for the inspector to state "we have to install a fire-rated door before the house can be occupied."  Most jurisdictions do not force owners to "upgrade" anything to current standards.  Now if the door is new it would have to meet the standards of when it was installed.  Current IRC requirements list 4 options for this door and only one of them is a fire-rated door assembly.  Typically, all that is required is that the door be a minimum of 1-3/8" solid wood door.  I would call your local juirsdiction to get the definitive answer to your question.

Aug 05, 2015 02:25 PM #42
Anonymous
Cindy

Thank you, Charles. I kind of took issue with his statement, too. (Pretty strong words.) The door was here when we bought the house 22 years ago. I'm assuming it's been here since the original build.

I am trying to research the local codes. Not having much luck, but I'll keep at it until I have a definitive answer.

Thanks again for your response.

Aug 05, 2015 03:04 PM #43
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This is from the California Building Code---looks pretty much word for word the same as IRC.  Again you have to check with your local jurisdiction.
 
R302.5.1 Opening protection.
Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) in thickness, solid or honey-comb-core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors, equipped with self-closing and self-latching devices.
Aug 05, 2015 03:38 PM #44
Anonymous
Cindy

Thank you, again! I'm going down to the local building dept tomorrow to ask and have them print out the regs, so I'm armed with the info when the buyers try to demand it.

Aug 05, 2015 03:55 PM #45
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Please let me know what you find out.

Aug 05, 2015 03:59 PM #46
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