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
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

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
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
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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
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
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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
Anonymous
Clark Machamer

My garage door has a dog door. can I cover that with stainless steel and if so what
thickness do I need.
Clark, Bakersfield, Ca.

Mar 10, 2016 01:28 PM #47
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Clark, I know of no way to restore the fire-resistance of a damaged door short of replacement.  This would be a better question to ask the local jurisdictional authority as they might authorize field repairs.

Mar 10, 2016 08:47 PM #48
Anonymous
John

Cindy, in California, the CA State Housing Law (Found in the CA Health and Safety Code) states:

. . .

17912. Rules and regulations promulgated pursuant to the provisions of this part and building standards published in the State Building Standards Code, relating to the erection or construction of buildings or structures, shall not apply to existing buildings or structures or to buildings or structures as to which construction is commenced or approved prior to the effective date of the rules, regulations, or building standards, except by act of the Legislature, but rules, regulations, and building standards relating to use, maintenance, and change of occupancy shall apply to all hotels, motels, lodging houses, apartment houses, and dwellings, or portions thereof, and buildings and structures accessory thereto, approved for construction or constructed before or after the effective date of such rules, regulations, or building standards. (Amended by Stats. 1979, Ch. 1152.)

. . .

So unless there is a specific retroactive CA law (there isn't) or there is a local ordinance requiring retroactive upgrade of such a door (highly unlikely), the type of door between the attached garage and the dwelling unit that was originally approved continues to be compliant under the CA law. If the door is damage and needs to be replaced, you can simply can replaced the door with a similarly designed/spec door that was originally installed and approved.

Mar 21, 2016 10:08 AM #49
Anonymous
John

Because money is not a limitless resource for most people. The first thing that is needed to make an intelligent decision is to have all the facts straight. Then if a person wants something that this more fire safety, even if it not required by the law, then that decision they can chosen by either the owner/seller or the buyer. In the case of real estate transaction, a home inspector's policy of bringing a condition up to current code standards when feasible sounds great and seems an easy way to simplify a complicated subject, however, it is inaccurate and could be unnecessarily costly to the home owner. A professional home inspector should be reporting the legal requirements factually and, if they would like, report their opinion of bringing a condition "up to code" as a option even if it is not legal requirement to do so. What is required by law to be "up to code" and what a home inspector's recommendation of what would be best to be brought "up to code" should be clearly stated on a the report. In my opinion, reporting personal option as if it's a requirement of the law/regulation could be considered professional malpractice/malfeasance.

Mar 21, 2016 12:47 PM #50
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Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
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I think I pretty much agree with you John.  And, why would any inspector report as if their opinion was a "requirement."  I do not do that and do not know any inspectors that do.

Mar 21, 2016 07:24 PM #51
Anonymous
Glenn

Is there a minimum width for the door between the garage and house?

Apr 14, 2016 01:08 PM #52
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Glenn, the only door that comes with a code required minimum width is the primary Egress door (which cannot be through the garage).

Apr 14, 2016 01:18 PM #53
Anonymous
Rob

Great article, thanks for clearing things up. Would a solid core high density fiberboard door classify as solid wood door or does the door need to be solid natural wood?

Apr 23, 2016 02:00 PM #54
Anonymous
Tim

Hi Charles,
Are these codes for all of Washington or could city codes apply? We live in University Place, near Tacoma, and I'm looking at replacing our beat up entry door between the garage and the kitchen. It's currently a metal door with an old dog door from the previous owners. I had always assumed I needed a fire door but it sounds like that may not be the case. Would I verify that with the city to be sure?

Amazing to see you're still replying to questions on an article almost 5 years old!

Tim

Jun 03, 2016 07:47 PM #55
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