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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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 08:04 AM #43
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Charles Buell
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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 08:38 AM #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 08:55 AM #45
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Charles Buell
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Please let me know what you find out.

Aug 05, 2015 08:59 AM #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 05:28 AM #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 12:47 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 03:08 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 05:47 AM #50
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Charles Buell
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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 12:24 PM #51
Anonymous
Glenn

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

Apr 14, 2016 06:08 AM #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 06:18 AM #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 07:00 AM #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 12:47 PM #55
Anonymous
John

Hi Charles. The think the intent of the term "solid core" means solid wood construction to not allow hollow core wood doors. Composite wood should been fine.
Also, if one chooses a penalized door design to use, the required thickness for the door is measured at the thinnest width point (in the seam of the panel) of the door.

Jun 30, 2016 08:14 AM #56
Anonymous
Jim

What about a door with a swing opening for a pet? Legal or not?

Jul 06, 2016 06:26 AM #57
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Pretty sure most pet doors are going to violate the fire-resistance of the door.  Perhaps someone is making one that would not---but I have not seen one yet.

Jul 06, 2016 07:24 AM #58
Anonymous
Dennis Favis

Hi Charles,

Can we have a 24"WIDE x 6'-8" "rated" door from house hallway to garage? What is the minimum width? Thanks

Dennis

Aug 04, 2016 07:57 AM #59
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Dennis, this would likely be more of a convenience issue.  Since through the garage can never be a means of emergency egress, I doubt there is any requirements for it to be a particular size.  Your jurisdiction may have requirements and consulting with the proper authorities is recommended.

Aug 04, 2016 08:00 AM #60
Anonymous
Anne

Charles, we have an access door within the garage leading to a small crawl space storage area which is under the stairs of the interior leading to the second floor. The crawl space can't be accessed from inside the home at all, only through this garage access door. We got written up that this door needs to meet fire standards the same as a door between garage and house. Is this correct?

Aug 07, 2016 03:36 AM #61
Anonymous
Mark

Charles, I have a very similar situation as Anne posted above. I live in a 3 story townhouse (end unit) in Northern Virginia, and we have an attached 2 car garage. Above the garage is living space (our living room and office). There is an interior door that leads from the garage to the rec room. My house is new construction, and it is built to the Virginia Universal Building Code (VUBC) - which is based on the 2009, or maybe 2012, IBC. The entire garage, walls AND ceiling, are covered in 5/8" drywall. I cut an access hole through my garage wall to access a crawl space that had been previously inaccessible (to use as a storage area). This is crawl space underneath the stairs and landing which lead to the 2nd floor of the house. I have two questions... (1) Much like the IBC, the Virginia VUBC requires a solid wood door, steel door, or 20 minute fire rated door. If I install a solid wood door (with the appropriate weather strip sealing and threshold), have I satisfied the "Separation" code? (2) With the new wood door in place, do I still need to cover the walls inside the crawl space with 5/8" drywall?

Aug 24, 2016 04:06 AM #62
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