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    What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby jennifer on Mon Aug 30, 2010 11:43 am

    I have a very specific question about the apartment buildig I live in. The building consists of 4 townhouses side-by-side, each containing 3 bedrooms. It was built in 2004. If I understand correctly, under section 708 of IBC, the wall separating my unit and the unit next to mine is required to have a 1-hour fire resistance rating (there is no sprinkler system). In the living room, the wall separating our two units has a wooden door, like a bedroom door. If it were unlocked, it would be a passageway between my apartment and my neighbor's apartment. Does this constitute a proper fire partition? Or does it violate code?
    Thanks!
    jennifer
     
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    Re: What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Mon Aug 30, 2010 6:30 pm

    First to clarify a couple of things:
    A) Do you own the unit and the ground below (i.e., a "townhouse") or do you only own the "interior space" and the structure is common owned (i.e., a "condo")?
    B) Do you know if your unit and the unit next door were "models" the builder sold from?

    The answer to A) above will provide how much fire rating the wall would need.

    The answer to B) above may give some insight into why the door is there.

    Regardless of the answer to A), though, there should not be a door between the two units, and if there is a door (there is) then the door would need to have a fire-resistance rating, not just the door itself, but the door assembly, meaning the door itself, the jambs, the threshold, the hardware (latches, hinges, etc.).

    My guess is that your unit and the unit next door were the builders models and they installed the door to allow prospective buyers to wander through the units looking at them for purchasing. Because you are not in a hotel where doors between rooms are common so guests can have adjoining suites, and because you own your unit and your neighbor owns their unit, that door is a hindrance to privacy expectations and for security, as well as a violation of the fire-resistance rated wall assembly (unless the door is suitably fire-resistance rated - then it is just a hindrance to privacy and security).

    Also, if the answer to A) is that you own a "condo", then the IBC would be the code to apply, however, if you actually own the structure and the ground below it, i.e., you own a "townhouse", then the IRC would be the code to apply.

    Hopefully the above helps for starters.
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    Re: What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby jennifer on Mon Aug 30, 2010 8:12 pm

    Thanks for your response. The structure of four units is owned by one person, and I rent one of the units (so I suppose that makes it a condo?) I don't think the door is there because of our units being models. The other two units in the building are also connected by a door in their living room. So #1 and #2 are connected and #3 and #4 are connected, but #2 and #3 are not. I suspect this was designed to let 6 friends sort of live together, like a fraternity house (I live in a college town and this apartment is directly behind campus). In fact, all of the other tenants (including myself) are students. If my neighbors and I were friends, the 6 of us could request to have the door unlocked by the property manager. The problem is, we don't know our neighbors and we wish the door wasn't there. It transmits a lot of noise from our already noisy neighbors. If I'm sitting on the couch in my living room and my neighbor is having a phone conversation in her living room, I can hear literally every word she says. We are trying to find a way to break our lease, and we thought this door might be a violation of building code. Is there any way I can determine if the door is fire resistance rated just by looking at it? Thanks again, and any advice you could give me would be appreciated.
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    Re: What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Mon Aug 30, 2010 9:25 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    jennifer wrote:The structure of four units is owned by one person, and I rent one of the units (so I suppose that makes it a condo?)


    Not necessarily. They could be 4 separate units in which one person bought all 4 units, or it could be 2 units of 2 units each - i.e., 1&2 and 3&4, or it could be one common structure with 'separate' units inside.

    While it may seem to mostly be an ownership issue, the differences are quite necessary - here is an example:
    1) Condo: A condo is where the structure is common owned and only the interior space is owned by the owners. This allows, for example, one owner to have a second floor and another owner to have the first floor, with the structure being common between all owners. In these cases there is fire separation between the units to give the occupants time to escape or be rescued, but the structure can burn down all at the same time.
    2) Townhouses: Separate townhouses where the owner owns from the ground below to the sky above, no one owns above or below anyone else. If one structure burns to the ground, the adjacent structure is supposed to stay intact (basically intact given that there was a fire in the adjoining townhouse).

    The problem is, we don't know our neighbors and we wish the door wasn't there. It transmits a lot of noise from our already noisy neighbors. If I'm sitting on the couch in my living room and my neighbor is having a phone conversation in her living room, I can hear literally every word she says.


    That may not be from the door. You can have another problem, in which case it would indicate the units may be condos (which are the same thing as "apartments" in that they are constructed the same way). That other problem may be that, while the wall may be a fire-rated wall, it may not have any acoustical sound deadening qualities. If those were built under the IBC there likely are (I would need to look it up) minimum Sound Tans mission Class (STC) ratings for the walls between units. Typically, at least here in Florida, the minimum STC for those walls would be STC50. Higher STC ratings are available with additional construction methods, such as using staggered stud walls with insulation batts running laterally between the staggered studs. If the wall are basically standard stud wall with drywall attached to each side of the studs, the sound will transmit through the wall quite readily unless the wall has insulation installed in it, and then the drywall on each side of the studs can be mounted on special channels to reduce the sound transmission even more.

    We are trying to find a way to break our lease, and we thought this door might be a violation of building code.


    The door probably is a violation of the building code. What city and state do you live in? You said the buildings were built in 2004, so that would be a 'newer' code.

    Is there any way I can determine if the door is fire resistance rated just by looking at it?


    The door would have a label on the door and/or a label on the jamb, but you would need to open the door to find and read the label. If there is no label, or the label has been painted over and is not legible, then it cannot be considered a "fire-rated door". From your description of the doors and them interconnecting units 1&2 and 3&4, I doubt the doors were allowed to be there and may well have been installed after construction was complete.

    You can go to your local building department and get a set of the construction plans, whatever page you want. They may say that they are not allowed to copy the drawings for you because the drawings are copyrighted by the architect, however, that is incorrect information as once the plans are submitted the plans are "public records" and are subject to the same copying and any other public record. The only catch is that they would not let you use those plans to construct a new building with - for that you would need to get a new set from the architect and the architect would need to make sure the drawings meet current codes.
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    Re: What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby jennifer on Mon Aug 30, 2010 10:37 pm

    To answer your question, I live in Tallahassee, FL.
    I actually received the plans for this building today, and I have uploaded an image of the plan for the first floor and the plan for one of the walls. You can see that the doors in question are included in the plans. I'm not totally sure what I'm looking at, but it seems like the middle wall (between #2 and #3) has more fire protection than the other two walls which contain the doors.
    You mentioned the STC rating of walls, which is something I came across recently in researching the noise problem here. Is the STC rating something that can be inspected?
    Thanks for your help!
    You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
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    Re: What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:18 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    jennifer wrote:To answer your question, I live in Tallahassee, FL.


    In 2004 that would have been constructed under the 2001 Florida Building Code. At that time there was no separate "residential" code. The 2001 Florida Building Code was based on the Standard Building Code from SBCCI (Southern Building Code Congress). Go here: http://www2.iccsafe.org/states/Florida2001/ and you can review the 2001 Florida Building Codes (Building, Plumbing, Mechanical, Fuel Gas)

    first floor and the plan for one of the walls. You can see that the doors in question are included in the plans.


    Quite a strange layout in those drawings. Looks like one of the options I listed, and the least likely one I thought I would see - "it could be 2 units of 2 units each - i.e., 1&2 and 3&4". Strange.

    The wall section between units 2&3 looks like it would be the intended fire rated wall and also looks like it might have a good STC rating too.

    Do you have a section of the other wall? The wall between units 1&2 and 3&4? I am curious if that is even intended to be a fire rated wall based on the design of the wall between units 2&3.

    Being as you are renting unit 2 (or unit 3) which is theoretically separate from whomever is renting unit 1 (or unit 4), the wall separating units 1&2 and 3&4 should be a fire rated wall, but I doubt it is. I see many potential (and all too common) problems with those two walls.

    Is the STC rating something that can be inspected?


    The STC can be tested in the field, albeit not easily and the people doing the testing would need the right equipment, knowledge and training.

    I would suggest drawing up a sketch like the floor plan (and that looks like a sketch and not an architectural drawing, which I would have thought they would have required for those structures) and go to your local building department and ask if you can building a building like that. When they say no, ask why. When they say because the walls between units 1&2 and 3&4 need to be fire rated and STC rated, ask them when those requirements came into effect - you are trying to get them to commit to a 'yes, a fire rated wall is required there and it has been required there since way back in ... (sometime before 2002)'. If you get that information, then ask why these units were constructed the way you were just told the units were not allowed to be constructed.

    They may offer to go to your unit and look, but I would not count on that very much, but if they do, and if they side with you, your landlord may likely be very happy to see you leave prematurely to the expiration of the lease. Especially if there are many building like yours and you make contact with the other tenants and they have the same problems as you are having, and TV stations frequently have dirt digging reporters who like juicy stories like that. Good Luck.
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    Re: What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby jennifer on Wed Sep 01, 2010 10:40 am

    Hey Jerry,
    It seems all my questions were answered today. I thought I would fill you in, in case you were curious. A building inspector and plans inspector came by today and explained why this building is the way that it is. It was actually built as a duplex, and if you look at the plans, you can see that each set of apartments is only supposed to have one stove -- in other words, two stoves in the entire building. For this building to be up to fire code, the door adjoining our units must be accessible, and they would have to remove the stove from our unit (so we would share one with our neighbors). They're renting it as four separate apartments when it's only supposed to be two. They are definitely violating code and will be contacted by the building department soon. So I'm fairly sure we'll be able to get out of our lease now. Thanks for all your help!
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    Re: What constitutes a "fire partition"?

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Wed Sep 01, 2010 6:44 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    Sounds like your efforts are being paid off and you will soon be released from your lease - don't forget, you leased a "separate" living unit and not a "shared" living unit (read your lease carefully for any wording which would indicate that you you "share" a kitchen).

    That way, if the landlord tries to make you stay after your stove is removed you still have an out, i.e., he is not providing what the lease covered.

    Good luck!

    Let me know what ultimately happens.
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