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    Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    New postby Davethescot on Fri Jun 16, 2017 9:10 am

    I recently inspected a new home pending closing, with a walled but open stairwell at the rear of the garage leading to the common (non-separated) attic above the entire house. The gas fired split system heat pump is located in the attic. I advised my client that this stairwell would need a compliant doorset installed to preserve fire separation. The prospective owner discussed my report with the builder for rectification who advised her that the city inspector had issued a certificate of occupancy for the house therefore disregard my comments. The city uses 2003 versions of all codes and there is no local deviation documented from this code for the AHJ. Although we as home inspectors are not inspecting to code, we research and are aware of the respective code requirements for each property that we inspect such that we can make informed comment/ recommendations to our clients. My opinion on this is that the city inspector was incorrect in accepting the construction as presented and as defined in the code below. Your comments would be appreciated.

    From IRC 2003

    R309.2 Separation required. The garage shall be separated from the residence and its attic area by not less than 1/2 " gypsum board applied to the garage side.Garages beneath habitable rooms shall be separated from all habitable rooms above by not less than 5/8 " Type X gypsum board or equivalent.Where the separation is a floor to ceiling assembly , the structure supporting the separation shall also be protected by not less than 1/2" gypsum board or equivalent. (not Type X per se)


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    Re: Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Fri Jun 16, 2017 10:59 am

    Dave,

    I am addressing this out of order from your question:

    Davethescot wrote:The prospective owner discussed my report with the builder for rectification who advised her that the city inspector had issued a certificate of occupancy for the house therefore disregard my comments. The city uses 2003 versions of all codes and there is no local deviation documented from this code for the AHJ.

    My opinion on this is that the city inspector was incorrect in accepting the construction as presented and as defined in the code below.


    From the 2003 IRC (underlining is mine)
    - R110.5 Revocation. The building official shall, in writing, suspend or revoke a certificate of occupancy issued under the provisions of this code wherever the certificate is issued in error, or on the basis of incorrect information supplied, or where it is determined that the building or structure or portion thereof is in violation of any ordinance or regulation or any provisions of this code.

    Now, theoretically, the building official steps in and suspends the CO, leaving the contractor to mumble and grumble and have to bring the building into compliance with the code before the CO is reissued ... theoretically ...

    In reality, the best use of that is to meet with the building official, inquire about the code section in question in a way in which you are trying to learn and understand the code's requirements, and when the building official explains the requirements in the same way you already understand those requirements, then present your photo and description and ask something like 'In this situation (photo), based on my understanding of what you just described, there needs to be (blah-blah-blah) ... right?' Then let the building official mull over the photo and what you described.

    The best result will be that the building official says that he will go over this with his inspector, then the inspector will go back out to the site and verify that the separation is present, and if not, explain to the contractor what is required.

    If the contractor refuses - that is where the building official may possibly withdraw (suspend) the CO, in which case the contractor does not have a choice. I have had several CO's suspended in the past when the building officials agreed with my assessment and the contractors refused to make any corrections ... refused to make corrections until the CO's were suspended, then the contractor did not have a choice but to make the corrections the building official said were needed.

    I recently inspected a new home pending closing, with a walled but open stairwell at the rear of the garage leading to the common (non-separated) attic above the entire house. The gas fired split system heat pump is located in the attic. I advised my client that this stairwell would need a compliant doorset installed to preserve fire separation.


    I would change the term "doorset" into "door" as "doorset" almost implies the hinges and latchset (at least to me), whereas using "door" is consistent with what the code states with regard to protections of openings: (underlining is mine)
    - R309.1 Opening protection. (blah-blah-blah) Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors ... steel doors ... fire-rated doors.

    Then, back to separation between the garage and the residence "and its attic": (underlining is mine)
    - R309.2 Separation required. The garage shall be separated from the residence and its attic area by not less than 1/2 " gypsum board applied to the garage side. (blah-blah-bah - which is not applicable to this discussion)

    Thus, the garage is required to be "separated" (I would also drop the "fire" in "fire separation" as the code simply calls it "separation" ) from the residence "and its attic" - but ...

    ... the 2003 code does not specifically address "openings between the garage and residence" ... 'and its attic' ... that is a very good point of a possible inconsistency in the code - I will check with the ICC about what they think "the intent" is about openings from the garage into the "and its attic" ... in the meantime, though, I will apply what I have always applied in the past -> minimum 1/2 inch gypsum board as the separation (disregarding for now the 'openings' aspect which might, or might not, require a compliant separation "door") ... however, the wording of the 2015 IRC does seem to clear up what the intent is (but I will check with ICC to verify what I thinking the 2015 is saying as it is not specific either).

    Thus, from the photo:

    - Under that stair (unless the gypsum board on the walls completely enclose the garage under-stair area from the attic): the underside of that stair needs to be minimum 1/2 inch gypsum board, and you may not have anyway to check it, unless the stairs are made such that you can see through any cracks or small openings.

    - At the top of the stairs, whether the opening is to the left or straight (I can't tell from the photo): the 'door' in the opening from the garage (stair side) into the attic (house side of the attic) needs to be at least 1/2 inch gypsum - however, because such a gypsum 'door' would likely break quite easily, that 'door' is likely plywood, which would need to have 1/2 inch gypsum covering it.
    - - I will post what ICC says after if clarifies what the intent of is for 'doors' in "openings" from the garage into the 'house's attic' ... the wording in the 2015 IRC does help with the intent of the code, but I will check to make sure.

    - Additionally, that stair much meet all of the other requirements for stairs:
    - - riser heights and variation between highest and shortest risers
    - - tread depths
    - - stair width (measured at and above handrail heights)
    - - headroom
    - - landings (sizes) at top and bottom of the stair
    - - handrails (those handrail ends do not return to the wall or floor
    - - lighting (the stair looks dark)

    I realize that I have not not provided a complete answer, but that is because of a possible inconsistency in the code that I had not noticed before and I need ICC to address it - "openings" into the 'house's attic' ... are 'doors' in "openings" to the residence's attic to be treated the same as "doors" in "openings" to the residence? At a minimum - 1/2" drywall 'door' ... but possibly a full compliant "door" is required.
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    Re: Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    New postby Davethescot on Fri Jun 16, 2017 11:33 am

    Thank you for that comprehensive breakdown. FYI, there was no door at the top of the stairs into the attic either, so essentially, as I implied, the open stairwell is directly linking the garage to the attic space.

    Dave
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    Re: Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Fri Jun 16, 2017 12:05 pm

    Davethescot wrote:FYI, there was no door at the top of the stairs into the attic either, so essentially, as I implied, the open stairwell is directly linking the garage to the attic space.


    Dave,

    I didn't know if that was your implication, or if you were implying that the 'door' was a plywood door as I described (but without the 1/2" drywall covering).

    If the stair leads to 'just an opening' as you described it above - that "opening" absolutely does required something in the "opening" which separates the garage from the attic.

    Hopefully, I will get a response back from ICC today or possibly Monday regarding my question on whether the 'door' needs to be a "door" which meets the requirements for a "'door".

    The wording in those sections have changed over the editions, with the wording in the 2015 IRC more closely implying that it should be a "door" - but that is what I asked ICC>
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    Re: Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Wed Jun 21, 2017 4:19 pm

    Dave,

    This is the response from ICC, which basically says that the 'door' (if there was one present) at the top of that stair would only need to meet the requirement for 1/2 inch gypsum board separation. (underlining is mine)

    RE: Sections R302.5.1 and R302.6 along with Table 302.6 of the 2015 International Residential Code

    Q. Your correspondence indicates a door opens directly from the garage into an attic. Your correspondence does not indicate whether the attic is a habitable room. While a photo was submitted, no door is indicated. The photo only indicates a permanent fixed stairway. It is assumed this stairway is located in the garage and provides access to the attic level. Additionally, it is assumed that there will be a door either at the top or bottom of the stairway. It is our understanding that you want to know whether the door providing access to the attic must comply with Section R302.5.1.

    A. An attached garage must be separated from the residence as required by Table R302.6. The purpose of this provision is to protect the occupants “within the occupied area” of the residence from a hazardous event in the garage, such as a fire.

    If the attic is not a habitable room (i.e., not occupied), the door, at minimum, must only maintain the integrity of the specified 1/2 inch gypsum board. Ultimately, final approval of the door material, any seals and all construction details shall be subject to the building official.

    If the attic is a habitable room (i.e., occupied), then the door must comply with the applicable opening protection requirements in Section R302.5.1.
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    Re: Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    New postby Davethescot on Thu Jun 22, 2017 8:50 am

    Jerry,

    Thanks for the ICC response however, this building is supposed to align with the 2003 codes; will there be a difference from the 2015 code quoted by the ICC. Also, the drywall encased stairwell is fully open to the attic above with no doors or separation and the attic is common to the entire house i.e you could walk anywhere above the living area after walking up the open stairs to the rear of the garage. None of the attic area is habitable. I am trying to ensure that I have the correct take on the separation requirements personally; the fact that the AHJ may not have interpreted them correctly is another matter however, I need to be sure I am calling these out in the correct manner in my reporting. If my client, the homeowner, chooses to disregard these recommendations and the the builder and the AHJ disregard/misinterpret code requirements there is really nothing I can do about it although I do like the idea of talking to the inspector, as you indicated, to make it a "learning" experience.

    Regards,

    Dave
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    Re: Fire separation - Garage to Attic

    New postby Jerry Peck - Codeman on Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:00 am

    Dave,

    The 2003 IRC requirements would be the same.

    I was kind of thinking that the ICC answer might be that a "door" (meeting door requirements) would be required ... thinking they may clarify that a higher protection was the intent ... but they did not.

    The 2003 IRC requirements of 1/2" drywall separation needs to cover that "open" hole in the separation.

    They could make a plywood 'door' and cover it with 1/2" drywall ... they could try to make a 'door' of 1/2" drywall ... but I suspect the drywall will just break if they try that.
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