Friday, March 16, 2018

At Home

Attic staircase installations can break firewalls

An inspection was done on my home and I was told I had a breach in the firewall. What is and where is the firewall?

The firewall is the drywall between the garage and the living space. Homes built from 1980 onward should have a firewall. The drywall should be 5/​8-inch thick and have fire code written on it.

Entry doors from the garage to the house must be metal or a fire-rated door and must not have glass windows in it, unless it is fire-rated glass. Fire-rated doors have a tag on their edges and on the door frame.

You also must have firewall in the attic areas of duplexes and condos for each individual unit so that any fires can be contained, if possible, to a single unit.

The most common breach of the firewall is when gaps exist. Those gaps can be taped and filled with compound. 

One of the most common mistakes homeowners make is installing a pull-down staircase for attic storage. Once a staircase is installed, the firewall is broken and homeowners must install drywall over the wood door.

At times I have seen the dryer venting into the garage. You cannot have any open ducts in the garage; this is a breach in the firewall. If you have heat going into the garage with a register coming from the house duct work, it must have a damper that automatically closes in case of a fire.

There was a mandate created in 2002 that the garage attic scuttle cover be screwed or fastened down. This is the piece of drywall that covers the attic opening, which prevents the cover from being sucked or blown out because of a fire. 

The actual code says it must be securely fastened down, but it doesn’t say how. 

It seems like each municipality has something they prefer. Some say as long as it is screwed down it is OK, but others want spring-loaded hinges, some want a barrel-bolt system and others prefer a hook-and-eye system. 

To get the exact date of code items and how they want it installed, call your local building inspector.

Most home inspectorsknow what standards were in place when the home was constructed. The house should be inspected by when it was built and not according to today’s standards unless remodeling was done. 

Things do change where you have to update certain items such as fused electrical systems, which have to be brought up to today’s standards. The home inspector should know what items need addressing. 

That’s why training is so important. In Wisconsin, a home inspector must have 20 hours of continuing education every year.

Duerkop is a licensed home inspector and serves as president and education director of the Wisconsin Association of Home Inspectors for the central and northern Wisconsin chapters. To submit a question to him, call 1-866-715-8222 or email

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