Attic access could violate garage firewall
Q. We want to use our attic for additional storage space and were planning to install a folding ladder in the garage ceiling for access. This seemed like a good idea until a home inspector told us that a folding ladder may violate the firewall between our garage and home. Two of our neighbors already have folding ladders in their garages, so we're wondering if there is really a need for concern. What do you advise?
A. Built-in folding ladders have become popular as a convenient means of attic access, especially for storage space above garages. Unfortunately, people who install these ladders are often unaware of fire-separation requirements, which is why fire-safety standards can be violated inadvertently.
The partition wall between a house and an attached garage is typically rated for one-hour fire resistance, to slow the spread of a garage fire into the dwelling. If the garage attic and house attic are not also separated by a firewall, then the garage ceiling becomes part of the fire-resistant construction.
The access cover on a folding ladder is usually a mere piece of ¼-inch plywood. When installed in a garage ceiling, this thin wooden membrane replaces a portion of the fire-resistant drywall, thereby compromising the fire separation.
One solution is to install a firewall in the attic, between the garage and dwelling. However, your local building department may approve other methods of correction, such as attaching fire-rated drywall to the cover on the folding ladder. Before proceeding, consult the building official in your area to ensure compliance with applicable fire-safety standards.
Q. The exhaust vent for my clothes dryer is causing two annoying problems. First, I'm tired of having to remove lint from the vent screen on my roof. At least once a month, I have to climb onto the roof to remove the lint. Second, there is a large water stain on my garage ceiling that often becomes wet when I run the dryer. Is this normal, and what can I do about it?
A. These dryer vent problems are common, and fortunately there are some very simple solutions. Next time you climb onto the roof to clean out the vent screen, take the screen off and throw it away. The Uniform Mechanical Code specifically prohibits the use of screens on clothes dryer exhaust outlets. Screens on dryer vents inevitably become clogged with lint, reducing the efficiency of the dryer and causing the dryer to overheat. Additionally, a congested vent can increase water condensation inside the vent duct, and this may be why you've had wetness on the garage ceiling.
While you're making this correction, check the duct connections inside the attic to make sure there are no sheet metal screws in the fittings. Screws are prohibited because lint built-up on the ends of screws can restrict air flow, sometimes resulting in condensation.
Finally, check the overall length of the air duct. In most locales, the maximum allowed length is 14 feet. Some floor plans do not enable compliance with this requirement, but keeping the duct as short as possible minimizes air flow resistance and condensation.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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