Your attic access is smiling?

People love to install pull down stairs as the means of attic access,  Stairs tend to make the attic space more useful as one is not teetering on a step ladder to get things up and down.

Before I go further in this discussion, I want to state that attics are for insulation–not storage or other purposes even though commonly done.  There are numerous problems with using attic space for things other than insulation and this article is NOT about all of those things.

At this time I only want to discuss the pull down stair attic access.

As you can see by this infrared picture, the pull down stairs is staring right at us and gives away the problem.

I am smiling because of how much I am costing you!

The two beady white eyes are all that shows of the zipper seam of the insulating cover between the poor seal of the lid.  This picture is what the lid looks like without the infrared.

Pull down stairs

The foam zipper cover made to improve energy efficiency is a whopping R-3.8 at a cost of around $116.00 from the Big Orange Toolbox.  Modern standards require that attic hatches be insulated to the same level as the rest of the attic.  In other words R-38 to R-49.  Some sort of thick foam cover would be necessary.  And, of course with that much insulation in the attic any storage floor system gets quite complicated.

This next picture is what the R-3.8 foam cover looks like with the infrared camera and with the stairs pulled down.  As you can see, it represents little resistance to heat flow from the warm attic. 

This greatly increases energy consumption due to heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer.

Like I started out at the beginning of this conversation, it is best to leave the attic to insulation–and find a better place for the Christmas decorations and stuff your kids will have to deal with when you are gone.

 

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

Testing for Asbestos

While I always have to chuckle to myself whenever anyone buying a 1967 house wants to know if the house has asbestos in it, or whether I do testing for asbestos, I always do my best to take their questions seriously.  I realize that in all walks of life people don’t know what they do not know, and what good does it do to poke fun at them?

The fact that any house from 1967 is going to have asbestos in it, seems to not be common knowledge.

I know for a fact that there is endless stuff I do not know.  It is “normal.”  I think we can all appreciate what a pain in the butt it is dealing with someone that knows it all.

At a recent inspection of a 1967 house, the inevitable question came up when we went into the laundry and saw the floor covered with 1967 vintage vinyl tiles.  Now typically, I don’t have any problem telling my client that the tiles from this time period are “considered to contain asbestos,” but that only testing can tell you for sure.

This is a useless exercise as near as I can tell, but from a liability standpoint it is what home inspectors will say.

In this case however I was able to categorically state:  “yes—the tiles contain asbestos,” as there was a box of the same tiles, unused and stored, in the closet in the laundry room.

asbestos tiles

No testing necessary.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email! 🙂

Myths of fire-rated walls and doors between house & garage.

A common mistake that home inspectors make when inspecting single family residences is related to opinions stated about the requirements for separation between the home and the attached garage. 

Their comments often leave them “out on a limb” when repairs are called for and a builder or repair person informs them there are no “fire-rated” requirements.

I should clarify, this article is based on 2015 IRC and may not be consistent in every regard with the codes amended or otherwise in your area.

I routinely hear erroneous statements about compromised “fire-rated surfaces” between the house and the garage.  Also common are statements declaring surfaces between the house and the garage are not “1 hr fire-rated,” or that the “1 hr fire-rated surfaces” are in some way compromised.

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 “Dwelling-Garage Separation.”

Meeting the “separation” requirements is really quite simple and 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 etc.)

Typically, ½” drywall (or equivalent) 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 (or equivalent).  Again, this is not a “fire-rated assembly,” but merely what is required to meet the proper “separation” requirements.

These wall and surface finishes have to have a flame-spread index not greater than 200, however wood frames and trim around doors and windows are excluded from this requirement.

Duct-work inside the garage, or duct-work that runs through these fire-resistant surfaces must be constructed of  minimum No. 26 gauge sheet steel or other approved material and shall not have openings into the garage. So this means no return air registers or heat supply registers inside the garage.

Openings around other types of penetrations in the walls and ceilings (ductwork, pipes, wires, etc) must be filled with an approved material to resist the free passage of flame and products of combustion.  There is nothing in the code, for single family residential construction, that prohibits plastic piping through these fire-resistant surfaces.  This is another common incorrect call-out by home inspectors.  The openings around them merely have to be properly sealed.

Pull-down stairs in a garage ceiling would be required to meet the requirements of 1/2 drywall or equivalent, or have a 20 minute fire-rating.

The door or doors placed in this “separation” are also frequently misunderstood and incorrectly reported on.

For the door between the house and the garage, all that is necessary is to install a door that meets the “separation requirements” of the code.  Of course this door can never lead to a bedroom.

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 clearer.  It also reveals the source of some of the confusion.

To meet separation requirements, the door must be one of three types of doors:  a solid wood door not less than 1-3/8 inches thick, a solid or honeycomb core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches thick, or a 20-minute fire-rated door, with a self-closing device.  Another thing to note, is that a 1-3/4″ thick solid wood raised panel door would likely not comply because the minimum thickness at the recesses would likely be less than 1-3/8.”

As a side note, that little comma after “door” in: “door, with a self-closing device,” is consistent with its pertaining to all three choices–not just the 20-minute type door.  If it applied to only that type of door the comma should not be there.

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 door in general, and thus the walls and ceiling, have to somehow be “fire-rated.”

Also having a “fire-rating” (as all materials in the home do) does not make any of this a “fire-rated assembly.”  It just means the fire-resistant surfaces are specified to be constructed of materials known to have known fire-resistant characteristics.

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. 

All three types of doors will require weather-stripping/seals on all four edges of the door to prevent the passage of gases that may be drawn into the home, as well as meet energy efficiency standards.

Hopefully this post will help clear up some of the confusion.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

If you enjoyed this post, and would like to get notices of new posts to my blog, please subscribe via email in the little box to the right. I promise NO spamming of your email! 🙂