The door between the house and the garage—and little kid’s fingers!

Lots of people, including me, are confused about the requirements for doors between the house and the garage.

garage_house_doorI will attempt to open that door and by the time I close it hopefully everyone will be a little less confused–but then again perhaps not.

Some sort of “special” door has been required between the house and the garage for a long time.  It is not uncommon to see heavy wood doors wrapped in sheet metal in older homes.

I will not attempt to identify the specific requirements of what this “special” door had to look like historically, but instead will present “current” requirements with the idea that upgrading is a good idea regardless.  Of course if the home is newer, “repairs” might be the word I would use in the inspection report instead of “upgrade.”

If you don’t understand the requirements for these doors don’t feel alone, as many inspectors are confused as well.  Even jurisdictional inspectors seem confused by the requirements.

There are essentially three types of doors that meet the requirements of proper separation between the residence and the garage if your jurisdiction follows the IRC (International Residential Code).  The following is from the 2009 IRC:

   1.  The door must be a solid wood door of not less than 1-3/8” thick,

   2.  The door must be a solid wood or honeycomb core steel door not less than 1-3/8” inches thick, or

   3.  The door must be a 20-minute fire-rated door.

The thing to note about these three approaches is that none of them mentions “weather-stripping” or “automatic closers.”

You may have even heard your inspector say that these doors to the garage no longer “require” automatic closers.  However many builders install doors between the house and the garage that are UL listed as a “20 minute fire-rated door assemblies.”  This is different that just the door itself and some sort of self closing mechanism and possibly even weather-stripping might be included on the door even though not required.

The whole business of weather-stripping is more germane to the requirements of the energy code and the fuel gas code, than it is to the requirements for separation between the residence and the garage.  What complicates this even further is that there was a time when these doors did require self-closing mechanisms–why it was left out of the newer codes is frankly a little baffling.  This is where the notion that they no longer have to have self-closing mechanisms comes from.

In the most recent code cycle, the codes attempt to clarify the “intent” of the code that all three choices should have an auto-closure mechanism, by tacking “equipped with a selfclosing device” on the end.

Here is the way the current code reads:  “Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) in thickness, solid or honeycomb-core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors, equipped with a selfclosing device.”

The fact that the numerous grammatical errors in the way this is written makes it impossible to arrive at the “intent” of the clarification, makes it not much of a clarification at all.  People charged with clarifying the code state that the intent is for the closer to be on all the types of doors.

It would be nice if that is what the code actually said.

Why would you want to mess with the safety of the fire-separation between the house and the garage anyway?

So although it can be interpreted that ‘grammatically” you don’t need an automatic closer on doors #1 and #2–doesn’t it seem like a good idea that all doors between the house and the garage have them?

I bypass the whole issue by merely recommending a proper closer and weather-stripping be installed on all doors between the house and the garage.  This is a pretty easy recommendation if the door is a hollow core wood or plastic door–or has a doggie door cut in it.

Sometimes it is just easier to install a new 20 minute fire-rated door assembly.

Some jurisdictions have even eliminated the need for the closer due to its slamming on little kids fingers.  I can see that happening, but a poor solution in my opinion.  Sometimes our attempts to protect ourselves from ourselves don’t succeed.  Sometimes our failures become an opportunity for a new invention.

Of course closer devices that close the door quickly until it gets close to the latch and then closes the rest of the way very slowly have been available for a long time and greatly reduces crushed fingers.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle


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