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Barry Stone, Inspector discourages folding ladder in garage ceiling

Consult your building department about fire safety before installing a folding attic ladder. [The Oklahoman Archives]
Consult your building department about fire safety before installing a folding attic ladder. [The Oklahoman Archives]

DEAR BARRY: We want to use our attic for additional storage space and were planning to install a folding ladder in the garage ceiling to provide 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?

— Jay

DEAR JAY: Built-in folding ladders provide a convenient means of access to attic areas and are becoming increasingly popular for utilizing storage space above garages. Unfortunately, people who install these ladders are generally unaware of fire separation requirements in garages. That is why many of these installations are fire-safety violations.

The partition wall between a house and an adjoining garage is typically covered with fire-rated drywall. This is required in order to slow the spread of a garage fire into the dwelling. If the garage attic and house attic are not also divided by a firewall, then the garage ceiling becomes part of the fire separation barrier and must also be finished with fire-rated drywall.

The access cover on a folding ladder is a mere sheet of 1/4-inch plywood. When installed in a garage ceiling, this thin wood membrane replaces a portion of the fire-resistant surface, breaching the required fire separation.

The solution to this problem 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 ladder. Before proceeding, consult your building department for advice.

DEAR BARRY: We hired a home inspector prior to buying our new home. After moving in, we discovered that there is no exhaust hood above the kitchen range. So we called our inspector. He said a kitchen vent hood is not required. This makes no sense to us, because everyone knows range hoods are standard equipment in all homes. We think the inspector failed to disclose this defect and is now trying to make excuses. What is your opinion?

— Andy

DEAR ANDY: Range hoods have been standard equipment in homes for so many years that they are commonly presumed to be required. Surprisingly, no such mandate exists. Nevertheless, there are obvious advantages to having a range hood, so your disappointment is understandable.

The Uniform Mechanical Code contains all of the requirements for ventilation above a kitchen range. The only regulations for exhaust hoods pertain to commercial stoves, such as in restaurants. The code may eventually be upgraded to include hoods in residential kitchens, but thus far, no such requirement exists.

Home inspectors are not required to disclose the lack of a range hood. However, competent inspectors typically point out the omission of a hood in order to inform clients of an unusual and less-than-desirable condition. Your inspector apparently did not do this. This doesn’t mean that he’s making excuses, but he would be well-advised to make this disclosure in future reports.

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