Home safety statistics are often more than just numbers; they tell stories and save lives. Between 2010 and 2019, over 30,000 garage fires occurred, resulting in over 300 fatalities, 2,000 injuries and over $2 billion in property losses. These fires predominantly occur between 4 to 9 PM, and alarmingly, nearly half of them enter homes by breaching living spaces or attics. Gasoline, combustible products like paint and paper and gasoline-powered equipment including cars and lawn mowers are often the precursors.

From our extensive experience as home inspectors, we attest these statistics are call-to-actions, emphasizing the importance of fire separation in garages. The focus here is to slow the spread of fire, giving residents enough time to evacuate. A standard fire separation usually involves installing 1/2” or thicker Type-X drywall that is properly mudded and taped. If a living space rests above the garage, the requirement increases to a 5/8” thick Type-X drywall. Concrete block walls are also effective in slowing down fire spread, provided they are intact and fully extend to the roof.

These fire separation methods serve a dual purpose. They both slow down fires and keep dangerous exhaust fumes, like carbon monoxide, from seeping into living areas. This is why sealing any openings in garage walls and living space ceilings is crucial. Fire-caulking, a high-temperature-rated sealant, is typically used here.

During our home inspections, we've encountered several common garage defects, even in newer homes. Glaringly, materials like particle board, OSB or plywood for attic access covers in garages are combustible. These materials jeopardize the fire separation system and should be replaced by drywall.

garage of a house

Pulldown ladders in garages are another concern. Most of these ladders have combustible wooden that can compromise fire separation. And steel ladders, though a better option, are surprisingly rare. Furthermore, simply placing a piece of drywall over these wooden covers is insufficient as the unsealed edges still leave room for fire and carbon monoxide to penetrate. Moreover, the added weight can prevent the ladder from sealing tightly.

The man door, separating the garage into the home, should either be a solid wooden door with a minimum thickness of 1 3/8 inches or a steel, fire-rated door. Unfortunately, thin or hollow-core wooden doors are more common, offering little resistance to fire. Ensuring the man door is fire-rated is vital for effective fire separation.

We’ve also noticed some brand new homes, with passed code inspections, have compromised fire separations in their garages. A professional home inspection effectively identifies these risks for mitigation, irrespective of the age of the home. WIN Home Inspection offers an annual Healthy Home Check that provides you with a brief inspection checklist for you to fix minor issues before they grow into major, costly repairs. In several instances, we've found that code officials overlook unsealed penetrations or improper materials, among other issues. We fill in that gap with our extensive expertise and in-house training, pushing WIN to the number one ranking in the home inspection industry. Even small gaps in fire separation can turn a spark into a total home loss.

In multi-unit residences like townhomes and condos, proper fire-rated walls (firewalls) are essential to prevent fire spread between units. These walls, often made of concrete block or doubled drywall, should run from the basement to the roof.

In summary, proper fire separation in garages is a crucial safety measure. While it may not prevent a fire, it can significantly slow its spread, opening precious time for evacuation and professionals to arrive on the scene. As home inspectors, our advice is always to prioritize these safety features, regardless of the age or style of your home. In the face of a garage fire, every minute counts, and the right precautions mean the difference between a bad day and a disaster.

Author Bio:

Josh Rogers

As a former professional home inspector and Training Specialist at WIN Home Inspection, Josh has years of experience in both performing and teaching home inspections, infrared scans, radon testing, mold testing, and more.