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Garage Fire Safety – Common Sense Minimizes Risk

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By Charles Furlough

RISMEDIA, November 24, 2010—For many homeowners, a shiny new car is as integral a part of the home as the roof and the door—and it’s often right next to both. That’s because many people go to great lengths to protect the beloved car from the elements, chief of which is garaging it rather than leaving it out in the driveway.

Garaging a car keeps it safe and snug—but, if the garage is attached to the home, some risks ensue. One major risk is fire. Most folks have plenty of combustible material in their garages, from gas and oil cans to cleaning products. Combine this with all the fuel and oil in your car, and one errant leak can ignite a devastating fire.

A less obvious, but just as dangerous, concern is carbon monoxide, which is potentially deadly. (In fact, now is the perfect time to check and make sure you have a CO2 alarm in your home and that it’s working). What makes carbon monoxide so scary is that it’s invisible—odorless, colorless, and tasteless—and it’s in your car’s exhaust. Always keep not only the exterior garage door open, but keep your car door open as well, when starting the car—the goal is to have as much ventilation directly to the outdoors as possible. Also, don’t idle the car in the garage; pull the car out of the garage as quickly as possible after starting the car. It sounds basic, but it’s easy to make mistakes and get distracted as soon as you get in the car.

Luckily, there’s no need to panic over these risks—you can minimize them. Just use common sense, and rest assured that you have a whole bunch of codes on your side. Those codes, and the builders who put them into practice, can help to greatly minimize the risk. Here’s a rundown of U.S. national fire codes for attached garages in single-family homes:

-Half-inch gypsum board is required on the garage side of any walls that the garage and house share, as well as any walls that support a ceiling in the garage that is connected to the house. This gypsum board helps prevent fire from igniting wall studs and quickly spreading to the house.

-Any garage ceilings common to the house must contain fire-resistant 5/8 Type X gypsum board.

-The door from the garage into the house must be fire-resistant; it must either have a 20-minute burn rating or, if not rated, must be solid and 1 3/8 inches thick. Lastly, this door must not open onto a room used for sleeping.

-The garage floor must be non-combustible.

-No supply or return air registers or ducts may be in the garage, under any circumstance. Any duct-work that passes through the garage with no openings (the only kind, as no openings are allowed) must be sealed with fire-stop caulking. The ducting material must be 26-gauge steel.

Note that these are national codes; many local codes, which usurp national codes where applicable, are even more stringent. And if you are worried about remembering the above when buying or selling a home, don’t worry—you don’t have to. Just choose a good home inspector, who will know all the rules regarding garage safety. Your only other job, besides exercising common sense, is to drive carefully and enjoy your new wheels.

Charles Furlough is vice president of Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspections.

For more information, visit www.pillartopost.com.

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