How to get balance between following code and Not following Code

There is a situation, I got blamed by both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent at the same time, I truely don’t know how to get the balance between following the code or following the house current situation.

1996 Single Family House in Florida. There is gas furnance unit in garage. It is not in a cloest. It is in the big garage area. There is no fresh air intake vent for this evaporator, seller just open a hole and add a ceiling grill on garage ceiling for fresh air. So I pointed out gargae have to be fire rated per code, and the opening need to be covered.

And buyer agent argued with seller agent to fix the hole on ceiling. The seller doesn’t want to, becasue

  1. The hole is for the fresh air of Gas AC evaporator, it has to be there, and they don’t want to install additional fresh air intake duct to living room or outside of house.
  2. The house and AC are built by a famous builder, they trust the builder.
  3. they are 2nd house owner, nobody fix this situation when they brought the house.

And seller agent said I am not professional. After that, buyer agent is not happy too, becasue she got against by seller agent and pushed buyer (Buyer wants to fix).

Please help me out. Do I need to point it out if I see it in the next time? And what is best way to deal with this kinds of situation. And how to get balance between following and non-following code.

Thank you veyr much

Ok, first of all, I believe you are describing a gas furnace. Next, is the gas appliance in a closet? Does the closet door seal tight with weather stripping and door sweep? If in sealed closet, combustion and make-up air would be needed.

It is not in a closet. Just wide open in the garage.

Then , in my area, supplied combustion and make up air would not be required. But, it does sound like the hole in the garage ceiling should be repaired for proper fire blocking.
Is there any type of mechanical barrier to protect the gas appliance from vehicle impact?

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Welcome to our forum, Hongkang!..enjoy participating. :smiley:

A gas furnace in a garage should typically not need additional combustion air piped in. The ceiling may or may not need to be repaired depending on if there is living area above the garage and whether the garage attic is separated from the home with a firewall.

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And that is where you are getting yourself into trouble. Be careful about referencing codes if you don’t know what the code is. The code for a ceiling in a garage that has a habitable room located above it will be different than one that does not. You should understand what combustible air is and the difference between a furnace and an evaporator.

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As a general rule when two codes contradict one another the one related to safety (or a larger amount thereof) takes precedent. This is the kind of thing all the AHJs sort out everyday and we lowly HIs really aren’t there to do.

I look for things that have been reduced from their original design and don’t really care about the code. For example, if the cut out drywall is 5/8" I assume it was put there as a fire barrier and the cutout section reduces its effectiveness. End of story and I’m done. I’ve given them factual information and they can do with it what they like. If it leads to agents fighting so be it…

The nice thing about being a HI, is you can call something out as unsafe, even if it’s to code.

A code inspector can’t. They have to follow code precisely, even if it’s dumb.


So in the OP’s case I’d call out the fire spread issue created by the vent, AND cite the code related to the BTU of the heater and volume of air space required, AND block the vent and test for backdraft on the heater.

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The guy that trained me as an HI 20+ years ago is still a close friend and now a plans examiner and inspector at one of the local housing departments. Having him as a contact is REALLY eye-opening and a great resource to better understand how things on their side operate. He also saves me hours of pouring through the code book if I need to (of course, it costs me a few bar tabs a year but still well worth it :slight_smile: ).

They a new-ish things called, “cite it, write it” meaning they have to cite the code section. For years they’d just tell the buildings/contractors something was “wrong” and not give any direction other than that.

My area is cite it write, and has been for as long as I have been involved. You have to ask for the citation, but if you ask the inspector is required to quote chapter and verse.

One local City kind of ignores this and just says “bring it up to code” without getting specific. They also send a random inspector, so there’s no continuity, and you can get multiple opinions on the same thing.

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From what I’ve read of the OP and subsequent posts it does not appear that the furnace installation needs fresh air from the hole in the garage ceiling. That said the garage does need a fire rated ceiling if there is living space above. I see attached garages with attic storage (pull down stairs or hatches all the time. In those cases the fire separation is achieved by fire separation IN the attic space between the garage and house.

The trick in navigating these “safety” situations is to never, never, never cite code. We are not code enforcement and agents will start all that "grandfather’ crap. The phrase to use is, “modern safety standards.” Everyone wants their family to be secure with the latest safety standards and there is never an argument about what version of code was applicable!
Boxing

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You cited code…so you need to provide them with the code reference. If you cannot do that, I might consider hiring an HVAC contractor at your expense to evaluate the situation.

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Great description, Bob.

Otherwise, siting code, can get you in trouble as Brian said:

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Most codes are written to satisfy a safety issue. If you know the “why”, it makes reporting it easier without citing code.

In this case the “seller just open a hole and add a ceiling grill on garage ceiling for fresh air.”. Fire, smoke, and CO could spread to the rest of the house as a result.

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Make your life easy. First off “Codes” are created from good building practices so do become familiar with their requirements. However use the following to help you quote the intention of the building codes without quoting the building codes.

  • When you encounter a “system” issue like the one you are now asking about then find and use the manufacturer installation requirements for the make and model unit. Many manufacturers will provide installation requirements that either contributed to the creation of the building code requirements or mirror the actual building code requirements. Even the Building codes have many references themselves stating that the system must be installed as per the manufacturer’s requirements.
  • When you encounter an issue that is not a manufacturer “system” find and use the industry standards for that material being used incorrectly. For example, and only one example, if you have a brick issue the Brick Industry Association has a wealth of standards and they may actually be used as the basis for various building code requirements.
  • If you are not able to find the standard for an item then use the actual International Code applicable to that issue, inside of it they have a “Referenced Standards” section that may point you to an appropriate standard.

The entire purpose of the above is to provide an authoritative source for why the situation is an issue. You just don’t want any source but instead an authoritative source. It would help if you research and line up these sources and have them ready for your reports if you want to reference something directly. That can save time trying to find it later when writing your report.

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There is no requirement for “fire rated” ceiling or firewall in a garage of a residential 1-2 family dwelling. When you guys write reports, I hope you’re not putting these terms in them.

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You’re right. Should be “Fire Separation.”

Something I explain to my customers, especially if they start talking about code - “This is not a code inspection. That ship came and went when the house was built. This is an inspection looking for issues with safety, livability, insurability and resellability. I may use modern building codes as a guide to help identify issues, but I also use knowledge and years of experience. A house built “to code” is a house built to the minimum standards, and I think you will agree that we should expect more than the bare minimum.”

I then proceed to not cite any code unless it’s a new build and the builder is a jerk.

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As an industry we (HIs) are largely responsible for the “code-confusion”. 22+ years ago when I was training it was absolutely ironclad that we DO NOT mention codes AT ALL. Then, for a while many inspectors would dance around it and use words like, “best building practices”. Now, I regularly see inspectors cite actual codes (numbers and all) in their reports and it makes my stomach churn. It’s just not at all what this profession was ever intended to be.