Pull down ladder in a fire ceiling

Our garage has a drop-down ladder in the ceiling, providing access to a storage area in the attic. When we bought the house, our home inspector informed us that this was a violation of the firewall between the garage and the house. Is there a reasonable way to correct this problem and still retain storage access from the garage? —Gene

Dear Gene,

Wall surfaces that separate a garage from a dwelling are required to comply with one-hour fire-rated construction standards. This requirement is intended to slow the spread of a garage fire into the residential areas of the building. When this firewall does not extend into the attic, that is, when the garage attic is not separated from the house attic, then the garage ceiling becomes part of the required garage firewall. Homeowners, typically unaware of such requirements, often violate this fire separation by installing a folding ladder as an attic access. Such fire safety violations are commonly disclosed by home inspectors. Fortunately, there are three practical solutions to the problem:

1) You can eliminate the access by covering the opening with 5/8-inch fire-rated drywall. Unfortunately, this also eliminates the valuable storage space in the garage attic.

2) You can construct a firewall in the attic, separating the garage attic from the house attic. In most cases, the framing for this wall is already partially or completely in place. Once the framing is complete, just apply 5/8inch fire-rated drywall then mud and tape the joints.

3) The manufacturers of some folding ladders make kits for retrofitting their ladders to comply with fire separation requirements. Just check the label on the ladder and contact the manufacturer to see if a fire door upgrade kit is available. Or installing a new pull down that is fire rated may be the best way to go.