What I'm Seeing Now

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Condos Have Fire Protection Between Units For A Reason

And that is true - condos have fire protection between units for a reason.

Arriving at a condo development, with many small buildings, each building with two levels and housing 10 or 12 units, I was met by the buyer (who already lived in a different building) and the seller.

They were talking about the development and the topic turned to a fire that happened a couple of years ago.  It started outside, probably at an AC compressor, spreading up the side of the building and then passed quickly through various attic spaces to severely damage 7 units.

I wondered how it was that a fire could spread so easily and quickly.  Each upper-level condo should be separated from the others in the attic space with some type of fire-blocking, fire-impeding drywall.  That is not to say that fire cannot pass, but the intent is to slow its progression dramatically, if not hopefully contain it.

Going into the attic I looked off toward the common wall between my subject unit and the unit next door.

I saw three areas with dramatic cracks, gaps and holes.

There was also a PVC tube partially hidden by insulation.  When that happens I understood the fire code to require a protective sleeve around the tubing to seal the hole.

I saw no sleeve.

My experience with townhouse and condo pre-drywall inspections is that a construction mistake or problem in one often translates elsewhere, with the same mistake being made there.

Could the fire in that other building have passed in the attic unit to unit because of cracked and gapping firewalls, or pipes without sleeves?

I don't know, but my buyer, on the board in the development, was going to bring this up immediately with the management company and even call her brother who is a Fire Marshall in another nearby city!

There are probably 20 such buildings.  How many have this problem?

My recommendation:  conditions in one building do not necessary indicate similar such conditions in others.  But, as I said, in my experience, often construction mistakes and problems in one have been done elsewhere.  Obviously this was never caught.  And an electrician was in this unit, and in the attic, not long before me and had said nothing.  What I do is observe and report.  Where things go from here will be interesting to hear.  They promised to call me.

 

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 30 commentsJay Markanich • June 26 2013 03:58AM

Comments

Morning Jay I know there are condos and some duplexes that have no barrier.  Don't understand how they got by the inspectors but they did. 

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 4 years ago

There was an era, and not that long ago, where the attics in these kinds of buildings had no such protection James.  But these units are only 8 years old and those rules were in place then.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Good morning, Jay....how can something so important slip by during construction.... if the builder didn't pick it up, the town inspectors should have...

Posted by Barbara Todaro, "Franklin MA Homes" (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) over 4 years ago

Don't know Barbara.  I am betting those guys don't go into the attic space for a final inspection.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

I would say the small hole is enough. It doesn't have to be the flame itself to spread, the heat alone can make something burn, depending on how combustible it is!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 4 years ago

For sure Fred.  That hole on the bottom is the size of a bowling ball.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Jay, I saw the results of a townhouse fire a while back. It burned to the ground. The units on either side survived the fire. Firewalls work!

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 4 years ago

They are devastating Mike.  So you're saying there was fire protection between units for a reason?

;>)

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

We see loss of separation up in the attic area often. Usually, cable or phone lines being added after the original installation. Nobody goes up to check what has been done Jay.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 4 years ago

Another good reason to hire an inspector when buying,. .

I've seen a fire on a complex I lived before long ago, I was not affected but the damage was incredible in just a few minutes. .

Posted by Fernando Herboso - Broker for Maxus Realty Group, 301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA (Maxus Realty Group - Broker 301-246-0001) over 4 years ago

Jay, we have a lot of apartment to condo conversions around here.  In apartment buildings the attic can be common where in condos they do not have to be---very strange twist in the codes in my opinion but I don't write them.  What I love is when every unit has an attic access and therefore everyone has access to everyone else's unit :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 4 years ago

Who knows how long these problems have existed Tom.  This looks to me like the holes were created from the other side.

Fernando - fire moves quickly through expansion as it gets hotter.  My Fire Marshall neighbor told me that fire walls are supposed to give an hour and twenty minutes, but I don't know if that is hard and fast.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Seems to me that, with this home inspection in hand, a buyer would not be eligigle for fire insurance.  Oops!

Of course, a copy should be sent to the local fire inspector, the insurance company, etc.

Dangerous risks of fire are not anything to ignore.

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH PEOPLE???

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 4 years ago

Charlie - there is an apartment complex near here, in Reston, where 30 years ago the manager called me to do some work in the attic.  They had had many burglaries, only in top-floor units, that the police could not figure out.  Well, from the attic I had access to anyone's unit on the top floor.  I told her and they sealed all attic access from the units.  The police couldn't figure it out?

Interstingly, Lenn, she is in another building and didn't want me to look into her attic for fear of what it might bring!  I am sure the management company will make a complete sweep now, because I warned her about the one building-all buildings possibility.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Every-time I watch a western, you get to see how things were prior to the codes. Buildings were built next to each other, no streets, curbs, gutter or sidewalks and one incident could affect the whole town. Slowly, we made the changes but at a cost over time...By now we should know

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 4 years ago

We do know Richie.  Fire codes always change after a fire, and people hurt or killed - if only there was one more door...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Hi Jay,

This is an issue with all contractors. They think once they are at a home or town home every thing is within limits.

This is why we need to do more "Trust but verify inspections". Just sayin'.

Have a great day in Bristow my friend.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 4 years ago

When did firewalls become a necessity when building townhomes? I'm curious because I think I remember one of my neighbors saying our complex doesn't have them. What's a person to do then?

Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) over 4 years ago

If the contractor was sloppy and did not do a good job in one building, then you might expect the same problem in other buildings, too.

Sometimes even when everything was done right, with time the repairs and alterations are made which affect the fire protection.

Posted by Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL, Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices (Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408) over 4 years ago

There are reasons for city codes such as having barriers between condos such as this one.

Posted by Harry F. D'Elia, Investor , Mentor, GRI, Radio, CIPS, REOs, ABR (Real Estate and Beyond, LLC) over 4 years ago

This looks like it was broken from the other side Clint.  Gotta look!

Suzanne - around here, in the 80s, they stopped putting masonry firewalls between townhouses in favor of thick drywall and FRT plywood.  I would check yours!

Jon - it could be either of those things - from the beginning or recent damage.  Don't know.

Harry - for sure.  And having had a fire there already one would think they would be more circumspect.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

It is really Scary that something like this was overlooked.  Thank goodness for good home inspectors.  This jsut verifys why all home buyers should have a home inspection done before purchase....you never know what they might find!

Posted by Thana Mayes (HomeXpress Realty Inc) over 4 years ago

Every time I see this in a condo or townhome project that shares at least one common wall, I always make a deal out of it with the Sellers and Buyers, depending on who I am representing.  They always try and blow it off as in the ceiling, who cares.  They care more about a scratch on the wall.  When I go through my dramatic example of imagine fire burning in the unit next door and how will is be stopped from coming through that hole?  Everyone sits there looking at eachother.

Posted by Jay & Michelle Lieberman, Creating Calm in the Buying and Selling Chaos (Keller Williams World Class) over 4 years ago

Jay -- holes like this might be caused by something later than construction, however, they should be correctly fixed to return the fire break to its initial condition.

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) over 4 years ago

Pretty sure code requires firewall. Bet insurance would not be happy with that.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) over 4 years ago

Thanks Thana.  I always would recommend a home inspection!

J&M - it's good to have an understanding upfront.  The seller said many people had been in that attic and nobody said anything until I did.

I agree Steven, but we aren't sure.  It looks to have been done from the other side.

Bill - for sure!  Nobody had talked to the insurance company yet.  But that has to be purchased before settlement!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Jay, just another good reason for me to pay you what it takes to come to the NC coast when I buy.

Posted by Tom Bailey (Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc.) over 4 years ago

Thanks once again, Tom, but going up into the attic to have a look is something I do regularly!  I'm sure other guys do it too!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Good catch...oh surprise....for the same reason...here that metal doors are required with attached garages...paint them faux wood if you wish...but metal is safer.

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce - Short Sale (Keller Williams 414-525-0563) over 4 years ago

That is probably a national fire-code thing - metal garage doors S&D.  But I don't know.  If it isn't code, it sure is smart.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

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