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ASK THE INSPECTOR

Dryer Lint Doubles as Attic Insulation? Only Real Thing Will Do

January 30, 2000|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: The house I'm buying is about 15 years old, and I've decided to do the home inspection myself in order to save money. One of the things I noticed is that the clothes dryer exhaust blows into the attic, and nearly half the attic is covered with lint. When I asked the seller to vent the dryer to the exterior of the building, he said that lint in the attic is advantageous because it increases the amount of insulation. How should I regard this rebuttal?

Answer: It sounds as though your seller is exhaling some lint of his own. If he wants to provide you with additional attic insulation, ask him to install another layer of fiberglass.

Conventional attic insulation consists of fiberglass or cellulose material, specifically manufactured to be nonflammable. Laundry lint, consisting primarily of cotton and synthetic fibers, is obviously quite flammable. Its continued accumulation in an attic space can pose a significant fire hazard.

An additional problem with venting a dryer into an attic is moisture condensation. Dryer exhaust contains the water that has been extracted from wet laundry. When this steam vents into the attic on a cold winter day, condensation on the wood framing can lead to fungus and dry rot damage.

My first advice is that you not take any steam from the seller. Insist that he vent his clothes dryer to the exterior, as required by code. My second advice is that you retain the services of a qualified home inspector, rather than trying to inspect the home yourself. His findings will more than compensate for the inspection fee. I guarantee it.

Garages With Ladders Need Firewalls Added

Q: I think you made a mistake in your Jan. 2 column. You were writing about a folding ladder that was added to a garage ceiling as a means of attic access. You correctly pointed out that this violates the firewall between the garage and the house, but your recommendation was to attach a piece of 5/8-inch drywall to the ladder assembly as a means of fire protection.

I worked for 25 years as a fireman. During a fire, hot gases and flames exert a tremendous pressure upward, looking for any opening. A folding ladder with a drywall cover would leak like a sieve around the edges. The fire-resistant ceiling would fail in a matter of minutes, allowing fire to spread to the house by way of the attic. Could you please address this in your column.

A: I want to thank you; other readers also pointed out this discrepancy.

As you know, attic access openings are often installed in garage ceilings, although most are not equipped with folding ladders. Typically, there is a rectangular hole with a fire-resistant cover.

In some locales, it is common practice to use 5/8-inch thick drywall as a drop-in access cover. Such covers are often supported by mere strips of wood molding. This is arguably a substandard method of fire protection because fire damage to the wood strips could cause the access cover to fall open, allowing fire to spread to the attic and the dwelling.

Despite this shortcoming, access covers of this kind often pass inspection, and with that standard in mind, it would seem consistent to install drywall on the cover of a folding access ladder. Your rebuttal, however, is very well-taken. Therefore, I offer the following recommendation:

When a folding ladder violates the fire separation of a garage ceiling, the best remedy is to install a firewall in the attic. This firewall would divide the garage portion of the attic from the attic space above the living area.

This way, any fire that would enter the garage attic would be slowed from entering the dwelling. This firewall would be positioned directly above the wall that divides the garage from the residence, thereby extending that wall to the roof line.

Water Heater Must Be Secured With Straps

Q: According to my buyers' home inspector, earthquake straps are required on all water heaters. My water heater is installed in a small closet that would easily hold the fixture in an upright position in the event of a quake. Does this method of securing the water heater eliminate the need for strapping?

A: With regard to seismic safety requirements for water heaters, the plumbing code is written in few words, all of which are dogmatic and without stated exceptions.

From a practical viewpoint, even a rigidly built closet provides no surety that a water heater will remain on its feet in a severe quake. As anyone who has lived through a major seismic event can tell you, things that seem totally secure can literally come apart when the earth starts dancing.

Most water heaters are connected to gas piping that can become disconnected if the water heater should fall. For the sake of fire safety, seismic strapping is strictly required in major earthquake zones.

Range Hood Isn't Part of Basic Building Code

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