Ask The Experts


The door between my garage and house is self-closing. I find this very annoying, but have been told that this is required by code. Can I disable the closer without getting in trouble?

The New York State version of the International Residential Code requires “fire separation” of a garage from the living space. Garages normally contain stored fuels and gasoline engines; obvious sources of potentially serious fire hazards. The purpose of this part of the code is to give an occupant sufficient time to escape the home if a fire should erupt. This principle has been incorporated in various codes for several decades, and has been more or less fully enforced throughout New York State since the mid 1980’s. In an attached garage “fire separation” requires a fire resistant wall or ceiling between the garage and living space. This is normally accomplished by installing 5/8 inch fire-rated, or Type-X, gypsum board on the garage side of the wall or ceiling, and ½ inch gypsum board on the house side of a separating wall. Details on how this should be accomplished vary depending on interpretation by the code official having jurisdiction. Any door between the garage and the adjoining house must be designed and certified to have a ¾ hour fire resistance rating, and be self-closing, according to the code.

Codes are normally enforced only at the time of building, or any remodeling requiring a building permit. No one is going to come knocking on your door insisting that you maintain the fire separation as long as your home is owner occupied, and is not being used as a place of public assembly. Nonetheless, slowing down the spread of fire in the home is a worthy goal, and you may be asked to restore proper fire separation when you go to sell your home. We suggest that you find an easy method to temporarily prop open the door when you are bringing in the groceries, rather than disable the closer. It is also a good idea to look for other ways to slow down the spread of fire in the home. Any heat ducts or ventilators that are open into the garage from the house should be sealed or relocated. Any open chaseways for plumbing or chimneys from the basement up through the house should be sealed off. And any older homes that have balloon framing should be checked to make sure that interior or exterior wall cavities are not open to the basement or attic, allowing fire to easily spread from one floor to another.

I want to convert my garage into a family room, but am not sure how to remove the old wood overhead door. What is the best way to do this?

Our first instinct is to simply advise against it and recommend a professional. Old wood overhead doors are very heavy, especially if they are a full 16 foot wide, and the springs are under extreme tension in order to counterbalance all that weight. Removing overhead doors can be a dangerous operation if not done with care and a thoughtful approach. If the overhead door springs mount on a bar that runs across the door opening, above the garage door when it is in the closed position, this is a torsion bar system. Reread the first sentence. If the springs run from front to back next to the overhead track and you really feel that you can handle the project, go for it but make sure to work with a strong helper. Disconnect the door from the operator and remove the operator if you have one, then manually lift the door all the way up, as high as it will go, and secure the door in the fully opened position. C-clamps in the tracks directly below the lowest section should secure the load for the next step which is to disconnect the springs and cables. They should not be under tension at this point, but be careful and make sure that they are free before removing. The next step is to remove all of the hinges that tie the door sections together, leaving the wheels attached to the door and still secure in the tracks. Each door section should then hang free in the track from the wheels. You will need to lower each section individually down the track to the ground and then remove the wheel assemblies. Each section is still quite heavy so make sure you are prepared for the load as you lower the sections. The tracks get removed last.

Your question gives us the opportunity to remind our readers that all overhead doors can pose potentially serious safety hazards and should, at minimum, readily reverse if they strike an object. You can easily test this function yourself by depressing the close button and catching the door a couple of feet off the floor with your hand. If the door does not quickly, and with a minimum of resistance reverse direction and go back up, the operator needs adjustment or replacement. If your door has a photocell type reverse mechanism, you can check it for the reverse function by breaking the beam with your foot as the door comes down. It should immediately reverse direction. Even if the door has a photocell type safety reverse mechanism it still must have a properly adjusted pressure switch reverse mechanism also.