Even if you know very little about Chicago history, I’m sure you have heard of the Great Chicago Fire that started on October 8, 1871 … maybe you didn’t remember the date …
This chapter of your Chicago new condo inspection covers firewall separation between the condominium units, and it will tell us if we actually learned anything from the Chicago history.
Actually, I have the answer for you right now, before we even start the inspection – it’s a NO, we didn’t learn anything.
99.9% of my Chicago condo inspections are the best proof that the homeowners are putting their safety in hands of completely irresponsible developers, contractors and Chicago building inspectors.
I’m also 100% sure that the majority of other Chicago condos I didn’t have a chance to inspect (maybe with the exception of the hi-rise condos) are in the same condition.
Do you know that I can actually write the inspection report on condo firewall separation (and many other things) before I even start the inspection.
The funny thing is that whoever is not doing it wright, comes up with great ideas on how to make it worst.
- Q: How do you prevent fire and/or smoke from traveling between your neighbor’s condominium and yours?
- A: By providing air tight / fire resistant joints around all wall, floor and ceiling penetrations between the condominium units, especially in plumbing walls and utility rooms / closets containing fuel burning appliances.
Condo kitchen and bathroom firewall
Look under the sink and check area where plumbing pipes penetrate the wall or floor. This wall behind the sink / toilet / tub / shower stall often continues through the entire building (from the lowest to the highest level) and contains all the plumbing pipes, sometimes ventilation ducts, cables, etc.
In some building layouts, the kitchen drain and water supply pipes travels withing the apartment walls / floor to wherever this plumbing wall is located.
All the penetrations inside the wall at each floor / ceiling level and at the wall surface (example – where your sink drain pipe penetrates the wall) should be sealed to prevent spreading of fire, smoke and migration of all kinds of insects and rodents.
In other cases, there might be an open shaft / chase that runs through the floors and seals are applied only at the side wall, where something from the shaft penetrates your condo wall.
However, after seeing so many things done wrong on the “surface” of condos I’ve inspected, I have no reason to believe that under the surface looks better.
All gaps around the pipes should be sealed for your own safety, even if somebody will try to convince you that it’s not necessary.
Condo firewall in utility room / closet containing fuel burning appliances
Look at all floor, ceiling and wall areas where plumbing pipes, furnace air ducts, water heater and furnace vent pipes, dryer vents, air conditioning pipes, electrical conduit, cables, and anything else penetrates the surface.
This is where contractors imagination shifts into the overdrive. The best example (from my experience it appears to be a very popular trend) is using highly flammable expending foam (window and insulating type) as a fire / smoke blocking material around the penetrations.
You can easily spot it if left exposed because of its yellowish / ivory color.
High temperature, fire rated expending foams are color coded for easy recognition, the most common are orange, pink, and gray. However, different specification might prevent some of the products from being permitted in particular location.
If you notice something like that applied around the penetrations, ask the contractor / developer for the product brand name, check online if approved for fireproofing purposes, and confirm with the Chicago building department.
- The reasons for using regular expending foam instead of the fire rated products is the price (approximately 4X more), and irresponsibility… or simply just not knowing what to do.
Another product which is not being used around penetrations is fire rated caulking (most common color red or red-brown, 2-4 times more expensive than regular caulking). Because structures move constantly, different materials contract/expand at different rates, using fire rated caulking prevents the gaps from appearing around those penetrations.
The bottom line for the Chicago condo firewall separation:
Penetration in any surface of the condo wall, floor or ceiling that separate your property from the common areas (hallway, staircase, etc.), wall cavities or other apartments and roof framing (for top floor units) must be sealed with approved by the local code fire-rated materials.
So go ahead, look for holes, and continue your