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Thread: Attic clearance

  1. #1
    Lora Hinch's Avatar
    Lora Hinch Guest

    Default Attic clearance

    Hi all,

    I had extensive remodeling done to my house --licensed contractor but not permitted. 3400 sq ft single story with attic access. In the remodel, we had ceiling soffett removed in kitchen. The hvac stuff sat in the soffit. Now hvac sits in celing and makes attic passage from kitchen to a bed/bath impossible. There isn't enough clearance without removing an intake. Is this okay with fire code?

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Photos or a diagram would help.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Plano, Texas

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Quote Originally Posted by Lora Hinch View Post
    Now hvac sits in celing and makes attic passage from kitchen to a bed/bath impossible. There isn't enough clearance without removing an intake. Is this okay with fire code?
    The fire code does not apply to single family dwellings per se, however, the building code does include a section which is intended to give firefighters access to the attic by requiring access to the attic if there is 30" or greater headroom.

    The problem is that, while fighting a fire, few firefighters are going to bother to locate the attic access, find that it is stuffed in the back of a closet, and find that they will need to hack into the ceiling ... so ... most will likely just hack into the ceiling here and there checking for fire.

    That means that about the only people who use the attic access will be home owner stuffing the attic full of storage ; home inspectors trying to inspect the attic; and persons working on the various systems in the attic (electrical, HVAC, plumbing, insulation, etc.)

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  4. #4
    Lora Hinch's Avatar
    Lora Hinch Guest

    Default Re: Attic clearance

    @ Jerry, Thanks for your answer. I'm trying to scare the contractor into fixing this issue. They installed a register and return within 10 inches of each other right in my kitchen ceiling. Since it is cosmetic, they know I have no recourse. But if I can prove it's against code I think I can get their insurance company to pay.

    Before remodeling, I had two attic access points. The one that was not replaced was in the bed/bath that now has no access without removing the intake. The attic is several feet in height in much of the attic but this bed/bath is now totally closed off in the attic since the remodel took place--only about 12 inches clearance from top of intake to roof line.

    Thanks for your help.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Quote Originally Posted by Lora Hinch View Post
    I'm trying to scare the contractor into fixing this issue. They installed a register and return within 10 inches of each other right in my kitchen ceiling. Since it is cosmetic, ...
    It may not be cosmetic.

    If you are interested in having them correct it, then you will first need to hire a mechanical engineer who designs HVAC systems and have them determine if the supply and return are allowed to be that close together and if being located there and that close together will they allow for proper cooling of the area.

    they know I have no recourse.
    That is your recourse ... if that engineer says they should not be like they are.

    But if I can prove it's against code I think I can get their insurance company to pay.
    That's why you need to hire someone with real credentials.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  6. #6
    Lora Hinch's Avatar
    Lora Hinch Guest

    Default Re: Attic clearance

    @ Jerry,

    The placement of the register and intake are not enough for an attorney to take on and I can't get the insurance companies to work with me without an attorney. You're right though--can't be proper cooling and heating when 1/3 of the air goes right into the intake.

    What do you think about the attic clearance? My thought is that the insurance company would take notice of this issue and that would satisfy me for the most part. This would involve moving the intake out of the middle of my kitchen ceiling

    Thanks again,


  7. #7
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Not permitted; shame on you! What you see is what you get!


  8. #8
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Quote Originally Posted by Lora Hinch View Post
    @ Jerry,

    The placement of the register and intake are not enough for an attorney to take on and I can't get the insurance companies to work with me without an attorney. You're right though--can't be proper cooling and heating when 1/3 of the air goes right into the intake.

    What do you think about the attic clearance? My thought is that the insurance company would take notice of this issue and that would satisfy me for the most part. This would involve moving the intake out of the middle of my kitchen ceiling

    Thanks again,
    Sometimes there is a jumper duct installed between the return and supply right at the air-handler. This is done to improve the temperature differential at the register and return grill. It does not increase efficiency but the air hitting your skin feels better. The supply and returns in your ceiling would have something of the same effect and may not be deemed as incorrect installation.

    The beatings will continue until morale has improved. mgt.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Quote Originally Posted by Lora Hinch View Post
    What do you think about the attic clearance? My thought is that the insurance company would take notice of this issue and that would satisfy me for the most part.
    I doubt the insurance company is going to care about the attic clearance.

    They 'might' care if there was an attic access located immediately adjacent to the duct blocking access from the access opening into the attic, but, even then ... I doubt they will care.

    The only reason the code requires it is for firefighters, and they are going to knock holes through the ceiling anyway - much more time efficient than trying to find the attic access and then open it.

    If the attic access was that important to the insurance companies ... I suspect they would required a " 'X' You are here -> attic access is here 'X' " location drawing at each and every entrance into the building, including next to each window - not going to happen.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Quote Originally Posted by Lora Hinch View Post
    What do you think about the attic clearance? My thought is that the insurance company would take notice of this issue and that would satisfy me for the most part. This would involve moving the intake out of the middle of my kitchen ceiling
    There is no applicable code or specification for you to use regarding "attic clearance". You are stuck on that point.

    Sometimes there is a jumper duct installed between the return and supply right at the air-handler. This is done to improve the temperature differential at the register and return grill. It does not increase efficiency but the air hitting your skin feels better. The supply and returns in your ceiling would have something of the same effect and may not be deemed as incorrect installation.
    This makes no sense to me.

    Mark Fisher
    Allegany Inspection Service - Cumberland MD 21502 - 301-722-2224
    Home Inspections, Mold Testing, Thermal Imaging

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Fisher View Post
    There is no applicable code or specification for you to use regarding "attic clearance".
    There could be an applicable code requirement ... it depends on:
    - R807.1 Attic access. Buildings with combustible ceiling or roof construction shall have an attic access opening to attic areas that exceed 30 square feet (2.8 m2) and have a vertical height of 30 inches (762 mm) or more.
    - - The rough-framed opening shall not be less than 22 inches by 30 inches (559 mm by 762 mm) and shall be located in a hallway or other readily accessible location. A 30-inch (762 mm) minimum unobstructed headroom in the attic space shall be provided at some point above the access opening. See Section M1305.1.3 for access requirements where mechanical equipment is located in attics.

    *IF* that ductwork, etc., cuts through an attic and creates two separate attic areas, and each attic area is >30 square feet *and* have a vertical height of 30 inches or more, then an attic access would technically be required to each attic area.

    The problem is that the insurance company is not going to care about it. Now, if the work was done with a permit, the inspector could very well insist that: a) the ductwork be relocated; b) another attic access opening be provided.

    The contractor would take the easiest and cheapest way out - probably installing another attic access, and, with regards to code, that attic access 'could be in the middle of the living room', although I do not know of any home owner who would want that, but that could happen, and not there are two issues, but the code would be in favor of the contractor, not the owner, as the contractor would possibly have met the code (remember, code is "minimum", "code is the crappiest one is legally allowed to do it").

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Attic clearance

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    There could be an applicable code requirement ... it depends on:
    - R807.1 Attic access. Buildings with combustible ceiling or roof construction shall have an attic access opening to attic areas that exceed 30 square feet (2.8 m2) and have a vertical height of 30 inches (762 mm) or more.
    - - The rough-framed opening shall not be less than 22 inches by 30 inches (559 mm by 762 mm) and shall be located in a hallway or other readily accessible location. A 30-inch (762 mm) minimum unobstructed headroom in the attic space shall be provided at some point above the access opening. See Section M1305.1.3 for access requirements where mechanical equipment is located in attics.

    *IF* that ductwork, etc., cuts through an attic and creates two separate attic areas, and each attic area is >30 square feet *and* have a vertical height of 30 inches or more, then an attic access would technically be required to each attic area.

    The problem is that the insurance company is not going to care about it. Now, if the work was done with a permit, the inspector could very well insist that: a) the ductwork be relocated; b) another attic access opening be provided.

    The contractor would take the easiest and cheapest way out - probably installing another attic access, and, with regards to code, that attic access 'could be in the middle of the living room', although I do not know of any home owner who would want that, but that could happen, and not there are two issues, but the code would be in favor of the contractor, not the owner, as the contractor would possibly have met the code (remember, code is "minimum", "code is the crappiest one is legally allowed to do it").
    OK, Jerry. The OP was kinda vague, but it was pretty clear that her concern was that new 'HVAC stuff', blocked horizontal access to one part of the attic. I further deduced from the post that one of two existing attic accesses was converted into 'HVAC stuff', presumably a central return plenum, and, in her words, "only about 12 inches clearance from top of intake to roof line" remained. So unless some one actually walled off one section of an attic in the course of remodeling, your code reference is not applicable or relevant.

    So yes, there is a code reference for attic clearance, it is just not relevant, applicable, or useful to the 'client' in this scenario. So why bring it up?

    Mark Fisher
    Allegany Inspection Service - Cumberland MD 21502 - 301-722-2224
    Home Inspections, Mold Testing, Thermal Imaging

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