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FireSeparationRequirementsInHangar HomeDesignAndConstruction

Designing and building a hangar home has several factors that are not encountered in routine custom home projects.One question of interest is properly determining the requirements for fire separation between thehangarand the dwelling.Understandingand preparing for this can help bypass some frustrating issues during plan approval and constructioninspections.

The International Building Code (IBC), and the Florida Building Code (FBC), which is mostly derived from the IBC, clearly defines a Residential Aircraft Hangar. It is established that a Residential Aircraft Hangar shall have an area not exceeding 2000 ft. nor a building height that exceeds 20feet. TheBuilding Height is definedasthevertical distancefromthegradeplanetotheaverageheightofthehighestroofsurface.

Therefore,there isaclear demarcation between hangarsthat meet those two criteria and thosethatdont. In myown hangarhomedesignpractice,about50%oftheprojectshavehangarareasthat exceed 2000 ft.. This situation, in both the IBC and FBC, triggers more stringent requirements. Hangars that are not considered residential aircraft hangars fall into two broad categories: storage hangars and repair hangars. Both are considered Group S1 which means that they are to be designed and built as though they will be storing moderatelyhazardousmaterials. I will, first, present the exact requirementsaccording to the letter of thecode.At the endI willgiveyoumypersonalopinionoftheapplicability.

If a residential aircraft hangar is connected to the dwelling it must be separated by a fire barrier having a fire resistance rating of not less than one hour. This separation must be continuous from the foundation to the underside of the roof and it may not be pierced by anything except doors between the hangar and the dwelling. Any such doors must be equipped with aselfclosingdevice and must conform to other requirements of the code such as having a rating of at least75%of the wall rating, in this case 45 minutes, and having a sill of at least 4 inches in height which must be noncombustible. Also, no opening from a hanger tothedwellingmay godirectly into any roomused forsleepingpurposes. Of additional interest, a residential aircraft hangar must have a smoke alarm. It must also have electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems independent from the dwelling. Smoke detector wiring and any electrical feed to the subpanels to the hangar are excluded from this requirement. Alsoanyplumbingdrainsmayutilizethesamesewersystem. A one hour rated wall is a wall which is been constructed according to specifications established by Underwriters Laboratory (UL). They have established, through empirical testing, what systems comply with the requirements. One can find many wall (and other) details byvisiting theUL website or by obtaining one of their catalogs. A onehour rated assembly is usually rather simple to achieve. A couple layers of 5/8 typeX gypsumwilloftendo the trick.This detail ispretty straight forward for the partitions that separate the hangar from the home but since the rated wall must extend to the roof it can get a bit challenging up in the attic region depending on how the trusses and framing are running. The Designer Engineer needs to keep this in mind when suggesting truss layoutstohelpsetupasimplesurfaceuponwhichthefirerateddrywallcanbeplaced.

Wires, pipes and ducting may not penetrate this barrier. Note, however, thatin commercial building, it is common to havepenetrations through fire walls and aslong as the penetrationsthemselves are fire rated. Though not directly addressed in the Code for hangar homes, it is my opinion that any approvedcommercialtypefirepenetrationwouldbecompletelyacceptabletomostplanreviewers.

Though the code speaks only of doors through the firewall, generally, a window can be placedas longasitisfireratedtoalevelof75%theratingofthewall(ie.45minutes). If the hangar is not connected to the dwelling, and if the hangar is built of CMU concrete blocks, then the higher fire rating issue is essentially solved because the ratingofCMU walls exceeds one hour.


According to Table 707.3 .9 of the FBC (2010 edition) a Group S1 usage must have a threehour separation between itself and other areas of different fire ratings.Inthecase of a hangarhome with an adjoining hangar, the requirement would be a threehour fire separation between thehangar and thedwellingextendingfromthefoundationtothebottomoftheroof. A hangar not attached to the home, built of CMU materials, would by the nature of the concrete blockexteriorwall,beincompliancewiththisrequirement. There is the question of whetheror not anautomatic sprinkler system isrequired forsuch structure. According to the code, Section 903.2 .9, a Group S1 area does require an automatic sprinkler system however the exceptions tendtoexclude mosthangar homeprojects.Theseexclusions are: 1) The area must exceed 12,000 ft. 2) the area islocated more than three stories abovethegrade plane and a third one that as absolutely no applicabilitytohangar homeprojects. Therefore itcan be deduced that an automatic fire sprinkler system is not required in any type of hangar home as longasthehangarislessthanlessthan12,000ft.inarea. A system defined by a typical UL detail will have to be used for the threehour rating. It is a good idea to build the walls between the dwelling in a hangar with CMU materials. The area above the ceiling, between the ceiling and the roof, can be a bit more complicated but there are several methodscanbeusedtoachievethat.Agooddesignerengineercanworkoutthatdetail.

There is another table in the code, Table 602, which is referenced to determine exterior firewall requirements for all types of structures. The parameters gives several requirementsfor fire walls on the exterior related to how close the structure is to the property line. The fire rating requirements reduce as the distance of the structure from the property line increases.Theserequirementsrange from zero to two hours for any type of hangar home. This assumes that no hangar would ever be closertoapropertylinethan5feet. Given this argument, hangars build with CMU type materials are most recommended, not only for strengthbutalsobecausetheytendtoexceedallfireseparationrequirements.


Attempting tofigureoutbuildingcodesandapplicabilityissometimessimilartowatchinga dog chase its own tail. Codes have gotten vast today and can become complicated concatenationsofcrossreferencingaswellasa wholebunchofCYA.WhenIstartedinthis business the Building Code (called Standard Building Code) was a single book about 2thick.Today itismanylargetomesallofequalimportance. Figuringoutanapplicable code, unfortunately, often becomes a matter of interpretation. I have seen areas of the code, especially inthe ADA(codescoveringtheAmericanwithDisabilitiesAct)absolutely crash in conflict with themselves as Code writers attempt to comply with complicated mandatesfromCongress. The good news is that sanerheads have prevailed and, recognizing thispossibility,have allowed local Building Officials to interpret the code and make the official call when necessary. A Building Official is one specific man or woman over a given building departmentandthebuckstopswithhimorher. However, we find codes being enforced relatively haphazardly throughout the United States.I have designedhangarhomesin stateswhere,while thereis a codeextant,there is no enforcement whatsoever. Many areas of the United States do not require building permits.Illbettheygetalongjustfine. In Florida, I have seen many hangar homes builtwith hangar sizesgreater than 2000 ft., with no particular attention being paid to fire separations beyond what is required for a residential aircraft hangar. So if you are looking to build a hangar home in Florida, or anywhere,itwouldbe a goodideato speaktolocalbuilders,designersandengineers(as

well as owners who have beenthrough the maze)and determine for yourself partparts of thecodewillbestrictlyrequired. Butifitistobe,nofirerequirementsshouldexceedthoseInoteabove. Happyflying


KennethRisley,P.E.,C.G.C.hasbeendesigningandbuildingcommercialandresidentialprojectssince theearly80s.Hespecializesinhangarhomedesignandengineering.Hehasdesignedprojectsthroughout theUnitedStatesandlivesinhisownhangarhomeinCentralFlorida.Youcanlearnmoreabouthangar homes,andotherrelatedsubjects,byvisitinghiswebsite: