Residential Garage Fires & Built-in Protection

Adapted from United States Fire Administration website article, November, 2013.

Causes of Garage Fires

Nationally, over 45% of house fires originate in garages and extend into the living area or outside of the building. The leading causes are electrical malfunction, unintentional careless action, and open flame, in that order. From 2009 to 2011, there were 6,600 garage fires in residences resulting in 30 deaths, 400 injuries, and $457 million of property loss. 93% of these occurred in one- and two-family dwellings.

What compounds the problem are the stored combustibles:

  • Automobiles
  • Boats
  • Cans of flammable liquids (gasoline, paints, oils)
  • Combustible products such as boxes and paper products stored on shelving or in crawl spaces
  • Lawn equipment

Mitigating Risks of Garage Fires

If a fire occurs in the garage, the detection time may be delayed, allowing the fire to grow before detection occurs and allows the invisible odorless, colorless toxic gases to move into the living area.

In addition to good housekeeping practices within the garage, the three components to be aware of are: early detection, wall separation, and automatic fire sprinklers.

Early Detection

Since there are often exhaust fumes that may inadvertently activate smoke detectors in a garage area, install a heat detector device instead. Ideally, this alarm is wired to notify both the residents and a monitoring company. A carbon monoxide (CO) detector is also useful to warn residents of the dangerous build-up of CO from vehicles, gas-fired appliances, etc.

Garage safety doorWall Separation

The wall separating the garage from the home's interior should have a 30-minute fire-resistive separation (accomplished with a single layer of 5/8-inch Type X Gypsum wallboard on the garage side) and should extend through any above attic or crawl-space area. The door going into the home should be fire rated and kept tightly closed.

Automatic Fire Sprinklers

For homes with fire sprinkler systems, installing additional coverage into the garage is recommended. In the photo nearby, you may notice the sprinkler head in the wall above the fire resistive steel door.

Thank you for taking the time to look around your garage and taking these safety precautions for your family.