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Robert Lamoureux: Condos must follow fire and safety codes

Your Home Improvements

Posted: December 4, 2009 8:52 p.m.
Updated: December 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Hi Robert,
I live in a multi-story condo complex and some of the stairwell doors don’t close right. Is that a fire code violation? We also have one door leading out to the roof that you can see daylight streaming in around the frame. Shouldn’t it be sealed properly? Thank you,
Tom C.

Hi Tom,
You are absolutely right. Whenever you have an interior corridor hallway, it is considered your safety zone.  hose are fire rated corridors right into the stairwell.  

In case of fire, if people would be exiting through those stairwells, and they must be kept clear of smoke due to the possibility of asphyxiation. Every one of those doors should be sealed tight all of the way around. They should be self closing and self latching because if there was a fire in the common area, you would not want smoke entering into the stairwells or corridors.

In some common area corridors, you’ll see doors are held open with a magnet on the wall. These are generally at the top of the door.

These closures are all tied into the fire system  If the fire alarm activates, the magnets release the doors which will self close and latch.

If your complex does not have these magnetic closures in the fire corridors, then it is illegal to use door stops and you can not leave those doors open. They must remain closed at all times.  

Fire corridors through condominium complexes leading to each of the units are all constructed with double 5/8 inch drywall in the walls and ceiling. Also, every penetration made through that drywall for conduit, pipes or fire stanchions is caulked with a fire barrier.

This is a red mastic which prevents fire or smoke from infiltrating that area through those openings.  

It is up to your management company to bring a certified fire alarm company to your property for annual Reg. 4 testing.

They will check the fire alarm system, fire doors, elevators, sprinkler systems and the fire extinguishers. As a resident, if you see or suspect any deficiencies in anything regarding fire safety, contact the management company or a member of the Board and have it tested or repaired immediately.

Hi Robert,

We just moved into our first home and I noticed there are electrical plugs up near our roof by the eaves. Were these put in for Christmas lights? Would you please tell me some good, general safety precautions for Christmas with lighting and the tree? Thank you very much,
David D.

Hi David,
Those receptacles are part of what’s known as a Christmas package. Either that, or the people that lived there before you were really tall.   

Christmas safety tips:
Don’t overload your sockets. The rule of thumb is eight strands per receptacle. If you go over that you’ll be tripping breakers. If you have a bad breaker, you have a potential fire hazard.  

Use UL approved lights.  Make sure they have the UL tag. You can buy aftermarket lights without the UL listing, but you are playing with fire.  

Inspect all of your lighting strands. Make sure there are no tears in the insulation.  

Christmas tree lights, outside lights and any knick-knacks that light up should all be turned off if you leave the house and when you go to sleep.  

Please make sure that all of the smoke alarms are working properly and have fresh batteries. Although the law is to have them installed only in sleeping quarters and common areas, I put them in every room. If there is a fire in my office, I don’t want to wait until the smoke carries into the next room to sound the alarm. I want to know immediately. I check the batteries when I change the clocks. Maybe I’m a bit paranoid about fire, but I see the aftermath of it all of the time and don’t want to take any chances.  

Regarding the tree, don’t buy it too soon. The longer you have it in your home with the heater on or fireplace burning, the more dry it will become. Personally, I like to wait until the week before Christmas before I bring it in.    

Make a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk so that water will draw up inside the tree and keep it in water — either with a feeder or in the stand. Keep it as hydrated as possible.

Hi Robert,
I enjoy your column. We removed a section of carpeting in our entryway and replaced it with tiles because it would be easier to clean. There is one tile that has been repaired twice already but is always coming loose and moves when you walk on it  The tile man doesn’t seem to know what is causing this problem. Do you have any ideas? Thank you very much,
Stephanie T.

Hi Stephanie,

You have an adhesion problem. What I would do is take a surface grinder and grind the concrete to roughen it up. It sounds like the concrete underneath is too smooth or polished to allow the adhesive to bond properly.  

Another possibility is that they are not using the right adhesives. Get some good, fresh tile adhesive and apply on the rough concrete, then reset and regrout that tile. That should take care of it.

Hello Mr. Lamoureux,
I took a side job and things did not turn out well. The homeowners have 280 square-feet of living room ceiling with acoustic texture that they wanted replaced with a knock down finish. I scraped the acoustic off using water, this was my mistake, and applied a knock down. This is in a cabin that they used over Thanksgiving. They said it smelled like rotten eggs and want it fixed by Christmas.  How can it be fixed? Will I have to remove and install all of the drywall? Please help.

Hi MH,
There are precautions you need to take before working with acoustic ceilings. First of all, when you see an acoustic ceiling, there’s a good chance that it has been there a long time. Acoustic or popcorn texture really became popular in the 1970’s. The problem with that is asbestos was used in acoustic texture up until 1974 and lead paint was not banned until 1978. So, old acoustic ceilings pose a strong health hazard and a double whammy of asbestos wrapped up in a lead coating. If the house was constructed before 1974, it should be tested and abated by a licensed asbestos contractor before anything else is done.

It sounds like you used too much water. You only want to spray it lightly to help remove the texture and to cut the dust, but don’t soak the gypsum. If you apply a knock down finish to a wet ceiling, it will seal all of that moisture in the drywall and sour.  
It won’t be necessary to replace the drywall. Bring in some commercial quality, high speed fans to expedite the drying process. It might take a couple of weeks, but all will be fine by Christmas.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to  


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