Dear Barry,

In a recent article, you recommended that gas-burning fixtures such as furnaces, water heaters, and ranges should receive an annual safety review by the local gas company, and you stated that such services are offered free of charge by natural gas providers. When I called my gas company, Washington Gas Utility, I was told that they no longer perform free diagnostic services and haven’t done so for nearly 10 years. I also learned that they did not appreciate your article and were planning to bring this to your attention. Just thought you’d like to know. –Catherine

Dear Catherine,

Thank you for bringing this significant update to my attention.

Gas utility companies provide a product that is indispensable for heating homes, water, and food but which has obvious, inherent dangers. Recognizing this reality, those companies that supply natural gas to the general public have historically taken a proactive position with regard to safeguarding their customers, and, accordingly, have provided gas safety services upon request. Fortunately, most gas providers continue to offer such services on a no-added-cost basis. These services typically include adjustment of burners, verifying compliance with applicable combustion standards, testing for carbon monoxide, and much more. Unfortunately, some gas companies have chosen to cut costs by abandoning this commendable tradition. Consequently, a reliable pillar of our public safety infrastructure is gradually being undermined. This is a regrettable circumstance and reflects a policy that warrants reconsideration. Thanks again for the heads-up on this issue.

Dear Barry,

Our garage has a drop-down ladder in the ceiling, providing access to a storage area in the attic. When we bought the house, our home inspector informed us that this was a violation of the firewall between the garage and the house. Is there a reasonable way to correct this problem and still retain storage access from the garage? –Gene

Dear Gene,

Wall surfaces that separate a garage from a dwelling are required to comply with one-hour fire-rated construction standards. This requirement is intended to slow the spread of a garage fire into the residential areas of the building. When this firewall does not extend into the attic, that is, when the garage attic is not separated from the house attic, then the garage ceiling becomes part of the required garage firewall. Homeowners, typically unaware of such requirements, often violate this fire separation by installing a folding ladder as an attic access. Such fire safety violations are commonly disclosed by home inspectors. Fortunately, there are three practical solutions to the problem:

1) You can eliminate the access by covering the opening with 5/8-inch fire-rated drywall. Unfortunately, this also eliminates the valuable storage space in the garage attic.

2) You can construct a firewall in the attic, separating the garage attic from the house attic. In most cases, the framing for this wall is already partially or completely in place. Once the framing is complete, just apply 5/8inch fire-rated drywall and tape the joints.

3) The manufacturers of some folding ladders make kits for retrofitting their ladders to comply with fire separation requirements. Just check the label on the ladder and contact the manufacturer to see if a fire door upgrade kit is available.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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