Q: To save space and to avoid the problem of the door constantly falling closed (due to the house settling over the past 50 years), I would like to replace the standard interior door between my kitchen and laundry room with a bi-fold louvered door. Because the laundry room also houses the furnace and water heater (both gas), I’m wondering if this poses a fire hazard or otherwise violates some safety code?

A: We think replacing your solid door with a louvered bi-fold is a good solution. The louvered door will ensure that the water heater and the heater get sufficient ventilation and combustion air to operate properly.

In addition, the bi-fold door will provide you with a more efficient use of space in what we presume to be a cramped kitchen.

Based on your description and what we’ve seen in older homes in the East Bay near San Francisco, we don’t think that changing door styles will create a fire hazard. But we do wonder whether, because your house has settled – we like to think of it as aging gracefully – the change in doors will prevent the new door from working properly.

It’s common in older Bay Area houses for the water heater and the home heater to be located in a laundry room adjacent to the kitchen. We’ve even seen the water heater located in the kitchen itself. Bill was presented this situation in one of his Alameda, Calif., homes. The gas water heater was located in the kitchen adjacent to the gas stove.

We’re not quite sure why builders did this in the 1920s, ’30s or ’40s, but it most likely had to do with cost and space. Locating heaters in kitchens and laundry rooms usually occurred in the more modest homes of the period. As anyone who has lived in one of these homes knows, space usually is well planned, and extra space is at a premium. Clustering gas appliances not only provided efficient use of space but reduced the amount of gas piping that needed to be run to supply these appliances.

When Bill remodeled this kitchen we were faced with the question of what to do with the water heater. Fortunately, the water heater was located on an outside wall. We were able to frame a water heater closet with solid walls as part of the kitchen and an access door on the exterior wall. The building code required that the door have openings at the top and bottom of the door to allow ventilation and combustion air for the water heater. Bill had to order a custom-made door.

Hanging a new bi-fold door can be tricky. These doors operate on two pivot points installed either on the header jamb and floor or on the doorjamb itself. Unless the opening is level, square and plumb, the door won’t operate properly.

So when you install the new door in the old opening some shimming might be required to adjust the door to the opening. The worst case is that if the opening is too irregular, you may have to reframe the opening. In either case, with a little work, your heater and water heater will breathe easier and you will have a more efficient use of space.


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