Ask the Architect

The rules exist for all of us


Q. I hired a carpenter to rebuild my garage because it was rotted and leaning. The roof was OK, so we kept it, but all the walls were stripped away and replaced. In the middle of the job, an inspector showed up and stopped it, saying we needed a permit. I hired an architect, he made a plan and we filled in the permit. Now the plans have been rejected because, according to the inspector, they have to show fireproof walls and roof. That’s crazy! Nobody has that, so why am I being made to do this? It’s expensive, and I shouldn’t have to do it. I think they’re making me pay for starting with no permit, right?

A. Not exactly, but you have to look at the big picture. You may feel like you’re getting burned, but the building code is actually named The Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code. Fire prevention is a primary reason that the building laws exist.
In many cases, building departments allow existing garages to have minor repairs without a permit, but only for things like replacing a garage door, a rotted section of wall base plate, shingles or siding, although you should always verify before starting. You described a near-complete rebuild, only saving the roof part of the garage, and your building official has determined that, beyond 50 percent change, the code for new buildings applies. Even though your zoning code allows a free-standing accessory structure to be 2 feet to 4 feet from a property line, depending on your community, garages that are closer than 5 feet to a property line must have materials that are rated to prevent flame spread for an hour.
This is especially important in places where there’s a volunteer fire department that must take the time to assemble from all over the community before even heading off to put out the flames. In that precious time, without flame-retardant materials, the structure may not just become completely engulfed, but also spread fire to adjacent houses and other structures. Unless you never catch the news, you can clearly see how vulnerable whole towns and cities are, and just because we don’t live next to a forest, the unthinkable can still happen.
As for cost, aluminum siding, which actually still exists, may cost less, can be painted to match the house and lasts an average of 35 years. Fiber cement siding also does the job, but costs more. Other choices include stucco over cement board and steel panels, all more costly. Aluminum or cement board eaves, gutters and roofing are also required, and even though most of the home construction industry doesn’t read or know the regulations, the requirements still exist, and cost the most when they aren’t adhered to and the work has to be done twice.
So don’t feel like you’re being singled out or being held to the fire. The rules exist for all of us. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.