When is a Condo an apartment and not a townhouse?

Questions about Georgia Codes and Standards

When is a Condo an apartment and not a townhouse?

Postby Blackstone on Fri Nov 21, 2008 12:52 pm

The 2000 IRC, Section R321.2 requires each townhouse unit (condominium is a property term not recognized by the Building/Fire Codes) to have its own ‘exterior’ wall, and when the two abut then Section 302.1 requires them to be 1-hour (i.e. two 1-hour fire resistance rated walls constructed as an exterior wall for each townhouse unit), or they may use Section 321.2 Exception permitting one common 2-hour fire resistance-rated wall (i.e. fire barrier since no structural stability requirement is indicated as is required for a fire wall…).

However, the State Minimum Fire Safety Standards, Section 120-3-3-.01(2) also indicates that unless a maximum of every two townhouse units (“two-family townhouse” – and per the 2000 IRC, to be considered a townhouse, each of these two townhouse units would also be required to have a minimum 2-hour fire barrier or two 1-hour exterior walls between them as well as noted in the above paragraph) is separated by a 2-hour fire wall (structurally independent, freestanding 2-hour fire barrier), then the adopted and amended Codes and Standards within 120-3-3 apply and the structure, regardless of being individually owned (remember, ownership is not a consideration for occupancy classification), is considered an Apartment Building Occupancy per the 120-3-3 adopted and amended 2000 Life Safety Code (LSC), and is subject to all applicable provisions of the 120-3-3 adopted and amended 2003 IFC, including Sections 308.3.1 and 308.3.1.1 – the one- and two-family dwelling exceptions would not apply since 120-3-3 classifies the structure as an Apartment (the term ‘townhouse’ is not defined nor appears to be recognized by either the 2000 LSC or 2003 IFC). To be exempt, a maximum of two ‘townhouse’ units must be separated by a 2-hour fire wall - which incidentally, also makes them separate (one- or two-family dwelling unit) buildings.

One interesting note: although the 2000 LSC and 2003 IFC do not address ‘condominiums’, OCGA §25-2-13(b)(1)(A) and §25-2-13(b)(1)(B) indicates an “individually owned residential unit within a building” (condominium) is not under the State Fire Marshal’s Office jurisdiction to enforce the 120-3-3 requirements – therefore, only the local (city/county) Fire Official per OCGA §25-2-12 has the jurisdiction and authority to enforce the 120-3-3 requirements including 2003 IFC, Sections 308.3.1 and 308.3.1.1.

A townhouse is defined by the 2000 International Residential Code (IRC) as a single family dwelling unit grouped three or more in a building each separated by either: two 1-hour fire resistance rated walls constructed as an exterior wall for each townhouse per Section R302.1; or, a common 2-hour fire resistance-rated wall per Section R321.2, Exception.

Typically this is how townhouses are built, with a fire resistance-rated wall (a.k.a. fire barrier) between them, and not with a Fire Wall which is defined in the 2000 International Building Code (IBC), Section 702.1, as a fire resistance-rated wall too, but a Fire Wall is additionally required to include structural stability enough to allow collapse of the structure on one side without damaging the Fire Wall – the fire resistance-rated wall required by the 2000 IRC for townhouses has no such provision so therefore it is not a Fire Wall.

Georgia Codes exempt the 2003 International Fire Code (IFC) from applying to “…(townhouses) separated by a 2-hour fire wall”. Townhouses separated by other than a 2-hour Fire Wall (structurally independent free-standing 2-hour fire resistance-rated wall) would not be exempt from the 2003 IFC requirements – for such facilities, 2003 IFC, Section 308.3.1 regarding open-flame cooking devices on balconies, and Section 308.3.1.1 regarding LPG cooking devices, would be applicable. In other words, all apartment buildings, and most condo's, are not permitted to use grills on their dwelling unit balconies/patios... well, unless that area and the building are fully sprinklered, AND the even then, the typical gas grill LP tank [20#] can not be used!

See Code sections below for more*

From 2000 International Residential Code (IRC):

R302.1 Exterior walls.

Exterior walls with a fire separation distance less than 3 feet (914 mm) shall have not less than a one-hour fire-resistive rating with exposure from both sides. Projections shall not extend beyond the distance determined by the following two methods, whichever results in the lesser projections:

1. A point one-third the distance to the property line from an assumed vertical plane located where protected openings are required.

2. More than 12 inches (305 mm) into areas where openings are prohibited.

Projections extending into the fire separation distance shall have not less than one-hour fire-resistive construction on the underside. The above provisions shall not apply to walls which are perpendicular to the line used to determine the fire separation distance.

Exception: Detached garages, tool and storage sheds, and similar detached accessory structures are not required to provide wall protection based on location on the lot. Projections beyond the exterior wall shall not extend over the lot line.

321.2 Townhouses. Exception:

A common 2-hour fire-resistance-rated wall is permitted for townhouses if such walls do not contain plumbing or mechanical equipment, ducts or vents in the cavity of the common wall. Electrical installations shall be installed in accordance with the currently adopted electrical code. Penetrations of electrical outlet boxes shall be in accordance with Section R321.3.

From 2003 International Fire Code (IFC):

308.3.1 Open-Flame cooking devices. Charcoal burners, portable barbecues and
other open flame devices shall not be operated on combustible balconies or within 10 feet
(3048mm) of combustible construction.”


1. One- and two-family dwellings.
2. Where buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system.”

“308.3.1.1 Liquefied- petroleum-gas-fueled cooking devices. No person shall
use individual fixed or portable LP-gas burners or barbecues on or under any attached
covered patios, balconies, covered walkways, stair or roof overhangs and shall not be located within 10 feet (3048 mm) of combustible construction.”

1. One- and two-family dwellings.”

From 2000 International Building Code (IBC):

702.1 Fire separation distance. The distance measured from the building face to the closest interior lot line to the centerline of a street, alley or public way, or to an imaginary line between two buildings on the lot. The distance shall be measured at right angles from the face of the wall.
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