Area separation walls are critical safety features in multifamily housing. If one unit catches on fire, the area separation wall (also known as a firewall or party wall) is designed to prevent the fire from spreading to an adjoining unit or units. Equally important, it must be constructed to allow a burning unit to collapse without pulling down the firewall or compromising its structural integrity. A firewall must be continuous from wall to wall and from foundation to roof. In most cases, it continues through the roof sheathing as a parapet and protrudes through the exterior walls, although other terminations are possible where allowed by code.

Traditionally, residential area separation walls have been made from concrete block or some other form of masonry. Masonry walls do the job, but from my standpoint as the vice president for construction of a company that builds stick-framed multifamily projects in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, they have a couple of important...

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