Air Sealing Multifamily Party Walls

    Scope Images
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    Air seal the common wall between units in a multi-family structure to minimize air leakage.
    Scope

    Air seal the common wall between units in a multi-family structure to minimize air leakage and provide a control layer for sound, smoke, fire, and air quality.

    • In multifamily buildings, air seal the gap between the drywall shaft wall (i.e., common wall) and the structural framing between units at all exterior boundaries.
    • Confirm with local code officials which air sealing materials are is preferred for fire safety reasons. 
    • Possible air sealing materials include fireproof spray foam for sealing the bottom plate to subfloor and bottom and top plates to sheathing in wood-framed walls, fire-rated caulk around plumbing and wiring, and two-part urethane foam for masonry block walls.

    See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.

    Description

    Common walls (also called party walls) between units in multifamily housing (e.g., townhouses, duplexes, and apartments) should be constructed as airtight assemblies for sound, smoke, fire, and air quality control. However, experience has shown that these common walls can often be significant sources of air and heat loss if gaps or cracks exist in the connections between each unit’s walls.

    To reduce air leakage, common wall assemblies should be air sealed at all boundaries. Wood-framed walls are sealed with fireproof spray foam. Masonry block party walls, which form “chimneys” because of their open cores, can be air sealed with two-component urethane foam, which also reduces sound and odor transfer, and dust, insect, and moisture entry. These walls are fire-rated assemblies for each unit. Acceptable materials for air sealing common walls can vary significantly around the country. Confirm with local code officials which material is preferred for fire safety reasons. Any plumbing and wiring penetrations through the drywall surfaces of the common walls should be sealed with fire-rated sealant materials (BSC 2009). The 2009 IECC requires that air barriers be installed in common walls; for more information, see the Compliance tab in this resource guide (Otis and Maxwell 2012).

    Air sealing of common walls might be done by the framer. This task should be included in the contract for the appropriate trade depending on the workflow at the specific job site.

    Gaps at shared common walls can be a significant source of air leakage in multi-family buildings.
    Figure 1. Air gaps are sometimes left unsealed on each side of the common partition wall as shown here (Source: Measure Guideline: Air Sealing Attics in Multifamily Buildings 2012). 

     

    Use caulk, foam, or equivalent material to seal gap between common wall.
    Figure 2. Spray foam can be used to seal the gaps around the top plates of common walls (Source: Measure Guideline: Air Sealing Attics in Multifamily Buildings 2012). 

     

    How to Air Seal a Common Wall

    1. Check local code requirements to determine appropriate fire-rated materials for air sealing common walls between dwelling units. Such materials include intumescent caulks, fire-rated (high-temperature) caulks, and fire-rated one-component foam (Otis and Maxwell 2012).

    2. Use caulk, foam or equivalent material to seal the drywall to the top plates and bottom plates of the common walls. Also seal at the seam between the top and bottom plates and the exterior sheathing.

    3. Caulk the first stud of each partition wall to the exterior wall studs.

    Use caulk, foam or equivalent material to seal gap between partition wall.
    Figure 3. The partitions walls are caulked to the exterior wall. A continuous piece of sheathing is run across the property line or if there is a seam in the sheathing at the dividing line it is sealed with elastomeric caulk or mastic paste (Source: Courtesy of PNNL). 

     

    Ensuring Success

    Common walls (also called party walls or shared partition walls) between units in multi-family buildings should be visually checked to ensure that the gap between the drywall and the structural framing is sealed with caulk, foam or other sealing material.  Air barrier effectiveness is measured at the whole-house level. Blower door testing, which is conducted as part of the whole-house energy performance test, may help indicate whether common walls have been successfully sealed.

    Climate

    No climate specific information applies.

    Right and Wrong Images
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    Wrong – Air leakage path in a common wall
    Wrong – Air leakage path in a common wall
    Image
    Right – Approved common assembly installed
    Right – Approved common assembly installed
    Presentations
    CAD
    CAD Files
    Air sealing at common wall between dwelling units
    Air sealing at common wall between dwelling units
    Download: DWG PDF

    Compliance

    The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

     

    ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes, Version 3/3.1 (Rev. 11)

    National Rater Field Checklist

    Thermal Enclosure System.
    4. Air Sealing (Unless otherwise noted below, “sealed” indicates the use of caulk, foam, or equivalent material). 
    4.8 In multifamily buildings, the gap between the common wall (e.g. the drywall shaft wall) and the structural framing between units sealed at all exterior boundaries.

    Please see the ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes Implementation Timeline for the program version and revision currently applicable in in your state.

     

    DOE Zero Energy Ready Home (Revision 07)

    Exhibit 1 Mandatory Requirements.
    Exhibit 1, Item 1) Certified under the ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Program or the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program.

     

    2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

    Table 402.4.2 Air Barrier and Insulation Inspection Component Criteria, Common wall: Air barrier and sealing exists on common walls between dwelling units.

    2012, 20152018, and 2021 IECC

    The IECC does not specifically address sealing multifamily party walls. Table R402.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated.

    Retrofit:  2009, 2012, 2015, 2018,  and 2021 IECC

    Section R101.4.3 (in 2009 and 2012). Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with this code. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)

    Chapter 5 (in 2015, 2018, 2021). The provisions of this chapter shall control the alteration, repair, addition, and change of occupancy of existing buildings and structures.

     

    2009 International Residential Code (IRC)

    Table N1102.4.2 Air Barrier and Insulation Inspection, Common wall: Air barrier and sealing exists on common walls between dwelling units.

    2012, 20152018, and 2021 IRC

    Table N1102.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated.

    Retrofit:  2009, 2012, 2015, 2018,  and 2021 IRC

    Section R102.7.1 Additions, alterations, or repairs. Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with the requirements of this code, unless otherwise stated. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)

    Appendix J regulates the repair, renovation, alteration, and reconstruction of existing buildings and is intended to encourage their continued safe use.

    More Info.

    Access to some references may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

    References and Resources*
    Author(s)
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s)
    EPA
    Publication Date
    Description
    Guide describing details that serve as a visual reference for each of the line items in the Thermal Enclosure System Rater Checklist.
    Author(s)
    Baechler,
    Gilbride,
    Hefty,
    Cole,
    Williamson,
    Love
    Organization(s)
    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory,
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    Publication Date
    Description
    Report identifying the steps to take, with the help of a qualified home performance contractor, to seal unwanted air leaks while ensuring healthy levels of ventilation and avoiding sources of indoor air pollution.
    Author(s)
    Otis,
    Maxwell
    Organization(s)
    CARB,
    National Renewable Energy Laboratory,
    Steven Winter Associates,
    SWA
    Publication Date
    Description
    Document providing an understanding of the importance of the different types of multifamily building attics and their unique challenges, and outlines strategies and materials used in air sealing them.
    Author(s)
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s)
    EPA
    Publication Date
    Description
    Website providing the technical specifications and related documents for home builders, subcontractors, architects, and other housing professionals interested in certifying a home to the EPA's Indoor airPLUS program requirements.
    *For non-dated media, such as websites, the date listed is the date accessed.
    Contributors to this Guide

    The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.

    Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

    Steven Winter Associates, lead for the Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings (CARB), a DOE Building America Research Team

     

    Building Science Measures
    Building Science-to-Sales Translator

    Tight Air Sealed Home = Comprehensive Draft Protection

    Image(s)
    Technical Description

    Poorly air-sealed homes are less comfortable and cost more to maintain because they provide a pathway for drafts, cold spots, moisture, and insects into the home. Comprehensive draft protection includes a continuous air barrier around the whole house along with caulking and sealing in all holes and cracks. This includes around wiring, plumbing, ducts, and flues; where wall framing meets flooring; around windows; where drywall meets top plates and sill plates; where rim joists meet foundation walls and subfloors; etc. Spray foam insulation can be used at rim joists, floors above unconditioned space, and in attics to insulate and air seal at the same time.

    Comprehensive Draft Protection
    Sales Message

    Comprehensive draft protection minimizes air flow that can undermine a complete high-performance insulation system. What this means for you is less wasted energy along with enhanced comfort, health, quiet, and durability. Wouldn’t you agree it would be a shame to only get a partial return on your investment in advanced insulation?

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