Outfitting the Modern Garage

J. Fraser
The American garage has changed considerably in the past 100 years as the automobile has become an ever larger factor in our lives. At the turn of the last century, a carriage house was rare. If one existed on your property, it was not attached to the main house and it was simply a smaller version of a barn. At the turn of this century, the garage has emerged as our personal entry point into our house, the storage spot for garden tools and sports equipment, and some of us even park our cars there. That can make it a cluttered and even dangerous place. A little planning and work can make your garage a very useful and safe part of your house that makes you feel welcome when you arrive home at the end of your workday.
The best starting point is to realistically determine how you will use the space. This can be as easy as taking inventory of what’s currently in the garage, and then adding items you’d like to store there, or ways you would like to be able to use your garage. Perhaps you enjoy woodworking and would like some space dedicated for this purpose. At the very least, a few moments of planning can make the storage of garden tools, sports equipment and other garage items much more efficient, safe and pleasing to the eyes. Being able to find something in your garage in minutes rather than hours will be a pleasant bonus, too.

Vinyl base molding not only provides a finished look, it further protects the wallboard against moisture.

Photos Courtesy J. Fraser

Beyond safety and organizing, a huge motivator for paying attention to your garage is the feeling you’ll get when you arrive home each day and pull into your garage. The garage door is your door to the house. The garage is the room that welcomes you to your house. Make them both warm and inviting, and you’ll feel better about the house you live in. Finally, similar to finishing any other space in your house, a finished garage and a nice garage door increase the home value and ease of selling.
There is a variety of excellent products on the market to create a place for everything you want to keep in the garage. A 4-by-8-foot piece of pegboard sufficed just a few years ago, and it’s still your most economical means of getting organized. But there are quite a few more options today. If you have the budget, your imagination will be the only limiting factor.
Don’t just buy an organization system. Start by reviewing the list of uses you have for your garage and what you currently have stored there. Do you need shelves for boxes of Christmas decorations? Racks to hold garden tools? A workbench for tinkering? From simple to simply decadent, there is a host of options to consider.
A few shelving units, inexpensive cabinets and a tool caddy or two will make a huge difference in your garage tidiness and organization. Ultra-sturdy metal shelves and cabinets have a great industrial look to them and are generally very strong. However, the injection-molded plastic units offer good strength at very affordable prices. They won’t rust either. Look for cabinets you can put a lock on. Most plastic cabinets won’t keep a would-be thief out, but they can keep a child away from toxic substances and tools.
The relatively new garage systems, such as those offered by Gladiator GarageWorks (http://www.gladiatorgw.com) and GarageTek (http://www.garagetek.com), offer the greatest versatility, function and form. They vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they are essentially comprised of slotted panels that cover the walls. Cabinets, shelves and organizers slip right into place on the slotted panels. You can move, add or remove the shelves, cabinets and organizers anytime you want without having to patch holes, paint or drill. Many of these companies offer very sturdy, lockable cabinets for a high level of safety and security.
Floor Coverings
The most important part of your garage for safety and appearance is the floor. Driving your car in and out every day tracks in grime, the kids bring it in on their bikes and toys, and the lawn mower and garden tools ooze the evidence of their toil onto the floor. Concrete lets some of the liquid run off but absorbs some as well. It stains easily, holds onto smells and can be a source of dust when it’s dry. The solution is to cover the concrete.
Water drainage and slip potential are part of the decision in what type of floor covering to use. A very common hazard in the garage is slipping on a wet floor. During the rain and snow seasons, a puddle of water on the garage floor is a continuous risk. Hopefully, your homebuilder put a gentle slope in the concrete to direct water to the door.
Epoxy paints create a durable coating with very good adhesion, and they are resistant to gasoline and oil. Typically, you’ll only experience bubbling or lifting of epoxy paint if the surface wasn’t properly cleaned prior to application or if there is significant moisture coming up through the concrete. To test for moisture, Mike Logan at Armorpoxy (http://www.armorpoxy.com) in Short Hills, N.J., recommends duct-taping a 3-by-5-foot piece of clear plastic to the garage floor for 24 to 48 hours and checking for condensation under the plastic. Most companies offer a nonskid additive, which will limit slip potential when the floor is wet.
Welcome Home
How much did you spend on that front door to welcome guests? Splurge a little on the door you come through, too. In addition to the potential of enhanced aesthetics, a new garage door can be much safer than an older door. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an average of 20,000 people have been treated each year since 1990 for injuries related to garage doors. Nearly half of those have been finger injuries, and about 15 percent of the total injuries involve children.
Dave Osso at Wayne-Dalton in Wooster, Ohio, discussed with us the safety advantages of a new garage door, as well as the various insulation options available. The company offers a full range of garage doors; its 9000-series steel doors feature pinch-resistant joints and either R-8 or R-10 insulation. They are also finished in steel on both the inside and outside for durability and appearance.
Safety features include the TorqueMaster counterbalance system to replace traditional springs. The springs are sealed in a steel torque tube, avoiding the safety hazards of older springs. Adjustment over the years is very easy. Finally, Wayne-Dalton introduced in 2002 the idrive garage door opener. It is unique because it mounts on the spring shaft immediately above the door. This removes the bulk and track of a traditional garage door opener. It is UL listed and uses a microprocessor to monitor downward force. If an obstruction is sensed anywhere along the door, the opener reverses. In fact, when used on a door with pinch-resistant joints, photoeye sensors are not required by federal law. The Wayne-Dalton website explains all of the safety features of its products and offers a style guide that shows your choice of door on a variety of house styles: http://www.wayne-dalton.com.
Safety Concerns
It’s easy to get excited about the multitude of organizational products available for your garage, but an overriding concern in your makeover should be personal safety. Safety concerns range from slip hazards to the proper storage of flammable materials. Safety issues escalate with the use of electricity in the garage for any type of auto maintenance or hobby work, such as woodworking.
Slip hazards Driving your car into the garage during rain or snowstorms will bring water into your house. The national building code requires that garage floors be poured with a slight tilt toward the door to route fluid out. During your garage makeover, choose a floor covering or finish that will minimize slip hazards.
Oil It’s not uncommon to own an automobile that leaks oil or other fluids. If the leak is severe, have it repaired. Oil leaks are both a slip hazard and an environmental hazard. Absorption mats and drip pans are available to contain a small leak and keep your garage floor looking better. OilSorb pads are available at auto-parts and marine stores everywhere for about $1 each.
Flammable liquids Store gasoline in modern, UL-approved containers. Your rusty 30-year-old jerry can doesn’t cut it anymore. More materials are flammable, or have flammable vapors, than you might think: paint thinner, oil-based paints, fertilizers, propane-gas cylinders. Don’t store flammable materials near ignition or heat sources, such as water heaters or dryers. Do store them near the garage door for ventilation. Store them in a secure location, out of the reach of children.
Poisons and dangerous tools Many people put toxic materials and dangerous tools in the garage to keep them away from children. Ironically, these are often stored right next the kidsÃ.‚¬’ bikes or sporting gear. The safest way to store these items is in a locked cabinet and make sure you lock it.
Proper routing of electricity With the potentially dangerous combination of water and electricity in the same room, you’ll want to make sure that the electrical outlets and wiring in the garage is perfect. If there are outlets, make sure they are ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets, and verify that they work properly.
Proper ventilation If you will be using a portion of the garage as a workshop, ventilation is important. You’ll want to ensure adequate airflow to dissipate dust and fumes. Consider installing a ventilation fan if these conditions will be encountered frequently. Also, research has shown that exhaust fumes can often be sucked into the home when warming the car up in an attached garage. The only solution to this is to move the car outside while it warms up. (See Is Your Garage Making You Sick? Sept./Oct. 2001.)
Garage door Few people give much thought to their garage door it simply goes up and down when you push the remote. The reality is that a 16-by-7-foot garage door weighs a couple hundred pounds, and it is a combination of mechanical components. A door that is more than 10 years old lacks current safety equipment. At a minimum, an automatic door opener should have provisions to reverse door-closing action if a child or anything else is in the door’s path, and the wall-mounted remote should be at least 5 feet off the ground to limit access by children.