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All About Garages

Make the most of the versatile space of your garage with the right upgrades.

Garage Nat Rea

Behold: The garage. Yes, it’s a structure, likely with a slab-on-grade floor, walls, and a ceiling framed much like the rest of the house. But it’s often not finished inside, and one entire wall is a door big enough to drive a car through. Close the door, and it’s a room. It’s possibly the most flexible square footage on your property.

So how do you want to make best use of this unique space?

  • Amp up your garage’s curb appeal.
  • Park your vehicle(s) out of the weather.
  • Create storage for your stuff.
  • Create a workshop for your DIY projects.
  • Convert your garage to living space.

Amp Up Your Garage’s Curb Appeal

With a focus on home improvement projects, especially those on the outside, it’s easy to forget that the garage makes a massive design statement. Is that statement dull or dynamic? If the former, consider a new garage door and spruced up trim.

After all, many of us encounter the garage door more often than the front door. Why not make it great? One enterprising homeowner transformed her bland garage into a vintage showpiece for less than $300.

Park Your Vehicle(s) Out of the Weather

Yes, garages are still used for parking vehicles, which may surprise those of us who use our garages for so many other functions. For car parking, the two main areas of concern are the door and the floor.

Consider the massive door and what it takes to open and close it. With some help and basic understanding of how roll-up garage doors work, installing a new one can be a DIY project, though on the difficult side. Or perhaps you simply need a new garage door opener–one of the best inventions ever made.

Underfoot, your concrete slab need not be dirty, oil-stained, grimy, or greasy. Upgrading a garage floor with an epoxy coating will not only make it look sharp, it will make keeping it clean much easier. After the coating is applied (always with good prep work) you’ll need to wait about a week before you drive the vehicle in.

Create Storage for Your Stuff

Most houses do not have enough storage space. It’s possible your garage is already so filled with stuff that you can’t get your car in there, even though you want to.

The keys are: downsizing, relocating, and organization. Get rid of stuff you don’t need. That’s why they call them garage sales. Simply becoming aware of the stuff, we have can create spontaneous downsizing. Then, relocate stuff that shouldn’t be in the garage, like pet food (attracts critters), and the old refrigerator (a massive energy suck when running in unconditioned space).

Finally, plan your organization. What goes where? Bikes can be hung on studs. Some bulky building materials can go in the rafters. Holiday decorations can go on shelves. With basic skills and a few muscles, you can assemble a storage system in a few hours.

Create a Workshop for Your DIY Projects

Is there anything more satisfying than an organized, well-equipped workshop? Many DIYers would say not. With careful planning and layout, even a one-car garage can accommodate a compact workshop. In a larger garage where you want to spread out with your projects, create a workshop where each element can be moved to make room for the family car.

Any garage-to-workshop conversion needs to begin with an electrical upgrade. The code requirements for a standard garage call for a minimum number of electrical outlets and light fixtures. One of the first things to do in setting up a shop is to add more outlets and overhead lights. The best way to make this upgrade is to have an electrician install a subpanel in your garage, with a circuit devoted to lighting and at least two circuits for receptacles. You’ll want to locate your receptacles in key areas–like above a planned workbench location, or next to a garage door, in case you want to use power tools just outside the garage.

A workbench is essential, and it should be equipped with a vise for holding wood or other items. You’ll also need cabinet and shelf space for tools and supplies. Mounting pegboard on the wall gives you a large and flexible space for storing small tools.

If your shop will have a table saw, a drill press or other large machinery, it’s smart to mount these tools on mobile bases so they can be kept out of the way when not in use. You can keep your feet warm and your back happy by laying down interlocking foam pads on the concrete.

Convert Your Garage to Living Space

For families bursting at the seams, converting the garage to living space can be a sanity saver. The garage could become a family room, an extra bedroom, a man cave, a woman cave, or a hobby room. How about a home gym? If your garage is attached to the house with an adjoining door, that makes access easy. But a detached garage can be converted into a private guest cottage. To convert a garage into living space, your first decision will be what to do about the garage doors. The least expensive option is to simply leave them in place. But if this new living space needs to be permanent and fully functional, many homeowners choose to remove the garage door(s) and frame in the opening(s) to create permanent wall space.

The most expensive task in a garage-to-living space conversion is a systems upgrade. That’s right: You’ll need more electrical outlets and overhead lights. Once this wiring work is complete, it’s important to insulate the walls and ceiling, so that you’ll be able to heat and cool the space efficiently. Which brings us to HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). If it’s not feasible to extend your house HVAC system to serve the garage space, consider a mini-split heat pump for the garage living space.

With your systems upgrade complete, the floor is your next assignment. In cold climates, it might make sense to lay down sleepers and rigid foam insulation, followed by subflooring and carpet or another finished floor. This upgrade will avoid the discomfort of a frigid floor surface in winter, but less-expensive floor treatments are also possible. If you’ve come this far, drywalling the garage walls and ceiling brings you into the home stretch. Then it’s time for finishing touches like baseboard molding, paint, and light fixtures.

With proper attention and investment, the garage becomes less of an afterthought or appendage and becomes more of a robustly useful and attractive asset to any home.