Building a Car-Nut's Garage
Fixing up the garage may be last on the family priority list, but it's often first in the heart of those who love the smell of gasoline and the roar of a Chevy small-block V-8.
Fixing up the garage may be last on the family priority list, but it's often first in the heart of those who love the smell of gasoline and the roar of a Chevy small-block V-8. So, don't settle for open two 2-by-four studs, dim bulbs, and intolerable temperatures. Give yourself an automotive playroom that becomes another of your gearhead tools.
Think about functional upgrades, of course, but also look into options that make your garage a reflection of your personality. Consider flooring materials that can be ordered in bold colors. Investigate pro-style tool-storage compartments. And then turn your garage fridge into a faux gas pump.
Below are some tips on how to create and outfit your dream garage. But before starting, have the renovation's end point firmly in mind. Will the garage be primarily a place to store and showcase a 1963 Split-Window Corvette? If so, decor and lighting would be priorities.
If you're Mr. Fixit, are your projects usually minor repairs and maintenance (Bondo missions and oil changes, for instance)? You probably won't need to store too many bulky or expensive tools, if that's the case. If you do major work, like a ground-up restoration of a Shelby Mustang, you will have serious space, power, and climate considerations.
Here's a more general discussion about designing a garage.
On the next page are the building considerations you face:
Re-doing Garage Walls
You may want to remove most of the existing sheetrock, if any exists, to allow for the proper installation of electrical wiring that can meet your power demands.
The typical garage is electrically malnourished. You may need the electrical service upgraded to include a dedicated circuit-breaker panel for multiple circuits in order to handle heavy electrical consumption.
You might even have a 220-volt circuit installed
to power an air compressor or arc welder. Either way, you'll want multiple 110-volt receptacles near the floor and at bench height. And just in case you haven't heard this admonition before, electrical work generally is not DIY stuff. Hire a pro. If you must do this yourself, for safety's sake,
read this article, and read
Open walls also make adding new plumbing easier. In case you don't know, a good washbasin is worth its weight in anything that might come through the garage door.
Insulation is essential for any location that regularly sees frost.
With these basics in place, a course of sheetrock will bring it all together.
And because garage lighting is usually a bare-bones affair, consider upgrading to low-cost overhead fluorescent fixtures is all but mandatory. If you will be putting in time on at a workbench, then mount directional task lights on the wall or ceiling overlooking the work area.
Creating a New Floor
While not casting aspersions, garage floors almost always are the second-dirtiest surface in the world (gas-station bathrooms being No. 1). Sweep up the scraps, dust, and stray nuts and assess the situation.
Pay particular attention to your garage's drainage. Is the floor regularly wet or damp? Solutions run from the simple (patching the cracks) to the major (breaking concrete to installing a drain). Check out a few TOH drainage stories for help. Find out how to
Fortunately, there are lots of choices when it comes to making the floor look good. An oil-stained concrete floor should be scrubbed, preferably with a mild, acidic cleaning solution, which can be found sold at hardware stores. Having created a clean pallet, buy a paint formulated for garage floors such as
is a widely available finish. For a more resilient and costly alternative, you can move up to an industrial epoxy finish, but it probably will require extensive surface preparation.
Many homeowners are turning to rubber overlays or composite products to top off floors. There are large mats and rolled sheets in various widths that you can be cut to fit your space. These products clean easily and are generally impervious to petrochemicals, antifreeze, and household cleaning agents. There's also a host of colors from which to choose;
offers a number of roll widths and colors.
Colorful, interlocking tiles that can be installed wall to wall are available from vendors including;
of Snap Lock Industries.Tiles snap together, making checkerboard or simple designs if you like. Tiles range in size, starting at 12-by-12 inches.
Addressing Doors and Windows
New garage doors are superior at excluding the elements. Choices range from custom-built wooden doors designed to harmonize with your house style to conventional steel doors (which should be double-walled and insulated). Speaking of harmonizing, did you know you can
disguise your garage door
as just another exterior wall. Here's a deeper discussion of
On a more functional level, the gap between the standard garage door and its frame are typically quite wide and in need of weather stripping. This is particularly important in regions with high humidity or extreme marine conditions, both deadly to metal surfaces.
offer a wide range of wood and steel doors.
Windows often are thought of last in designing garages, but they're essential to a working garage, offering both light and ventilation. Narrow awning windows installed five or six feet above the floor offer many space-saving advantages, including preserving valuable wall space for cabinets and work areas. Most garage doors come with windows, too which is a good way to let in additional light, too.
Fire safety is needs to be a paramount consideration in building or renovating a garage. After all, we're talking about a room filled with flammable liquids and electric tools. Give serious thought to a sprinkler system should be a high priority along with an alarm and a fire extinguisher or two. If the garage is attached to the house, be sure that the door leading into the residence is solid-core and fire-rated. Read this story about how homeowner's insurance works, especially if you think worrying about fire is for sissies.
Along the same lines, be careful with carbon monoxide.
Storage in the Garage
Where to put the torque wrenches, hacksaws, and socket sets? One solution is to have storage built to your specifications. If you're after an industrial look, there's the real thing, from which is famous for its red cabinets and storage chests that make most guys weak in the knees. There are also a host of choices from Whirlpool Corp.'s Gladiator GarageWorks, which has designed a new line of wall-storage compartments, workbenches, and floor-standing units with an industrial metal appearance for residential garages. And there's always Sears Craftsman,
which has been supplying heavy-duty tool storage to homeowners and pros for decades. Here's a TOH story to help you plan for more storage TOH story. Speaking from experience in addition to a Jetta and a Suburban, my father had squeezed into his two-car garage a gas-powered electrical generator, rolling floor jack, electric arc welder, air compressor, floor-mounted drill press, commercial tire changer, as well as multiple grinders, tool boxes and vices. There are few limits to how much equipment you can store.
The truly committed can buy four-post lifts. These lifts are designed to facilitate automotive service as well as vertical storage for two cars. Just drive a car onto the lift and jack it up high enough to drive a second car beneath it.
has a large selection of lifts that can be used in residential settings, some of which can even accommodate pickups and standard SUVs.
Of course you'll need cold storage. Batteries last longer at a controlled temperature, don't they? Coincidentally, so do most liquid refreshments. One solution is to move the old refrigerator into the garage. But Gladiator GarageWorks has another idea: specially made refrigerators for the spaces that aren't temperature-controlled. The line not only features graphite-gray metal-plate exteriors, but mechanical guts engineered to withstand extreme climate. For your planning purposes, Gladiator's web site states that its smallest refrigerator, the 6-cubic-foot Beverage Box, has room for 170 12-ounce cans.
On the other hand, if you decide to keep the old refrigerator, you can give it a whole new personality. PWM Enterprises offers what it calls a fridge conversion kit that helps you make the old ice box look like a large commercial tool chest or a very large gas pump, complete with hose, nozzle, face plate, and logos.
With all these options, there's no reason to limit your automotive doting to designer waxes, rolling two-ton car jacks, and home-entertainment-in-a-car systems. Fix up your garage because there's no rule that says your hobby has to be dirty and uncomfortable.