For many true car nuts the garage is more important than the house. Sure, you need a place to cook your food and a bathroom, but you can eat, sleep and live in a garage. So all you really need is a garage with an attached bathroom and kitchen. But reality prevents most of us from living that lifestyle, so let’s take a look at what might represent a perfect garage.
Assuming we get to start from scratch, we’re going to need a fair piece of real estate – say enough for a good big triple with perhaps two doors out the front and a third on one side at the rear allowing a separate single vehicle unit perpendicular to and behind the double. That way we can separate that one for storage or a paint booth or any other reason that comes to mind.
When designing a garage there are almost the same considerations as there are for a home. First rule of thumb is to establish your size and then go larger. What seems like plenty of room often disappoints once the garage is finished and there is stuff hanging on or placed against every wall. Try to make the finished ceiling at least eight foot, 10 if possible. You’ll need the room for a tall garage door, allowing you to get a pickup or SUV with a roof rack in. The added height also provides more room for the opening mechanism and storage. It’s also a good idea to include a normal 32”-36” door so you don’t have to open the big doors every time you want to go in or out, especially in winter.
The foundation and/or footings will provide the base upon which we’ll build. If you live in a warm climate you may be able to build on grade. But whether on grade or a foundation, make allowance for a drain system so you can wash your vehicle and have a set tub for cleaning parts and yourself. Don’t forget when planning the plumbing to have the tap to which the hose will be connected terminate in a central location so you don’t have to drag the hose around as much. The set tub, on the other hand, can be in the same central area if it is necessary to save on plumbing costs, but it is probably better in a corner with its drain connected to the nearest floor drain.
We’ll leave the choice of walls, ceiling, style and finish to you but make sure the walls are thick enough for plenty of insulation and there is at least one heavy steel beam overhead for support. It can double as a portion of a heavy lift if you should later decide you need to pull an engine or lift a vehicle. If possible, allow for a second story where you can store stuff, keep your library or sleep when kicked out of the house for spending too much time in the garage. You can sometimes sell the idea of the second story to a significant other under the guise of guest quarters. If that’s not necessary, there are some neat storage-lift systems on the market that allow you to have seasonal storage up there for everything from a snow blower to a watercraft or any other large item.
The floor should be concrete. This is one area where a little extra expenditure will pay dividends. Consult with your local cement supplier regarding the proper mix for added strength and resistance to salt, oil and other chemicals. Ask if you need reinforcing steel in the floor. A stronger mixture, more depth or reinforcement will prevent cracks and worse at a later date.Now you can do the plumbing and electrical. There is no such thing as too many outlets. With a proper panel you’ll have several fused circuits and can have the top portion of the plug on a separate circuit from the bottom so you can plug in a couple of pieces of equipment that draw lots of juice into the same outlet. If you even contemplate using the garage for a shop, spend some quality time planning where the permanent equipment will be and where you’re likely to need a couple of special outlets. If you can, you can also put a couple of outlets in the ceiling, besides the ones for the door openers. That way you can have a drop cord in the middle allowing you to run a trouble light or plug in the vacuum without having to run the wire or hose all the way around a vehicle.
Once again, if this is to be a serious shop, consider a similar arrangement for the compressor so you can plug in from a central location. Of course this is also the time to allow for heat, air conditioning, computer, TV and wireless connectivity. As for lighting, use LED fixtures where possible. They are much less expensive to operate, provide a crisper white light and last forever – literally. There is no such thing as too much light, and LEDs allow you to put more on a circuit.
After you’re all done and the concrete is set, tackle the floor. Do this before you install anything else so you don’t have to move stuff or have incomplete coverage. If painting, go for an epoxy system, one designed for floors and configured to withstand hot tires – the biggest enemy of a painted floor. There are numerous tile and rolled products on the market but be sure to allow for drainage, you don’t want stagnant water sitting below that plastic surface.
Now you can work on placement of everything from the garden hoe to the compressor and tire storage. Try laying things out first before actually drilling or mounting. Stand or lay things in the approximate location and use the garage for a few days to make sure they aren’t in the way of opening doors and are where you’ll naturally want to reach for and work with them.
If you’re planning a work bench, make sure it is at a height that works for you. There is a big difference in work height for a 6’6” person and someone 5’6”. Make use of the space beneath the bench for drawers, slide-out trays or wheeled things like vacuums or tool chests. A piece of pegboard over the bench will accommodate a huge number of items. If you’ve got a toolbox allow for its placement on or alongside the bench.
Like tile or roll-on flooring, cabinets are the ultimate way to dress a garage. There are a wide variety of them and their mounting position will depend on your layout and use patterns. Finally, consider a mini heat pump to keep it warm in winter, cool in summer and dry year-round.