For most of us, a garage is a lot more than a place to park. We use it to build big projects, we load it up with everything from Hot Wheels to Harleys, and sometimes we party or just hang out with the guys there. And for all these purposes, you want more than the basic four walls and a roof. You want to make your garage a better place to work and play. So we teamed up with our field editors to show you our favorite garage features. Whether you’re planning your dream garage or just looking to improve your old one, check them out!
Storage trusses are cheap
Ken Collier’s old house doesn’t have much storage space, so when he built the new garage, he used storage trusses to make sure every foot of the attic was put to good use.
In addition to the normal garage stuff, Ken Collier has tons of camping gear to store, so when it came time to build a new garage, he wanted to make good use of all the space. He discovered that substituting storage trusses for standard roof trusses would open up the attic space without breaking the budget. Upgrading to storage trusses on a 24 x 24- ft. garage would only raise the price about $200. Storage trusses have a wide-open area in the center, about 12 ft. wide for a truss with a 24-ft. span, and a 2×6 floor frame that’s designed to support the extra weight. If you need more storage space in your garage, storage trusses are a no-brainer.
Attic trusses are pricey, but they add tons of space
Ben Westby used attic trusses to get a second-floor room on his garage. Ben and his nephew helper, Garret, are enjoying the view from the big, wide open space.
Ben learned a lot about what features his new garage should have by talking to friends and relatives. One of the best decisions Ben made was to upgrade to attic trusses. Attic trusses cost about 2-1/2 times what a standard truss costs, raising the price on a standard-size garage about $1,600. But that’s a bargain considering you’ll have a full-size room ready to wire, insulate and finish. Attic trusses for a 24-ft.-wide garage with a steep roof pitch would provide a room about 16 ft. wide. There will be plenty of space for an office or workout area.
The simplest way to the attic
This heavy-duty aluminum pull-down ladder sells for about $450. It’s a little spendy but worth it for the extra strength and longevity.
Many of our field editors suggested adding a pull-down attic ladder as one of the cheapest, easiest garage upgrades. You’re more likely to take advantage of the storage space in your garage if there’s an easy way to get up there. Most attic ladders fit between 24-in. on-center trusses so you can install them without any structural changes. Search online for “attic ladder” to see what’s available. Prices start at about $150 for wood ladders or about $250 for sturdier aluminum models.
Tall doors prevent Great Goofs
Eight foot high garage door
Joe Jensen installed an 8-ft. door on his new garage so he can drive in with a load on top without worrying about taking out the garage door.
Every month we receive at least one Great Goof letter from a reader who strapped something to his roof and wrecked the garage door. So when our set builder, Joe, built this new extra-large double garage, he wanted to be able to drive in with a load on top of the van. This meant installing an 8-ft.-tall garage door rather than the more common 7-ft. size.
If you decide to install an 8-ft. door, you’ll have to build the walls at least 9 ft. tall to accommodate it. But tall walls are better anyway. They allow you more room to maneuver 4 x 8-ft. sheets of plywood and 8-ft.-long boards without hitting the ceiling or breaking lightbulbs.
Weekend mechanics love warm floors
Infloor garage heating
Tom designed his dream garage to include a PEX in-floor heating system.
Tom Kapikian was looking for a DIY-friendly heating system for his new garage. He was tired of crawling around on a cold concrete floor to work on his car and wanted a system that was quiet and efficient. He decided to install a PEX radiant infloor heating system and loves the results.
PEX tubing carries warm water through the slab, where it releases heat, warming the floor and garage. Since the floor is warm, you can keep the heat set at a lower level and still feel comfortable. Materials for a DIY in-floor heat system cost about $2 to $3 per square foot. A professionally installed system costs about twice this much. And you don’t need a boiler. You can use a conventional water heater or an on-demand water heater as a heat source.
To insulate the tubing and prevent heat loss through the slab, you install sheets of rigid insulation board under the tubing and around the edges of the slab. And of course you’ll want to insulate the garage walls, ceiling and overhead door and pay close attention to sealing air leaks around all the doors and windows too. For information on installing and purchasing in-floor heat supplies, go to pexsupply.com.
Shed dormers add second-floor headroom
Tighe skirted the local height restrictions by building shed dormers. He got a partial second floor and still complied with the rules.
Tighe Belden knew he wanted space on the second floor for an office, but local building codes restricting the height of the roof were throwing a wrench into his plans. His solution was to add shed dormers. By carefully planning the size of the dormers, he was able to meet code requirements and still get plenty of headroom on the second floor. Incorporating shed dormers in your plan allows you to gain some of the benefits of a second floor— more headroom and extra windows—without the added hassle of a full second floor. Unfortunately, you can’t just throw up trusses, though.
Consult an architect or structural engineer to help work out the framing details. You’ll probably end up hand-framing the roof, but don’t worry. It’s not that hard, and you’ll gain a real sense of satisfaction from building it yourself.
Don’t forget the AC
Through the wall AC
Vern Johnson planned ahead and framed the opening for the air conditioner sleeve and added a dedicated outlet while he was building the garage.
Many of our field editors suggested adding garage air conditioning. A through-the-wall AC unit is a good choice since it doesn’t block a window and you can put it wherever you want.
Air conditioning in a garage may seem like a luxury, but there are a lot of advantages. Our field editors like the fact that AC reduces humidity, which helps keep their tools dry and rust free. Use the dimensions provided with the unit to build the opening in the wall. Add a header over the opening, just like you would if you were putting in a window. Also add a separate 20-amp circuit for power to the AC.
Make your garage a drive-through
Drive through garage
Kristin Green wanted to park the boat and trailer out of sight behind the garage, and a back door made it possible.
When Kristin and her family decided to build a new garage, they had a list of cool ideas to incorporate. These included lots of outlets, slat wall rather than pegboard on the walls, and a 220-outlet just in case. But the neatest idea was the second garage door in back so they could park the boat trailer out of sight in the backyard. Plus, there are other benefits to a big back door. For dusty woodworking operations, you can’t beat the flow-through ventilation provided by two big garage doors. And if you’re planning a backyard get-together, you can open the back garage door and turn your garage into party central.
Put in a subpanel now— or regret it later!
A subpanel is just like your main circuit breaker panel but with special wiring. The neutral bar must be isolated from the ground and the main breaker secured with a special tie down mechanism. This box has room for 12 circuit breakers.
Lots of field editors told us that their biggest garage mistake was not installing a subpanel. Lots of others said including a subpanel was the best move they made. The reasons are pretty simple: more power and more convenience.
If you want to use your garage for a shop or plan to install air conditioning or other power-hungry appliances or tools, you’ll have all the power you need. And it’s more convenient to have the circuit breakers in the garage. If you pop a breaker, you don’t have to run to the main panel to reset it. Plus, you can easily add more circuits without having to run wires all the way to the main panel.
It’ll cost you a few hundred dollars more for the load center, circuit breakers and heavy-gauge wire that runs to the main panel. But for convenience and future flexibility, it’s hard to beat a separate panel in the garage.