Believe it or not, I’ve always thought that the purpose of a garage is to give an automobile (or two) a place to live. Apparently, I’m in the minority nowadays because it seems most garages are now used for pretty much anything but that! I’ve also been fortunate that my first four houses all had an attached garage, so my vehicles always had a pretty cushy life.
So of course when house-hunting last time, one of my criteria was that it must have a two-car attached garage (on the principle that ideally a garage should contain one parking space more than the number of cars in the household, so as to afford plenty of storage space.) Market reality eventually showed me that in my price range and chosen areas, two-car garages were typically only attached to Handyman Special houses – something I definitely didn’t want. (Been there/done that.) Thus, I grudgingly accepted having to look at one-car-garage listings. “One is better than none”, I told myself.
The house I eventually bought (a/k/a The Money Pit) had no garage when it was built in 1962. The first owners attached a two-car garage to it in 1965 but it did not have direct access into the house. The second owners created that access by taking away most of the left half of the original garage to add a hallway and laundry area to the adjacent house interior, as well as a door and steps into the now-one-car garage. The third owners took away a chunk of the one-car garage to put a full bath into the house’s hallway, thus making it a garage that would pretty much only accommodate a Smart Car or a Morris Mini. They used it for storage and (unbeknownst to me) a hangout place for their dogs.
I stupidly listened to my contractor who told me that the garage door opening could “easily” be shifted a foot or so over so as to allow a normal size car to be parked in the garage. After I bought the house, I found out that it couldn’t possibly be done. So, what I had was a ¾-car “garage” and a vehicle that would need to live its entire life in the driveway. This did not make me at all happy but I thought that at least the garage would be good for storage. Silly me! What I didn’t know, but found out after purchase, was that as soon as the weather turned warm the entire garage would stink to high heaven of dog. Turns out the sellers had as many as five dogs living in there at one point but never less than three. I believe it.
Because I subsequently spent the next two years looking to move to another house before deciding that it would be financially unworkable and that I’d be better off sticking with the devil I know rather than one I didn’t, the garage was the final “interior” part of the house to be addressed. This is the Tale of The So-Called Garage.
The Starting Point
These photos were taking during the pre-purchase inspection in March 2013. For some reason the inspector didn’t take a photo of the “main” part of the garage but these are enough to give a fair idea. Every time I look at any of the inspection-day photos I can’t help reacting with “what in the world was I thinking?!?” Does every homebuyer feel that way, I wonder?
This is the garage shape and size that I was dealing with.
Although it had a garage door, surprise! its tracks had been removed and the door screwed in place to form a solid wall. The hinged door on the adjacent wall was old, made of wood, and had a doggie door in the bottom. The dangling cord is attached to a pull-down stair leading to an unfinished storage area that was so full of “stuff” that it was all but impossible to see anything.
The north wall, with the window: a single-glazed double-hung with light showing through multiple small gaps around the framing. Part of the back wall can be seen in this photo. For some reason the ceiling in that section had been dropped down by 12 inches.
On the in-house side of part of the opposite wall was a vertical washer/dryer combo unit. The flex pipe is the unit’s dryer vent, with a box added “to heat the garage in winter”. It did not occur to me to wonder why anyone would want to heat a storage area…
This is all that remained of the original two-car garage’s left-hand side after the second and third owners cannibalized it to create more interior living space. There’s a small fixed octagon window behind the little curtain. The garage is constructed of a 23” (58 cm) high cinderblock foundation upon which the wood wall framing sits, and has a poured concrete foundation/floor. The disgusting-looking orange material along all the sill plates is old discolored “Great Stuff” spray foam insulation applied by a previous owner.
The main (rear) garage area at the start of renovation. I had already tried mitigating the dog stench by having two coats of BIN Sealer applied to all the surfaces, followed by two coats of paint on the walls and ceiling, but it didn’t help much. That rear area, where the dogs no doubt slept and pee’d the most, was definitely the stinkiest. This picture shows the ridiculousness of the existing dropped ceiling. Between the smell and the uselessness of the space, this whole area would need to be ripped out.
[These photos were taken during Cricket Season which is every September, October and November here. They invade garages, basements and crawlspaces like crazy; no house on Long Island is totally free of them. Those red-and-white rectangles along the floors are glue boards, the most effective non-toxic cricket control method. I buy mine in boxes of 60 or 75 on Amazon because they’re cheapest that way.]
I wanted the window gone too, in favor of more (and better-insulated) wall space. There is a story behind that big and shockingly heavy glass-shower-door box which has a supporting role in The Saga of The Six-Month Shower.
I’d already had a plumber come in and install a utility sink two months earlier. In my opinion a separate utility sink is one of the Great Necessities of Life. The combo unit inside the house had also been replaced with a stacked washer and dryer, along with a shiny new – and boxless – dryer vent pipe. The removeable square panel allows access to the clothes washer’s hot and cold water valves which are inaccessible from the house side.
The side alcove, from which the octagon window was removed and most of the drywall and insulation replaced. This was the one area where I’d installed some shelving and my rolling tool chest. And speaking of shelving….
In my opinion, the absolute best option for shelving in this and many other areas is the Elfa line which is sold only through The Container Store. Unlike lower quality products such as Rubbermaid that are sold in big-box stores, Elfa is made in Sweden. Their metal components are powder-coated steel, and their shelves can hold almost anything:
When the top track is installed using wall anchors and the vertical standards are spaced 24 inches apart, the weight rating is 100 pounds per linear foot, 125 pounds per bracket or 500 pounds between two vertical standards. This rating applies to the 12-, 16- and 20-inch-deep shelves.
Being able to reconfigure my storage methods whenever and wherever I want to is of paramount importance to me, as are durability and quality, and so using Elfa to create my garage renovation shelving was a no-brainer. (I had also put Elfa into the library/computer room, interior storage/laundry hall, a bedroom-turned-into-closet-room, and a section of the kitchen.) Elfa does cost more than other similar options but if you time it right you can save a bundle; here in the USA they have two sales a year: 30% off at year end (mid/late December through January) and 25% off all shelving components in August/September. The sale applies to installation services also, if you’re not inclined to DIY like I did. The only thing I had someone else do was install the top tracks because that is the most critical part of any Elfa installation, and I have never been on comfortable terms with anything resembling a ladder. But other than that, I did all the other installation steps myself.
(A huge Thank-You shout-out here to Lisa, Alfredo, and the rest of the Westbury Container Store’s Elfa Department crew who had to put up with me so many times over the past few years! You all are the best and have the patience of a saint.)
New drywall up on the rear and side walls. Notice the nicely raised ceiling – hooray! Of course, one needs to deal with the clouds of sanded-spackle dust which is why I have always hated drywall work. And I lost count of the times that turning on their spackle-drying heater tripped a circuit breaker.
Although I hate painting only very slightly less than I hate having drywall work done, yours truly did take care of the priming and painting. It’s my go-to Super White by Benjamin Moore.
This is a good example of the early stages of my Elfa shelving for the side alcove. Because I spaced everything out on a 24” wide basis, every component can be moved to any location between any two vertical standards (which are also moveable; the only thing that is fixed to the wall is the top track) I could add, subtract, and change any layout on the fly. Which I did often, thus accounting for my many trips to The Container Store!
Another renovation component was a nice new garage door. Because of the location of the pull-down stair in the garage ceiling, a standard garage door opener could not be installed. This is Liftmaster’s wall-mounted model in which the lift mechanisms are located above and on the wall adjacent to the door instead of being several feet away on the ceiling. A bonus is that if you have living space above the garage, this type of opener is much quieter. The low (7 ft) ceiling also required a special size door. Walkoff mats trap most dirt and debris immediately.
The old incandescent and flourescent ceiling light fixtures were all replaced with LEDs. The hanging pull-cord for the storage area stairs got replaced by an attractive little Attic Ease kit as well.
The small corner between the garage door and the side door (which was also replaced) contains my Pest Control Department: glue boards, spray, copper strips and slug traps. The top shelf is just the right place to store outdoor chair seat cushions when not in use. Hose-type watering accessories also reside here; the drip system on the shelf awaits installation next spring. There are handy hooks in multiple locations throughout the garage.
A view of the finished main section of the garage. After spending weeks researching garage flooring options to death, my choice was G-Floor’s roll-out product in the Diamond Tread pattern. I ordered samples from a dozen floor brands and theirs was by far the most impressive (made in the USA too.) It comes in several standard sizes but can be cut fairly easily. I was able to cover the entire floor, with the exception of directly beneath the sink which never gets walked on anyway, with a 7’6” x 17’ and a 5’ x 10’ roll. It’s slip-proof, far easier on the feet than bare concrete, and super easy to keep clean. I wish I’d known about it years ago!
The sink area is home to cleansers, chemicals, small watering components, and of course a good stock of Tecnu Poison Ivy Cleanser!
The south wall, backing onto the interior bathroom, is for watering and spraying containers, garden shoes, and three heights of step ladders. I’m a big proponent of never storing anything on the floor of a garage or basement – one should always keep things raised above floor level. Why provide a home for bugs and critters?
The north wall that used to contain the window. Digging and large pruning implements live here, as well as a large folding table and propagation equipment – including grow lights — to be used this winter for seed starting. The top shelf is the perfect spot for holiday ornament storage boxes.
The rear wall, now a respectable 7 feet tall, is for raking, weeding, and sweeping tools – and a snow shovel! Notice that there is still some wall space available for additional interchangeable tool heads….
The side alcove is the Tool Department: gardening hand tools on one wall, while all other hand tools are above or next to the main work surface. Disposable gloves and trash bags are within easy (and constant) reach, along with stations for rechargeables. Because my Ars and Wolf-Garten hand pruners don’t fit into any of the current Elfa tool holders, they have their own shelf between the disposable gloves – a must in poison-ivy country – and the nails-and-screws bins. Having every tool visible and within easy reach meant that I no longer needed the rolling tool chest; it now resides at my son’s house.
Good news: With the replacement of the drywall and the addition of the garage flooring, I’m happy to report that the Doggy Smell is completely gone. I am (almost) reconciled to the fact that from now on, any car I own will need to suck it up and brave the elements 24/7/365. And the final fillip to my garage/workshop/toolroom renovation was the discovery that I now had space available for two – not just one – To Do List whiteboards! 😉
Links for products used: