The Gotchas of Garage Design: WHAT INDUSTRY PROS NEW TO THE GARAGE MARKET MAY NOT KNOW THEY DON’T KNOW
The garage is a space unlike any other in the home and that can present unique challenges where design is concerned. Despite this, the garage is often an afterthought in the overall design of a home. But unnecessary expenses, delays, and a whole host of other problems can be avoided with a well-planned design, one that takes the entire space and all of its wide variety of features into account so that your garage is both comfortable and functional.
For example, features like interior concrete curbs and the garage’s concrete footprint must be considered. And decisions on the placement of cabinets, electrical panels, water heaters, and garage door openers can significantly impact the aesthetics, safety, and convenience of the space and its contents.
Architects, interior designers, builders and other design/build professionals may benefit from giving thought to the number of common traps that could end up costing time and money to a homeowner down the line.
To help you avoid a delay, or costly and annoying problems, here are a few of the most important check-list items you can take into account in the planning phase of a new garage to ensure it can get built the right way.
DEALING WITH CONCRETE CURBS
One major design obstacle that we run into quite frequently is the use of concrete curbs. In some parts of the country masonry curb blocks are required by code, so when the foundation for a garage is poured and a curb is run – but the walls are not flush with the curb – it can significantly limit what type of storage can be used.
For example, if the wall is not flush with the curb then any free-standing shelving or racks or cabinetry will not be flush with the wall. Or, if the curb is too high off the floor, it may prevent wall-mounted cabinets from being mounted at all – if they have to be raised so high above the curb that accessibility into the cabinet is either impractical or not possible.
Whenever practical, building garage walls that are flush with concrete curbs is ideal, since this will not limit your storage options.
PLACEMENT OF IMPORTANT GARAGE FEATURES
For a space that many perceive as simple or straightforward, placing important features within a garage actually takes quite a bit of foresight. With limited space, it’s easy for garage features to come into conflict with one another or cause unnecessary hazards.
Here are some tips on placing some of the more common garage features.
Be sure the garage workshop has an adequate number of electrical outlets (and the proper amp capacity to power tools) to accommodate your needs. Placing enough outlets exactly where you need them will eliminate the need for extension cords stretched across your garage floor, which can create a tripping hazard.
As far as outlets go, we are fond of the Leviton brand of ‘Industrial Grade’ Heavy Duty Self-Grounding receptacles, which are bulletproof. Choosing a color for the receptacle that stands out – such as red, blue, or black – that also matches the color of your cabinets will be a small design feature that will set the garage apart from the rest, and also make it easier to find the location of an electrical box.
If you’re considering increasing the electrical capacity to 30-amp circuits, the planning phase is definitely time to make this decision, since upgrading capacity generally requires installing heavier-gauged wire from your circuit-breaker box to where you need outlets.
For very practical reasons, the electrical panel should be placed near the entrance from the home into the garage. Blowing a fuse or tripping a circuit breaker is a relatively common issue, so when it happens you want to avoid having to stumble through a dark garage – especially when it’s compounded by the clutter, parked cars, bikes, and other items commonly found there.
Locating the electrical panel in the area where the electrical wires enter the house – so that it’s also close to an entrance door –makes the most sense. Stumbling in the dark is never a good idea.
Hot Water Tanks and HVAC Systems
Water tanks, home vacuum systems and HVAC systems are usually placed near each other in a garage. Unlike garage cabinets, it is not wise to place these along the back wall of the garage. This is the easiest place for a car to accidentally strike something – certainly not ideal if it’s your cabinets, but a disaster if it’s your water heater! That said, side walls make the most sensible location for water tanks and HVAC systems – ideally recessed in an alcove to save space, and screened in for safety and to hide the unsightly, but necessary, appliances.
To make the situation more aesthetically pleasing, we’ve also had success with a few outside-the-box ideas such as creating hidden doors in the walls that the casual observer wouldn’t notice. We’ve also reconfigured our VAULT cabinets to act as a sort of “secret” doorway that these items can be accessed through. And we have placed them tucked behind barn doors or other doors that slide open and closed on rails. This last solution is visually pleasing and hides the ugliness of the water heater and HVAC, and since the doors slide there are fewer spatial conflicts with parked automobiles.
Televisions When placing your electrical panel and wiring your garage, you may also consider the potential placement of other items that will require electricity, including décor such as neon signs. It will pay off in the long run if you think about media placement before your walls are drywalled.
One common mistake we see repeated over-and-over again are televisions incorporated into wall cabinets, or on a wall above a work area or countertop. Placing a television so close to where you will work or stand (usually only a couple feet away) can become an unpleasant and fatiguing user experience. It may also limit the vantage points from which the television can be seen elsewhere in the garage. Using blue painters tape to mark out same size of your TV onto a wall is a good way of help you visualize its location before making a final decision.
One of the best spots for a TV is elevated in a corner. Corners are good locations for televisions because they are generally free from obstructions and allow for a higher location so that the TV can be seen from more vantage points. Another good thing about corners is they tend to be dead space, anyway. Corner cabinets tend to be very large and take up a lot of space, and they’re very limiting in terms of what can be stored there (and in how easily those stored items can actually be reached).
You can read our more in-depth article about garage television placement here.
Garage Door Openers
Designers and homeowners alike often wonder whether anything can be done about the placement or appearance of garage door opener hardware – the big motors and those bulky rails that can dominate the garage’s ceiling in a fairly unpleasant way. One straightforward solution is to powder-coat the finish of apparatus to help it blend into the space by matching it with the color of the walls, cabinets, prominent architectural features, or overall color scheme of the home – rather than letting the look of unfinished, generic-looking hardware dominate the airspace.
Maybe the more important tip about garage door openers, though, is that they don’t have to be placed on the ceiling in the first place. When possible, we prefer to install jackshaft operated garage doors – in this case, the space-saving, wall-mounted system is located at the side of a door, thus eliminating the ugly ceiling motor altogether. Not only that: jackshaft operation is also ultra-quiet, and with some models can be even faster than their traditional counterparts.
Placed on the side of the door, the garage door opener is out of sight and out of mind, eliminating the mess up on the ceiling and presenting a cleaner overall look inside the garage. Jackshaft motors are also popular in spaces where a traditional garage door opener cannot be used, such as garages with very low ceilings or the exact opposite: garages with cathedral ceilings where a ceiling mount is not possible.
As an added bonus, jack-shaft operation allows the ceiling space to be used more practically – perhaps by installing a rack for containers housing holiday or seasonal items that don’t need to be accessed frequently.
If you are sticking with a ceiling-mounted motor, though, there’s one other important factor to keep in mind: lighting. Make sure there’s no conflict between garage doors and your light fixture location. If you place a light source in areas where they will be obscured by an open garage door, this conflict can limit the effectiveness of your lighting and create shadows that could negatively affect the space’s functionality and mood.
The placement of lighting fixtures is an indispensable part of planning out a garage, yet it’s one that is often overlooked. But perhaps no other set of choices can have a greater impact on the feel and functionality of your space. Proper lighting can make a space comfortable and highlight the room’s best features, just as poor lighting and shadows can create an environment that’s uncomfortable and fatiguing.
In VAULT’s garage design consultations, we recommend combining multiple layers of light to illuminate a garage space: ambient/main lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. Each plays an important role in bathing the garage in three to five sources of overlapping light to eliminate shadows and dark corners. We also recommend clients place lights on two switches: one for the day-in/day-out general lighting needs, and then a second switch that activates additional lighting where brighter light is needed, such as over a work area.
Want to learn more? You can read our more in-depth article about garage lighting and its importance here.
INSTALLING CABINETS ON THE BACK WALL
If possible, designers should try to leave the back wall of the garage open for the placements of storage. One of main reasons why the back wall is better suited for storage (compared to the side walls) is that is that back-wall cabinets and storage systems do not have to compete for space with automobiles. In a typically sized two-car American garage (about 750 ft2) sidewall cabinet doors inevitably end up smacking into cars, and car doors end up banging into the cabinets. This competition for the same space also constricts the passageway between side-wall cabinets and parked cars, creating both an inconvenience and, potentially, a safety issue.
Installing your cabinets on the back wall is the most practical of all options: vehicles can still park in the garage, but this placement reduces any potential conflict between cars and cabinets. But back-wall cabinets also have an added aesthetic value: placed there, the cabinets are most easily seen by anyone viewing the garage from the outside. The dramatic framing created by this arrangement allows the proud owner to best show off their cabinets to neighbors and other passersby.
MAXIMIZING SIDE-WALL USAGE
We discussed the reasons side walls aren’t ideal for cabinets. So what are they good for? Side walls are best dedicated to the placement of exterior doors that lead outside, or for water heaters, HVAC systems, electrical breaker boxes, or sprinkler system control panels – necessary items, but ones you do not need to access all that frequently.
If for some reason, though, you or your client is intent on installing side-wall cabinets, there are a few ways to maximize your space and usage. One way would be to consider installing overhead storage cabinets, which will maximize mobility by allowing maximum side clearance. They are called overhead cabinets for a reason: they are placed over one’s head. Since these overhead storage areas might be more difficult to access – because of height and/or parked vehicles – they are better suited for seasonal items that you may only need infrequent access to, such as holiday items, certain sporting goods, etc.
A second way to maximize space while utilizing the side walls is to install shallow-depth (12″) wall cabinets. Though it trades off some storage space compared to standard depth cabinets (24”-deep), selecting shallower cabinets allows easier passage through the garage and limits the space conflict between the cabinets and parked automobiles. If the garage has carriage doors installed, this shallower depth would place the cabinets – unobtrusively – behind the operating hardware for the carriage doors, thus addressing another potential space conflict.
MANAGING THE AESTHETICS OF THE GARAGE FOOTPRINT
One final tip for pros new to garage design focuses on an aspect that’s often overlooked, maybe because it’s underfoot: the footprint of the garage’s concrete pad. Be aware that very often this concrete pad extends beyond the garage door opening. If you have plans to tile the garage floor, it can end up looking awkward if a small section of tile is jutting out from the garage – especially when the doors are closed.
If you plan ahead, though, you can tackle this potential issue: create a threshold at the entrance of the garage so that there is a seamless transition from the concrete pavement of the driveway leading into the garage. The result will be an entrance area that’s much more aesthetically harmonious.
CONTACT VAULT WITH ALL YOUR GARAGE DESIGN QUESTIONS AND NEEDS
The garage design market is fairly young, but it’s growing rapidly. As more and more industry pros like yourself – architects, interior designers, homebuilders, and others – are tackling garage projects, they’re encountering many unique challenges that they didn’t foresee.
Luckily, VAULT is here to help. For over a decade we’ve been designing America’s finest garages, combining layout, lighting, flooring, doors, and furnishings into custom-built spaces that leave our clients (and their neighbors) in awe.
We hope these tips help you save some time, some money, and some frustration. If we can be of any help in your garage design endeavors, we’d love to hear from you at (310) 622-4477 or via VAULTGarage.com. In the meantime, happy designing!