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His Garage

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Original Space

The House

We purchased this traditional, unassuming 2-story colonial in May of 2013 from an elderly couple who had lived and raised their family here since its construction in 1979. During the initial tour with our realtor, everything was as expected, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, family, den, dining rooms and a nice, sizable kitchen. The laundry room was the last on the walk-through. It led to the back door/deck and through to the garage. This is where my jaw punched a hole through the threshold at the top of the stairs. Nowhere in the listing had photos been taken of the garage.  The couple simply parked their 2 cars there. No storage, limited/basic yard tools and supplies... The perfect blank canvas!

The Original Space

Why the builder (and buyer) chose this design remains a mystery.  Much of this finished (though unheated/cooled) space was unused and "wasted." Though it showed signs of water penetration from exterior drainage problems and in need of a new door, it was overall in solid condition.  Wrens were finding their way under the large door cracks. Evidenced by the nest in the original garage door opener and poop Pollocked over the walls.  The photos of the space below were taken with a wide angle camera, so appear cavernous, but basically It's a standard size garage (22 x 23 feet) but with twice the height. 


In the winter months, it's nice and bright thanks to the miles of blank drywall and 2 large windows.  The open area under the stairs would be handy for storage and another amazing feature about the home is the "no-crawl"-space access. All of the lower level plumbing, electrical, HVAC, communications, and water heater are all easily accessible. A DIY homeowner's dream.

Where to Begin – First Things First

Just selling our modest, 1,250 sq/ft home, we were able to apply a small portion of the funds towards upgrades to the new house (paint, repairs, appliances, furnishings AND garage upfits. First on the list was a new overhead door. After talking with a local installer and looking at options, I asked if it would be possible to have a door made using the typical top window panel for ALL the panels.  After some checking with the supplier, the extra cost was less than $200.  Having the extra light in the garage is totally worth the extra expense. An added bonus is that when the door is open, the glass doesn't block the overhead light (a common problem with overhead doors).


I wasn't concerned much with safety/theft for several reasons:  We live at the top of a steep hill, It's a side-load garage and the door can't be seen from the street, and we have a motion detector installed as part of our security system. The door panels are thick, heavy and insulated and provide a much tighter seal all the way around. Also opted for a side, wall mount "jackshaft" opener motor vs. the ceiling mount chain style. MUCH more quiet and a cleaner install.

Planning & Design

Planning & Design – What to do with all of this space.

When planning/designing a space, there's no one way to do it.  There are so many variables involved... some that can be changed and some that have to be worked around... from physical limitations, to personal tastes, to intended work/tasks, to budget, environment, the list goes on.  Whatever works best for YOU with at least some regard to resale if there's any chance you won't die in the place.


This space was designed with my desires from the last 10+ years along with the dreams/goals of where I hope to be/doing in the next 10+ years. This is intended to be more of a clean shop and "man-cave" lounge vs. a simple parking/storage garage. The door will remain closed at all times (unless entering/exiting vehicles) to prevent leaves/debris, insects, birds and other vermin from entering my sanctuary. 


In past homes (where I've been fortunate enough to have a garage), I've suffered from infestations, flooding, rotting structure, poor lighting, limited storage and work space... sound familiar?  So I knew all of what I didn't want, then planned towards preventing that and adding all of the good stuff.  The new space is plentiful but still finite so needed to work within given parameters.  Any new construction would be limited to the wood scrap pile I've been accumulating over the years from odd jobs.  I wanted to maximize works pace while still having plenty of storage to keep things out of the way (and looking halfway nice).

What I came up with is below. Cabinets and workbench/storage along the back wall and a sink in the far left corner (the water heater/connections are right behind the wall). A/C units in the windows, plenty of lights and a couple of ceiling fans.

Everything that can be on wheels will be on wheels. Flexibility with moving the larger objects to accommodate the current project is important. This space will be used for vehicle maintenance & restoration, household repairs, beer brewing, coffee bean roasting, social gatherings, packing/shipping & more, so nice to be able to shift things when necessary.

Don't Forget.....this, and this and that... and this

It's impossible to plan for every little thing but if you've been dreaming as long as I have, you'll likely have thought of most of what's needed (and wanted) in your space. Think about what you can't do without, the best place(s) to put them and work out from there. Think about location, convenience, mobility, traffic paths, what needs electricity and water. Running these lines efficiently will save money.  Once you've figured out all the big stuff, don't forget about smaller and oddball items such as appliances. Make sure your circuits can handle necessary loads.


Let There Be Light

The original space was lighted with three 60-watt fixtures (1 over each bay and one at the top of the steps) with only 2 electrical outlets (both on the same wall). I wanted 2 sets of lights: Recessed dimmable incandescents for lounging and piddle work and bright fluorescents for serious work. Originally planned for 18 recessed lights. 8 is plenty. Didn't skimp on the fluorescents though. Can't stand not being able to see when working. Sixteen 4-foot double T-8 bulb fixtures for a total of 32 tubes @ 89,600 total lumens, 1,024 watts. wired to 2 separate switches. Instead of 1 switch for each bay, divided them front and rear zones. Find that I'm usually either working on the front of the car or the rear... rarely both at once, LEDs weren't as available and inexpensive as today. Someday.  Fans, cans and fluorescent switches were all placed at the top of the stairs as this is primary entry/exit .

Both an electrical and environmental engineer for Atlantic Steel, my father salvaged a pair of old lamps from the mill before demolition - (thanks Dad!) – they cleaned up nice. The chain gauge is a bit much but inexpensive and looks more industrial. Wired to a dimmer switch near the workbenches, they hang over "the busy area" and make great, inefficient heaters during the winter.

Under-cabinet lighting was found at a yard sale. They're the old (low, medium, high) dimmable halogen units but work simply with a touch-switch hidden under the cabinet.  The entire run is wired together on the same switch.

The Barn Light

The outside of the garage had zero light for the driveway. Instead of typical harsh floods, how about the charming glow of a barn-style gooseneck?  Since the driveway space was so large, decided to mount the lamp as high as possible to light the broad area.. This was also the best solution because wiring was able to be run straight up the wall into the attic space for easy access. 

The garage door opener came with a dual-fixture lamp that can be mounted on the ceiling or wall but needs a receptacle to provide power. Not only does it automatically turn on/off when opening the door, it can also be operated via another button on the remote control. I mounted the light on the wall near the stairs to illuminate this dark corner for ascending/descending without needing to turn on the big lights.  Since the unit came with receptacles for 2 bulbs, one bulb is used for the stairs and the other receptacle is wired to the gooseneck light. They both illuminate via the remote control, main control panel (and when the door is open/closed).

More Electrical + Plumbing (Air, Water & Gas)

As much as I dig concrete blocks, they didn't fit with the look I was going for. Opted for white peg board as it's clean, reflective, functional, inexpensive, and adaptive. I was also concerned with letting the walls breathe since half of the space is below grade (and not properly externally sealed) and didn't want anything permanent for easy inspection/repairs of the walls as they settle/age. Using 2x4 scraps, furring strips allowed for easy panel mounting as well as passage and hiding of compressed air, water, and electrical wiring. Access from the crawlspace-side walls, allowed sub-surface runs.

Though it frequently startles wife and pets, the compressor is mounted in the crawl space under the laundry room. MUCH quieter and out of the work space. Air was run along both side walls and electrical along all 3 walls. Cold water was also run to the front corner for car washing. Also located here are reels for air and electrical (and Bissel Garage Pro vacuum $159 on Amazon).  The corner would have been dead space. Instead, everything is in one spot and easy to reach. Since the ceiling is so tall (and much more involved to plumb), didn't opt for reel mounting there. All hoses (including vacuum) are 50-feet and cover the entire space. 3 wall-mounted wire bins contain accessories for each (air & water nozzles, adapters, vac attachments, etc.) 

For the bottom half of the walls, nothing would be attached or hanging so I installed galvanized sheeting from a HVAC supply house for under $60. Much less expensive than stainless steel. I left the furring strips loose at the bottom and slid the sheets up behind. They can be pulled out easily if necessary. Having them flush against the wall gives back the extra few inches lost by the furring. Every inch counts in tight spaces... jack handles, bent over heaving wheel bearings, etc.

The Sink

Water is important for many things. Having it close and accessible is heavenly. Having paid my dues washing restaurant dishes for high school summer jobs, I knew the 3-basin was the optimum setup. Searching local Craig's List for months, finally found the right size at the right price. It was pretty rough but cleaned up OK. The legs were unsafe so painted some scrap 4x4s to get by until a proper cabinet can be built. The sink came with 2 side drainage pans. I removed these to fit in the space. One of them serves as an optional work surface over the left basin. The right basin is used for rinsing and drying. The faucet was purchased new from a plumbing supply house. The handles are the over-sized "wrist" or "hospital" type to enable operation (pun intended) with dirty hands. 


The wall rack was an IKEA purchase and serves as additional drying space. Buckets, bins, drain pans, pitchers, funnels - anything related to catching & moving liquid is stored under the sink. Wire bins on the wall hold scrub pads & brushes and stainless hooks offer additional hanging/drying options.  Ebay industrial soap dispenser pumps out hand cleaner of choice.  To the left (hanging on M3 cams) are a variety of solvents, cleaners and disinfectants for various tasks. Quick connect faucet hoses make chores a snap.  The trash can is located next to the sink so slop doesn't have to travel far. It's on wheels and can be easily moved to other project locations.

The Stove (and vent hood)

During the winter (slower) months, I brew quite a bit of beer and roast coffee beans all year round. Rather than interrupt the deliciousness that my wife is constantly preparing in our kitchen, I can make my own mess down in the beverage den while listening to tunes or watching the race.  Another Craig's List purchase, this Tri-Star 3-ring burner was a mess but with a little elbow grease (pun always intended), it became presentable. It's a heavy beast so definitely on wheels and normally stored under the stairs. The wheeled cart is an adjustable height hydraulic unit and serves a bottom-removed engine receiver when not relegated to stove tasks. When needed, the work benches roll apart like the Red Sea and the stove is moved in and quick-connected to the natural gas valve underneath the exhaust hood (another Craig's List purchase) – a Dacor variable speed unit with 8-inch exhaust. It also comes in handy for removing cigar smoke, paint/solvent fumes, exhaust, etc.  Until the budget allows for a more proper solution, the stove also serves as a short-term space heating source. It's rolled to a save location and I do monitor carbon monoxide levels closely. 



I'm a big fan of fire... camp fires, fireworks, wood stoves, you name it but it's also one of my worst fears as I respect it as an animal of nature and know it can be fiercely destructive if left to carelessness.  As much the sanctuary, the garage can be a dangerous place... welding, fuel & fumes, tools of force, torque and sharpness and adding cooking with open flames to the mix. Fire extinguishers are located on each of 3 walls along with two sources of flowing water.  The garage is attached to the house. If there were ever an incident, things could get ugly in a hurry and all could be lost in a matter of minutes. Don't even want to think about it!

Overhead Glass
Air Wate Gas
Storage & Organization

Storage and Organization

When we moved into this house from the old one, the garage was a dumping grounds until we could get rooms prepped and painted. This was fine as it allowed time to figure out the plan for the garage, how it would be organized, what would go where, how each zone would be used, what would be stationary, what portable, what could be used and what would need to be purchased.

A lot of thought was put into work spaces vs. storage spaces, traffic/open spaces AND empty spaces.  I knew from past experiences that if possible, empty/free space is needed for receiving and staging parts, moving things to/from and temporary storage of parts and pieces out of the way during a project. One entire wall was dedicated to just this.  Wire shelving accommodates larger parts and storage bins and the peg board allows for hanging trim, and body parts.  Smaller wire baskets on the peg board are for smaller parts storage before installation or upon removal.  Whenever possible, everything should be kept off the floor (or movable via wheels), providing more room to move and operate as well as easy space cleanup.

With stuff in boxes everywhere, it's quite the challenge. But I knew I'd need storage cabinets and work benches so after shopping around, decided on IKEA for the cabinets and Seville Classics Ultra HD from Sam's Club for the 2 rolling workbench cabinets $399 each. Neither cabinets or benches are top of the line but a great bang for the buck. Perfect for the DIY-er, putting it all together on site saves $ and allowed me to haul all in my city-boy pickup truck (station wagon). Also purchased a smaller matching rolling tool chest for the most commonly used tools for immediate, next-to-car access.


IKEA offered multitude of sizes needed to customize the space as well as a sleek stainless steel paneled door that matched the look of the workbenches. For a cleaner look, I opted for no handles on the cabinet doors. Instead, cut strips of aluminum angle stock and screwed to bottom edge of the doors. This also helped to conceal under-cabinet lighting. The workbenches can be rolled apart slightly to allow the stove/burner to be put in place under the hood.  For larger projects, they can be rolled into the center of the room.

Brewing and bottling beer takes a good bit of space. For additional work surface near the sink, I used a stainless steel table top (garage sale find, originally from IKEA) and hinged it to the wall for easy setup when needed and out of the way when not.

Glass shelves were used around the work benches for a clean look and a brighter work space (no cast shadows).  These were sourced cheap from a local glass/mirror shop. They always have scraps laying around. I just had them bevel the edges to prevent a blood bath.

The staircase from the living area was a bit of an odd area. We chose to build a "beverage deck" loft area for wine, keg and water coolers and small ice maker. We didn't have space for this stuff in the house but the deck provides easy access from both home and garage. the space under the deck is used for large appliance storage (engine stands/lifts, gas stove, generator, etc.) - all mobile on wheels.

All consumables (oils, fluids, filters, etc.) are stored above cabinets for easy visibility and inventory to know what's stocked for any upcoming (or unpredictable) job. Always keep a backup of everything so  prepared for any emergency and can work around schedule (travel, weather, life) obstacles whenever possible. Available when needed and not scrambling for trips to the store. We currently have a 4-vehicle fleet - 3 German, 1 British so consumables are somewhat varied though attempt to consolidate where possible.

Tech & Equipment

Technology & Special Equipment

As mentioned above, everything that can be on wheels is on wheels for easy relocation and space adaptation.  On the other end of hte spectrum are the objects that don't move - often large and/or heavy beasts which must be planned around as well aslocation specific pieces that need to be near other like-minded matter.  

In my space, I knew I wanted a computer station for accessing the internet (music, parts manuals/ordering, research) and at minimum small computer speakers. Eventually would be nice to have a big-screen TV for watching the races or big game in the lounge. 


I've always enjoyed the corner workstation for my computer as it's an efficient use of (often dead) space.  This would also allow easy addition and connection of other A/V equipment in this location.  I didn't want to use valuable cabinet space for this equipment (and it needs ventilation) so located it on top of the cabinets, concealing all wired connections up the wall corner. 

The computer setup uses a laptop which can be easily removed from a docking station at the end of the day.  The docking station is connected to hard-wire LAN and internet, speakers (split to small desktop units and to tuner/amp.), and HDMI to tuner/amp.  The tuner amp is connected to the TV/cable box and flat-screen TV and controlled via remote. The TV can be switched to source from the laptop screen or from cable/TV box.


Under the computer is a switch station used to individually power computer, A/V components and lighting as needed. It also has a master switch so that when done for the day, OFF is easy and everything is shut down.  As mentioned before, my greatest fear is fire and there's peace of mind knowing that everything is OFF.

There's a LAN switch under the house that is wired to the laptop as well as an additional wireless router located in on top of one of the speakers (see photo below). The extra router is nice as Internet service enters the house from the far other end and WiFi is weak in the garage. With another "repeater" source in the garage, my phone (and guests) can connect here as well as out in the yard, back porch and other weak areas.


The Lift

As mentioned above, everything that can be on wheels is on wheels for easy relocation and space adaptation.  On the other end of the spectrum are the objects that don't move – often large and/or heavy beasts which must be planned around as well as location- specific pieces that should be near other like-minded matter.  I chose the BendPak SP7X full-rise scissor lift because this is a multi-use space and having a post lift would create huge obstructions. I wanted to create traffic areas clear.  This model is relatively affordable ($5,000) but a worthy investment - it paid for itself the first year - from routine oil changes to complete power train R & Rs. It saves both time, effort...and my aging body!  The lift ships via freight and could not be delivered to my home address.  I contracted a local towing company to pick it up at the shipping terminal and slide if off into the driveway onto several dollies. It weighs a couple of tons so careful planning is required do maneuver into place. 


The SP7X includes detachable ramps to reach the lowered height of the lift (about 4 inches).  This is not the ideal scenario in that it's a pain to position the car just right. It is always wanting to roll one way or the other when trying to align in the correct spot for lifting. And if the car is immobile, quite difficult to push up the elevation. The photos below are from Stuart Moulton's install (thanks Stuart) - Time and money weren't an option to execute this after just moving into the house but it's certainly on the to-do list. 

Personal Touches

Personal Touches

Though I wanted a clean bright space, wanted to make sure it wasn't sterile and had some personality.  After rumaging through the attic, I found a box of some of my favorite saved childhood toys - primarily self-built model kits from the day as well as a few pre-assembled kits, and my prized R/C transporter semi. Shelves were inexpensive scraps cut to size at the local glass/mirror shop.


A friend has a large-print plotter in his office so I had him print some of my favorite cutaway drawings for the walls and added more posters from the high school and college collections. Higher quality images were framed and reserved for the spot-lighted gallery wall along the stairwell (photos to come).

The crawlspace door was terribly unattractive so printed an image of a modern refrigerator and covered the door.  Handles were left over from the rolling work benches. 


To-Do List

Garage door opens straight up or higher arc

Lift in floor (pros and cons)

Mini Split HVAC

Clean, polish, seal floor

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