Garage Designs:
Planning the Largest Room in Your House

Garage designs are probably not the first thing you think about when contemplating a new home. But you should. After all, it's the largest "room" in your house. We don’t tend to think of it that way, but it’s true. Because it is the “forgotten room,” garage designs often are not given enough attention. A typical double car garage is about twenty-two feet by twenty-two feet in size. That is larger than most great rooms, and certainly larger than most dining rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.

A garage also has the greatest influence on the layout of a house. The Garage Location must be in a convenient position in the House Plan. It should be near the kitchen for convenience in bringing in the groceries. It has to be accessible by car from the street. It requires flat ground. It requires additional level space outside of it for backing the car out and maneuvering it around. The total area footprint of the garage, the necessary back-out area, and the driveway is often larger than the footprint of the rest of the house. Add to that the fact that we come and go from our houses through the garage on a daily basis is, and you can see that the garage is one of the most frequently used rooms in your house and it is the “front door” for the homeowner. It is for these reasons that garage designs should be given the attention they deserve.

Where do you start with garage designs? I say this over and over. Every design should start with a Program. A program is a list of requirements for whatever it is you are designing. The list becomes your goal and every good design should achieve specific goals. For your garage, you probably start with the need to house your car or cars. How much space does that take? A typical car is about six to six and a half feet wide and fifteen to seventeen feet long. So a minimally sized one car garage can be as little as twenty feet deep and as narrow as eleven feet wide. A minimally sized two car garage can be twenty feet by twenty feet. But these sizes are very snug. These are the sizes you often see in tract built houses. Garages this size require your passengers to get out of the car before you pull the car into the garage because there is barely enough room to open the car door once the car is inside. I recommend at least a twenty-two by twenty-two foot space for the car parking, excluding storage space. If you are selecting from standard House Plans or standard Garage Plans, be sure to check the sizes and don’t skimp. A foot or two can make a big difference.

Do you plan on having any storage or a work bench in your garage? If so, you should plan on expanding the size of the garage by two feet in each direction that you plan to have storage. A work bench with some working space in front of it may require additional space. Think through what you’ll need and add it to your program. If you want to park a lawn mower or bicycles, you should allocate additional space for them. A golf cart will require even more space and probably its own small door.

Good garage designs must accommodate all of the uses you can think of. They must be comfortable and pleasant places for you to be in, since you will be using and passing through this space daily. And since it is your actual “front door,” your entrance to your own house, shouldn’t it be pleasing and welcoming? It should be well lit and more than simply a door through the laundry room. How garage designs connect with the house is an important consideration. Maybe the door from the garage should lead to a nice back entrance hall with a window for daylight.

Do you want to climb steps every day? As the years go by, steps can become an inconvenience. Builders often want to place the garage floor a couple of steps down from the house floor. It makes it a little bit easier to build since the concrete of the garage floor has to be isolated from the wood framing of the house. But there are easy ways to achieve this without dropping the floor and having those pesky steps in garage designs. If your builder objects to your request to eliminate the steps, suggest that he can raise his foundation wall at the point where the house joins the garage or install metal sheets between the wood frame and the concrete slab to achieve the isolation of materials he needs. Press this issue a little bit and you’ll be forever thankful that you no longer have steps to deal with.

As much as we want to eliminate steps in garage designs, there still must be one small step at the door to the house. This can be as short as four inches tall, in most cases. The Residential Building Code requires this step and it is there for a reason. This step prevents flammable liquids, such as gasoline, from seeping under the door and running into your house. If you don’t want the step or need your house and garage to handicapped accessible, a small ramp that rises four inches can be installed instead of the step. Additionally, the concrete floor of the garage must slope toward the garage doors, not the door to the house. This is for the same reason as the step. It keeps liquids from running into the house. But this slope serves a practical purpose, too. It lets rain and melting snow that might be on your car run out and not form puddles on your garage floor.

One other Residential Building Code issue you should check is whether the garage needs to have a fire separation from the house. Most Building Codes require a solid door to the house and fire code drywall on the walls that adjoin the house. Your builder should know about these regulations, but you might want to check them for yourself. Even if the Building Code does not require this separation in your jurisdiction, it is a good idea to have. It will make you safer.

In the garage designs I do, I always try to make the Garage Doors large enough to be convenient to use. Many single garage doors are only eight feet wide. If your car is six and a half feet wide, that only leaves you nine inches of leeway on each side, and that’s not counting the mirrors. Consider nine foot wide doors so you don’t knock off your mirrors when you back out. It makes life easier. Many double-width garage doors are sixteen feet wide. While they are not that hard to get through, this width door forces you to park your two cars close together. This can lead to you dinging one car when you get in and out of the other. It’s bad enough this damage happens in parking lots. But it’s even more painful if you dent and chip your own car. Consider an eighteen foot wide door. It will give you a bit more elbow room for parking.

Don’t forget to specify the height of the doors. A typical door is only seven feet high. This can be too low for utility vehicles, vans, or roof racks. It is a small price increase to get eight foot tall doors. If your ceiling height is tight, often the door can be installed with low-rise tracks to allow for the taller door in a low ceiling.

Other features you may want in your garage would be automatic Garage Door Openers, special Garage Flooring, and organized Garage Storage Units that make good use of space by using some interesting Garage Storage Ideas.

Garages are good places for a utility sink for potting plants or cleaning the paintbrushes. Any plumbing in a garage should be place on the wall that adjoins the house and have frost-proof shut offs for wintertime, especially if you live in a cold climate. The faucet on your garage utility sink can have a threaded spout. That would be a spout that allows you to screw on a hose. The nice thing about this is you can wash your car with hot water, if you like.

Garage designs might include an extra refrigerator or freezer. If you plan on having an appliance like this in your garage, be sure to install a dedicated electrical outlet for it. The National Electric Code requires non-dedicated garage electrical outlets to be GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) or AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter) type of outlets. This kind of safety outlet is designed to prevent fires and electrical shock if there is a malfunction in the wiring or if water gets into the outlet. But these can trip very easily and cut off the power. If your freezer is plugged into one of these on a circuit that trips, you may not know the power is out until it’s too late and all of your stored food has thawed and is ruined.

I'll be posting a list of quick Garage Tips soon. It can serve as a checklist of considerations for all kinds of garage designs.

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