Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

Give Your Garage a Makeover

The garage is potentially the most toxic space in any house, which should come as no surprise when you think about what's in it. Start with the car fumes, road grime, road salts and other unwelcome tire and shoe hitchhikers, add the stored paints and stains, gasoline cans, lawn and garden chemicals, car fluids and other items too dirty, greasy or downright dangerous to keep anyplace else around the house, and you can see how quickly the garage can become an unhealthy, disorganized, inefficient space.


Enter garage enhancement - an increasingly popular makeover trend that offers homeowners a wealth of health, energy-saving and usability benefits.


Enhancements can include improving ventilation; insulating doors; adding, upgrading or controlling lighting for energy efficiency; coating or covering the floor; and storing "stuff€

around the perimeter in a safe and organized way, all of which can contribute to a better, safer garage.


So where to start? Here are four areas you can address when giving your garage a makeover this summer.


1. Air Quality

To keep the air in the garage healthy, install an exhaust fan on an outside wall positioned to vent away from the interior of the house. The fan should run for several minutes every time a car enters or leaves the garage. For simple operation, you can install a timer that controls the fan's operation, and wire the timer so it's triggered by the opening of the garage door or by a motion detector.


To reduce any infiltration of fumes from the garage to the interior of your home and minimize the loss of conditioned air from the room adjacent to the garage, add weather stripping around the door between the garage and the home. It's also a good idea to install a carbon monoxide detector in any room above an attached garage to monitor air quality.


To keep wind-driven rain, leaves, dirt, dust, pollen and most small rodents out of your garage, you can install seals on the floor directly under the garage doors. The seals, which apply easily with adhesive, can fill the gap between the floor and the door's existing weather stripping. Garage door seals are widely available in kits.


2. Energy Efficiency

For energy efficiency, light your garage with Energy Star compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which use at least 65 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs while producing the same amount of light. For example, a 15-watt CFL yields as much light as a 60-watt incandescent, and a 25-watt CFL provides light comparable to a 100-watt incandescent.


Lighting controls such as programmable timers and occupancy sensors that install in a single gang wall box in place of a standard light switch can improve energy efficiency, provide convenience and enhance safety. These devices can reduce lighting usage in a residential garage by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

For example, Decora electronic timers from Leviton Mfg. Company, based in Little Neck, N.Y., will automatically shut off lights after a pre-programmed period of time, in anywhere from 2 minutes to 12 hours. All models also have a simple on/off button.


Another energy-efficient lighting option for a garage is an occupancy sensor, which will turn lights on when the garage is occupied and off when it is vacant. Some sensors combine occupancy or vacancy sensing with nightlights for added convenience and safety.


Leviton's new Decora Nightlight Sensor, for instance, is available in occupancy sensing and vacancy sensing models. The devices use passive infrared technology to detect the heat naturally emitted by humans, and incorporate a user-dimmable LED nightlight, which automatically illuminates a room or area based on the ambient light.


The occupancy-sensing unit will automatically switch lights on once occupancy is detected within its field of view, and will switch lights off again when the room is vacant. The vacancy-sensing unit, once manually switched on, will monitor the garage for occupancy and automatically switch lighting off after a user-specified interval once it no longer detects occupancy. The models feature a 180-degree field of view with approximately 1,200 feet of coverage.


For workshop areas, 4-foot fluorescent fixtures with reflective backing and electronic ballasts are more energy efficient than incandescent options. Electronic ballasts are particularly important for homes in northern regions, since these ballasts will start in cold temperatures.


3. Flooring

Unfinished concrete can crack and is not easy to clean. Coating or covering a concrete floor in a garage can improve slip and chemical resistance, and seal or protect the surface from moisture and dust.


Applying paints or epoxies to a concrete floor typically requires shot blasting, acid washing or other surface preparation to ensure complete and durable bonding, but this may expose occupants to odors until the application dries or cures. Using a water-based epoxy will reduce odors, and using a solvent-free, high-solids epoxy will eliminate strong fumes. While most epoxy coatings generally last a year to a few years, there are formulations that offer longer protection.


For example, PremierOne Floor Coating Systems, from Phoenix, Ariz.-based PremierGarage, feature a hybrid polymer chemical formulation that is stain-resistant, non-flammable and non-hazardous to people, pets and the environment. Free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and solvents, the PremierOne Floor Coating System can be installed in a day, and the garage is usually available for use 24 hours after application.

The coating, which is available in 16 combinations of colors and finish textures such as terrazzo or granite, applies onto a concrete floor that has been degreased, so there are no oil and grease stains, and repaired, so there are no open cracks or large surface imperfections. In addition, for proper adhesion, the surface has to be professionally prepared via mechanical grinding or acid etching. The coating has a life expectancy of 10 years or more under normal care and use.


If you want to cover your garage floor without having to prepare the concrete beyond sweeping, you can select wall to wall or under-vehicle mats or tiles that provide needed traction, are easier to clean than untreated concrete and help prevent the underlying concrete from deteriorating.

Durable options include wide-sheet polyvinyl rollout floor coverings and interlocking polypropylene tiles, both available in a choice of colors. Polymer slip-resistant flooring that looks like granite and terrazzo is also available.


These materials, which are free of fumes, install in a few hours and protect floors from dirt, gasoline, oils, battery acid, antifreeze, salt and other chemicals. Unlike epoxy and paint finishes, which can peel over time and require re-application, these floor coverings last a long time and can be swept clean or washed with soap and water, either in place or, if mats, hosed down right outside the garage.


Modular flooring is another option for the garage. Though it has been popular for decades in commercial properties and has been used as athletic surfacing for many years, modular garage flooring is a relatively new concept for the home. It's often available with characteristics that increase durability and performance.


For example, RaceDeck Garage Interlocking Modular Flooring, from Snap Lock Industries of Salt Lake City, was designed specifically to bear the weight of a vehicle. Made from polypropylene, the waterproof tiles feature short nibs on the undersides to keep the tiles off the concrete, enabling the floor to breathe. The module tiles install over a clean, swept floor and do not require patching of cracks beforehand. Installation is odorless and without fumes.


The tiles are available in solid or perforated 12-inch or 18-inch squares in several patterns in 12 colors. The tiles snap together with fairly tight seams to create geometric or freeform patterns, and can be cut with a table saw or circular saw. The tiles, which are UV stable, are not affected by moisture and can be damp-mopped.


While most spills will stay put on the top of the floor, if the spill is directly over a seam and seeps through, any affected tiles will come apart easily for cleaning or replacement and then snap back into place. Perforated tiles are available for use around floor drains.


G-Floor roll-out garage and concrete floor covers, from Lenexa, Kan.-based Better Life Technology, is 100-percent solid polyvinyl flooring designed specifically for use in garages. It comes in widths up to 10 feet, in three thicknesses, and is available in four patterns, including smooth, diamond tread for slip resistance, coin for easy cleaning and appearance, and rib-channeled for draining liquid and debris out of the garage.


Suitable for wall-to-wall installations, the rolls trim with a utility knife. The flooring lies directly on concrete or on a wood subfloor, sealing it off so spills can't get underneath. The waterproof material grips the floor and stays in place without glue, does not outgas, meets all flame ratings, and won't mold or rot. Though not stain-proof, it wipes clean using water, soap or standard vinyl cleaners.


Adjacent runs can be overlapped, butted or seamed with an optional seaming strip. Overlapping allows easy removal of any section for hosing off outside the garage.


4. Organization

€. Keep pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, transmission and brake fluid, motor oil, antifreeze and other automotive and lawn chemicals in their original (clearly labeled) containers off the floor (where they can spill and get wet) and on secure shelves or in secure cabinets out of reach of children.


€. Avoid leaning shovels, rakes and sharp-edged tools that can fall over against the wall. Hang them on secure hooks along the walls, out of harm's way and in a place with a clear path to access.


€. Wipe up any grease, oil or other chemical spills as quickly as possible.


€. Keep a multi-purpose fire extinguisher visible and accessible in the garage, and acquaint all family members with its location.


€. Get rid of any leftover toxic chemicals. Don't save them "just in case.€

Take them to a hazardous household waste disposal or collection site.


€. Finally, never run a car in a closed garage. If the garage is under rooms in the home, drive in front-forward to minimize the carbon monoxide fumes inside the garage.


By taking these steps, you can ensure that your garage is as safe, healthy and organized as the rest of your home.


William and Patti Feldman are frequent contributors to Smart HomeOwner. They're based in New York.