Building a Home Garage Workshop

Part 1 - Construction & Design

(Page 1)


Here's an article I wrote back in May 1996 after having gone through my first few garage projects. The guidelines have been tweaked for lessons learned over the years and I've added a few more photos. For the novice, I hope this overview will help you plan your own garage construction or makeover. If you require additional support with your own "ultimate garage" project, please contact me directly.

The rest of the series including Part 2 on Tools and Equipment and Part 3 on Storage Solutions will be available to future Ultimate Garage clients.

Steve D'Gerolamo


To many homeowners, the garage is merely a place to park a car, two if you're lucky, and a repository for an eclectic mix of lawn furniture, toys, and other "stuff" that, in my eyes, doesn't belong here. However, for "tool junkies", like myself, this is a space that can be transformed into an ideal workshop, a place to tackle the ever present home and automotive projects without disturbing the family or neighbors. A garage workshop is also a great place for the guys to get together, swap stories about cars, tools, and other topics that would typically not told in the presence of their spouses or girlfriends. It's a "man's kitchen"....with compressed air and power tools!

As the owner of a business that specializes in the design and fitup of high end garages and workshops, my perspective on remodeling and new home construction is a bit tainted. The garage does not get the respect it deserves by today's architects and homebuilders. Granted, many newer homes now have 3 or 4 garage bays where 1-2 was the norm in the past, but the size and quality of the space is typically out of scale with the rest of the home. Fortunately, with proper planning, just about any garage can be transformed into a multi-purpose space and if you've got the property, a patient spouse and deep enough pockets, you can build your own ultimate garage workshop. The overview below should help you get started. Of course, you can always call me to consult on your project.....I'll be out in the garage!



The key factors to consider in the design are functionality, ergonomics/flow, aesthetics and safety. It's best (and often required by code) to hire an architect or engineer to help with the design and provide structurally sound plans for your builder. A new garage can be "attached" to your existing home which is generally the case or "detached" as a separate structure given adequate space on your property. There are advantages to each. Try to keep with the existing architecture of the house. Remember, you may have to sell your home someday and your garage/workshop shouldn't be an eyesore or hindrance to this sale.



"Attached Garage"- This is generally cheaper to construct as you already have an existing wall to work with and your utilities (heat, electric, and water) are easier to access. You will be required to use fire code sheet rock between the garage and the living area as well as a fireproof door. The sill at the doorway entrance to the house must be at least 8" above the garage floor. (Disclaimer - as always, check with your local building inspector)

Attached Garage with Separate Workshop Bay

Attached Garage Museum - below grade



"Detached Garage" - I prefer a detached garage for safety and security reasons. A fire in a detached garage is less likely to spread to the house and someone breaking into your garage cannot gain direct access to your home. You can also use the structure to block the view from your neighbors of the ongoing activities in your workshop. Secondary buildings don't have to adhere to the same setbacks as primary structures but there are height restrictions. Check with your local building inspector.

Detached Garage - the outer bays are each 20' wide workshops



"Detached Garage with Breezeway" - technically a detached garage (no steps required) with covered access to the home. Entry from the breezeway is typically through an intermediate "mudroom" space to the kitchen and pantry storage areas.




It's also a good idea to design and locate your garage for optimal privacy. The doors and garage contents should not be visible from the street. Why attract unnecessary attention from potential thieves driving through your neighborhood.


Having your home and garage located at the end of a long driveway in a gated estate is not an option for most of us but......

Building your garage perpendicular to the house offers a good deal of privacy.

A meandering driveway with some well situated plantings is even more effective.




SIZE - The size of your garage(s) and workshop will typically be determined by your available "buildable" property, budget and local ordinances. Here are some basic recommendations I make to my clients for multi-bay garages.....

  • Workshop (Automotive) : 18-20' wide by 24-30' deep. Ceiling height of 10-14' assuming installation of a service lift.

  • Workshop (Woodworking): 18-20' wide by 24-30' deep. Ceiling height of 9-10' for comfortable handing of 8' sheet good.

  • Parking Garage - allow 13-15' width per vehicle. Today's sports cars, trucks, SUV's and Crossovers are wider (especially with side mirrors extended) than vehicles 10 years ago. Depth should be 20-24' deep. Height of 8-10' .


Garages and workshops should be engineered for unobstructed floor areas (i.e. no lally columns or posts) through the use of laminated wood, steel beams or trusses.


BASIC CONSTRUCTION - Outside walls should be of 2x6's to allow the use of 5" (R19) insulation. This is especially important for a detached garage which will be more expensive to heat in the winter. Roof framing should be 2x10's (R25/R30 insulation) for load purposes although 2x8's would be OK on a small structure. There might be 1 or 2 large beams (steel or laminated) to avoid support posts and columns in the work area. The floor should be 5-6" concrete (4000psi with fiberglass mesh and rebar). You should be able to avoid the use of expansion joints in a 20x25' area.

The foundation (poured or block) should be at least 12-18" off the floor, again to prevent water damage to interior walls. For parking garages, a slight floor pitch towards the garage door will help prevent puddles from melting snow or when washing your car inside. For workshops, I prefer to have a level floor (no pitch) for easy, no shim installation of cabinet storage systems, lifts and shop equipment.

The floor pitch in the garage above was excessive requiring the mason to pour a level set of pads for the cabinetry. As an added benefit, the floor can now be washed without exposing the cabinets to water or floor cleaning products.


GARAGE DOORS - The single entry garage door should be at least 9' wide by 7' high and a quality wood or aluminum clad insulated (high R-values are important in colder climates) door is preferred. For two car garages, consider a single 16' garage door with proper reinforcements to prevent bowing in the up position. I highly recommend high lift garage door tracks with torsion springs and jackshaft style operators at the door header. This gives the garage a more open feel with better aesthetics as one eliminates the excessive use of "erector set" bracketry supporting the track and operator. Polyurethane rollers can be used to quiet the travel of the door in its tracks.

Disguising the tracks and hiding torsion spring & operator


Taking the door tracks out of the room completely - door neatly disappears into a ceiling pocket


WINDOWS & SKYLIGHTS - Windows are often architecturally required details in the exterior design of a garage. Operating windows (and skylights) can offer cross ventilation during summer months for cooling or venting fumes and exhaust. Placement of windows and skylights is important, especially in a workshop, as they can interfere with the interior layout of your storage systems and equipment.


For garage museums, I discourage the use of any natural lighting. UV exposure can cause paint, fabrics and artwork to fade over time.


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