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Having a garage is an added feature of any home. Because garages are often not finished, they are easily overlooked as not essential to the functioning of the home. However, there are many garage types and elements that exist within a garage that need proper maintenance and attention. The garage can be the place where home projects start and come to fruition; your kid’s band plays their first show, or that graduation celebration. A garage can be so much more, so let US Inspect ensure its integrity.

Attached

The garage is physically attached to the house as an addition. Since this type of garage is part of the main residential structure, it may or may not have habitable living space immediately above it. Because the attached garage is connected to the residential structure, certain measures should be taken to minimize the hazards associated with fuels and fuel exhaust. The walls immediately adjacent to all habitable space should be separated from the residence and the attic areas by at least 5/8 inch, fire-rated, gypsum board. Some older homes may have only had a 1/2 inch requirement at the time of construction. If living space is immediately adjacent or above the garage area, there can be no holes or open penetrations in the drywall/gypsum board bordering living areas. Electrical panels must have complete and unrestricted access; 30 inches to each side and 36 inches to the front.

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Structure

Slab
The slab should slope from the rear of the garage toward the automotive doors to ensure drainage of water, etc. Most cracks in the slab are usually expansion/contraction-related, and for the most part, expected. If cracks are large, exhibit deflection or differential movement such as heaving or settlement, it could be a sign of a serious concern.

Fire Step
The slab of the garage should be a minimum of 4 inches lower than the slab entering the house to reduce the potential of gasoline or exhaust fumes from entering the property.

Wall Separation
The living area adjacent to the attached garage should be separated with a minimum 5/8 inch gypsum board, fire-rated. Some homes were built when 1/2 inch gypsum was allowed. This separation is required in order to prevent toxic exhaust gases and gasoline vapors, which are heavier than air, from entering the residence. Therefore, the walls and ceilings that separate the garage from living space must be free of any holes or voids. If the wall adjacent to living space has a door, the door should be installed with self-closing hinges, and the weather stripping should provide a tight seal around the door.

Roof Structure
The structural requirements and design of a roof should meet the same criteria as the residence.   Houses built today typically utilize roof trusses, while older housing employed conventional framing, which are rafters and joists. Ceiling structures of garages are frequently modified to accommodate an access panel or disappearing stairs. This may result in improper modification of the joists or trusses. Headers are needed for conventional framing, and if trusses have to be cut, an engineered reinforcement system may be required. Areas over garages are frequently used for storage of personal items; possibly overloading joists or trusses. The garage attic area should be separated from the residence by a firewall, assuming there is access from the garage into the attic area. The roof structure should not be sagging or putting unnecessary pressure on the outside walls. Generally trusses are engineered and braced individually and as a system, and are typically dependable structures. Conventionally built roof systems are also dependable, however, there are workmanship short cuts that may compromise the roof system (i.e. garages may not have any ceiling joists or adequate ceiling joists). This will put considerable pressure on the outside walls. The rafters may be over spanned, or may not have proper collar ties. Check for bowing at the center of the sidewalls and for excessive roof deflections.

Framing
The structural requirements and design of the wall framing should meet the same criteria as the residence deterioration is frequently found in garages and around both the vehicle and the personnel doors. Check the bottoms of the jambs, door rails and stiles. The framing may be racked due to the large garage door(s) opening, and inadequate bracing. It is best to look for this racking when you are 25 to 50 feet away from the garage or as you are approaching the garage from the front. The closer you get, the more difficult it is to recognize. Bracing can be difficult, however, an “X” bracing and/or solid sheathing in the inside is generally adequate.

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Door

Door from the Garage to the Residence
The interior door should have a tight seal all the way around to prevent seepage of exhaust or gas fumes. This door should be fire-resistant, such as metal clad or solid core wood. You may also see 1 3/8” hollow core interior doors with a sheet of metal on the garage side. This may be accepted in many areas, however, its fire protection is negligible. As a safety feature, the door should be self-closing. Many municipalities have requirements for fire-rated doors and frames. Because the door should resist a twenty-minute fire, there should be no glass, pet doors, or other openings in the door itself.

Garage Doors
Automobile doors should work easily, with little exertion. Overhead sectional automobile doors should have a lock, unless they have an automatic opener. Check weather stripping on the bottom of a garage door for defects or improperly secured. Fiberboard or pressed board door panels in garage doors are vulnerable to the absorption of moisture and delamination. Garage door springs should be protected, so that they cannot pinch an individual’s hands (i.e. they should be near the ceiling). The springs are required to have a safety retainer, such as a cable in the center of the spring in the event the spring breaks, people in the area are less likely to be injured. Cable wires on garage doors should be inspected for fraying or improper support. The tracks should be properly secured and lubricated with heavy grease. Oil or silicone is not as effective as grease. Inspect the rollers for bent shafts, looseness and how they roll in the tracks. Hinges are frequently loose and need tightening. Electrical outlets in garages should be installed in accordance with NEC code. At least one electrical outlets should be Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter protected. Dedicated outlets for garage door openers, freezers, etc. are permitted, but should be marked as Non-GFCI.

Water Heaters and Furnaces in Garages
Water heaters and furnaces in a garage should have the firebox, burners or electrical elements located 18 inches above the slab to reduce the possibility of fire from volatile fumes. A furnace or water heater located in a garage should also be protected with an anti-collision device, such as a steel post with a proper foundation, to prevent an automobile from striking the appliances.

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Door Opener

Electrical
Automatic garage door openers should be plugged directly into a non-GFCI outlet. Extension cord wiring to the opener is not acceptable.

Auto Reversing Device
The garage door opener should have an automatic reversing device to prevent crushing or damaging an item or person that may be caught beneath the door. The device or clutch should reverse with 50 pounds or less pressure. Many older operators do not have reversing mechanisms.

Light Beams
These are also effective door reversing devices. They are to be installed no higher than 6" off the floor and just inside the door at opposing sides.

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Common Defects

  • Concrete slab cracking, heaving and/or settlement
  • Holes or openings in firewalls or ceilings
  • Electrical panels often blocked or restricted access
  • Door to residence does not meet fire-spread requirements
  • Garage door opener does not reverse or reverse properly
  • Missing electronic sensors 6" above floor
  • Extension cord wiring, lighting not operating properly
  • Deterioration at garage doors and/or frames
  • Garage door hinges loose or missing hardware
  • Garage framing racked, walls bowed and/or doors out of alignment
  • Roof framing deflection and condition of the roofing gutters, downspouts and trims
  • Condition of the wood sill plates and other suspect wood
  • Garage door springs loose or without safety retainer, track and roller operation
  • Lack of GFCI protection
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