Hazards in the Garage – 10 things to check now

Are there really 10 hazards in the garage?

disorganized garage

Actually, there are far more. Since each of the 10 could be the source of more than one potential hazard, there are multiple things to concern yourself with.

Now, some things I mention might seem so minor you’ll wonder why I even bother bringing them up. Well, if nothing else, look at it this way – the more things you correct now the fewer things a home inspector will have to note in the future when you decide to sell your home.

If that line of thinking does nothing for you, then how about this, pure and simple? – ignore the little things now and they will certainly become big things. Fixing little things now will save you time and money. It might also keep a relatively small hazard from becoming an increased risk.

Before going any further, I need to make four things very clear:

  1. your garage might not have all 10 items, or components, that are listed below;
  2. your garage might have additional components that are not listed below;
  3. this article presumes the garage is attached to your home, is on a slab foundation, and the walls and ceilings were constructed according to fairly current standards;
  4. I am not a code inspector, contractor, home builder, fire inspector. I am a homeowner and former home inspector. That is all. You should consult with a qualified professional, and in some cases a licensed professional, for any work or upgrades needing to be completed.

Ceiling and Walls

Visually inspect your garage ceiling and wall for the following conditions. Any issues found should be corrected by a professional contractor. Some issues might require further evaluation to determine the source of the problem.

  • Your garage ceiling and walls, if properly built, should have a fire rating of at least 20 minutes, Any holes, gaps or openings should be properly sealed to help maintain this rating.
  • Your attic access should also be such that it will not compromise the integrity of the fire rating. If you have a pull-down ladder, it should be fire rated. If you have a scuttle hole, it should be properly sealed around the wood frame structure.

pull down ladder gap

  • Sagging ceiling panels indicate the likelihood of insufficient attic ventilation. Other causes could be inadequate fasteners, or personal items stored in the attic on the top side of ceiling panels.
  • If ducts penetrate the ceiling or walls, they should be evaluated by a qualified professional to ensure they meet current standards.
  • Water stains could be the result of one or more conditions.
    • leaking roof;
    • water supply line leak;
    • plumbing drain leak;
    • blocked or leaking condensate drain line leak;
    • safety pan under HVAC unit in attic is full and overflowing or leaking;
    • condensation build-up on an HVAC duct or plenum;
    • the water heater in the attic is leaking.

Failure to take stains seriously could result in microbial growth (a.k.a. mold), corrosion in the HVAC or water heater safety pans, flooding of the home if the water heater tank breaks, extensive structural damage from latent water seepage, and others.

Overhead Door(s)

Listed below are several conditions that should be checked concerning your overhead garage door. Some of these conditions you might be able to check yourself. If you see a problem then call a professional contractor, preferably one who specializes in overhead doors.

Self-check

  1. Make sure there is a red emergency pull cord on the opener. This will allow you to open the door should there be a power outage.
  2. With the door in the raised position, place a 2 x 4 on the ground under it. Press the remote to close the door. When the door strikes the 2 x 4, it should automatically reverse direction. If not, the unit needs to be adjusted.
  3. Safety sensors should be installed on the garage rails no higher than 6 inches from the garage floor. Check for proper operation by “breaking” the beam while the door is closing. The door should stop and reverse direction automatically. If not, correction is needed.
  4. The lock on the door should be disabled if an opener is installed. This will prevent possible property damage or personal injury, which could result if the opener was engaged while the door was locked.
  5. The door opener remote should be mounted on the wall no lower than 5 feet from the floor to prevent children from reaching it.

Contact a professional

  1. A damaged door panel, if bad enough, could cause the door to buckle when opening or closing. Don’t risk it. It’s cheaper to repair a door than it is to replace it. Have it evaluated.
  2. Check the door opener brackets to ensure they are still secured to the wall or ceiling. Also, check to ensure the rails are secured to the brackets.
  3. The door opener should be plugged in to an outlet in the ceiling near the opener. In no case should the opener be plugged in to an extension cord. Current standards require the outlet to be GFCI (ground fault protected). Consider upgrading if necessary, keeping in mind that should the ground fault trip while you are away, your door opener will not work until the outlet is reset.
  4. If your opener has a chain and the chain is sagging, have the chain adjusted.

Safety and your overhead door

If you leave your car outside of your garage overnight, do not leave the door opener remote in it. A criminal could break into your car and use the remote to access your garage. Once inside, he could close the overhead door and have easy access to your home through the passenger door to the living area of your home since most passenger doors can easily be kicked in.

Passenger Door Between Garage and House

This door is more important than you might think. If you aren’t sure, have it evaluated. This door should not lead directly into a room that is used for sleeping. Also, it should be:

  • fire rated for a 20-minute fire blockage;
  • a self-closing door;
  • sealed on both sides, top and bottom;
  • a solid door with no windows or pet doors (a fire rated door will not have either)

Consider installing a quality lock with reinforcements on the door and door jamb so that if an unauthorized person manages to gain entry into your garage, he will not be able to easily enter the living area of your home..

Electrical

The older your home is, the greater the chance various components in it do not meet current building standards. I am not a code inspector. Be sure to check with a licensed electrical contractor before making any changes. Better yet, hire a licensed electrical contractor to complete all work. Here are things you should check or have checked.

  • Know where your main service panel is mounted. Know which breaker is the main breaker so you can turn it off in the event of an emergency. Older service panels might not have one main breaker; rather, they might require several breakers to be turned off to disable power to the entire home.
  • If the main breaker is not in the service panel in the garage, find out its location so you can turn off power to your home in the event of an emergency. Older service panels might not have one main breaker; rather, they might require several breakers to be turned off to disable power to the entire home.
  • Your main service panel should be readily accessible. This means you should not have to move anything to open the panel door.

restricted access to service panel

  • All breakers should be properly labeled.
  • There should be no gaps in the wall greater than 1/8-inch around the main service panel cover.
  • If your home has an older panel, consider having it inspected by a licensed electrical contractor.
  • All outlets in the garage should be GFCI – ground fault protected.
  • Extension cords should not be used for permanent wiring.
  • Electrical tools should be unplugged when not in use.

Cabinets and Shelves

The same safety rules that apply to cabinets and shelves inside your home apply to those in the garage.

  • Cabinets and shelves should be secured to the wall to help prevent them from being tipped over.
  • A fire-rated cabinet should be used to store flammables and the cabinet should be locked with the key out of reach of children.

safety cabinet

  • All hazardous materials – pesticides, weed killers, plant food, fertilizers, etc, – should be stored out of the reach of children and in a manner they cannot be accidentally knocked off the shelf.
  • Secure ladders and step stools so children cannot climb them, and so children cannot access dangerous items on shelves.

Water Heater

Most, perhaps all, of these points apply to your water heater regardless of its location – garage, attic, or inside your home.

  • The water heater should be at least 18 inches off the garage floor.
  • A temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve should be in place and tested according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • A TPR valve drain pipe should be installed according to manufacturer’s instructions. The pipe should be such that water will flow in a downward direction and terminate to the exterior in a conspicuous place. Some codes allow for other configurations. Check with a licensed plumbing contractor for applicable codes in your area.

water heater hazards

  • For gas water heaters, a gas shut-off valve should be present, it should be easily reachable, and the valve should be in a position where it can be turned off completely without any restrictions.
  • Electric units should be grounded. Look for a green wire secured to a screw on top of the unit.

water heater ground wire

While we’re on the subject of water heaters, here are a few tips that are not necessarily safety concerns:

  • The water heater should be seated inside a safety pan with an attached drain pipe that terminates to the exterior in a conspicuous place.
  • Look for corrosion on the top and side of the outside of the cabinet. Corrosion could be evidence of a small leak. Have it checked promptly.
  • Some manufacturers will void their warranty if you wrap your water heater in an insulated covering.

Vehicles

Some vehicles now have key fobs instead of keys. Be alert and make sure you turn your car engine off when you park it in your garage. This is most applicable if you have a hybrid vehicle, which you won’t hear the engine running if it’s running off the battery. When the battery charge runs down, the gas engine will kick in, emitting carbon monoxide into the closed garage.

Power Tools / Garden Tools

organized tools over workbench

Store all hand and power tools, including cordless ones, out of the reach of children. Garden tools should also be stored properly to help prevent personal injury.

Smoke Alarm vs. Heat Sensor

There are those who feel you should install a heat sensor in your garage, not a smoke alarm. They say that a smoke alarm will become a nuisance alarm because it will sound too often due to all the smoke in your garage. Well, I can’t recall a time in my life when my garage was full of smoke to the degree it would have set off the smoke alarm.

Here are my thoughts. To my knowledge, there are no standards in place for any kind of alarm in a garage. Certainly there would be no harm in installing a heat sensor and connecting it, if possible, to your existing smoke alarms. Or you could install a smoke alarm, connect it to your existing smoke alarms, and if it becomes a nuisance, remove it and install a heat sensor. Sounds simple enough, right?

Fire Extinguisher

Consider mounting an approved fire extinguisher on the wall near the garage entry from the living area of your home. A fire extinguisher could explode if stored in your garage and a fire broke out.

Have I missed anything?

As you can see, there’s more to a garage than meets the eye. I trust you will check your garage if you haven’t already. If you know of something else I missed, please take a minute and share with everyone. I will reply in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, stay safe and

Best Regards,

Rick

Comments 8

  1. For me, the electric and water heater are most important things which could affect to our life. I need to check again my garage since the last check was 5 months ago.

    1. Post
      Author

      Mong Phan,

      Good choices. The electric and the water heater are very important to keep up with.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you find everything in good working order.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  2. Hi Rick, Your top picture pretty much describes my garage. Mine is a 2 car detached, but seems to be more of a catch-all than anything else. Almost all of your tips apply and need a serious look at from me. It was built up to code in about 1962 but has not had many updates. Lucky for me, we rent. We are looking into making a home purchase in the future and I have a better idea of things to look closely at in the garage. I had not thought of using flam cabinets but it is an idea I should keep in mind. Thanks for a great article and the tips.

    1. Post
      Author

      Sanders,

      Thank you for sharing your situation. I inspected many older homes and found very few to have any upgrades. One thing to keep in mind with electrical, if the service panel has breakers, is breakers have a life expectancy of 30 years. When it comes time to look at buying the house, it would be a good idea to have the electrical inspected by a licensed electrical contractor, unless you find an old-head home inspector who knows electricity well. But even then, his inspection would be quite limited. Oh, if the service panel is a Federal Pacific, you might want to do some Internet research on it so you would know what you might be up against.

      Thanks for the encouraging words.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  3. great article Rick, several key points where made that I need to check on sooner than later. I know I’m guilty of keeping a lot of junk in front of my electrical panel and it’s a pain anytime we need to access it. With small kids, my garage is always a hazard anytime we just walk in. thanks for the education.

    1. Post
      Author

      Will,

      Thank you for the kind, encouraging words. Yes, it’s good to maintain clear access to the electric panel in the event of an emergency. Likely nothing bad will ever happen, but just in case.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  4. Rick, question…you mention the water heater being 18″ off the garage floor. Is that true for INSIDE the home as well? How would a person reach the top of the heater – or isn’t that necessary?

    1. Post
      Author

      Cathy,

      Excellent question, thank you.

      No, you do not need to raise your water heater off the floor inside your home. There are flammable fumes and vapors in a garage that one would hopefully not have inside the home.

      Do remember, though, that you should still have a safety pan under your water heater with the appropriate sized drain pipe that terminates to an approved waster receptacle or to the exterior in a conspicuous place. If drained to the exterior, the end of the pipe should not be less than 6 inches above grade (ground) and not more than 24 inches above grade.

      Hope this helps.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

      https://codes.iccsafe.org/public/document/IRC2018/chapter-28-water-heaters

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *