A Guide to Great GaragesPosted on: Sunday, April 16th, 2006
By Yvonne Jeffery For the Calgary Herald
A Crash Course in Building Vehicles a Home of their Own
Are your vehicles baking under the sun this summer? Are you tired of scraping winter windshields? Then it’s time to put the wheeled ones where they belong: in a garage. Here’s how to get started, whether you’re building it yourself or calling the pros.
“What do you want to use the garage for?” asks Jim Lavigne, operations manager for CarShacks Garage Builders in Calgary. Answering that question, he says, provides the foundation for all the decisions that follow. Will your garage be a place to park vehicles, or something more — storage, workshop, hideaway? And how much space will you need?
Minimums run approximately 3.6 metres wide by 6.1 metres deep (12 x 20 feet) for a single-car garage, and 5.5 metres by 6.1 metres (18 x 20) for a double — but Paul Holm, owner of Calgary’s Holm Contracting, says you’ll likely regret going with the minimum when you keep banging the car door against the wall. His advice? Build the biggest garage that your lot, budget and needs allow. “For depth, go 22 feet if you can — 24 feet gives you enough room for a bench,” he says. To position the garage, first phone Alberta One-Call for a buried utility check. (Lavigne notes that you can’t build on top of a gas line unless you move it or sleeve it.) Then use your Real Property Report to calculate your lot coverage.
“The general rule of thumb within Calgary is that a maximum of 45 per cent of your lot can be covered,” Lavigne says, although newer, smaller lots may permit higher coverage. The property report will also reveal any city or utility easements that can’t be built over. Check local garage regulations. In Calgary, your garage wall must usually be at least .6 metres from your property line. “If you’re really limited in space, you could put a garage six inches from the property line and have the eaves just in from the property line,” notes Holm, adding that a maintenance-free, fire-rated wall would be required, along with building permit approval.
First, consider your concrete pad. “You’ve got to think about the slopes in your yard, and whether you need curb walls or even a retaining wall,” says Mark Beenham, a concrete artisan with Creto Creations. The pad surface can be left rough or smoothed out. Smoother surfaces are slightly easier to clean, but can be slippery. Beenham says that there’s no way to completely prevent cracking. “It’s concrete — that’s what it does, and will continue to do,” he says. You can minimize it, however, with control joints, sufficient rebar, and even fibre- reinforced concrete.
“People shouldn’t get intimidated by foundation cracks,” confirms Anand Mishra, senior researcher with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. He explains that surface cracks are a natural result of shrinkage, ground settling and concrete ingredients, and are easily repaired with an epoxy or urethane injection.
Whether you’re buying a materials package or working with a contractor, Doug Bladon — an estimator at Totem Building Supplies Midnapore location — lists decisions you’ll need to make:
- Overhead door size, insulation factor and location. If it’s on the eave (instead of the gable) wall, the city requires an estimate that includes an engineered beam, Bladon warns.
- Roof pitch. Standard is 4/12, but some houses use 8/12 or 10/12. “We need to know what the pitch is if they’re trying to match it.”
- Wall construction. For vehicle storage, 2-by-4 construction would be adequate, Bladon says. For a heated workshop, 2-by-6s provide better insulation potential.
- Wall height. Check building regulation maximums. To gain extra ceiling height, Holm suggests using scissor trusses for an interior vaulted effect.
- Windows. How many, and how big?
- Person door. Size (a 91-cm width provides good flexibility), and whether it swings left or right.
- Utilities. Holm notes that 220 wiring, plus extra lights and outlets, boosts resale potential. Gas might be needed for heating, and water’s an option. Also ensure adequate ventilation, urges Mishra, and be safety conscious, with GFCI outlets inside and out.
- Insulation and drywall. Holm notes that insulation can keep your vehicle warmer, even in an unheated garage. And it’s a must for heated garages.
- Finishing materials. To match siding and other materials to the house, Bladon suggests bringing in samples or supplier names. Bladon says you can usually schedule package delivery at your convenience, including splitting it up — to avoid having insulation and drywall sit outside, for example, while the frame goes up.
Working with Contractors 301
Since you’ll likely need a contractor for some, if not all, of the work, look for companies with good reputations and garage-building experience. Ellen Wright, president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta, suggests obtaining at least three written estimates that include start and completion dates and a materials list, and using the BBB’s free service (available online 24/7) to check out the contractors.
“We can tell you if the company has had any complaints, what the complaints were about, how the company handled them, and whether or not they had a satisfactory or unsatisfactory resolution,” she says. If your contractor is using subtrades, she recommends negotiating upfront a 10 per cent payment holdback for 45 days after garage completion. This allows time for a title search, to ensure no subcontractors have placed liens against your house for non-payment.
Most contractors ask for a deposit: this is fair, but check that they’re provincially licensed as a pre-paid contractor. This means they’ve posted a bond, Wright says, which you can claim against if the contractor doesn’t do the job.
Check that contractors are licensed, bonded, insured and covered under WCB — also ask about warranties, and whether they’re in writing.
The Build 401
Obtain all necessary city building permits before construction starts.
If your contractor obtains the permits, double-check them yourself. And always use a written contract when working with contractors, says Mishra. (CMHC’s website includes a sample.)
Concrete takes 28 days before it’s ready for vehicles, but can usually be walked on the day after the pour. A typical garage can be framed in a day (after which the city conducts a framing inspection) and locked up (including shingles, doors and windows) in three days. Then it’s time for exterior finishing such as siding and eavestroughs, plus electrical work, backfilling and waste disposal.
Some homeowners turn their garages into workshops or small businesses, says Jim Lavigne. “Down in the southeast, a lot of the garages are built with mother- in-law suites,” he notes. Even if your zoning doesn’t permit a second storey, Lavigne says that special trusses can at least provide attic storage. Decks, however, arn’t usually permitted.
Mark Beenham, meanwhile, says that acid staining, stamping and art work can make concrete resemble surfaces such as brick or flagstones. “One homeowner put a New York Yankees logo on his garage floor,” he recalls.
Tuition: How much will it cost?
For a 6.1 by 6.7 metre (20×22-foot) standard garage, recent estimates from three Calgary-area contractors ranged between $15,000 and $19,000, including GST and concrete, which was $3,500 (without curb wall) and $5,000 (with curb wall).
A materials-only package runs about $5,000 including GST.
Don’t forget to arrange homeowner’s insurance for construction liability, and the garage’s added value.
Copyright The Calgary Herald 2006, Copyright 2006 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.