Spend a little time to make your garage safe and secure—here’s what to do and what to avoid.
Your garage is probably the spot in your home you think about least—you’re more likely to be passing through instead of stopping for a long visit. But take time out occasionally to give your garage your full attention. After all, it’s an entry point to the outside, a storage depot for chemicals and a treasure trove of heavy, sharp objects. To keep your garage safe and secure for the whole family, keep these do’s and don’ts in mind:
Do install a double lock on any service door leading to the outside. The garage is an attractive point of entry for thieves, says Howard Pegelow, past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Installing a double lock above a standard doorknob gives you an extra layer of protection. If your door has a breakable glass window in or near it, install protective security bars over the glass.
Don’t store your entry code near your programmable keypad. If you use a keyless entry system for your overhead garage door, take sensible precautions. “Some criminals do sit nearby and watch as you press your code,” Pegelow says, “but what usually happens is that people write the code under the keypad cover so they won’t forget it. That’s like inviting someone to come inside.” Use a code that’s unique to you and change it regularly.
Don’t move or remove the “safety eye” that serves as a sensor for your overhead garage door. Many people do this because clutter on the floor—or strong sunshine—interrupts the electric beam and prevents them from opening or closing the garage door. But that safety mechanism is there for a purpose. If the sensor can’t detect a child’s presence, for example, you risk his injury or death if the door closes while he’s underneath.
Do inspect the high-tension springs on your overhead garage door. These can cause serious injury if they break, unless they have a protective cable running down the center that attaches to the door frame or the ceiling joist. The cables are easy to see, Pegelow says, so do a quick visual inspection to confirm they’re intact. If they’re broken or missing, call a qualified professional to come address the problem. Don’t attempt to fix the springs yourself unless you’re experienced at this type of repair.
Do store tools off the floor—but not too high. Use dedicated racks for storing unwieldy items like garden tools, but be careful to install them securely and gear them to the height of the person who will be using them most. Many garden tools are top-heavy and can come crashing down if a person has to strain to reach them.
Do store household chemicals and gasoline outside if possible. “In a perfect world, I’d recommend that you store chemicals in a weatherproofed container system that’s insulated, ventilated and located outside the garage alongside the house,” Pegelow says. “But normally people store them in the garage.” If you do that, use a dedicated storage cabinet designed for that purpose, which you can buy at big-box stores. If you have small children, keep the cabinet locked.
Don’t store chemicals near combustible items, like rags. There’s always a small risk of spontaneous combustion with some household chemicals and gasoline, which is one reason it’s better to store them outside. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), spontaneous combustion causes about 1,600 home fires every year. Throw away rags soaked in oil-based paint, stains or gas, and keep clean ones outside your chemical storage cabinet in a covered container (preferably metal). Don’t let clutter collect near the storage area.
Do take precautions with space heating. Make sure your heating unit has no obstructions around it, and if it’s propane or kerosene rather than electric, it must be properly ventilated to the outside. “If you don’t, that’s no different from leaving your car running in the garage,” Pegelow says. If you operate any combustion devices at all in the garage, even when vented properly, it’s safest to have a carbon monoxide detector installed inside the house.
Do inspect your water heater regularly. If your water heater is located in the garage, it must be elevated on a platform, properly vented and kept clear of obstructions. Eyeball yours to make sure the vent pipes are secured both at the point of attachment on the heater and at the wall or ceiling where they leave the house. Pipe angles should be roughly 45 degrees to allow for proper venting; 90 degrees is too steep and will cause backflow. Ideally, you should have a pipe or bar installed on the floor to prevent driving too close to the water heater.
Do keep a fire extinguisher on hand. Make it easy to see and let all family members know where it is. The NFPA recommends that extinguishers be tested once a month, but if you can’t get to the task that often, at least put a seasonal reminder in your calendar.
Do keep a flashlight in an easy-to-find spot. Attach it to the wall near the door so that you can locate it in the dark.
Don’t leave items on the stairs. If your garage is below level and you use steps to get inside the house, make sure they’re kept free of stray items, and inspect railings and treads regularly for weakness or excessive movement. One good idea, if you have room, is to place a small bench and changing station near the entryway into the house where you can remove dirty work clothes and shoes and store them out of the way. “Of course,” Pegelow says, “if you have a chemical storage cabinet and a dressing area in your garage, you may well have to park your car on the street.”
Revisit what you’re storing as often as you can and throw away or donate things you don’t use. A pared-down, organized garage is the safest kind of all.