Disaster-Proof Your Garage
There’s danger lurking in the garage, but it’s easy to eliminate by following these tips
If the basement is the ugly underbelly of your home, where you stash junk so no one can see it, the garage is a good site for a horror movie, what with all the sharp-bladed equipment and poisonous, flammable liquids. To keep a real horror from happening in your garage, why not take a day or a weekend to put potential hazards in their place.
Clear the clutter
Is your garage so crammed with clutter there’s no room for the car? Has it turned into an obstacle course? Perhaps it’s serving as storage space for stuff you plan to get rid of someday (Oh, Suzie will probably want that table when she gets her own apartment…hopefully soon.) That clutter isn’t just inconvenient; it can be dangerous.
“If your closet is disorganized, some shoes might fall on you, which is unpleasant, but you will survive,” says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL. “But the garage is full of heavy stuff. If a ladder falls on you could be seriously injured.”
Start by getting rid of any stuff that is just collecting dust. Have a garage sale and let that table go — Suzie can buy one at another garage sale if she ever does move out.
Next, get stuff off the floor. Home centers carry all kinds of versatile easy-to-install utility shelving and wall storage systems for sports equipment, garden tools, ladders and the like. Running short on wall space? Use the air space. You can install overhead racks, or check out pulley systems designed to safely hoist specific items including ladders, bicycles, kayaks and more.
Safely stash hazardous liquids
Your garage is probably full of some of the most dangerous (poisonous, flammable) items in your house — think pesticides, lighter fluid, paint thinner, turpentine and antifreeze. Store them in childproof containers on a high shelf, or better yet, in a locked cabinet.
Antifreeze has long been a particularly insidious poison. Prior to 2013, it had a sweet smell and taste that attracted children and pets. In 2013 manufacturers began adding a bitter-tasting additive to make antifreeze unpalatable. Still, be sure to purchase antifreeze that contains propylene glycol rather than the extremely toxic ethylene glycol.
Related: How to Puppy-Proof Your Home
Store gasoline only in a red container that is marked “gasoline.” Look for one with the UL logo. Keep the cap on tight so fumes can’t escape and cause an explosion if exposed to a spark.
Among all the clutter, there’s one item you may be missing: a fire extinguisher. Make sure there’s one in the garage. (And to increase the chances that it will work when you need it, make sure it bears the UL logo.)
Dispose of oily rags properly
Oil produces heat at is dries. As a result, oily rags can spontaneously burst into flames if you leave them bunched up in a pile. This can happen with motor oil as well as oil-based products such as paints, stains, varnishes, polyurethane and paint thinners.
When you are done using an oily rag, spread it out outside to dry until it becomes stiff. Then put it in a sealable metal container such as a paint can. Fill the container with water and seal the lid before disposing of it.
Prevent electrical shock
You’re using a power drill or some other handheld tool or appliance in the garage. Unbeknownst to you, there is a small knick in the cord or a faulty switch that could expose you to electrical current. You don’t even realize it because the current is following the path of least resistance — through the tool and back out through the ground wire. But then you unwittingly step into a small puddle of water that dripped off your car. Suddenly you are the path of least resistance, and enough electricity can flow through you to stop your heart.
A handy, inexpensive device called a ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) will interrupt the power — and possibly save your life — if something like this ever happens.
You’ve seen GFCI receptacles — they are the electrical outlets with reset buttons and a little green light. One GFCI receptacle will protect regular receptacles that are downstream on the circuit. Or, instead of a GFCI receptacle, a whole circuit can be protected by a GFCI breaker in the service panel.
You can buy GFCI receptacles at a hardware store or home center. If you are comfortable turning off your electrical power and installing a normal receptacle, you can replace one with a GFCI version. Otherwise it’s a small job for an electrician.
The garage is a good place to have GFCI protection precisely because the floor is likely to get wet at some point, and especially if you use power tools in there. GFCI has long been required for new construction in potentially wet or damp locations such as kitchens, bathrooms and outdoor circuits. But it wasn’t until 2011 that the National Electrical Code required GFCI for new construction in garages. If you don’t have GFCI protection in your garage, Drengenberg recommends installing it.
Water is a great conductor of electricity but salty water an even greater conductor. “If you park in the garage and the salty ice melts onto the floor, the water and salt makes your body a great conductor,” Drengenberg notes. So if you live in an area where they salt the roads to melt ice, it’s especially important to have GFCI protection in the garage.
Keep robbers out
Do you routinely lock that pedestrian door between the garage and your home? Many people don’t. Burglars know that if they can get into the garage, they can often walk right into the house.