Attached Garage Safety

Garage Solid State Home Inspections

Thanks to long spells of cold and wet weather in our winters, Canadians spend on average 90% of our time indoors. For those of us with attached garages, we can partially avoid the weather in our attached garages whether we are slipping into the car for a drive or putting a bag of garbage in the can for next pickup. Unfortunately, our garages can be very dangerous places and require regular maintenance.

Door Safety

Children are hurt or killed everyday by overhead garage doors. Garage door openers typically have two types of safety devices which should be tested annually:

Home Inspection Garage Eye
  • Electronic Eye - This is the invisible beam that shoots along the front of the garage door. When it detects something in the path of the beam, the door returns up. This sensor should be about 6” from the floor to detect even lying down children. Early generation garage door openers did not include this safety feature so it is not always present. We suggest upgrading to a newer system when we notice it missing in a home inspection.
  • Auto-Reverse - All garage doors have a pressure sensor. When the door hits an obstruction like a child or car, the door should auto-reverse back up. This sensor is adjustable and we find in home inspections it is often not correctly set. Doors which are not correctly adjusted could result in a child being crushed and it is a very serious safety issue.

Exhaust Fumes

Car exhaust is very dangerous and we always need to have the garage door open when cars are running. Even with the door open though, when we pull the car out of the garage and close the door behind us, we trap exhaust gasses in the garage behind us. When we return home, our cars bring these exhaust gasses in again and they can continue to generate new exhaust gasses off hot engines and exhaust surfaces for another 30 minutes or more.

All attached garages require a gas-barrier to slow fumes from passing from the garage to the house. This is best accomplished with an airtight membrane behind the drywall (which is not typically visible in a home inspection) but for many years a finished drywall interior was considered adequate. Unfortunately, most garages we see in a home inspection have penetrations in this gas barrier such as built-in vacuum connections, mechanical holes, modifications to the building, or wiring which have reduced the effectiveness of the gas seal. The other area of concern is the garage man-door to the house. This door needs to be as close to air tight as possible and should be an exterior rated steel door with good weather stripping and a self closing hinge. All these are areas we look at in a home inspection for the safety of home occupants.

Even if you don’t park cars in your garage (my family calls our garage the rolling door storage room), lawn mowers, paints and solvents, and other chemicals we often store in garages have fumes that could be dangerous if they entered the house living spaces.

Mechanical Systems

Some attached garages have mechanical systems such as residential boilers, hot-water tanks, or furnaces. In the event these mechanical systems were struck by an automobile, there is a risk of explosions from natural gas leaks or severe hot water burns if a hot water storage tank ruptured. Mechanical guard posts or raising the mechanical systems at least 24” above the floor are things we watch for in a home inspection and recommend if they are missing.

Maintaining your garage needs to be part of your home maintenance strategy. Check the operation of door safety features annually, maintain the air seal in the garage walls and doors, and lubricate your garage door hardware in the summer to keep your garage performing at its safest and best.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.