Help thinking through a garage update?

prairiemoon2 z6 MAAugust 25, 2007


We are in need of updating our single car detached garage. We are not sure where to start. The garage door desperately needs to be replaced, the floor is a cement slab that is cracked and crumbling, there is no electricity and it has too much stuff in it.

We once had an engineer/contractor look at the garage to see if we could put an apartment above it and he thought it would not structurally allow for that because of the cement slab. So I've gotten the idea in my head that makes me worry about whether it is structurally sound. He never said that, so I am probably just being a worry wort.

Still, we are not handy by any stretch of the imagination and when we have to hire someone to do construction for us, we feel at a real disadvantage. We don't have any contractors that we know we can trust and that is a problem too, not knowing who you can rely on to give you accurate information about what work is really necessary or not.

We have thought of cleaning out the garage and throwing things away first so we can actually inspect the structure, and perhaps hiring an inspector to take a look at the whole house because we know we have other areas to do repairs and renovation in. Or we could just call contractors and ask them to look at it and give their opinion on what needs to be done.

We are torn because we really need to get that garage door on and we are not sure whether we are expanding the job needlessly or not. It just seemed the logical sequence, to inspect the structure first, find out if the cement floor can be fixed, before investing in a new garage door, electricity, and a new garage door opener. I have nightmares about a contractor telling us we have to jackhammer out the cement floor and pour a new one. I've thought of some of those connecting rubber squares that I've seen on HGTV to cover over the floor and if that would do the trick and cost a lot less and be a lot less trouble, I would be happy to do that. I just have my doubts about whether you can do that on a floor if it is not solid and level.

We have other areas around the house that need repair too, so we are trying to keep the costs down. We eventually just want to end up with a functional garage that is easy to get the car in and out of and has space for a small workbench and storage. We don't need a showplace.

Anyone have any wisdom they can share with me, it would make my week. :-)



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Hmmm- It sounds like the garage may not have been built on a proper slab in the first place. Usually, the slab would have a footer- a deeper, reinforced perimeter to help support the weight of the building itself, and prevent frost heaves from cracking the floor. A contractor or inspector could easily determine that with a little exploratory digging. That may be why the contractor said it couldn't support an apartment upstairs (that, and possibly the structure itself isn't appropriate.) It would probably be worth it to pay an inspector to examine the garage to determine if it is even safe. A contractor may want to sell you something, so I wouldn't necessarily trust them for an honest opinion, whereas an inspector simply inspects- he's not trying to sell you anything. If it's structurally sound, then you could probably do a little patching and lay down the rubber squares. Just be prepared for the possibility that it isn't a solid structure, which would entail a lot more money. It's tricky to repair and reinforce a slab under an existing building, and it might be simpler to replace the whole garage, although I gather you don't want to spend that kind of money. Depending on how old the garage is, it may have been built on some kind of piers or other footings, and then the slab was added at a later date. It's impossible to tell without seeing it. I would address the basic structure before spending money on a new door.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 9:12AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thank you flgargoyle...sounds like my concerns may be justified. I can see your point about the difference between an inspector and a contractor. My question is, are inspectors as trustworthy as you would like them to be too? They wouldn't have friends that are in the business that they would want to send business their way, would they?

Let's just does turn out to be in need of replacing. If we could get someone we could depend on to give us an estimate for a structure we could afford, we might be willing to do it over. If we did it over, we would really be tempted to put an in law apartment over the garage for a family member. We might face zoning laws and have to go before the town board and we would want to integrate it into our existing house, so that would be a bigger job altogether. For that size job, who would we be better off consulting with? A contractor or an architect?

Any thoughts on how to find a good inspector? I would be forced to do a google search or hit the yellow pages and that doesn't seem the best way to me? We don't know anyone personally who has had work done they are happy with. Along the same lines, anyone have any thoughts on how to find good contractors and skilled labor?

Thank you very much! :-)

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 10:12AM
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I've used inspectors before, but only when buying a house. Bear in mind, they are going to point out every little flaw, since that's what you pay them to do, but you're after the big picture. I'm not sure how you'd go about choosing one- we were referred by our realtor. I thought the guy was very thorough and honest, but then again, I know what I'm looking at, so he probably figured out pretty quick that he couldn't snow me. As far as picking an architect and or contractor- if aesthetics are important, I wouldn't trust a contractor- I've seen a lot of them do really bone-head stuff. You might find someone who has a designer or architect they work with. You could then ask to see examples of their work. I'm very leery of contractors in general, although there are plenty of good ones out there. Here in FL, you really take a risk hiring someone without getting referrals. In fact, I plan to build much of my next house myself, partly because I want it done right. I would say ask questions, ask to see their work, ask for references, check with the local BBB or something. If they can't or won't give you something to go on, move on to the next guy. Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2007 at 5:19PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks very much...sounds like good solid advice. I appreciate your time in answering my questions. :-)

    Bookmark   August 28, 2007 at 7:06AM
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This post is a few months old, so I don't know where you are in your plans, but I had a couple thoughts on finding good contractors or subs:
1. Ask everyone you know or meet for referrals. You might be surprised who has done work, has thought about doing work, knows someone who had work done, or knows someone who's a contractor. You'll eventually find a few.
2. Have multiple contractors over to give their recommendations, and don't tell them what others have recommended or what the inspector told you. They may come up with radically different solutions, each may have a different perspective, and you'll learn a lot in the process about who knows the codes and who has creative problem solving thinking. If everyone says the same thing, it's more likely to be true, but one may have a creative approach. And you'll get a feel for how you can work with each, which can help you choose one when the time comes.

And I agree that the best way to find out if you need structural work is to hire an inspector (or maybe two). Call a local realty office and ask who they use. Call multiple offices and see who comes up repeatedly.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2007 at 8:01AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

weedyacres...we are no closer to actually acting on the garage project as we have been involved in other more pressing projects. I do like your suggestions about having a number of contractors/architects come and give their opinion without influencing their thinking with someone else's ideas right off the bat.

A couple of other things have occurred to me.

One is that this garage has been standing and being used as a garage for at least 40 years. Can I assume then that it can't be ready to fall down. [g]

Second, is there a way that I can learn what the building codes and zoning laws for my town are? I have never done that before and wonder if it is as simple as a call to the town hall?

Thanks weedy acres.. :-)


    Bookmark   November 4, 2007 at 11:10AM
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