Storage and the American Way

Why are cars getting squeezed out of the garage?

NO ROOM LEFT <br>Residents in this North Chico neighborhood park their cars in their driveways because their garages have become storage areas.

Residents in this North Chico neighborhood park their cars in their driveways because their garages have become storage areas.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Last night I took a spin on my bicycle. It’s a great way to look at a neighborhood and see what’s going on. When I spot a pair of highly waxed $30,000-plus vehicles parked outside in the driveway overnight, I always wonder what could be stored behind those roll-up garage doors?

Many garage doors are left wide open. Wow, look at that old project car and that wonderful long row of red Snap-on tool boxes! I bet you can find a 5/16” box end wrench in less than 30 seconds! Farther down the street I see a family that definitely has kids; four bikes, one dusty model with tilted training wheels; a deflated inflatable wading pool slumped across the floor, and a great collection of unlabelled brown cardboard boxes. My favorites are the double garages with a 4-by-8 pool table in the center, because then you have enough room to maneuver your pool cue without bumping the walls.

Excepting rentals, most of us have a yard to maintain. In America that means that each one of us owns a lawnmower, a weed eater, an edger, an air blower and of course a power washer to clean up those nasty grass clippings.

How did this all come to pass?

Statistics tell us that the median new house size grew from 1,725 square feet in 1993 to 1,928 square feet in 1999, a 12-percent increase, while the average household size decreased from 2.63 to 2.61 persons. That’s a 203-square-foot increase that apparently went toward larger master bathrooms and another bedroom/home office. I would guess that space allocated for utility storage flatlined at best.

In my opinion, lifestyle changes are the driving factor. We do more. We have more interests. We engage in more activities that require specialized equipment. We have seasonal items like barbecue grills and lawn furniture to move indoors during the rainy times, while we pull out the old treadmill for winter exercise. These changes are good, healthy and expand our potential.

How do zoning regulations and building codes help us?

TOYS IN THE ATTIC <br>A pull-down attic step ladder goes a long way toward making that otherwise unused space a little more accessible.

Photo By Tina Flynn

For new construction, Chico’s zoning regulations state that a one-car garage must have a 10-by-20-foot minimum unobstructed inside dimension, and a two-car garage requires that to be 20-by-20. When people pile out of both sides of my car the door spread exceeds 11 feet 8 inches, so automatically I need a two-car garage for just one vehicle. Minimums just don’t work. Now if we all had vintage DeLoreans with gull wing doors we could really load up on goodies.

Garage Solutions: Provide more floor space and built-in wall shelving.

Attic Solutions: Attics above houses and garages are optional based on design. However, if an accessible attic is provided it must have an access hole that is 22 inches-by-30 inches minimum. Steep pitched roofs are in vogue today, so it appears there is ample space for storage. But have you ever tried to get something through that small ceiling hole? In new construction the cost to make the ceiling slot longer would be $0. Again, minimums just don’t work.

Both Lowe’s and Home Depot sell non-fire rated pull-down attic step ladders starting at $74.00. A sheet of half-inch plywood costs about $18, not bad for 32 square feet. Building codes require a fire-rated separation between the garage and the residence, including openings. Codes also require stronger roof rafters for storage loads. In new construction these issues can be resolved upfront. Be sure you talk to your local building department before attempting these projects at home, and remember, a full box of Sports Illustrated back issues is pretty heavy.

Outdoor Solutions: Provide more weather-protected patios and logical places for storage sheds.

Why is this important? As we see residential neighborhoods being compacted, the need for storage increases, because there is a direct relationship between a garage full of stuff and vehicles being parked on the street. Too much street congestion takes away from the neighborhood aesthetics, reduces availability for guest parking and can create dangerous blind spots for children.

Sure, in this competitive real estate market amenities can make or break that low-cost loan approval, but designing a living space without considering our storage needs (read: lifestyles) does not make sense. Most buyers are sophisticated and would welcome dedicated task storage areas.

It seems unreal and unwarranted to try to police what people own and where they store it. So if new homes came with larger garages and easy-to-use attic storage areas it would greatly improve everybody’s lives.

I can’t figure out where all of those extra cars, yard trailers, bass fishing boats, jet skis and RV’s should go. So in the meantime I’m going to research how to break into the self-storage market, while looking for a DeLorean on eBay.