Your garage could be a very dangerous area of your home. Unsecured tools and equipment… toxic and flammable chemicals… and garage doors that can weigh several hundred pounds often are accidents waiting to happen.
What you can do…
- Keep clutter under control. Garages often resemble obstacle courses. They may be full of precariously stacked boxes, tools and equipment, in addition to vehicles. A weekend spent organizing your garage—and clearing a safe path to walk through—is probably the single biggest safety improvement you can make. A great way to organize tools and equipment is to reuse old kitchen cabinets that might otherwise be thrown away during remodeling. Another option is to buy ready-to-use storage systems from retailers such as Sears, Lowe’s and The Home Depot. Individual, locking storage cabinets in sizes that fit your needs also are helpful. Example: Sears sells a very sturdy, all-metal Craftsman Heavy-Duty Floor Cabinet Locker for $390. Less expensive models are also available.
- Add proper lighting. Poor lighting makes it more likely that people will trip over or bump into things. It also makes it harder to work safely. Most modern garages have several existing outlets available, so it’s simple to just plug in a new fixture. Tube-style fluorescent lights are energy efficient and provide excellent illumination. They can be hung from the ceiling or attached to a wall. Freestanding fixtures are another possibility. Utility-type plug-in fixtures can be bought at a home-supply or hardware store for $50 or less. In older homes, the garage may not be equipped with more than one or two outlets—or even wired for electricity. In this case, having an electrician run a new circuit or install extra outlets can be money very well-spent.The cost of adding a few new outlets to an existing circuit in your garage should not be much more than $100. If a new circuit or line has to be built, the cost will be higher.
- Secure and properly store dangerous chemicals and equipment. Gasoline should always be kept in a container specifically designed to store fuel, not just an old jug that could be made of materials not designed to come into contact with motor fuels. Such materials may weaken when exposed to gasoline, resulting in a spill or leak. They even may begin to chemically dissolve, contaminating the fuel. The container should be equipped with a cap that prevents vapor from escaping. Gas vapors can accumulate and easily ignite in the closed confines of a garage. Be sure that gasoline, chemicals and aerosol containers are not stored near a heat source, such as a furnace. Antifreeze should be kept in a marked container that is capped with a childproof seal (the original containers will have this). Antifreeze is a lethal poison but tastes sweet and looks pretty to children. Pesticides and other dangerous chemicals, such as aerosol cleaners and paint, should be stored in lockable cabinets, out of reach of children. Any sharp-edged tool, such as pruners, knives, razor blades and machetes, similarly should be stored securely and out of reach of children. Peg-Board—available at most hardware stores in various sizes—can be used to make an inexpensive but effective tool organizer that can be mounted on a wall above the reach of children.Individual tools can be secured to the Peg-Board with various fasteners. Use a marker to outline the shape of each tool on the Peg-Board so that you’ll know where it goes after you are done using it.
- Clean up spills. Kitty litter is very effective at sopping up oil and grease spills. Just put some on the spill and, after a day or so, sweep up the litter and dispose of it properly (check with your town about hazardous waste pickup days). Any remaining oil or grease can be cleaned up with a solution of 50% liquid bleach and 50% warm water. Use a stiff brush, and mop up the mess with old towels or paper towels. Repeat as necessary until the floor is no longer slick.
• Keep keys for the lawn mower stored separately. Just like a car, a riding lawn mower with the key in the cylinder is easier to steal. And if there are children about, they won’t be able to start the engine—and the cutting blades—if the key is not there.
For smaller gas-powered equipment that starts without a key—chain saws, leaf blowers, string trimmers, snowblowers—it’s wise to pull the spark plug wire off the spark plug.
Some people prefer to store power equipment with the fuel drained, but this can result in dried-out, brittle and leaky gaskets — and starting difficulties come spring. A better approach is to add fuel stabilizer to the gasoline before long periods of disuse. The stabilizer will keep the fuel fresh for several months and your equipment ready to go when you need it.
- Make sure garage doors are safe. Most newer homes are equipped with automatic garage doors that have built-in safety devices, such as an “invisible eye” light beam that stops the door from continuing downward if anything is in its path. The door also should stop in its tracks—and reverse—if it physically strikes an object or person in its path. To test whether a garage door’s safety system is working properly, simply put an object in the path of the sensor as the garage door is coming down. If the system is working, the door should stop automatically and reverse. If the door continues to come down, there is a problem that needs to be checked by a professional garage door mechanic.Some older homes (1993 and older) may have automatic garage doors without any safety features at all—and some of these doors weigh hundreds of pounds and are capable of coming down with tremendous force. Manual doors, those with no electric assist, usually are lighter and thus less dangerous, but they also often have no built-in safety features and still can cause damage to property and possibly people. If your home has an older garage door without modern safety features, consider replacing it with a modern door and opener system. Prices vary from the low hundreds for a basic door to $1,000 or more for heavily insulated units with glass panels.
Very important: Some older garage doors are equipped with large, free-hanging springs that provide the tension to help raise and lower the doors. These springs, typically located along the upper tracks, can weaken over time and suddenly snap with great force. The spring can severely injure any person who happens to be nearby or put a big dent in your car.
If your garage door uses this type of spring, consider having it removed and replaced with a much safer, modern system that uses a spring mounted directly above the garage door opening. All modern doors use this system. This kind of spring can snap, too, but when it does, there is little danger to people or property, because the spring is wound around a metal rod, not free hanging.
Caution: The do-it-yourself home handyman should never attempt to replace or adjust either type of spring. They are under tremendous tension and can be extremely dangerous. Contact an installer of garage door openers. You can find one in a phone directory or ask at stores, such as Lowe’s, Sears and The Home Depot.