What to do before putting up the walls?
August 29, 2011 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm wiring and insulating a garage. What kind of creative things should I do now, before the walls go up?

(Example 1: It's been suggested to me that I should wire the space for a welder, even if I don't plan to use one. Example 2: It's probably easier to make a hole for a chimney pipe now than it will be when I'm done.)

It's 1200 square feet. My plan is to have a work bench and space for tools, a space to work on cars, and possibly a corner for the punching bag or a work out space. It needs to be habitable in a Canadian winter.

Clever ideas?
posted by Stagger Lee to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you should do anything. In living spaces we put the wires in the walls because it looks nicer that way. In a garage, you can just run conduit. This makes it much easier to move outlets around when you change your mind about where the welder should go. I speak from experience: I wired my garage shop by putting all the romex in the walls. I wish I hadn't.
posted by jon1270 at 8:34 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


posted by notyou at 8:35 AM on August 29, 2011

If it's not heated, then you should definitely look into saving space for the chimney pipe. As a workshop, you'll need plenty of outlets to run equipment and recharge things & you may want some plumbing too. Take pictures before you close up any walls so that you know what's behind things and don't have to guess in the future.
posted by pappy at 8:37 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everytime I open a wall I leave a note in there to the future.

I've never gotten one, but [hint to anyone from the past who is currently timetraveling] I'D LIKE TO.

Also, photos of the rest of the house would be cool to find in 50 years.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:40 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'd second the idea of using surface conduit rather than NM cable buried in the walls. But if that's a no-go, I'd definitely run lots more electrical service than you'd ever think would be required.

If there isn't a panelbox in the garage already, what I'd probably do is have a subpanel installed there, with as much capacity as you can safely get from your main panel. Like 100A or something if you can. And then I'd install outlets on separate circuits all over the place, at least a few near where you're going to put your workbench, then a few others on each wall in strategic places. I'd also mount at least one on the ceiling (NEMA twistlock type), switched independently of any lighting you have up there, for something like a retractable extension cord or shop light. I've seen those in shops occasionally and they strike me as really handy.

I'd see 240V outlets as a big plus. Keep in mind that if you run 240V properly, you can always tap 120V off of the legs (might require a subpanel to meet code if done permanently, but in a pinch you can do it with a few dollars in parts from Home Depot), but if you only run 120V you're SOL if you ever want to run a 240V tool in that location.

The other thing you might consider is compressed-air plumbing. Again this is something that I would mount in plain view using bell hangers, but if you really want to have everything covered up, put it in before you sheetrock the walls. There's a lot of information online about running compressed air plumbing, but basically you want to use copper or black iron pipe (never PVC!), probably 3/4" on the main runs and 1/2" or better on the drops, with everything correctly sloped so that water drains either back towards the compressor or towards a drain cock.

Compressors are noisy so you might want to consider its location carefully, so that it's not right next to wherever you're working. Wherever the compressor end of the air line is located would also be a logical place for one of those 240V outlets discussed above.

If you plan to use it as a wood shop or think somebody might in the future, consider dust collection, but this isn't anything that goes in the walls. It'd be more of just considering where the DC unit is going to sit and making sure it has correct electrical service (again 240V is a plus).

And make sure it's well-lit ... a lot of home shops are really poorly lighted, or have nothing but general area lighting. Task lighting over workbenches that doesn't get in the way is really nice.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:01 AM on August 29, 2011

The house we just bought has a cable outlet up high in one corner of the garage, presumably so someone doing work in there can watch TV. (In fact there are cable outlets everywhere in this house, including the back porch, except for the dining room which we promptly turned into the media room and therefore had to install one.)
posted by telophase at 9:18 AM on August 29, 2011

Run phone and cable TV wire in the walls while you can.
If you are putting a punching bag in the garage, youmight have a TV out there one day too.
posted by Flood at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2011

Put all the wiring up high enough that you aren't always bending down to get at sockets, maybe high enough to keep things out of the reach of kids and animals. You could put the wiring in exposed conduits that you can open when you want to replace or add to what's in there now, but that will not leave things open to damage (some animals like to chew wire).

Put sockets in the ceiling so you can plug lights and tools in that will hang down where you need them without having wires underfoot. Make sure you have some sockets outside the garage or near its doors so you can plug in for outdoor work.

Spend a lot on insulation (including windows) now to minimize long-term heating and cooling costs forever. If it's not too late, design the thing to let a good breeze and sunlight through (nature is cheaper than fans and lights).

If you have any interesting nooks in the design, turn them into hidden places where you can hide expensive (or whatever) shit you don't want people to easily find.

Design as if you might be selling the place, because eventually, whether you're dead or alive, someone else (family or strangers) is going to be taking it over. Could it be easily repurposed from what you want (working on cars?) to what they might want (running an air-conditioned garage full of computers and monitors?)
posted by pracowity at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2011

Use plywood instead of sheetrock as your wall material. Price is not that different, and plywood is more functional in terms of giving you a solid medium to nail or drill stuff into.
posted by adamrice at 9:41 AM on August 29, 2011

I'd see 240V outlets as a big plus

Yes, and not just for tools like a welder. You could also run a 240 circuit wherever an electric car charger would be convenient.
posted by jedicus at 11:27 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first thought was timecapsule-ish too. I like to draw cryptic symbols before I close up walls. I hope some occultist or historian writes their dissertation on what may or may not be penises drawn inside the walls of mid-20th century architecture.
posted by cmoj at 11:41 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

In a dream garage, I'd try to get hot water in there somehow. Especially in Canada it will make your life 100x better, if for no other reason than that you'll be able to wash your hands comfortably before going inside and tracking crap in there. Hell, if I had the space I'd have a small in there, too.

Also on my fantasy list is a heated floor and a lift, but that may be a bit beyond the project's scope. :)

Agreeing with the above, 240v is a good idea and everything that can should be surface conduit. Some day you WILL score a cheap piece of 240v equipment and the cost is pretty minimal to do it right he first time.

Oh, and while you're at it, you might want to install some serious ventilation fans both for cooling in the summer and exhausting whatever nasty fumes you're dealing with.
posted by pjaust at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2011

Ceiling fans for winter and summer alike. Cheap ones that hum are completely fine for a garage. At this point all you really need to do is get the electrical boxes in place for them.

Phone line if you have a land line. Cheap and easy to run when you're doing power. Same goes for cable tv, I guess I'd run hdmi instead of the coax that I have in mine.
posted by LowellLarson at 12:09 PM on August 29, 2011

Phone line, lan line, lines so that you can put a stereo here and satellite speakers WAY over there... Definitely put in a 220 circuit or two.

Also, what Adamrice said about plywood - another nice thing about plywood i that if you ever have to get at something in the walls, you can take it back down with a screw gun in short order. Drywall never comes down clean.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:36 PM on August 29, 2011

I'm slowly turning my pole building into a "dream: shop, which for me isn't about plastic snap-floors, chevy logo paint, or whatever, but warm, dry and with plenty of juice.

1) Don't underestimate the importance of a solid, sealed floor. If you're pouring new and can afford it, consider in-floor heating.

2) Insulate, most definitely.

3) It's impossible to have too many electrical outlets, or nearly impossible. If possible, stagger the circuits, so if you have six outlet boxes on a given wall, three are on one circuit and three are on a another. That way if something blows, you have power, and it allows you to have two items pulling a lot of juice near each other.

4) Code will require or suggest circuits protected by ground-fault receptacles, good idea. Make sure you won't be running an old fridge or other appliance that may trip them.

5) It's impossible to have too much light. I have eight four-tube fluorescent fixtures in my workshop side, and considered more but budget won.

6) Definitely run a sub-panel, and make it big. I was only able to borrow 60 amps from my house, but I put a 200-amp panel in, and left access in place so I can have a separate service installed from the street if I need more.

7) Outlets should be high--higher than the height of a workbench plus the kind of crap you place on the back of a bench.

8) 240 is good. Electric heaters use it, as do welders and big stationary machine tools. I would consider 1 240 outlet per imagined future location of big equipment.

9) Ceiling height...whatever you can do to gain as much of this as possible will pay endless benefits. Whether working on tall woodworking projects, removing the engine from a var, or installing a car lift, these all really want high ceilings. 9' is good, 10' or more is better.

10) If you have a high ceiling, a ceiling fan can do a lot to help keep the heating and cooling reasonable.

11) I don't much like windows in a shop space, but small and high are OK. Inevitably, windows end up right where you want to put something that's going to block them anyway.

12) There are space-saving garage door installations which get rid of much of the hardware that robs ceiling height, check into them if a concern.

13) Humidity may be a problem, heating the space (even just to 50 degrees) will help, but anticipate that you may need to actively manage this.

14) Noise insulation will definitely help keep you on decent terms with your neighbors, but without spending endless amounts of money, it's hard. Just beware that pounding out a fender at 2AM, your neighbors will know.

15) If space is tight, consider putting as many things as possible on mobile platforms. Big tools like cabinet saws generally can use commercial bases sized specifically for the tool, but having a good set of castors on your main work table can be great. It allows you to pull it out into the workspace when you want, and push it against the wall when you don't. Floor space is always at a premium, I prefer narrow built-ins and a nice wide worktable I can move if I suddenly need more space in a particular area.

16) Think about space you don't use, and how you can leverage that. If you have nine foot ceilings, maybe the top two feet all around the perimeter isn't used; you can hang a sturdy shelf up high you can then use for storing all of those things you like to keep but rarely use.

17) If possible, consider a small garden shed for garden stuff, so you don't have to awkwardly store the shovels, rakes, mowers, and other yard crap in the garage. Also think about other users...if the bicycles and kids sports stuff is in the garage, can you put it on easy-to-use racks near doors where they won't fall against your treasured car or latest woodworking project?

18) If you live in snow country and plan on parking your car inside, have a plan to deal with snow-melt from the car.

19) See-through plastic stackable boxes are a godsend for garage stuff. You can see what's in them, they keep things neat, you can write notes in sharpie on the outside (and remove with brake cleaner), and while the chaos may not be tamed, it's satisfies the anal nerd in me to see a neat stack of 16 identical boxes in four columns than it does to see a slowly collapsing heap of well-used cardboard cartons trying to do the same. By the same token, cheap off-brand "tupperware" containers are great for storing screws, nuts, bolts and the like.

That's the introductory chapter, anyway.
posted by maxwelton at 5:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're plumbing, and if you have a dog - a dog-washing station would be awesome. I SO want a dog-washing station.
posted by peagood at 6:47 PM on August 29, 2011

Sister some of the studs or add 3x3's to support the I-beam that will hold the awesome overhead hoist you'll be using for engine swaps.
posted by klarck at 8:12 PM on August 29, 2011

adamrice writes "Use plywood instead of sheetrock as your wall material. Price is not that different, and plywood is more functional in terms of giving you a solid medium to nail or drill stuff into."

You shouldn't be putting holes willy nilly in your surface material in Canada because it punctures your vapour barrier. Holes whenever possible should be directly over a stud where the stud-plastic sheet-drywall sandwich will minimize the passage of vapour through the hole. Also if you have a door big enough to get a car through you'll want drywall to reduce fire spread.

maxwelton writes "Definitely run a sub-panel, and make it big. I was only able to borrow 60 amps from my house, but I put a 200-amp panel in, and left access in place so I can have a separate service installed from the street if I need more."

A 60A/240V sub is adequate for a single person shop. Code requires only enough power to run your biggest tool. Putting in a large service panel and using the over rated main breaker as a disconnect with amperage protection provided by the sub breaker in the main panel is a common method of subbing a garage. A 100A or 200A with a half dozen breakers is often cheaper than a smaller panel because the larger panels are more common. I like Square D panels. They are fairly easy to work in, the breaker case design hasn't changed in 50+ years so spares are plentiful and they are the only residential breaker with a 10K KVA rating. However it's nice if your sub matches your main because you can use the breakers in your shop as emergency spares for the main.

I recently designed and built my limited dream shop. It's only 650 square feet but here's are some of the forethought or innovative things I did and why:
  • My shop has a bathroom with sink, toilet and shower. At a minimum I'd recommend bringing hot and cold water into your shop if you can. You don't necessarily need a sink or drain; a washer hook box will give you hot and cold water taps and not take up any floor space. It's very nice to be able to get washing water in the shop. If you put a drain in you can hook up a dishwasher (nice for washing all sorts of engine parts) or clothes washer.
  • Electrical service is via 60A supply in 100A 24/36 Square D Main service Panel. Feed is under ground with TECK.
    • 60A is big enough to run a 2hp saw, a 2hp dust collector, 5hp compressor, all at the same time and have two circuits left over for lights, chargers, fridge, fans etc.
    • General purpose outlets: I put one regular duplex receptacle on every stud that didn't have something else on it already (IE: 24" apart). Boxes were mounted at 48" to the bottom though I'd not change this to 48" to the top. This number of plugs is fairly cheap if you are doing the work yourself; about 30% more wire and the cost of the boxes and receptacles. I put 8-10 receptacles on each circuit. Here's the forethought part: I ran 14/3 wire to the general purpose plugs instead of 14/2 however I didn't split the plugs. And I ran two sets of circuits to each of three walls (fourth wall has no bench space). Normally when you run /3 wire you split the receptacles however I left them unsplit and in each box just passed through one of the conductors. This allows two untied breakers instead of a double breaker, brings 240 into every box and saves wire vs two runs of 14/2. The end result is only every fourth box is on the same breaker. And the cost of materials is less than putting on box every 6-8 feet and then having to buy power strips to keep everything plugged in.
    • I put a 20A 120V outlet about every 12'. These plugs will allow a non-capacitor start, true 2hp motor to operate without nuisance tripping from inrush current. The #12 wire required also reduces the voltage drop on that circuit.
    • I have 2-20A 240 outlets each on their own circuit. These are for my table saw and wire feed.
    • Outside I've got a GFCI outlet on each exterior wall plus a switched one facing down in the soffit for X-mas lights.
    • I also have a 20A 240V outlet outside high up on the wall (to discourage tampering) dedicated for my air compressor and dust collector. These tools are outside because they are noisy and take up quite a bit of space. Plus I'd rather deal with emptying collection drums for the DC outside. These outlets aren't required to be GFCI'd.
    • Cable, power and network has been run to a high wall location for a TV. The data runs terminate in the mechanical closet where space has been provided for A/V components. There are also speaker wire run to speaker locations for surround.
    • Network has also been run to several wall locations.
    • A 30A 120V/240V dryer outlet was added at the last minute in one corner as a future proof. Maybe for a massive welder, powder coat oven, backup construction style heater or pottery kiln?
    • For light I have two independent setups. Main environment lighting is provided by four fan compliant boxes with dual switching for ceiling fans. Supplemental lighting is supplied by florescent shop lights (and a full spectrum pendant halogen for finishing) plugged into 12 ceiling mounted boxes on 2 circuits that are laid out on a 3X4 grid. Each row of 3 boxes is controlled by it's own wall switch which in conjunction with the plug in shop lights allows for a great variety of switched lighting that can be varied as shop layout changes.
    • There is a dedicated outlet in the ceiling for an automatic door opener for the car sized door. This is a future proof thing because I elected to construct a sliding door for that opening to maintain unobstructed ceiling height.
    • One place I erred is I only provided a single duplex receptacle in the mechanical closet. Because my stereo and cordless base is there plus in the future the DVD player/game console/PVR/cable box/whatever I'll need to run a power bar.
    • This is just cool: the light for the mechanical closet is turned on with a door activated switch.
  • My walls are super insulated to R40 with double studs. Besides reducing heating loads the double studs dramatically reduce the amount of noise that passes through the wall. You can get some of the benefit of double studs with conventional framing by placing a 1" of expanded polystyrene insulation (white bead board) between your vapour barrier and gyproc. The change in density helps to attenuate high frequency sound. The insulation provides a thermal break over the studs increasing the R-Value of a 2X4 wall ~35% and a 2X6 wall ~20%. This requires pre planning because you need to set your electrical boxes proud of the studs 1.5" inches instead of 1/2".
  • Heat is provided by a regular gas hot water tank heating water circulated in pipes in the floor. Gives even heat with a floor you don't mind lying on in the winter. And all the draw back of a fan in a shop are eliminated.
  • A loop of 3/4" copper pipe rings the shop mounted to the wall near the ceiling to supply compressed air from the compressor outside. The air is cooled by a home made copper radiator before entering the distribution ring and all drops exit from teh top of the ring. The ring is angled to drain condensate to automatic drains.
  • An outlet is mounted in the centre of the roof near the peak and controlled from a switch near the access door. This if for power to a shop light if work is ever needed in the attic space.
  • Because I have gas for the hot water tank I added a BBQ connection outside the shop. Besides it's normal purpose I can also use this hook up to power a Natural Gas forge.
  • Two outside Frostless water taps; one at each end of the shop.
  • I mounted pot lights in the soffit over the large sliding door for loading at night.

posted by Mitheral at 9:38 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

An intercom system connected to the kitchen in the house.
posted by bendy at 1:33 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mitheral, 60 amps has not yet proven to be inadequate for me, but if you're going to weld, it might not be enough if you also are using air, the heater's going, the lights are on, the stereo's running, the parts washer heater kicks on, ceiling fans are on, etc.

Kind of a worst-case scenario, but every one of those 60 amps could be called for (plus a few extra) with the right combo of devices. 60 is probably fine, but for me that means thinking a bit about what's on and what isn't if I want to weld.

Incidentally, spend the extra little bit to get the "pro grade" outlets and other fixtures. They really are nicer to work with and last longer in use. I'm particularly enamored with the GFCI outlets I went with that have a green LED that goes out when they trip, makes it easy to tell at a glance what their status is.
posted by maxwelton at 4:06 AM on August 30, 2011

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