Help me turn my rickety old garage into a usable workspace!
June 3, 2013 3:57 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to turn my old (built around 1925) garage into a comfortable office/workspace, but because this is a rental I don't want to spend a lot of money. It's basically a 10x10 wood box with one very tiny window and a couple overhead flourescent lights. Biggest problems: It gets hot in the summer/cold in winter, and smells kinda weird. Your help urgently requested!

Yes, I have spoken to the landlord about having the garage insulated and finished. She's considering it but it's not in the cards right now. SO, the most pressing issues:

1) Cracks/holes in the walls - varmints can get in and out of the place as evidenced by the time I left a factory sealed party sized tub of cheese balls in there. The cheese balls were eaten and the container used as a sort of nest by an undetermined rodent. How do I find all of these holes and seal them up in a non-expensive, non-destructive, critter-proof way?

2) Heating/cooling - There is no insulation, just bare wood walls. Is there any kind of cheap insulation I can put up that won't look ugly? I'm considering sticking a portable AC in there but the window might be too small to vent. I'm in Los Angeles so it's about to get pretty hot.

3) Musty smell - I've washed the concrete floor pretty well. Is there anything else I can do to get rid of the mustiness?

4) General decorating tips -- I'd like to do away with the flourescent lights and make it feel more bright/airy in there despite the lack of windows.

My budget for this is around $500. Is this unrealistic?

posted by hamsterdam to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cheapest way to put up insulation is probably to install fiberglass bats between the exposed studs, and put in drywall over it. The tough bit is that it's a garage, so you'll want to use the heavy 5/8" stuff (rather than just slapping up 1/4"). Do you have exposed rafters on the ceiling?

Re the musty smell, I'd start by opening the place up and getting a lot of air flow through it. Do you have mold or water stains on the inside of the walls anywhere?
posted by straw at 4:01 PM on June 3, 2013

$500? Probably unrealistic, considering the heating/cooling issue. And the insulation. And drywall. And the lighting. None of which will matter if you don't also seal the exterior from both varmints and the weather. How's the roof, by the way?

You say it's a garage...What's the garage door like? Does it seal tight against the weather?

You'll probably want to make the garage more secure, too, since it's going to be your workspace (I'm assuming a home office? Computer? Printer?) How's the lockset on the door?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:37 PM on June 3, 2013

That's an unrealistic budget to be honest. But you can get a start on it.

You can use Great Stuff to seal holes. It's ugly as hell, but effective.

A Standing Portable Air Conditioner might be the way to go in the summer. Check out the Sears Outlet near you for a deal.

A space heater should do okay for heat near your actual person. You can get them for twenty bucks.

If you can find cheap rugs, you can hang them like tapestries on the walls. Search yard sales and such.

Good luck with it all, it could be an intersting art project if it comes to it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:45 PM on June 3, 2013

The following will help keep the building cool where "cool" means "not a whole lot hotter than outside air." If that's not sufficient and you require active AC you'll want real insulation to match, but here's something you can do for $100 or so:

Is the roof exposed to direct sunlight? Is it white? If not, paint it and the exterior of any sun-exposed walls white. If it's white already and/or you still want some extra protection from heat, get enough old plywood or corrugated roofing material that covers the entire roof surface, slap some white exterior paint on it, and stand it off from the roof 6" or so with wood framing (framing should be constructed with open channels to allow air to flow through and cool the space between the roof and this new cover.) This will create a reflector covering the entire roof that isn't thermally coupled to the space inside and should dramatically slow the rate at which the room heats up over the course of the day. I suspect this will be more effective than insulating the walls on the inside (which, bear in mind, would also keep the place from cooling off quickly after the sun goes down) and it leaves you with easily removable and reusable building materials rather than money invested in improving somebody else's structure.

Put a box fan in the window blowing out, and attach it to a plug timer so it starts running automatically at whatever time of day the ambient temperature outside becomes lower than the temperature inside (test this over a few days with two thermometers) and stops at whatever time the room is comfortable or you won't be using it anymore.

As for heating, it's a tiny room and you're in southern CA; I'd probably just buy a little desktop electric space heater and not worry about insulating just for those few nights a year when active heating feels necessary.
posted by contraption at 4:48 PM on June 3, 2013

2nd-ing Great Stuff. Fills holes etc, plus you can cut off the unwieldy bits (insulation)
posted by bebrave! at 4:49 PM on June 3, 2013

$500 would make an immense difference if you were doing the work yourself.

First some questions:
  1. 10x10 by I'm guessing 8 feet high?
  2. One of those 10' lengths has a car sized door in it?
  3. Is it a roll up door or a swing door?
  4. Is there a man door as well?
Even if you don't have a car door to contend with you only have 40' of wall and the ceiling to deal with. 40' of wall 8' high is ten sheets of gyproc ~$150. You'd need 4 bundles of 3.5" insulation ~200. 3 more sheets of gyproc for the ceiling ~$45 and 2 bundles of what ever R value you decide on. R-28 would be ~$80. That leaves you $85 for screws, caulking and vapour barrier if required in your area. This doesn't allow anything for taping, mudding, or paint but those things aren't actually required to make the space more liveable.
posted by Mitheral at 5:18 PM on June 3, 2013

3) Musty smell - I've washed the concrete floor pretty well. Is there anything else I can do to get rid of the mustiness?

You can air it, for a start. Then you can take a stiff push broom and a large mixture of TSP and bleach (this is the magical mildew recipe) and scrub the floors and walls with it. Keep the doors open, let it air dry, and you should be good to go.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:49 PM on June 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. The roof inside is completely exposed beams. Not sure about on top, will have to check. There is both a garage door and human door. Garage door swings open but doesn't stay open without a trusty 2x4 to hold it up. It's latched and locked inside and outside. I don't intend to open it until I move out.
posted by hamsterdam at 7:33 PM on June 3, 2013

For $500?
Portable fan
Portable heater
One mousetrap
Fill holes w spray foam (aka Great Stuff or similar)
Vacuum out inevitable spiders regularly.
Human door: buy some screen and create a roll-down drop screen cross ventilation.
Rethink the fluorescent the best color spectrum bulbs. Others types will make the space hotter as well eating your budget.

Doesn't sound like you have $ to create a roof vent, but that would be helpful.
Do not leave any food in the space, take any food or garbage out with you.
posted by artdrectr at 7:53 PM on June 3, 2013

Garage door swings open but doesn't stay open without a trusty 2x4 to hold it up. It's latched and locked inside and outside. I don't intend to open it until I move out.

Given that you need ventilation, this seems like a serious flaw in your plan.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:25 AM on June 4, 2013

By "how's the roof," I think Thorzdad was asking about whether it is waterproof. You'll want to know that before investing in drywall. The mustiness implies possible mold / mildew* which implies water intrusion.

Speaking of rodents, you might take hantavirus precautions while cleaning: mist down the dust and wear a face mask during the dustiest activities.
posted by slidell at 5:23 PM on June 4, 2013

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