Turning an old detached garage into a home gym (+mold?)
October 3, 2018 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Tips on converting a detached garage, possibly with some mold, into a workout space. Tips on making a home gym?

We have an older detached garage that hasn’t been used much and had fallen into disrepair. We’ve cleaned it up, installed water removal mechanisms (drainage, gutters), and electricity. There’s no heating or cooling, though we could add a fan or Window unit. I think we can handle the cold in the winter though it would be much less comfortable if we opened the doors or windows. I got rubber tiles for the flooring to go over the rough concrete floor. Any tips on turning a relatively rough structure into a home gym? Any pitfalls?

Important caveat: the space smells musty. There had been no water drainage for many years and there could very well be mold. I have called several mold companies who either said they don’t work in spaces that are external to a house or business or have no climate control. Another said basically if you’re just there for a half hour a day exercising you’re unlikely to have a problem even if there is mold that you’re breathing. Thoughts on that? I don’t have an indoors space I can exercise because I have small kids near where I would exercise, I can’t exercise when they’re awake because I need to be caring for them, and I can’t leave the premises to exercise because they’re too young to be left alone.
posted by semacd to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Having recently had an insulated garage door installed, I'll ask about insulation (of both the walls and door). Previously in thesummer, our (attached, sharing 2 walls with the house) garage was a furnace many degrees warmer than the outside air temp. The door was a (south-ish facing) black metal uninsulated door that was painful to touch to try to open from the inside on a sunny day. The insulated one we have is also black, but the garage pretty much stayed around the same temp as the outside air (there's some large air gaps due to some buster concrete I still need to patch). I was expecting to feel a difference from the insulated door, but I didn't expect as big as a difference as I felt.

Something gym-related in the winter is just how cold it will get, and if you have any machines how well will they survive being sub-zero. Obviously water-rowers need not apply. The few bits of equipment I looked at had operating temperature ranges which won't be met in a non-heated/cooled garage. Between the heat from summer and cold from winter, I'd expect the lifespan of any machines to be cut short so buying discounted used equipment is likely a must. With the uninsulated garage door, water in the garage would definitely freeze during winter. I don't yet know how well the insulated door will work for the winter.

Even if you're just using weights instead of machines, you'll likely want some full gloves in the cold - handling sub-zero metal weights will be unpleasant, possibly more so if wet/moist from sweat could be a freezing hazard. Consider a good investment in robes - they're good enough for us when leaving the hot tub to make the 20 foot track back inside, that should be fine for covering a warm sweaty body heading back inside.
posted by nobeagle at 1:11 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can buy any number of mold testing kits online or at home improvement stores. You collect samples and send them away for testing, and I understand they're pretty accurate. I wouldn't exercise for even half an hour a day in a place that might have mold which could be harmful to breath, regardless of what some rando person told you over the phone.

Two extremely effective killers of mold are bleach and sun, btw. Neither is a long-term solution if you have returning dampness, which is its own issue and has to be dealt with. Running a dehumidifier or strong fan will help with that.

As far as the gym goes: Besides your equipment, maybe look into a large mirror for a wall, decent lighting if you'll be using it at night, a way to pipe in music, kid monitors so you can look in on them while they nap/play, maybe a dorm fridge for water and other drinks. Great choice on the rubber tiles, too - easy to pick up, clean, move, replace, etc., and so resilient.
posted by the webmistress at 1:12 PM on October 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

if you’re just there for a half hour a day exercising you’re unlikely to have a problem even if there is mold that you’re breathing. Thoughts on that?

Yeah. Americans are particularly distressed by mold, notably so after Katrina. Mold is not inherently harmful. Run a dehumidifier and see if the damp smell abates. If there is visible mold, clean it with bleach. Per the CDC, you don't need to have it tested you just need to clean it.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:25 PM on October 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would never, ever work out where I could actually smell mold.

Not sure about the garage conversion piece other than that, but if you have no limitations that would prevent it, consider sticking with dumbbells and doing circuits in your living room while the kids are sleeping. You’ll get strength and cardio in one (add a step for more cardio options) - really, you could accomplish a lot in 30 minutes a day with consistency.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:29 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Extreme version: strip the drywall, do any necessary cleaning, add insulation, apply new drywall + paint, then get a window unit (there are ones that both heat & cool) or else something like the Whynter ARC-122DHP (which will be less efficient than a window unit, but which also heats & cools and has a condensate removal pump). Note that framing in a flat ceiling (incl. insulation) will substantially improve liveability in hot/cold weather.

Less extreme version: add a new layer of drywall atop the old, do a ceiling as mentioned above, then paint the bejeezus out of the place using Kilz or similar, and proceed to make decisions about HVAC.

Least work: paint the bejeezus out of the place using Kilz or similar.

...I've assumed you have drywall or the like since you do not mention *seeing* any mold. If you don't care about a durable surface, but still want insulation, I've had remarkably good luck using polyiso (like Thermax). I've even used it as a form of suspended ceiling (attached to horizontal furring strips) for the last two years with only minimal sag (all sag occurred in the first month). It looks super-tacky, but dang does it improve thermal performance for little to no effort.
posted by aramaic at 6:51 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks everybody. Lots to think about here.

No drywall. I don’t see mold, but the musty smell has me worried.

The only thing insulated is the garage door. And the ceiling is vaulted. But money is most definitely an object at this point, so I can’t do much more than clean at this point.

(And I can’t work out in the living room because there are usually grandparents in the basement who would be woken up. I’ve been trying for 2 years.)

Clever idea about a robe! And I will carefully check the temperature range of any equipment if we do this, and use gloves in the winter. And work out the baby monitor situation.
posted by semacd at 2:32 AM on October 4, 2018

Just like to 2nd DarlingBri - almost every shed I've been in smells musty. It won't hurt you. Farmers work in musty barns all day every day, they are fine.

You could try a humidifier and air freshener and a fan blowing air out in the window to help with the smell. But you'll be fine.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2018

But money is most definitely an object at this point, so I can’t do much more than clean at this point.

Then definitely just paint (for this purpose I recommend just using white Kilz), and maybe get a caulking gun out there to seal up random gaps around windows etc. Cheapest solution for now, brightens up the place, will make it smell nicer (once the paint airs out, of course) and lays the groundwork for more work later without having wasted money/time now.

Having it be a non-dingy space can make a significant difference in willingness to go out there and exercise.

(with respect to the vaulted ceiling, that's why I recommended using horizontal furring; I just built out a grid at ceiling height and screwed polyiso to it using bigass washers. Nothing fancy, just straight up ignored the vaulted space above the polyiso -- but my temperature probes routinely show a 40deg difference between the above- and below- insulation spaces, with no other work. In my case I'm trying to keep sensitive equipment running, not doing a workout, but that's why I've got the temp probes all over the place so I *know* how the insulation is performing. Keep it in mind for the future, maybe next summer?)
posted by aramaic at 8:48 AM on October 4, 2018

I don’t see mold, but the musty smell has me worried.

You are smelling damp and it's triggering OMG DEADLY MOLD concerns. Given that there is no HVAC system and you can't see any mold anywhere else, there isn't any reason at all to assume it is mold. It is entirely possible you are smelling damp or just mustiness from the damp unventilated environment.

Air it out, put in a dehumidifier for a week, and then see.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:40 AM on October 4, 2018

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