Garages protect your cars, motorized toys, sports equipment and even your grill (sans propane) during cold weather, but without proper garage safety many home dwellers might need to be protected from their garages.
Consider the facts: In a recent survey, over one-third of homeowners reported experiencing a garage-related injury, with falls accounting for 33% of those injuries. Yet in the same survey, nearly 60% of people reported being unconcerned about garage-related safety. It’s easy to think of a garage like one big junk drawer (out of sight, out of mind), but just like any other area of your home, garages must be properly maintained and organized with thoughtful planning to ensure your family’s safety. It can be difficult to know where to begin organizing and updating safety features, so we created an easy-to-follow guide:
1. Make Your Garage Safe
Garage door technology went through major changes in the 1990s. Remote control openers used to use a fixed code, meaning the signal the remote sent the door opener was the same each time, leaving it incredibly vulnerable to hacking. In fact, hackers can gain entry to garage door openers using fixed codes in just 10 seconds. But after 1993, most garage door opener companies switched to a rolling code, meaning each time you use the opener, the code on the transmitter changes, making hacking nearly impossible. 1993 isn’t so long in house-years, and garage door openers aren’t often high on must-update lists. If you still have an opener with a fixed code, it’s time to make a change (here’s how to find out what kind of code your opener uses).
Chemicals and Fumes
- Organize your chemicals: Automotive fluids, pool products, paint, and other hazardous materials should never be stored in anything other than their original container (chemicals can erode certain materials, causing leaks, fumes, and fire hazards) and chemicals should never be stored on the floor. Instead, keep all chemicals in one place, in their original containers, in a locked cabinet if possible, or on a high shelf away from any pilot lights.
- Non-chemical materials like road salt and ice melt mixtures: Keep these items stored in tightly-sealed containers off the floor and away from easy access, too, as they can be dangerous to pets and children.
- Gasoline safety: Gasoline is quite hazardous to store in a home garage, but if you must, make sure to use an approved container: a red plastic or metal container labeled “gasoline” with a UL or ASTM seal that holds no more than 5 gallons is the right choice, writes Prevention. If you have an appliance with a pilot light in the garage you should not store gasoline as the risk of combustion is just too high.
- Vehicles leaking fluids: Replace rugs, cardboard, and other flammable objects placed underneath cars to catch dripping fluids with either cat litter or sawdust (that you then regularly sweep up, throw away and replace). You can also paint the floor underneath your leaky vehicle with epoxy paint (it’ll repel oil and you can easily clean it up).
Stuff You Store in the Garage
- Sports equipment: Think about how your kids will remove items from the garage when you’re organizing (and imagine them doing it unsupervised). So, don’t store heavy items on high shelves or near hazardous chemicals or tools. If space permits, designate a “sports corner” in which everything is kept off the floor in organized bins or mesh nets, writes Prevention.
- Ladders: Never store them vertically unless they’re locked in a closet. Instead, either lay ladders horizontally on the floor or hang them from secure (anchored) wall hooks.
- Grill safety: Do not store propane inside your garage or within ten feet of your house (but your grill, minus the propane tank, can safely be stored – but never used – inside the garage). Propane doesn’t freeze until -310°F, so even in cold climates it’ll be just fine outside.
Keeping Your Car Protected
- Tennis-ball car stop: Hang a tennis ball from the garage ceiling so that it’ll hover directly over the windshield when the car is in the right position (in far enough to clear the garage door, but not so far in that it blocks walkways). Install one easily yourself.
Access to Your House
- Secure your garage door: Make sure the emergency release can’t be accessed from the outside. Thieves have been known to use wire hangers to open garage doors from the outside, so secure the release cord with zip ties. And always keep the garage door closed!
- Deadbolt connecting doors: If your garage connects to your house, protect the door just as you would an outside one: Have a deadbolt professionally installed, and make sure it and any additional doors or windows are always locked.
General Garage Safety
- Smoke detector: Garages need them, too.
- Fire extinguisher: Keep it in an easy-to-reach place, preferably near an exit.
- Carbon monoxide detector: If your garage is also a workspace, you’ll need to install a carbon monoxide detector.
- Stair safety: Install handrails on either side of stairs, even if you only have one or two steps, and add white paint or reflective tape on the edge of each step for easy visibility.
- Lighting: Install lights (professionally) over any work areas and stairs and consider adding protective metal cages around them.
- Extension cords: Replace any household extension cords with outdoor extension cords and power strips and never used frayed or broken cords.
If organizing the garage yourself seems too daunting, you can hire a professional organizer for between $50 and $100 per hour (check out The National Association of Professional Organizers, suggests Prevention).
2. Maintain Your Garage Safety
Once your garage is safely in order, it’s important to regularly maintain all the work you’ve done:
- Smoke alarms: Batteries need to be checked twice a year, minimum. If you’d prefer to check something off your maintenance list, self-charging smoke alarms that screw into light fixtures are available.
- Walls: Inspect garage walls on a regular basis and seal any small holes to prevent rodents from entering (spray foam works well for a quick fix).
- Electrical outlets: Test electrical outlets with a voltage tester to make sure they’re all functioning as they should, and double check that the voltage of any new tool or appliance you bring into your garage matches the voltage of your outlets.
3. Practice Safe Garage Habits
As technology changes, our habits often need updating, too:
- Preventing vehicle theft: Keyless entry systems can be vulnerable to break-ins. If the key fob’s radio signal is detectable, writes Edmunds, thieves can exploit it to break into your car and even start the engine. Keeping your keys in a metal box inside the house can stop the radio signal, and parking your car in a locked garage can stop potential thieves from gaining access to your vehicle.
- Fume safety: Make sure your keyless ignition car shuts off before you leave the car. The car won’t turn off even when you remove the key fob, and if you don’t push the “off” button hard enough (or if you forget to even push it) your car can remain running in your garage causing carbon monoxide to accumulate inside the garage and even leak into your house – at least 21 people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by keyless ignition vehicles not being properly turned off, reports NBC 5 News.
Finally, whether you own your home or rent it, insurance is important: A good homeowners or renters insurance policy will both protect the belongings you store in your garage (as well as, of course, your home) and it’ll cover your liability in the event someone becomes injured in your garage (or home).