The garage isn't a storage closet. And the outdoors isn’t where you want your car come winter. It’s time to get organized

Garages used to be for housing cars and odds and ends you didn’t have room for in your house.

Then, something happened. Homeowners purchased more stuff – bicycles, sports gear, Christmas ornaments, tools – and forgot to discard what they no longer used. Chaos reigned, and before long cars had to be parked on a driveway or street since there wasn’t room in the garage. Not good with winter on the horizon.

“The average American two-car garage became a no-car garage because it was so crammed with clutter,” says Barry Izsak, a professional organizer and author of Organize Your Garage in No Time (Que, 2005). In addition, garages began to look terrible, he says. “This was the one room in the house where doors opened daily for the world to see, yet it was allowed to be the most unsightly and neglected,” he says.

Fortunately, help arrived.

After learning to spruce up closets with closet specialists, homeowners are taking to the garage with experts who know how to transform a 400-square-foot, two-car or 600-square-foot, three-car garage from an overstuffed disaster zone into good looking car-cum-storage room with cabinets, wall systems, lighting and insulated doors.

In a small but growing number of homes, the garage has assumed additional functions – home office, hobby center, wine cellar or kids’ hangout.

Such changes can get pricey. “The most drop-dead 4,500-square-foot garage we did housed nine cars, power boat and motorcycles and cost $53,000,” says Brad Randolph, vice president business development of PremierGarage in Phoenix,, one of the country’s largest garage remodeling franchisers.

Jeff Crane, president and CEO of Concept to Creation, a home remodeling and consultation firm based in Gilbert, Ariz., has seen garages get fancier with hydraulic vehicle lifts to stack cars, HVAC and dehumidifying systems and subterranean work pits.

But the majority of garage fix-ups cost far less – a few hundred to few thousand dollars, Randolph says.

With the plethora of good organization systems for the DIY market, handy homeowners can do the work themselves. Gladiator GarageWorks, owned by Whirlpool, offers a useful design tool on its Web site, GladiatorGW.com.

Whether you go the DIY or professional route, many changes will help you enjoy your garage more and improve selling potential, though all costs may not be recouped. It all depends on what you add, your home’s price, and comparable area houses.

“Having a garage versus no garage, whether it’s attached or not and how many cars it can accommodate are major selling points for a home these days,” says Haley Hwang, sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Glenview, Ill. “Whether the garage is finished with all the bells and whistles won’t necessarily help you get more (dollars), but it may help you sell it faster versus a comparable home in the same price range,” Hwang says.

Barb St. Amant, with Harry Norman Realtors in suburban Atlanta, agrees, and says it’s key to know your market. “Three-car garages are now the rage with higher-priced homes here, but overall the garages I’ve seen, even at the high end, are just basic and utilitarian,” she says.

Consider these 5 key steps:

1. Don’t use it? Pitch it
Professional organizer Linda Collier of Living Organized in St. Louis, suggests removing everything from your garage and deciding what you keep, give to friends and family, donate to a charity or have hauled away. Izsak recommends being tough. “Don’t be tempted to keep nine hammers and 15 screwdrivers. Ask yourself when was the last time you used each item,” he says.

2. Budget
The sky’s the limit in purchases since anything that goes inside a house can go into a garage. Set a budget, which helps determine your choice of materials, number of cabinets, shelves and bells and whistles, Izsak says.

3. Decide on Goals
Think through possible uses besides housing cars before you begin to help you avoid costly remodeling later, says Crane. “If you want fans and extra lighting, plan for that before you drywall and paint. If you want a sink to wash off tools, put it in when you first make changes,” he adds.

Izsak suggests dividing the garage into zones with areas for sports gear, work tools and toys. Maximize space by using all three walls, selecting a mix of closed, open and mobile cabinets, racks and individual lockers for family members. Gary Fraser, owner of North Shore Closet in Salem, Mass., also suggests building in flexibility by using adjustable shelves. And remember to make the ceiling your fourth wall. Racks can be hoisted manually or electronically above cars to keep rarely used goods out of the way.

4. Improve Aesthetics
Insulated aluminum or steel garage doors keep out cold and heat.
Painted floors look smarter, improve durability and avoid hot-tire pickup. Consider a tough paint, such as an epoxy. Gladiator GarageWorks produces a line of tiles, including drain tiles, which snap together.

Painted walls reduce mold from developing.

Fluorescent lights provide good illumination; ceiling fans with lights also do and circulate air.

Sound systems, a refrigerator and TV make the space more pleasant if you spend a lot of time there; wire before painting.

5. Keep It Organized
Once you’ve fixed up your garage, keep it organized by periodically throwing out items you don’t use, says Izsak. Collier includes a counter as a work surface, which, she says, also helps homeowners avoid bending over.

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