How much time did you spend in your garage last weekend? Did you just drag all your groceries into the house in one glorious trip, or did you spend hours indulging a hobby, working on your truck or motorcycle, exercising, or even entertaining friends? Garage workshops, garage gyms and even garage theaters have become increasingly popular ways to maximize your home’s functional square footage.
For many homeowners though, those still unglamorous spaces are harshly lit, cluttered with old papers, old household goods and old paint cans, lacking in both climate control and creature comforts. That has begun to change though. Covid drove so many more activities – from work to fitness to recreation – into our residential spaces, so making the most of even our most utilitarian square footage became a must-do.
This garage is often the final frontier for home improvement – even though it’s often the first space that welcomes us home. This is the field on which Aaron Cash’s Garage Living teams do battle for the industrial soul of your house. His 17-year-old home improvement company, based in the Toronto area, now has 42 franchises across the U.S. and Canada. ““Homeowners want to arrive home, or go out into the garage after a long day, and feel as good about their outside space as the inside of the home,” he shares.
After people figured out how their lives would change in a once-in-a-century pandemic, they reached out to his company, Cash recalls: “Once it became clear that most of our target market would be spending the majority of time at home, we started to see a rapid increase in requests for consultations and projects.” Homeowners realized with the increased demand on their homes that these under-developed square feet had the potential to meet new needs.
“Clients wanted a finished garage space to host socially distanced and safe events. With the garage door open, the space is indoor-outdoor and provided both protection from the weather but also a safe and comfortable environment for most during the pandemic,” Cash notes. Social activities became more common, he says. “Whether this is for watching a big game, playing ping pong or working on hobbies, the additional time at home resulted in more homeowners using this space differently and they continue to do so.”
“With gyms and studios closed, many clients set up their own gyms in the garage and continue to use the space to exercise,” Cash observes. “I expect this trend will continue as the convenience of working out at home [remains] a factor for many.” For a client with health vulnerabilities, this is still the safest choice. For working parents, it’s the likeliest to accommodate their kids and career challenges to squeeze in a workout.
Movement and mobility specialist Michael Jones sees clients virtually and in person in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Bangkok. About 40% started to work out in their garages after the pandemic began, he says. Some still do. “Many realize it’s an ample, functional space where they can keep fit during those uncertain times,” he adds. “Many have even canceled their gym membership, realizing they can still have a killer workout at home. And they tend to be more motivated, knowing the gym is downstairs,” he says.
Almost all of those garage studios have a major piece of cardio equipment, Jones points out. These include treadmill, exercise bike or elliptical. Weightlifting benches and free weights comprise almost half of the gyms his clients use. Others prefer bodyweight setups. “I utilize stability balls and resistance bands. The remainder accommodate hybrid workouts,” he shares, with a mix of weights, cardio and bodyweight exercise gear.
Even though pandemic fears have eased across the U.S., Jones says more clients are working out at home. “I think many weren’t utilizing their gym memberships and Covid showed them they could have a just as effective workout at home,” he surmises. There is also more home-based training content for clients to work out with, the mobility pro adds. And there are more trainers like himself that will train clients at home in person or virtually. (I did this during 2020 myself, even after my trainer moved to Canada.)
As Cash noted, homeowners are investing in garage fitness. What Jones suggests for this purpose are cushioned mats to make garage floors more body friendly. “Adding these will make your garage gym a safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable workout environment.” He also strongly suggests adding an air purifier to your garage and keeping the space clean and well-ventilated. “Your lungs open up, and you’re engaged in deep breathing.” Breathing in oil residue, dust, stored chemicals and other garage dirt is not ideal, he stresses. Climate control elements like heaters and fans can make the space more fitness friendly. Mirrors for checking your workout form and Wi-Fi connection for workouts are also ideal.
If you have extra room available, you can also ‘zone’ your garage gym. Jones recalls one client who had a Peloton area for his cardio and a functional fitness area. “In this area, we focused on increasing mobility and decreasing the aches and pains from riding the Peloton and sitting at a work-from-home desk for long periods,” Jones says.
With its plethora of actors and influencers, Los Angeles has the more ‘tricked-out’ garage environment than Atlanta, Jones muses. “I’ve seen disco balls, lighting systems, and huge TVs. They are giving you more of a gym/club vibe.” You also see more ring lights for social media videos and postings in LA garages, he adds.
Garage Living’s Cash has gotten requests in the last five years for a basketball court, golf simulator and full-sized sauna in these formerly humble spaces, he says. Larry Patron, a referral-only custom home technology integrator who covers Southern California area with luxury amenities, has had clients turn their garages into full-blown gyms and even boxing rings.
Air conditioning, especially for his desert-based clients, is ubiquitous, Patron observes. “I would say 99% of homes now have an air conditioner inside of their garage.” That certainly makes working out safer and more comfortable. “We have extreme heat in the Coachella Valley, meaning that garages can get upwards of 180 degrees,” he adds.
“HVAC companies are producing more compact air conditioning and heating units that help control the temperature within the garage,” Cash points out. “Depending on the regional climate, garages may or may not be insulated, so the right solution may require additional work to ensure that these systems are energy efficient.” Large commercial-style ceiling fans are also popular for clients with high ceilings, he adds, something else that can make workouts more comfortable.
“Some of the homes we work on have full-blown theaters within the garage, including projectors that allow them to watch sports or movies,” Patron comments. Just about all have internet connectivity in their garages, often paired with hardwiring for a television, he adds.
Customized, keyless access is huge now, the technology pro shares. “Typically, we will install an intercom-based system where homeowners can program different codes for different people. This means delivery drivers can get into the garage to leave the package, keeping it safe from being stolen from the front porch. Once the delivery has been made, we can use the automation process to notify the homeowner about when someone entered the garage, usually providing a picture of the person as well.”
Whole house lighting controls are also popular, the integrator notes. “These lights can be controlled by smart switches that are either motion sensitive or are programmed to turn on or off based on other prompts, like the opening of a door.” The garage door also connects to smart technology, he adds, as part of the home’s access controls.
All of this extra technology demands more power. “Every one of the homes we’ve been dealing with over the last year or so has solar panels,” Patron shares. This can assist with the AC, home theaters, home gyms and video studio setups. “Some homes even have the Tesla charging walls, which is a large battery placed inside of the garage, so even without sun, you can still power your home,” he adds. Cash comments that he’s seeing EV chargers in about 40% of his garage remodels and 100% of new construction projects.
Contributors Cash, Jones and Patron will be sharing their garage improvement insights in an hour-long Clubhouse conversation tomorrow afternoon (September 21, 2022) at 4 pm Eastern/1 pm Pacific. You can join this WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS discussion here. If you’re unable to attend, you can catch the recording via Clubhouse Replays here or the Gold Notes design blog here next Wednesday.