How your garage can make you sick
Most of the houses that I inspect have attached garages. Having grown up in one such house, it never occurred to me, at least until I became a home inspector, that there are ugly things hanging out in garages and some of these things are silently trying to do us in. Quite frankly, growing up I remember some of these very items being in my own garage. So what gives? Why does this seem like such a big problem today? Glad you asked!
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, growing up a child of the 60’s, energy was pretty darn cheap. (Come to think of it, from where I sat everything was pretty cheap, as someone else was always paying for it). Point being, most of the changes and enhancements made to the building standards had the eye towards comfort and convenience, not energy efficiency. Along came the 70’s, and with it our first energy crunch. Ah, the good old days, which found my folks generation staring down the gas nozzle to the tune of a whopping 40¢ a gallon. Horrifying!! So they, along with the neighbors started tightening up their houses by sealing and installing insulation, and as a result, there was less natural air exchange occurring. Hooray, we saved some money! Boo, while they didn’t realize it, the bad stuff was staying inside with us longer!
Before we go further, let’s take quick trip back to that era in our Way-back machine…way back to our 8th grade science class. You remember, don’t you? This was when Mr. Pendergast taught us feeble minded hooligans that “high pressure naturally moves towards low pressure”. Remember that? Here’s your refresher and there is a test later!
OK, let’s take a break (smoke ’em if you got ’em) and see what hangs out in our garages:
- Vehicles- Of course! Isn’t that why we have a garage?? Here’s the thing. Every time you start your vehicle, pull out of the garage and close the overhead door, you’ve trapped a bunch of carbon monoxide inside. And guess what? Houses tend to be under “negative (or low) pressure” in relation to attached garages. Remember our refresher course? Higher pressure=Garage. Lower pressure=House. (Thanks, Mr. P!) Guess where the carbon monoxide is heading? You got it, inside with the cats!
- Lawnmowers- If you are storing your lawnmower in your garage…don’t! In fact, same goes for snow blowers, gas powered leaf blowers and anything else of the like. This is why God invented sheds, wherein it was written with the greatest authority: “Behold, I give unto you the shed, and it is good! Moveth thine lawnmowers therein, wretches!” OK, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that, but you get the point. Sheds were invented so we would have a place to store those gasoline odor-producing items that we all know and love. Remember, high pressure (garage) moves to low pressure (house).
- VOCs- Volatile Organic Compounds. Oil-based stains, paint thinner, formaldehyde (in case you’re doing any embalming), fertilizer…all these items out-gas nasty VOCs. Which, you guessed it, are elbowing their way into your living space.
- (Sometimes) heating ducts. If you have a garage located below living space and a forced air furnace, there is a good chance some form of ductwork is running along the garage ceiling. If this is leaky, it forms a direct communication between the house and garage and must be carefully sealed, (not to mention insulated if you ever really want to heat the room above). If you’re trying to heat your garage with a register from a forced air system, stop it! Again, another direct path into your family’s breathing space.
And here’s another fine piece of information. Ever hear the phrase “fire separation”? Modern building standards include requirements to seal and cover the walls and ceiling that are adjacent to the living space with a “fire-rated” material, to include “fire-taping” the seams. We’ll discuss this process another time, but for now, take a look around your garage. Do you see any gaps, holes in the walls and ceiling or leaky ductwork; spaces that are communicating with the house? These are all common areas that need to be sealed off, (yes, even it they’ve been like that since you bought the house).
Want to go a step further? There are companies that make exhaust fans which are specifically designed to assist in sucking the bad air out of a garage. Here’s one such fan. Air Cycler Garage Vent This fan is controlled by sensors wired to the doors which activate whenever a door is opened, The fan will continue to run for an adjustable set amount of time, up to a couple of hours, in order to help move the unwanted air outside. All good stuff, and well worth the investment to keep your family safe and healthy.
That’s all for now! Stay safe,