Having a place to put a car is definitely a great feature in any new home. Those of you moving up from “on street parking” to garage ownership will love the change. I can still remember being jealous of the spotlessly clean cars speeding by me as I crept along to work, peeking out of my snow camouflaged vehicle.
Despite the convenience of detached garages, these structures are the orphans of most properties. Whereas owners may lavish their homes with money and care, the garage is the last building to get a needed paint job or new roof. Every side of the garage, therefore, inside and out, should have a thorough perusal as part of your overall home inspection. (Keep in mind that detached garages may require an additional home inspection fee.)
In the Boston area, detached garages are typically woodframe or masonry construction. Masonry garages are usually made from concrete blocks or bricks, and usually have cast in place concrete roofs. Most of the older concrete block garages were built in the twenties. Wood frame garages have clapboard or shingle siding. For fire safety, all garages should have concrete floors, not wood.
The gutters on garages are often decayed or rusted away. This allows roof water to run down the garage walls, causing decay of wood walls or spalling of masonry. Often, the level of the soil at the sides or rear of the garage is above the level of the wood siding. This results in moisture and pest decay (termites or carpenter ants) in sills and walls. Another very common location for termite entry is at the garage door trim where it (improperly) sits below grade.
A very common defect in masonry garages is spalling of the concrete on the ceiling. This occurs as steel reinforcement rods rust and expand; since the rust takes up more room than the steel from which it came, the concrete is pushed away from the rod. Loose concrete can fall and cause injury or car damage. The cure for this problem is eliminating the roof leakage by installing a membrane roof; loose inside concrete should be removed.
Carefully inspect garage support columns; metal columns for beams are often severely rusted at the base, due to water and road salt that drips from cars that have been out on winter roads. If the concrete interior of a rusted steel column is visible, the column should be replaced.
Garages and carriage houses built alongside larger, more expensive homes during the twenties sometimes had buried gasoline storage tanks, installed for fueling the “motor car.” Look carefully for piping that may have been associated with a tank fill or vent pipe. If the garage is full of junk, be sure to return for a last check before the closing, when the garage is empty.
Don’t be too dismayed if the rear garage wall is pushed out a bit. This quite common defect is the result of someone stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake. Don’t be surprised to see that the front door frame is pushed out either; we all make little mistakes in judging widths, especially when backing up!