Improving Garage Safety: A Guide for Homeowners

Since 1974, 85 children have died or have suffered from permanent brain injury because of garage door openers. Between 2007 and 2009, 5 percent of all fires in one- and two-family homes started in the garage, and one in four homes with two-car garages are so full that they can’t fit a car. In other words, a typical garage is a dark and dangerous environment, full of chemicals, large pieces of equipment, household clutter, and flammable items. Reducing risk and improving conditions in your garage can make your home safer for you and your children.

Let in Light

Poor lighting conditions are a common problem in garages, especially in garages with too much stuff. Improving lighting in the garage can help you avoid slips and falls and other injuries. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Remove objects blocking the light from your garage windows.
  • Clean your garage windows on a regular basis.
  • Cut down any light-blocking shrubbery outside the windows.
  • Take down curtains on garage windows.
  • Install battery operated LED lights in cabinets and other dark corners.
  • Replace light bulbs as soon as they burn out.

Practice Safety With Flammable Liquids and Chemicals

Flammable liquids and household chemicals are dangerous for everyone. Fumes from chemicals can cause headaches, while other chemicals can be a fire hazard if stored in direct sunlight. Using best practices for storage and use of your chemicals can help you protect your garage and yourself.

  • Read the safety instructions on every new chemical that you bring into your garage. Follow all manufacturer recommendations regarding their safe storage and use.
  • Keep all chemicals away from direct sunlight, as sunlight can interact with reactive chemicals and can act as a heat source if the chemicals are flammable.
  • Take temperatures into consideration if your garage is un-insulated and unheated. Chemicals that must be stored in mild temperatures may not be appropriate for the garage.
  • Install an air vent if you use chemicals that produce hazardous fumes, and if you store chemicals in your garage, make sure it’s well ventilated in general.
  • Install a utility sink in the garage that will enable you to wash your hands and other bodily surfaces that are exposed to chemicals.
  • Clean up all chemical spills on the floor of your garage before driving a vehicle over it or before allowing other people to access the garage.

Manage Clutter

Garages full of flammable papers, old clothing, cardboard boxes and other easy-to-burn items can become fire traps that lead to injuries, fatalities, and destruction of property. Clutter also creates a falling hazard by blocking walkways. Managing your garage clutter is important for keeping your home and family safe.

  • Purge your clutter on an annual basis, either by holding garage sales, throwing away old trash, or recycling what can be recycled.
  • Buy an organization system to keep the items in your garage properly put away.
  • Keep all walkways through the garage clear.
  • Never block off parts of the garage with boxes or clutter.
  • Clean the floors, tables and other parts of your garage on a regular basis to get rid of dust and old spills.

Store Tools Safely

Dangerous tools and other pieces of equipment can lead to accidents. Children are the main concern when it comes to proper tool storage, but even adults can be injured by improperly stored power tools.

  • Use a pegboard to hang tools up and away from the floor.
  • If installing a pegboard for tools and other heavy items, anchor the board firmly to the wall. An unsteady pegboard creates its own dangers.
  • Leave covers on tools with sharp points.
  • Never leave tools lying unattended in the garage, even for a short while.
  • Unplug all power tools when they are in storage.

Maintain Your Garage Door

In many households, the automatic garage door is the heaviest single piece of moving equipment. By law, all newly manufactured automatic garage doors should have safety features to prevent a person from being crushed by a garage door. However, testing your garage door regularly and practicing basic garage door safety is important for ensuring that your garage door is not a danger to members of your household.

  • Test the auto-reverse function on your automatic garage door by waving a stick beneath the door as it closes. If the door does not stop and reverse course, have it inspected by a professional.
  • Perform another test by leaving a brick in the path of the closing door. When the door reaches the brick, it should stop and reverse course. If it does not, call a professional.
  • Keep garage door clickers out of the reach of children.
  • Teach children not to open or close the garage door themselves.
  • Do not allow children to play in the garage doorway.
  • Have your automatic garage door tuned up by a repair professional on an annual basis.

Be Aware of Carbon Monoxide

Devices that burn fuel, like cars and furnaces, will emit carbon monoxide. Installing a carbon monoxide detector in your garage can prevent this deadly and odorless gas from harming members of your household.

  • Check your carbon monoxide detector’s batteries regularly.
  • Replace the batteries in the carbon monoxide detector on an annual basis.

Child Safety Considerations

The garage is full of dangers that can seriously injure children. Keeping very young children out of the garage is a good way to keep them safe. When older children are allowed to go in the garage, these tips will help them stay safe as well:

  • Teach your children from a young age how to be safe in the garage.
  • Never leave chemicals open and unattended in the garage.
  • Keep chemicals and dangerous equipment up and out of your child’s reach, or locked in a cabinet that they cannot access.

Take Note of Accidents When They Occur

Even if you are taking precautions, you may still have an accident or two in the garage. Learning from these incidents and taking action to prevent similar accidents in the future can help you stay safe. When accidents happen, put safety measures in place to prevent a repeat of the same incident.

Because they’re the site of so much physical work and the storage place for so many dangerous items, garages can pose substantial risks. Fortunately, taking precautions like those listed here can make your garage a safe (and even pleasant) part of your home.