Can you save that old garage?

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Historic Preservation, Home Improvement Tips

There are plenty of things to say about renovation and restoration of old houses, but what about the property around it? It can be quite easy to look at an old garage or outbuilding and decide to simply tear it down and start fresh, especially if that old structure is actively falling apart. But you might be surprised by just what a few correct repairs can do for an old garage.

Points to ponder before tearing down the garage

Remember that back in the old days, structures were built with much sturdier, hardier wood than you will find today. In fact, the framing of a garage might look strange; the boards might be too small or too far apart. However, look closely at the lumber. Are there any signs of rot? How about water damage? The good news about really old lumber is that much of it is old-growth wood, which is naturally resistant to rot, and thus will last longer than you think.

Another important point is the strength. Where modern wood species can't stand up to much abuse, old timber is often much stronger -- as proven by the fact that it has already stood the test of time and is standing sturdy enough to make you consider keeping that building after all.

Besides these reasonable factors concerning the wood in the garage, there is also the historical value. Many garages were built just as handsomely as the homes near them, which means that little details are probably incorporated throughout. Restoring the garage can mean that the property is even more beautiful than it was before, with a richer history.

How do you know it's salvageable?

Now that you know the wood is solid and strong, it's time to look at the other elements. How's the floor? Very old garages might have a dirt floor, and those that do have concrete will probably show serious signs of spalling or even huge potholes. What matters more is the foundation. Is it still sturdy, with minor crumbling at most? If so, you can replace the floor.

How about the walls? Old garages have a tendency to lean, sometimes so much that it looks like a strong wind will blow them right over. But remember the sturdiness of the wood! Walls that are not plumb can be brought back to center with some time and effort, and then reinforced to be straight and sturdy again.

Then it's time to bring the old garage up to modern standards. Start by strengthening the roof with secondary framing, which will bolster the entire building. Then choose a strong underlayment and high-quality shingle. When working on the floor, always install a vapor barrier under the concrete, as well as a drain in the center of the floor that will get rid of any rain or snow melt from your vehicle.

Finally, remember that old paint contains lead; precautions must be taken to ensure safety if you decide to repaint the garage. If you choose to include a modern garage door, you will have to wire the garage with electricity. To hold onto authenticity, look for a door that is designed to mimic a historic look.

Just because an old garage is falling apart doesn't mean it must be taken down. With some serious consideration and a little bit of luck, it can again become an integral part of the property.