If ever there were a catch-all space in a home, it’s the garage. Sure, it’s your car’s designated parking spot, but anything goes beyond that. Halfway between indoors and out, it’s more like an extension of your house than an actual room, and it’s the perfect place to store all those items you, well, don’t actually want in your home.
But stuff piles up: garbage cans, tools, machinery, paint, cleaning products, bikes, sports equipment — all manner of miscellany. Before you know it, there are safety hazards everywhere, whether it’s a flammable liquid not properly stored, a garage door that needs fixing, or a sharp, rusty object jutting out of a haphazard pile. Each one is a potential threat to adults, children, and pets.
To help make your garage a safer space, we talked to a few home-safety experts. From proper storage to safe disposal, here are nine ways to make your garage safer.
Don’t Leave Your Keys in the Car
While your four-year-old going for a joyride may not be high up on your list of concerns, a car does not need to move to be a risk. “The carbon monoxide fumes produced in the exhaust can quickly become fatal if there’s no ventilation,” says Samantha Radford, PhD, a chemist focused on public health and founder of Evidence-Based Mommy. Store your keys in the house, and if there is a keyless way to start your car, keep it locked.
Install a Sensor on Automatic Garage Doors
“Make sure your garage-door opener (if you have one) has a sensor that forces it to open if something is under the path of the door,” says Radford, adding it’s a good idea to teach your kids not to walk under a moving door. “I have seen a door-opener chain suddenly snap, and the door slam shut. There would have been no stopping it if a child was underneath.”
Fix Any Garage-Door Issues Immediately
When Reggie Marston, president of Residential Equity Management Home Inspections in Washington, D.C., inspects garage doors, he looks for hazards that might cause a door to fall off its track. “Garage doors should not squeak, squeal, or grind excessively during operation,” he says. Nor should they be “damaged, dented, rotted, broken, bent, or bowed.” If your garage door has any of these issues, fix them, stat. They all indicate the door is not as safe as it should be.
Keep Flammable Liquids and Toxic Products Out of Reach
“Ideally, flammable liquids should be stored in a shed separate from your home (not in your garage) in case of an accident,” says Radford. If that’s not possible, keep toxic products (fertilizers, paint, antifreeze, car washes and waxes) and flammable liquids (gasoline, kerosene, some paint thinners) locked in a cabinet or storage area. Also, make sure flammable liquids are stored away from any flame source and in fire-retardant containers.
Use Child-Proof Caps on Hazardous Products
Because bottles of cleaning supplies can be left out, Debra Holtzman, the author of The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living, recommends child-resistant caps for hazardous products. This goes for pest-control products, weed killers, fertilizers, antifreeze, turpentine, pool supplies, glues and adhesives.
Store Tools and Equipment Properly
It’s easy to set a tool down in a garage and forget about it, for months. Instead, store power and garden tools in a cabinet, keep your lawn mower out of the way (better yet in a shed), and be on the lookout for rusty tools or objects, especially sharp ones. Every item in a garage should have its own home.
Make Sure Storage Units Are Secure
Whether it’s a bike on the wall, a pegboard with tools, or a towering system of shelves, garage storage must be secure. If you move into an old house with existing shelving, don’t assume it’s sturdy enough to hold your items without checking. Bikes should be properly secured on a wall mount, and shelves must be anchored to the wall properly. If you have any hesitation about doing it yourself, hire a professional.
Check for Lead Paint
If you live in a home built before 1978, it could still have lead paint, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “Lead paint is still a common problem for young children (particularly in urban areas), and it can have permanent effects on brain development,” says Radford. It can slowly flake off into your home’s dust, so don’t scrape or sand the paint off — it will only make things worse. Check your garage for the toxic substance with a home lead test; however, if the test is positive, talk to a professional about the best way to remove it.
Catch Mice Without Using Poison
Mice are all too common in garages. But if you have kids or pets, you don’t want to leave poison where they can get to it. Instead, try closing up entry points in walls, install an ultrasonic rodent repeller or leave out good old-fashioned traps.
A version of this article was published in February 2013. Additional reporting by Selena Dehne.