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Remodeling Moves To the Garage

By Katherine Salant
Saturday, April 23, 2005; Page F04

Over the past 20 years, every room in a typical suburban house has been transformed to some degree.

The only one to escape home builders' attention had been the garage, but the enterprising folks at Whirlpool and Sears now offer you the opportunity to organize, accessorize or undertake a complete makeover.

After a recent trip to a local Sears store, I concluded that there is now a solution to nearly every garage gripe you could imagine. Moreover, these solutions are projects that any homeowner can undertake and, carried to their most extreme, won't cost more than about $3,400.

The easiest project offers the most immediate gratification because it will bring order out of chaos. You can gather up the jumble of unpacked boxes, sports equipment and gardening tools that make every arrival and departure from your otherwise perfect new house so unsettling and put them on easy-to-assemble shelving units.

Durashelf 's $45, 36-inch-long plastic shelving system holds 150 pounds per shelf. Should you have a lot of really heavy items, say an engine block or many boxes crammed with books, Do+Able's $65, 36-inch-long shelving system holds an astounding 1,000 pounds per shelf. Both units are 18 inches deep. In most garages, they will easily fit on the side wall of a parking bay and still leave enough room to get in and out of the car.

Another common garage gripe is the old refrigerator you have there that runs all the time, costs a fortune to operate and doesn't work well. In this case the problem is not your refrigerator, it's where you put it -- a space that isn't heated or cooled. Whirlpool has a solution, a refrigerator and freezer designed to function in a garage.

Whirlpool refrigeration engineer Travis Perkins explained that a standard refrigerator is designed to operate in the 55- to 100-degree range of your interior conditioned space, not the extreme temperatures of your garage.

While most people might suspect that a refrigerator wouldn't work well at 0 degrees, its performance begins to decline when room temperature falls below 50 degrees, Perkins said. At 40 degrees a refrigerator's thermostat stops signaling the unit to turn on, and the freezer also shuts off because it runs only when the refrigerator does. After a few days of 40-degree weather, the frozen food will begin to thaw and spoil. In many parts of the country, this situation will prevail all winter if your garage is attached because the space will capture some of the heat from your house and the temperature will never fall below freezing.

Should the temperature of your garage eventually fall below 25 degrees, food in the freezer will remain frozen, but items in the refrigerator will also freeze. At the other extreme, when the temperature soars over 100, the refrigerator goes into overdrive, constantly running to keep food chilled and frozen, but not adequately. A typical symptom of this condition is softened ice cream, Perkins said.

A refrigerator that works well in a typical garage is no small feat of engineering, and it's expensive, said Perkins. Whirlpool's 19-cubic-foot Chillerator (a refrigerator with a small freezer on top) is $1,000, and its Freezerator (a 21-cubic-foot unit with a freezer below and a smaller unit on top that can be either a refrigerator or a freezer) is $1,100. Whirlpool also makes a small, $450 "Beverage Box" that holds 170 12-ounce cans of soda or beer. All three are on casters, and the small one fits under a workbench.

For serious makeovers, both Sears and Whirlpool offer a workstation ensemble that will make a garage work area look coordinated and finished instead of like a handyman's hodgepodge. Sears's Craftsman Professional and Whirlpool's Gladiator lines include a workbench and steel cabinetry -- a five-drawer base and a base cabinet on casters that you can move next to your car when you're working on it. Otherwise both base units fit neatly under the workbench. There are also tall, standing cabinets and wall cabinets.

Another plus with both systems: The wall cabinets can be easily attached and detached, making the entire ensemble portable and easy to stow on a moving van, should you relocate in the future. The final touches are plastic floor tiles or plastic roll flooring that make the space look and feel like a room and not a garage.

Not being one to spend time at a workbench myself, I invited three friends to evaluate the Sears Craftsman Professional and Whirlpool Gladiator products: Greg George, a carpenter and remodeler; Dick Vail, a professional handyman, mechanical engineer and remodeler; and Ernie Weaver, an auto mechanic and wood working hobbyist.

My team's conclusion: For the weekend auto mechanic or the person who likes to build or repair small things (for example, fix a lamp or help with a child's science project), the system will work well. For the serious woodworker, the workbench and storage units are not big enough. Woodworking tools are bigger than auto repair tools and would not fit easily into either five-drawer base unit. If you routinely use large pieces of wood (to make furniture or repair a door, for example), you need a much bigger, freestanding workbench. Another downside of woodworking that can make it an unacceptable garage activity regardless of any particulars is the sawdust that gets all over everything.

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