The idea that “form follows function” could not be more true than when it comes to Americans and their love of big cars. As the SUV craze continues across the country, home builders are increasingly being asked to build bigger garages to accommodate the sport utilities and mini-vans that have become a suburban trademark.

Dave Bradstreet, Director of Architecture for Pulte Homes’ Midwest region, says “when those cars became popular, we started getting complaints about not being able to open doors or get around your Suburban.” He says that as a rule of thumb, the inside dimensions of most garages are about 20 feet by 20 feet. At Pulte Homes, Bradstreet says those dimensions are being expanded by two feet in both directions.

Bradstreet says he has also “seen a considerable rise in the number of three-car garages.” He notes that folks are “not necessarily putting three cars in there” but they “have a considerable number of toys, snowmobiles, Waverunners, bikes and so forth.”

A similar trend is being noted at Winchester Homes in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Design Manager Jim Polhaus says that in addition to more garage space, buyers want bigger garage doors. The standard door for years has come in widths of eight and nine feet, and the nine-feet doors are winning out these days. Polhaus works with Winchester’s “Your Home Your Way Team” which allows buyers to choose from a variety of floor plans and then customize them to their tastes. He says in some of their homes, “we’ve done ten-foot doors for people.” For a very wide garage, Polhaus says you can even consider combinations such as two doors -- one 16 feet wide and the other nine feet wide.

“When you take the bigger SUVs, plus children’s toys and things,” he says, “you really do need” extra space. The three-car garage has become standard in some Winchester communities. In fact, he notes that Winchester even designed a five-car garage for one customer -- a car collector.

For those who want the space but don’t have enough vehicles to fill it, garages are being customized as storage and work areas. If you have children, here’s something to consider. Polhaus says one family he worked with wanted “a bump-out on the side of their garage with its own door so the kids can get their stuff.” Another buyer, who enjoyed woodworking, had an alcove designed with some additional high-power lines so he could work in the garage with his high-power tools.

According to The National Association of Home Builders, “about one in six new homes has a garage for three or more cars, with such garages most common in western states.” The organization conducted a consumer preference survey last year and found that “about one-fourth of prospective homebuyers wanted garages capable of holding three or more cars, despite the additional cost that implies.”

Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.

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