If your house has a detached garage, you need not be as concerned with the fire and health hazards mentioned with the attached garage. True, the area is still considered a potential fire hazard; however, since the structure is physically apart from the main building, a fire would not usually result in the loss of life. The main concern with this type of garage is its structural integrity.
The exterior of the detached garage is checked the same way you inspect the main house. Walk around the outside of the building twice. The first time, look at the roof and gutters. Do any of the roof beams appear to be sagging? If so, additional bracing might be needed. Have a professional make this determination. Do not assume that the roof over the garage and the roof over the house are in the same condition. Although the roof covering on the main house might be in good condition, the covering of the garage roof might be badly worn and require replacement. (Inspecting roofs is discussed in chapter 2.) Are there gutters all around the base of the roofs? If not, make sure you check all wood siding and trim for rot. The rain runoff from the roof can promote rot. A wood-frame garage with a pitched roof should have gutters. If there are long overhanging eaves or the garage is masonry-constructed, gutters are not a necessary feature, although they are often desirable. If there are gutters and downspouts, see if they need repair. (These items are discussed in chapter 3.)
After looking at the roof and gutters, walk around the building once more. This time look at the walls, windows, and doors. If the exterior walls are covered with wood siding, does the base of the siding extend to the ground? It should end about 8 inches above the ground. If the siding is in contact with the ground, it should be checked for termites and rot. Pay particular attention to the rear wall. You might see a wall that is bowed. This is usually caused by a car that did not stop in time. The wall stopped the car, and in the process, the supporting studs were broken. If such is the case, the wall is in need of rehabilitation. Also, you might sometimes see a wall that is offset; the bottom section of the wall extends about 3 feet beyond the upper section. This is done to accommodate longer cars than those for which the garage was constructed.
Finally, check the base of the wood framing and trim around the garage doors. This area is particularly vulnerable to rot and termite activity. (See FIG. 7-5.)
When entering the garage, check the doors first. Look for broken and cracked sections of wood framing and glass panes. Open and close the doors; they should operate smoothly and have all necessary hardware (see page 76).
Depending on the location of the garage, at times the entire roof is not visible from the outside. After you enter the garage, look up at the underside of the roof. If you can see daylight through a hole or crack, there is a problem with the roof. Look for signs of past water-leakage stains on the wood framing. These stains appear as dark-streaked discolorations on the wood. Leakage stains do not necessarily indicate a current leak-the problem might have been corrected. If you see stains on the wood framing, ask the homeowner whether repairs to the garage roof have been performed. Next, look at the walls. If the garage is located on an incline, look at those sections of walls that are below grade. These walls are usually constructed of brick, concrete, or rubble and also function as retaining walls. If proper drainage provisions have not been made, the walls will tend to crack and heave. (See FIG. 7-6.) If you see cracked and heaved walls, you should have a professional make a determination whether rehabilitation is required. Often the walls are covered with a stucco or plaster finish, and the wood-framing members that form the walls are not visible. However, any exposed studs and bottom plates should be checked for cracked and broken sections, rot, and termite activity.
Fig. 7-6. Heaving garage wall. Section of wall was located below grade level.
To reduce the vulnerability of the bottom plate of a wood-frame wall to rot and termite infestation, the plate should be resting on a foundation wall that is at least 4 inches above the garage floor. In many older detached garages, this plate is found directly on the floor or in contact with the ground. If this is the case, look carefully at the plate and probe it with a screwdriver or ice pick. If it can be penetrated, there is probably rot, termite, or carpenter-ant activity.
Look at the condition of the floor. If there are cracked, broken, and settled sections, often found in older detached garages, rehabilitation is in order. This condition usually does not indicate an undermining of the structural integrity of the garage but a poor installation of the floor slab. In some garages, you will find a dirt floor rather than concrete or asphalt. This is not desirable because the dampness associated with this type of floor promotes rot in the wood-framing members and premature rusting of items stored in the garage.