Heat and electricity

Most detached garages are not heated. However, when they are, heat is usually provided by a space heater rather than by extending the central heating system. The heater should be checked to see if it is operational by turning up the thermostat. The thermostat will be wall-mounted or mounted directly on the unit. Most nonelectric heaters must be vented to the outside and should not have wood framing in contact with the exhaust stack, a fire hazard. If the heater is not vented to the outside, ask the owner to show you proof that the unit has been specifically approved for installation without a flue connection.

In new detached garages, the electrical service and wiring is usually not a problem. There should be an overhead light controlled by a wall switch and at least one three-prong outlet receptacle. If the garage is a distance from the house, a desirable feature would be to have either spotlights or row lights along the path between the two structures. The lights should be controlled by two three-way switches, one at the garage and one at the house. In many older garages, the electrical wiring and service is often makeshift and nonoperational. Look around. If you see loose and hanging wires, exposed junction boxes and wire splices, you are looking at electrical violations. In some cases, the service wire from the main house to the detached garage is interior wire, not exterior. This is a potential hazard and must be corrected. If electrical problems are found during the garage inspection, you should require that the seller provide you at closing with a certificate of approval for the electrical system. The approval should be made by the municipal electrical inspection agency. (See chapter 12.)

Checkpoint summary

Attached garage

Inspecting for fire and health hazards

  • Are the garage and basement area combined into one open area?
  • Is the interior garage door located at least one step above the garage floor?
  • Does this door have a tight seal? Is it self-closing?
  • Is this door fire-resistant, or does it have a sheet-metal covering on the garage side?
  • Is the boiler/furnace unit located in the garage?
  • Has it been placed on a raised slab?
  • Inspect garage ceiling and walls for exposed wood-frame members.
  • Check ceiling area for open or missing attic access hatch.
  • Check for return grilles in warm-air heating systems.

General considerations

  • Inspect ceiling area for signs of plumbing leaks, stains, and patched sections.
  • If garage is unheated, are there uninsulated water pipes that are vulnerable to freezing?
  • Inspect floor for extensively cracked, settled, and heaved sections.
  • Check these areas for evidence of water seepage and silt deposits.
  • Does driveway incline make garage vulnerable to flooding?
  • Is there a drain protecting the garage entry? Is it adequate?
  • Does garage floor contain a drain?
  • Inspect exterior doors and trim for cracked, missing, rotting, and insect-damaged sections.
  • Operate doors. Note broken and missing springs, guide wheels, locks, and misaligned tracks.
  • Is there a restraining cable running through the spring?
  • If the overhead door is electrically controlled, does it reverse its downward travel when an upward force is exerted on the door?
  • Check overhead lights, wall switches, and convenience outlets.

Detached garage


  • Inspect walls/siding for bulging, cracked, loose, missing, and rotting sections.
  • Note broken windows and patched sections.
  • Check roof beams for cracked, rotting, and sagging members.
  • Inspect roof shingles (as outlined in chapter 2 checkpoint summary).
  • Check type and condition of gutters and downspouts. Note their absence.
  • Inspect and probe wood framing and trim around doors (particularly doors that are in contact with, or in close proximity to, the ground).


  • Check garage doors for broken, cracked, and rotting sections.
  • Inspect doors for operation, sagging sections, missing hardware, and broken glass panes.
  • Inspect underside of roof for damaged sheathing and signs of leakage.
  • Inspect foundation/retaining walls for cracked, bowed, and heaved areas.
  • Concrete, asphalt, or dirt floor?
  • Check concrete or asphalt floor for cracked, broken, and heaved sections.
  • Probe wood sills for insect-infestation damage (particularly if these members are in contact with the ground).
  • Inspect for loose and hanging electrical wires, exposed junction boxes, wire splices, extension-cord wiring, and makeshift wiring.
  • Is there a space heater? Check operation.
  • Is unit properly vented?
  • Are wood-frame members in contact with the exhaust stack?
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