- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When Marty Riskam remodeled his Potomac home last fall, he picked the one room in the house he thought needed the most work: the three-car garage. The $10,000 tuneup included stainless-steel cabinets, matching refrigerator, checkerboard floors, insulation and a bright paint job.

“It’s taken an eyesore and transformed it into another room,” Mr. Riskam says. “I have a friend of mine who says it looks nicer than his living room.”

He says he used to complain about the oily floor, patchy walls and clutter that filled his garage, making it almost impossible to get out of the car. When he saw a display by Potomac Garage Solutions at a Chantilly home show, he was sold and ordered the complete makeover. His garage has become one of the favorite rooms in his house.

“It makes it part of the house instead of a junk heap,” Mr. Riskam says. “It’s really added to the value of the house. It’s neat, and it’s organized.”

The garage has long served as a dumping ground for castoff furniture, family collectibles, hardware, bikes and lawn equipment, often stacked along the walls. Many families have so much clutter in the garage that they can’t even park the car there anymore.

However, the most overlooked room in the house can be transformed with a simple makeover that could add thousands to the home’s resale value.

Remodeling companies specializing in garage tuneups are part of a growing niche in the home improvement industry. Darkened cinder-block rooms get reworked into workable storage rooms.

Homeowners can choose from dozens of floor styles, cabinets and storage racks designed to straighten what’s often the untidiest place in the house, getting the clutter off the floor and out of the way.

Metal storage bins strapped to the ceilings open up floor space and get ice chests, sports equipment and lawn chairs out of the way. Bikes are given special hooks to open up even more space, and some firms even offer wet bars, plasma televisions and ice makers with upscale remodeling packages.

“People are taking a lot of pride in their home remodeling in all sorts of space, kitchens, bathrooms, home theaters,” says Peter Belman, president of GarageTek of Greater Washington (www.garagetek.com). “The garage is really the new frontier.”

Garages are standard in most homes today. Nine out of 10 homes built in 2003 have a garage, with 83 percent of homes built with two or more bays, according to a Market-Research.com report on the industry. The shed- and garage-storage market is forecast to reach $1.59 billion by 2009, according to the study.

“This is very much like the installed closet system was maybe twenty-five years ago,” Mr. Belman says. “It’s become very, very popular. I think it’s going to be required,” becoming standard rather than an option in new homes.

Garage remodeling companies offer renovation packages ranging from simple paint jobs to whole room transformations.

Packages start at about $1,500 for a small amount of shelving. A full room restoration averages about $5,000, depending on the size of the garage. Beer coolers, refrigerators, surround-sound systems and flat-screen televisions also can be included in luxury packages that can reach $100,000, according to area retailers.

“A neat garage is a strong selling point because most homes don’t have that,” Mr. Belman says. “We allow you to reclaim that room and turn it into a usable working space.”

GarageTek’s system uses plastic material to run tracks along the walls with matching cabinets that can be moved along the grooves anywhere in the garage. The system is modular, so cabinets can be moved up, down or sideways if you want to rework the room. Installation takes about two days, Mr. Belman says.

Garage remodeling packages offer similar systems, but there is a wide variety of materials. A few offer plastic shelving in the walls and cabinets with their modular systems.

PremierGarage (www.premiergarage.com) offers only fixed cabinets with its systems, and Potomac Garage Solutions (www.potomacgaragesolutions.com) contracts exclusively with Whirlpool and offers only stainless-steel cabinets.

Two types of flooring materials are offered, including coatings to cover existing floors that rely on epoxy resins to resist oil stains and mildew. Other firms market tile-sized plastic flooring materials in a variety of colors that can be installed in a checkerboard pattern or in one color. The new floors are installed over oil-stained concrete floors and are cleaned with soap and water.

Revamping a garage depends on the size and scope of the project, but a standard one-car garage can be completed in one to two days. A large garage can take up to five days.

The remodeling packages have become so popular that one builder, Centex Homes, started working with Potomac Garage Solutions to include systems in its new homes. The firm offers three packages to home buyers, ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, says Zev Pomerance, president and owner of Potomac Garage Solutions.

“The garage is really the entrance to your home,” Mr. Pomerance says. “No one wants an ugly, smelly garage anymore.”

The selling point of the systems, he says, is their flexibility. Because the systems are modular, the cabinets can be moved as needs change or the children grow. Closets can be relocated, and different accessories can be added, such as hooks for more bikes or buckets for sports equipment that can be hung from the ceiling or off the floor on walls, he says.

“The homeowner can really take advantage of the wall space, and the shelving moves with you as your needs change,” he says.

Scott Ditto of PremierGarage ended up buying into the business after researching cabinets he wanted to install in his garage. He learned about Arizona-based PremierGarage while searching for cabinets for his home project and liked the products so much he bought his own franchise last year.

The Virginia and Maryland franchises complete about 40 to 50 garages a month. Nationwide, there are 80 franchises.

“You don’t have to have a rat’s nest,” Mr. Ditto says. “The garage is one of the largest rooms in your home. For a relatively small investment per square foot, you can give it that cleanliness and order.”

He estimates remodeling costs at about $10 per square foot and predicts the garage systems will become standard in many new homes. An average remodel for a one-car garage costs about $4,200, he says.

“If you just consider the investment per square foot, it’s really easy to recoup your investment,” he says.

The Rev. George Rados spent about $6,000 on cabinetry and fixtures from GarageTek when he remodeled his three-car garage. Frustrated by the lack of storage space, he called the company when he got a flier in the mail and had the seven-year-old home refitted with more storage space.

The renovation includes plastic tiled beige floors and matching cabinets with a workbench to house his son’s assortment of hand tools and auto care equipment.

“Everything used to be stacked or stored in boxes sort of all over the place,” he says. “Now it doesn’t look like a mess like it was before.”

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