You love cars. For you, working on cars is not just a casual hobby. It's a passion. You don't just want a garage to park a couple of cars, with a place to keep your tool box and your Turtle Wax. You want a serious working garage – a garage equipped with the right lighting, power, equipment, storage, and more – like the one that Steve Fitzgerald is building.
Steve Fitzgerald has loved cars since he was in the second grade. That's when he began racing things with wheels, go-carts to be precise. Since then, Fitzgerald has gone on to live a life revolving around cars and speed. From go-carts, he went on to race motorcycles, and then dragsters, and then sports cars. Fitzgerald has raced at Daytona, driven on The Ring, and is a top amateur racer. He has also been chief driving instructor for the BMW Car Club. He has been a senior executive for a number of companies that perform technical training for future technicians in all forms of transportation – aviation, marine, motorcycle and automotive. He is a top technical trainer at the Universal Technical Institute (UTI), a leading provider of technical education training with programs at 10 campuses across the United States.
Steve is currently storing his BMW racecar in the garage of his racing partner. That's why Fitzgerald is now immersed in the design phase of his own personal garage, which he is building from scratch and which will be located about 200 yards from his home.
Fitzgerald does more than change oil in the garage – a lot more. Presently, he is working on three of his partner's restoration projects – three full-blown car building projects from scratch. The partner's two-level garage has a 1,600 square foot working space on the first floor, with four bays, the center two being double depth. The first floor also has a parts room on one side and an insulated room for large power tools and air compressors on the other side. With this noisy equipment in its own room, the working space induces far fewer headaches. Upstairs the garage has storage and office-type work space.
Even though this garage is a huge, top-of-the-line place, Steve's experience and insights can help anyone who is planning a new garage workspace, regardless of size or budget.
Design from the ground up. Fitzgerald puts a lot of thought into the design of his garage. He thinks from the ground up. The floor in his garage will be polished concrete – almost as smooth as tile but extremely rugged.
"I'm not a big believer in painting floors and putting mats on them," he said. "You can't work on that stuff. A rubber mat is nice in front of a bench where you're standing, but you can't roll a dolly or floor jack on it. Plus, if you spill a quart of oil on a mat or rug, that's a train wreck. You spill it on polished concrete and you can wipe it right up, just like wiping up your kitchen sink. You also want a darker floor with no speckles or complex pattern. You want to be able to quickly locate those nuts, bolts and tiny parts that inevitably are going to fall."
The new garage Fitzgerald is building is going to have a very comforting and practical feature. In addition to the usual heating and air conditioning, it will have radiant heat in the floor.
He explained, "You open your garage door for a moment on a really cold day and the floor can feel as cold as the ground outside. The cold rises up through the concrete, and that's what you're lying on when you're working. We're putting copper pipes in the foundation when we build it, so you can comfortably sit on the floor, even if it's five below outside. Radiant heat in the floor is very common in Europe, and it's the most efficient heat you can have."
Naturally, you need great lighting. Fitzgerald suggestes that to clearly see everything you need to see in your ideal garage, you need a combination of natural and artificial lighting. His entire current workspace is lit from above by the sun through skylights in the ceiling.The overall lighting is complemented with individual 8 foot incandescent bulbs over specific workspaces. The ownder is exploring a range of artificial directed lighting options for this new space.
Fitzgerald also said that it's important for the light fixtures to deliver the right light without getting in the way: "It's important when selecting your light fixtures to get recess-mounted lighting. When you're working, and you're swinging things around, it's easy to smash a light to pieces. You want light that's flush to the edge of the wall or ceiling. And you want that lighting located in all the places you might possibly need it."
More power outlets to you. Fitzgerald believes that advance planning is essential before you begin installing any of the major features of your garage. This is particularly important when you're designing your access to electricity and air. Fitzgerald's garage will have air for the compressor plumbed all the way through the garage, with air fixtures every six feet or so.
"This way," he said, "if a couple of people are working side-by-side and both want to use air tools, they don't have to keep trading. Without enough access points, it's like two people gardening, both wanting to water their tomatoes or zucchinis, and there's only one hose."
When not being used, the air lines will recoil back into the walls and ceilings to eliminate potential clutter. Fitzgerald also will have plenty of easily accessible electrical outlets throughout the space, taking into account the placement and height of the workbenches he'll be using.
A place for everything. Fitzgerald uses a range of storage equipment and workbenches from Lista International, both in his garage and on the race track. These include Lista's industrial workbench with a cabinet pedestal and a butcher block worksurface, which he uses in his office, and three mobile storage cabinets.
"Storage cabinets and workbenches aren't something that you change all the time," Fitzgerald said. "You want rugged equipment that's going to last – drawers that can hold a ton of heavy parts and tools and still operate smoothly for years, casters that can carry a thousand pounds of weight from location to location, and heavy gauge steel legs and components that are built to last. That's why I don't settle for less than the best. Lista is the Rolex of storage and workspace equipment."
Fitzgerald appreciates the configurability of the Lista drawer storage. Not only are the cabinets available in a variety of heights, depths and widths, with various worksurface options, but the drawer interiors can be custom compartmentalized to give a perfect home to a huge range of expensive tools and parts.
"The beautiful thing is," he relayed, "I have a cabinet in my office with drawer compartments that are home to pens, paper, stamps and office supplies. And then in my garage, the same type of cabinet has engine parts in it."
The mobile storage cabinets provide easy access to the back of the drawers, but serve as the perfectly shaped home for a range of hand tools.
Fitzgerald continued, "We also use these cabinets as a mobile toolbox, both in the garage and on the race track. When we take the cabinet to the races, it's packed. There are some drawers in which you'd be pressed to find room for a book of matches. But everybody knows exactly where everything is because it's all organized and compartmentalized, even down to the small hardware."
Fitzgerald opted for the mobile storage cabinets not just for their ability to bring tools directly to the vehicle in the shop, but also for their ability to travel.
He said, "When we go to a race, we just roll the cabinets into the trailer. We're not packing our bags to go; we roll our Lista cabinets into the 32 foot race trailer, snap them into the wall, and we go. And we know these cabinets and casters are top quality, because they are very heavy. It takes two of us to push them each into the trailer. In the garage, on the flat polished concrete surface, the cabinets roll and steer very easily – you can push them with one hand."
As with all the equipment in Fitzgerald's garage, his choice of storage and workspace equipment came down to a combination of functionality and quality.
"A high-end garage really requires top-of-the-line equipment," Fitzgerald concluded. "There are places where you can spend a little less, but there are also certain critical parts of a garage where you really need the best equipment."