Home Shopping - What To Look For in a Shop

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Forum topic by mision56 posted 07-11-2018 05:50 PM 3388 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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56 posts in 1349 days

07-11-2018 05:50 PM

Topic tags/keywords: shop workshop home shopping basement shop garage

Hey All,
The significant other and I are in the beginning stages of buying a home. We’ve started going to open houses to get a feel for homes in the neighborhoods we’re looking at, but are probably 6 months to a year from making a purchase.

As an avid hobbyist woodworker, shop space is a high priority though and I’m looking to get some feedback on what to look for. We are exclusively looking at homes with either open space in the basement, a garage, or both and I’m wondering what you all look for when imagining a shop space?

I have worked in basement shops and I actually like them. Most of my tools are relatively quiet (cabinet saw, spiral head planer etc) and I enjoy being able to walk down the stairs on a cold day and work for 45 minutes or an hour here and there when I don’t have a ton of time.

That being said, I know basements have their limits especially when it comes to finishing and moving materials in and out over a garage space so i am open to a garage space.

I’m curious what I should look for in a garage space while shopping? Is it a big deal if the garage isn’t insulated yet? How about electric coverage? Most of my big tools are 220/230, how big of a deal is it to get panels added for additonal high voltage plugs?

Anything else you found useful when shopping for a home (from a shop perspective) are much appreciated!

20 replies so far

View bilyo's profile


1111 posts in 1873 days

#1 posted 07-11-2018 06:24 PM

Very little of what you asked is a “big deal” depending on your budget, building skills, and time. The ideal, of course, would be to find a place that all ready has a space suitable for a dedicated shop. I don’t think that a basement makes an ideal shop space due to noise, dust, fumes, and difficult (usually) access. I would say the same about an attached garage, but maybe a little less so.

The house we bought about 35 years ago had an attached carport with a 5’ wide storage room along the side. In later years, I was able to expand the storage room to create a dedicated shop space and it has worked out well. It is separated from the house by the carport so that is it far enough away that noise, dust, and fumes are not a problem. At the same time, I can go back and forth from house to shop under cover which is nice . Also, getting large materials in and out is not a problem because the carport and driveway are handy.

If I was looking for a new home, I would look for something very similar to what I have. I would look for one that has a garage or carport attached that can be expanded to make a shop. That way the shop would be isolated from the house, but still have easy passage between. In addition, existing utilities can usually be extended from the house to serve the shop.

A totally separate shop also has it’s advantages. That would be my second choice. So, then I would look for enough land area to accomplish that along with vehicle access.

View therealSteveN's profile


5754 posts in 1344 days

#2 posted 07-11-2018 06:43 PM

“We are exclusively looking at homes with either open space in the basement, a garage, or both and I’m wondering what you all look for when imagining a shop space?”

What you said about garage, basement or both resonated with me. At this current place it has a 3 car garage, and a full unused basement. What I found here was the garage was cold, and heating, or cooling it was more than I wanted to invest in a garage. Mama said a long time ago, NO cutting of wood in my basement, none, zilch. So I suggested cutting in the garage?? Yes she said, so I asked about finishing up in the basement? Light sanding, assembly, finishes, and she said yes again…... I found you can run a TS in 5 degree weather, but glue, and finishes need somewhere North of 60* and 70 is a lot better.

For the rest of it, and possibly what I already said it will depend on where you live? You don’t show a location. We don’t need an address, but SW Ohio, Northern Wisconsin, and South California are all different ranges, and temps will make you or break you when it comes to glue, and finishes. You will get better answers with a generic location.

-- Think safe, be safe

View mision56's profile


56 posts in 1349 days

#3 posted 07-11-2018 06:48 PM

Thanks for the inputs. As for location we’re in southern Maine, so heating and temeratures would definitely be prohibitive without heat and insulation.

The tough part for me with a garage is the investment to insulate it. This will probably not be the last home we buy, so I would be apprehensive about investing tons in insulation in a garage, as I don’t think there would any increase in resale. Same thing for heavy duty electrical, but I don’t think that would be as expensive and it could potentially add value as a spot for laundry in the future (if it’s in an attached garage).

Again thanks for the insights in the process!

For the rest of it, and possibly what I already said it will depend on where you live? You don t show a location. We don t need an address, but SW Ohio, Northern Wisconsin, and South California are all different ranges, and temps will make you or break you when it comes to glue, and finishes. You will get better answers with a generic location.

- therealSteveN

View ocean's profile


208 posts in 1603 days

#4 posted 07-11-2018 07:05 PM

My preference is a completely separate shop from house. Only problem I see is the cost of building it. Would you need water? and electric (220/240) $$$. I have mine in the garage. Bathroom is close by and I added a sub panel pulled from house main (only 20 feet but still cost $150, copper wire is expensive) and I did the work myself, add 150-200 if you have to call in an electrician. You will also need elec. plugs all around the shop. Second thing is are you going to share the garage with your cars. I do not and a car or other items can really eat into the space, not to mention dust. I live in a warm climate so I can’t comment on insulation, but I do have a wall A/C unit. My vote if I had a choice is a separate building min. 25×25 shop, with bathroom, insulated , heat and A/C if needed, lots of elec. outlets and a 10 foot ceiling with at least one large door to bring materials. Not that I have been thinking about it! Happy house hunting.

-- Bob, FL Keys

View JCamp's profile


1179 posts in 1321 days

#5 posted 07-11-2018 07:27 PM

Make sure the house you buy has 200 amp service. Some older homes in my area do not. If it does then it shouldn’t cost but mayb a grand to have someone come run it to your shop if it’s not already in there. It’ll cost less if u can do it yourself. A house in a area where permits are not mandatory would be a big plus in my opinion
My other suggestion is to have the sellers treat the house for termites prior to the sell. In reality that doesn’t cost the much and gives peace of mind… also always have an inspection. That ain’t that high and even if they tell you what you already know it’s good to have a second set of eyes

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View Bill_Steele's profile


705 posts in 2502 days

#6 posted 07-11-2018 08:00 PM

I think a shop that is completely separated from the house is the ideal solution.

I have a basement shop and while it is very convenient and climate controlled—it has several drawbacks. Access—access to my shop is limited to the basement stairs—this means all equipment, machines, materials, and finished projects must get into and out of the shop via the stairs. Noise—I live alone so no big deal for me—but will your wife mind if you want to run a router and shop-vac at the same time she is watching her favorite show or talking on the phone?

Garage workshops do resolve some of the issues with basement shops—but come with some new ones. Temperature—unless your garage is very well insulated and has HVAC ducts—- it will likely be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Sometimes I wonder if these temperature changes might also effect the wood (dimensionally) you store for projects.

I think either option is feasible—you just need to understand the benefits and drawbacks.

View chrisstef's profile


18094 posts in 3777 days

#7 posted 07-11-2018 08:23 PM

Ive been in a basement shop in 2 different houses now. If youre planning on having kids, it makes things hard with the noise and early bed times. At least it has for me over the last 6 years. Ive learned to work around it and work predominately with hand tools but my projects are sloooowwwww. A stand alone is best, then its a toss up between garage and basement dependent upon your weather. Im in CT so weather isnt a whole lot different than southern Maine and I prefer the basement because of that.

Our most recent house was a blank slate. Open ceilings and foundation walls. I surface mounted all new conduit on a separate 100A panel but kept the lighting on the main panel. This way, when my boy gets old enough to go poking around i can throw the breaker for the sub panel and kill all the machines but still have light. A bilco door wasnt very difficult to navigate all my tools down. Cabinet saw, jointer, drill press were all no problem with a good hand truck and a few buddies.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Breeze73's profile


102 posts in 1451 days

#8 posted 07-11-2018 09:04 PM

I work out of my 3-car garage. I wish I had the room for a dedicated shop, but that is a no-go in our current house/property. I had the walls of my garage and ceiling insulated. I then used polystyrene panels to insulate the garage. Lastly, I installed a ductless mini-split in the garage 100% by myself. That has been a godsend here in St Louis. Its hotter than hell in the summer, and pretty cold in the winter. Now I can keep my garage 75 degreee years round. My only complaints with a garage shop is the dust (on the cars and other nonshop related items), and the lack of space from our cars residing in the garage. I do pull them out when I absolutely must, which isn’t too big of a deal. But I can’t leave my jointer or my planer out in a dedicated area. I have to roll them back to their storage spots. Also, my kids bedrooms are over part of the garage, so I have to be quiet after about 9pm.

I too am about 2 years out from looking for a new house. The things I am looking for are:
1) Does it have a dedicated shop already?
2) Does it have enough room to build a dedicated shop?
3) Does it have a 4 car garage that can be split into a functional shop? Will it also be away from the main house?
4) Is there enough room to extend the garage into at least an additional 25×25 adjoining shop area that can be walled off from a 2 car garage?

-- Breeze

View d38's profile


142 posts in 1032 days

#9 posted 07-11-2018 09:25 PM

I built a 30×44 garage a few years ago for a couple cars, and last winter, the 10’ wide work area and the first bay became a dedicated wood shop for my sloooow interior window trim project.
It’s 100’ from my house, so a little far in the winter.
I’d say a stand alone is best. Basements are close as mentioned, but noise/dust into the house is a concern.
Insulate and heat a stand alone, and you’re in pretty good shape. If you build, include a 10’ wide garage door for bringing material/projects in/out, and flexibility for you or future owners to use it for vehicles.
I hung 4 mil plastic wall across mine to help keep the heat on the wood working side, and the dust off the cars on the other side – dust collectors don’t get everything. In the winter, the side with the heater is about 10 degrees warmer than the other side.
If you can buy were you can build, go big, install lots of power, and insulate well.

View jonah's profile


2119 posts in 4069 days

#10 posted 07-12-2018 02:18 PM

In a perfect world, I’d look for a house on a hill with a walkout or at the very least very easy access basement. That way you get most of the benefits of a basement (climate control, proximity, etc) without the main drawback (difficult to access via a usually narrow stairway).

It’ll be rare to find a house with an outbuilding suitable for a shop, and even rarer to find one where that space is insulated, has adequate power, and is heated/cooled.

In the northeast, basements are king.

View bondogaposis's profile


5786 posts in 3121 days

#11 posted 07-12-2018 02:59 PM

I think the biggest problem with basement work shops is dust. Many houses with full basement have the heating system for house in the basement. You really don’t want to get woodworking dust into you duct work that will get blown through out the house. So you will have to isolate the heating system from the work shop area.

Garage work shops also have their problems as well, especially if you want to park a car in. Insulation of a 2 car can be easily accomplished for under $1000. The wiring will cost more if it is not already in place, How much it will cost depends on what is already in place. Then you will have to buy a heater, plan at least $500 for that depending on what you get.

A stand alone shop is best and most expensive, but looking to the future buy a house where one could be added in the future as you may well tire of a garage or basement shop.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View jonah's profile


2119 posts in 4069 days

#12 posted 07-12-2018 08:14 PM

Most houses in Maine will not have a furnace, they’ll have a boiler and either steam or forced hot water heat. Dust is almost a non-issue with that kind of system. If it does have a forced air system, you’ll want to physically separate the shop from the furnace. That’s not hard to do.

I second the idea of finding a place where building or converting an existing space is a possibility in addition to the basement work space. That gives you some flexibility for the future.

View MrRon's profile


5910 posts in 4014 days

#13 posted 07-12-2018 09:51 PM

Unless you are looking to buy in an urban area, the rest of Maine is pretty rural and I wouldn’t be surprised that there are many properties available that combine land, a house and some sort of out building. My house is on 8 acres in a semi rural area of the county. I have a separate 1200 sf shop that I built and I have no problem with neighbors, so noise is not an issue. Insulation is expensive to install in very cold areas, like in Maine (I used to live there).

View jonah's profile


2119 posts in 4069 days

#14 posted 07-13-2018 11:36 AM

The problem is that most outbuildings will be barns or sheds. They won’t be heated/cooled and insulated, and if they have electricity, chances are it’ll be one circuit to power a lightbulb and an outlet.

View OSU55's profile


2646 posts in 2760 days

#15 posted 07-13-2018 04:07 PM

Either a basement or garage will work very well or not at all depending on the situation. Overall property power requirements and panel sizes are very important. What is the min and max florr space for you? Same with ceiling height.

Either requires separation of hvac from the house due to dust and fumes. Noise is situational to the person and location – may or may not be important.

A basement with a separate hvac is perfect as long as materials can go in and projects out. A garage that is used as a shop and not for cars works well, but needs to be insulated. Both should have 220 available to the space. You must have a heated space in Maine, but ac would be a luxury.

The big advantage of attached garages or basement or hvac energy $ related. Separate buildings have more exposed surfaces and cost more to heat and cool, but can have big advantages again depending on the individual situation.

You need to make a prioritized list that your wife agrees with so you can then rate properties you look at. You have to prioritize it, not strangers on the internet – everyone has their opinion but that doesnt make it yours.

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