Garage or Basement?

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Forum topic by riddler posted 01-07-2012 07:15 AM 2503 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 3306 days

01-07-2012 07:15 AM

New guy here…

I am, or at least thought I was, in the market for a new saw when the wheels started turning. My current shop space is a 14×21 section of my garage. With limited dimensions, other tools, and swapping space with dirt bikes as they need maintenance, the largest space I have for a saw (on mobile base) is 40”x75” which pretty much puts me in the 30” fence category. The ceiling height is 12’, with 9×9 roll-up door and 30” walkout door in the back. I have made a curtain to separate the “shop” from the garage, but because of the already mentioned limitations, I spend as much time sweeping/blowing dust/moving tools back, as I do working on projects. And when the bikes need heavy maintenance, the tools can be in hibernation for long periods (all of last winter in fact).

I recently started re-insulating and framing our basement. I have about another 40’ of wall to complete then on to electrical and HVAC. My wife has generously agreed to me turning 460 sq ft of the basement in to a shop. This area also has another 324 sq ft of (currently continual) space that I will be using for winter storage of dirt bikes, bicycles, wood stock, etc. If I take the other space for a shop, I will be building doors to cordon off this area, as well as the remainder (~800 sq ft) of the basement. This 324 sq. ft. section also now has a 36” walkout door – back of basement is less than 8” below grade. The would-be shop area also has 2 windows above grade, and 1 below.

On to the dilemma – Which area do I choose?!?
I think the above makes some of the advantages to the basement apparent. A few additional items are I can get a 50” saw instead (remember, this all started with the saw!), the main power panel (plenty of room to grow) is in the basement so pulling new lines will be fairly painless, and the basement is getting a bathroom. The largest down side is the ceiling height – at mostly 7’-8”, with a 25×6 section of 6’-4”, and yet another section with a 17’ long steel beam that hangs down to 6’9”, the space is vertically challenged. I would also need to spend additional funds on proper dust collection/air filtration, and lighting. Then of course the need to build new benches (old ones are staying put), custom doors to keep the dust from moving to other parts of the basement, etc.

Downside to the garage, other than size and shared space, is the floor has a heavy slope – near .2/12 pitch in one section. It is also very cold in the winter despite being insulated unless the space heaters are running 24×7.

Should I be concerned about the ceiling height in the basement? Some of my up-coming projects are wall units for 9’ high walls. I know they will be built laying down, but I fear I will be compelled to want to handle some of the detail while they are upright. The other required build-out issues wont be easy on the wallet, but I think I can look past it pretty quick in return for some good space. Also, if I take the basement area, should I do drywall or plywood for the walls (ceiling will be drywall). What about HVAC in this area – is it too risky to put in vents and returns, even if I filter the return?

Any solid insight would be greatly appreciated.

14 replies so far

View pintodeluxe's profile


6297 posts in 3787 days

#1 posted 01-07-2012 08:03 AM

Hauling lumber to the basement doesn’t sound like much fun.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View IrreverentJack's profile


728 posts in 3817 days

#2 posted 01-07-2012 08:28 AM

Brian(?), The big concerns for a basement shop is dust control and ventilation (fumes). You don’t want wood dust (potential allergen) all through the house. Dust might be easier and cheaper to control in the garage, depending on your heating system. Check out Bill Pentz's site. Good luck. -Jack

View JohnnyM's profile


39 posts in 3307 days

#3 posted 01-07-2012 08:52 AM

I started with my shop in the basement. It was completely below grade. The issues I had were getting material down and larger finished pieces up. Some items, entertainment centers and case goods especially, I had to design to get them out of the shop. I had the space nicely closed off from the rest of the house and dust still got everywhere. Mostly, I believe from the HVAC system. You may not notice it in one day but over time you will see the dust build up throughout the house.

Now I’m in a new place and the shop is in the garage. Access for material in and finished work out is not an issue. Dust in the house is not a problem and my favorite feature is opening the overhead door on occasion and using the leaf blower and giving the place a nice “dusting”.

Can you make the basement the dirt bike maintenance and storage area and take over more of the garage? That would be my pick.

-- ~~ John . . . . . . . . . Against the Grain Woodworking & Design, LLC

View jmos's profile


918 posts in 3343 days

#4 posted 01-07-2012 02:58 PM

Either can work. I’m in a basement shop because I don’t have a garage or enough property to build another structure. My shop hare is fully below ground, has no outside door, and the stairwell has a landing and a 180deg turn; no large pieces for me, unless I want to keep them in the basement. It also limits the size of tools I can by; it would be a real bugger getting a full cabinet saw down those stairs.

Anyway, I would skip the HVAC tie in, it would be a conduit for dust. I don’t have any HVAC. While building my shop I put up 2×4 partition walls sheathed with 3/8” ply and used foam insulation on every crack to keep dust in (and the kids out.) I also sealed any cracks in the HVAC ducts running through that area, as well as the ceiling/subfloor. So far, no issues with dust in the house.

Even if you pick the basement shop, you probably want to plan on a finishing are in the garage, as the fumes can get unpleasant in the house (or you’ll have to plan your finishes around the odors; minimize oil based, and no ammonia fuming !) My Wife smells everything.

Moving lumber is a pain. I can not get a full 4×8 sheet into my shop, I have to cut them down in the driveway first. With your door you should be in better shape. The good news is the shop environment is pretty stable from a temp/humidity standpoint, which a garage won’t be.

Also, don’t forget a basement shop means noise in the house; will that be an issue for you? Might limit when you can work.

All in all, if I had choice, I’d take the garage and put in some ventless heaters (if you have natural gas.) But, as I opened with, both will work.

-- John

View TimmyP's profile


36 posts in 3422 days

#5 posted 01-07-2012 03:12 PM

My workshop is in the basement…more by choice, than force! It’s roughly 385 sq ft, but with a somewhat low overhead (probably about 8.5 feet, but the steel support beam, shop lights, and HVAC duct brings it down). Like everyone has said, dust is a problem. So I try to limit using the power tools as much as possible (especially the tablesaw and circular saw), and as much as possible, try to use handtools (to gain some skill, and reduce dust!) When I do use the tablesaw, since it’s a cheap portable, I can manuever it outside, and make piles of dust in the yard. Problem here is, just getting it out of the sliding glass door.

When I do use the power tools, (and I don’t have a dust collector), cleanup with the shop vac is a must. But even still, there’s still plenty of fine dust particles floating, waiting to get sucked up by the furnace fan.

View jmos's profile


918 posts in 3343 days

#6 posted 01-07-2012 03:19 PM

Oh yea, I should mention that the first two items I purchased for my basement shop were Powermatic dust collector and air cleaner. If I was doing it now, I’d go for the higher efficiency models they just came out with to be safe. Wife insisted, she’s a Doc who specializes in lungs and didn’t want me breathing dust, and didn’t want dust around the house. I would say both are a must for a basement shop if your kicking up a lot of dust.

-- John

View canadianchips's profile


2632 posts in 3971 days

#7 posted 01-07-2012 03:37 PM

I had a shop in basement….ONCE….... I had a walk in basement flush with ground level at back of house. I thought it would work great…..I was wrong. I spent alot of money (thinking I was sealing up cracks,etc) the dust carried THROUGHOUT the house, the paint and stain fumes also floated throughout the house. Then the NOISE ! Everytime I run the table saw the people UPSTAIRS were annoyed ! (My wife).

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1523 posts in 5099 days

#8 posted 01-07-2012 06:27 PM

I have an attached garage which also houses the washer and dryer, and part of the reason I’m building a stand-alone shop is that the dust gets freakin’ everywhere. Modern houses have a bit more of an “air lock” design between the garage and the house, but something to think about is how you’ll keep from tracking dust in from whichever shop you choose.

Having said that, my grandfather had a basement shop that worked fine for him, though he did more metalworking than woodworking in it.

So, yeah: If you can figure out how to get pieces in and out of the basement, think seriously about the dust problem. That’s the big down side.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View riddler's profile


5 posts in 3306 days

#9 posted 01-07-2012 07:23 PM

Thanks for the replies. Regarding material transport, as mentioned, part of the basement (the entire back of the house) is only 8” below grade. I cut out a 36” wide door to get things in and out. The door itself is under a 12×18 covered deck. We will be putting in a pad and drainage (into exterior sump) as soon as spring rolls around. I can back my truck right up to this door. In fact, the dirt bike trailer gets parked under the deck! This is how I got all my studs, 4×8 sheets of foam insulation, etc. to the basement. Bottom line, wood transport is not a problem.

About the noise, I thought that would be a problem but with everything I am doing down there now (cutting every stud, compressor, nail gun) my wife says its fine. That was a concern I crossed off early, except it may come back depending on the dust collection setup).

For dust collection, I am looking really hard at a PennState 2HP tempest, but I am reading the tempest (at least the 5hp) is LOUD. If I get the 5hp I can put it in the garage and then duct back to the basement (this very easy in my house) but if its loud, it still will be loud in the garage. I would also need to set up the blast gates to turn the unit on/off which is more money. For air filtration, thinking PennState AC620.

I did think about working on the bikes in the basement, but as others have pointed out fumes in the basement are a bade idea. When the bikes hit the garage they need to be are void of gas (and dirt). I would also be finishing projects in the garage or elsewhere if I suspect it will be a problem. Although funny enough, we sometimes finish large pieces in the basement and put fans in the windows! Part of the current basement work was putting in room around the basement furnace and HW heater. The builder did all the right stuff for fresh air intake and exhaust, just no walls or door. I is now sealed as if it were the outside of the house.

I completely understand and appreciate the warnings that dust travels. We are already have done some serious sealing before and during the framing. Foam from a can is a pretty cool idea. We hit every area that could be a leak, even foamed the seam for the concrete walls and floor – behind the bottom plate (left a 1/2 gap under the foam sheeting to make this possible. All the basement duct work has been foil taped (some by the builder, remainder by me), and I used the sealing paste on all the seams where the aluminum meets wood. The dust issue is the only reason that I will not do recess lighting in the shop area if I go down this road – that is a seam that I do not think I can reasonably seal without it coming back to bite me (like when a ballast goes out). I do not have the fiberglass insulation in yet and we are now holding steady at 56 in the basement without HVAC. Last year, with just the builders insulation that is now gone, I had paint freeze.

The BillPentz link looks like a good read – heading there now.

View Dano46's profile


86 posts in 4143 days

#10 posted 01-07-2012 07:39 PM

All excellent points. My shop is in the basement, all below grade. The only good thing I can say about it is that it is never to hot or cold. Low head room, 90 degree turn at the bottom of the stairs. Dust control is a issue (a big issue with my wife) and whatever you build has got to go through a 36” door. My garage turned into a family room years ago.

What ever you choose, you probably will always wonder if the right decission was made. At least you will be making sawdust.

-- You can't trust a dog to guard your food.

View riddler's profile


5 posts in 3306 days

#11 posted 01-07-2012 10:01 PM

Thanks for all the comments. The BillPentz info was interesting. Based on what has been said in this topic and similar on this site, I am leaning towards the basement. Things that have me headed in that direction:
1) Dust (What!!!!!!). Seriously, have you ever checked the valve clearance, cleaned a carb, rebuilt the top end, etc. on a bike or car? I dare say that I try to keep my garage a clean as some keep their house.
Buying a extra box of swifters each month vs. saw dust in the engine is way better for me. Canadianchips’ comment has me concerned, but I think with the right knowledge going in I can get a reasonable result.
2) Ventilation (again, What!!!). My garage has 18×9 and 9×9 roll ups, and a 30” walk out. We live in a area where the wind blows. We also see a ton of dirt roll in with those winds. Half the time I cant even vent the garage else the wind blows the snot out of everything – had half a peg board cleared off by a gust one day.
3) Temp. My garage faces East so I roast in the summer with the door up, and freeze in the winter (well, really just pay a ton to run the space heaters). Without doing anything in the basement HVAC wise, it will still be more even.
4) Space. My second largest frustration with the garage (after dust) is space. Sure I can open the door and move outside, but then I am moving stuff that needs to be stabilized, the driveway has a good slope, etc. I have moved the cars out for larger cuts but then I contend with even more dust that must be cleaned. I open the back door to run long boards out when using the thickness planer. Still, it is always a hassle.
5) Daylight and the ability to get stuff in/out, is not an issue. Even getting to an exterior slab is only 10 ft. away on the same level. BTW – my property slopes so the 8” below grade only last for 12’. After that, the yard drops well below the basement.

So on the 2 original questions, it seems that I should not be very concerned about height, and jmos echoed what my original thinking on the HVAC was – that is would contaminate the system. Still, I am curious if anyone has tied in and been able to control it. Seems impossible, but then I am by no means qualified to say.

edit – also, what about the walls, plywood or drywall? I think drywall would be easier to seal, but less shop friendly.

foot note: I asked my wife about the noise yet again. Her response: “I know how to turn up the volume.” Good thing we have a decent set of speakers ;)

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2866 posts in 3896 days

#12 posted 01-07-2012 11:47 PM

Dust control was a problem for me when I had a basement shop. I spend over 35 hours a week in my workshop. I now have a different house and a garage shop and dust collector and no dust problem in the house. But…. the other part of the garage is very dusty. Next house will have a stand alone building for a shop.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Lubbock Texas

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3945 days

#13 posted 01-08-2012 12:48 AM

My shop is in my basement, about 600 sq ft. and on the same level as the basement garage. I’m putting a double door between the garage and the shop. I have a HF dust collector and a couple of shop vacs. One of the vacs is going into a router table I’m building. This works well for me, but I can roll stuff out into the garage for finishing.

Fumes going upstairs is a much bigger problem than dust for me. My wife can smell stuff I’m working with that I don’t even smell when it’s right in front of me. And that is not just finishing fumes. It includes the smell of many kinds of wood. Some nice, some down right stinky.

I’d have more problem with the low ceiling than the dust also. Any way you can lower the floor?

View riddler's profile


5 posts in 3306 days

#14 posted 01-08-2012 01:39 AM

>Jim Finn “Next house will have a stand alone building for a shop.”

That would be ideal for sure, but it is really hard for me to justify at this point. Maybe in another 8-10 years when I park the bike for good I can start to think that way.

>crank49 “Any way you can lower the floor?”

Only if I move. Concrete slab. Stupid thing was when we had the house built I never even thought to have the basement be taller. The only thing I ever really thought we would use the basement for is a little storage and a slot car track. I am constantly proving that if your not making mistakes then your not learning :(

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