Building a new shop
If you ever thought about building a new shop, this article will help guide you through some of the thought process that goes into planning and building a new shop.
All ideas contained in here are subject to the town planning scheme in your local jurisdiction, as well as climatic and economic conditions of your area. The final choice is totally up to you and your pocketbook.
 Site selection
So where 'ya going to put it? Grab yourself a survey certificate with a drawing of your property lines in relation to your house location. Couple this up with the building code from your area, which will tell you things like maximum site coverage, distance for side yard clearances, max. heights, etc. Get a piece of graph paper along with a three sided architect's ruler with different scales. Using standard 1/4 inch graph paper, re-draw the lot size along with the structures on the property using the measurements found on the survey drawing. If you start off with a 8 1/2 X 11 inch page, you can then have this blown up at the local Kinko's to a size that you feel more comfortable with.
Your next stop is to have the local utilities company come down and stake out the location of existing underground lines for power, gas, water, and phone/cable, and plan the placement of the additional services to the new building. Most states have a "One Call" phone number that will inform all utility companies. The phone numbers can be found in your local phone book, or by googling "One Call" and your state name. In some states this is mandatory by law, even on your own property. In the event utility locations are done and you were to "hit" a unmarked service, you will not be responsible. Transfer these measurements to your plot plan drawing and color code each utility to make them distinctive.
Now, you're ready to decide what size structure you need. On a separate sheet of paper, draw out different sizes of buildings using the same scale size as your plot plan, and cut out outlines. Try different outline placements and shapes. If you use heavier construction paper, they will lay flatter and stay in place as you adjust them on your plot plan. You can even draw in existing or future landscape features so that you will be able to look at the total picture of your project.
Here are some considerations to make when doing your site layout:
- Place the building so that it complements the property in function and form, and thus enhances property value.
- Take into account atmospheric conditions, ie: prevailing winds, direction of sun/shade, rain/snow accumulation, etc.
- By all means, build what you can afford, but allow for future expansion, temporary use, and deletion or change of use.
- Talk with contractors, building reps, tradesmen, and estimators. Allow them to come out, view your site, and listen to your expectations.
- Call in a survey crew. The surveyor will not only assist you in building placement, but will take 'shots' on the contours of the site, set the grade height of the slab, provide you with a drainage scheme to complement the property, and do a 'cut and fill' plot plan of the overburden (organic material) to level the building site.
- Seek professional help. Talk to your banker or financial institution to set up a building loan and payment account. Talk to your lawyer about contracts and legal issues.
- Make sure you obtain permits for all phases of work from municipal officials BEFORE starting or signing anything.
 Foundation and floor
An outer perimeter of rebar is a must to tie all corners of the slab together. When any openings are encountered, you should double the rebar and thicken the width and depth of the concrete and pour a grade beam to help bear the weight and anchor the side posts of opening to the slab. Wire mesh for re-enforcing the slab should be tied to the perimeter rebar and rebar 'chairs' should lift the rebar to float in the middle of the concrete slab. Do not rely on someone lifting the wire mesh as you are pouring.
Any electrical conduit should be under the mesh, and conduits should be tied to vertical staking to maintain proper heights. In-floor heating lines should be laid in work zones and above the wire mesh. Header pipes should be staked as stated above and all joints in lines should be ABOVE the concrete. Risers should be rigid conduit for mechanical protection but horizontal runs work better in plastic conduit; no galvanic reaction takes place with the cement and if wires go to ground inside the pipe (not likely, but it happens) they won't weld themselves to the inside walls. That means you can always pull them back out.
Some people prefer a curb around the perimeter of the building, rather than a slab. The reason for the curb is that it will keep out moisture, insects, etc. When pouring floors, always have a rotating laser level on hand and double check levels as the pour and leveling goes on. Grade floor from corners to middle, and center of space to outdoor openings. Put a sump pit in large buildings to collect runoff water and use a gravity drain or pump out system to remove it. Increase floor thickness in areas where you are using a lift or have heavy shop equipment.
If you are considering a car lift or heavy vehicles, you should plan on a slab thickness of at least 6" rather than 4". Tell the concrete installer that you want a "smooth' floor. Try sweeping rough concrete and then try smooth. You will never want rough again. If you are in a frost zone you should probably inquire about "frost walls." Frost footings are dictated by code where applicable, typically slab on grade shops or garages over 28' x 28' will require footings, again this is dictated by code and is dependent on typical frost depths in your area. This link is a contour map of the United States showing average frost depths encountered: http://www.soundfootings.com/pdf/US_Map_Frost_DepthAVG.pdf. This will keep the outer walls from lifting and cracking with the frost. This is also the time to consider floor drains. Ask the floor installer about it. He should have good ideas and it won't cost that much. If you are bound by building codes inquire with your building inspections department about drains.
 Walls and roofs
Eight feet should be the minimum wall height. Ten foot will allow more room for lighting, overhead storage, ventilation, vehicle size, and equipment and its use. Twelve feet is minimum height for using a auto lift. Sixteen feet is minimum if you are planning on a mezzanine for storage and office areas. If your codes prevent you from having a tall roofline for a 12 foot ceiling , you can do a 10 foot wall and use scissor trusses to gain more ceiling height inside the shop or if you have a steep roof you can have them install a cutout area so you can install a lift and have plenty of ceiling height.
Wall styles will vary from post and beam, standard framing, concrete block and steel. Everyone has an opinion and it is usually the depth of your pockets that dictate what you build. Try and make the walls rhyme in with the decor of the surrounding area. A red barn is quaint, but will look out of place in "Yuppyville". Neighbors tend to complain less if you "blend in".
If your local code allows it, consider using 2x6 lumber for conventionally-framed structures. It reduces the number of studs (24" O.C. vs 16" O.C.), and allows more insulation in the wall cavities. While possibly more expensive, in the long term, the better insulating capabilities offered will offset the price.
Roof coverings can be asphalt or fiberglass shingle, steel sheet or wood shakes. Again, it's your pocketbook. Most people should put up the best roof that they can afford because you only want to go up there once.
It really doesn't matter if you live in the colder or hotter part of the country, insulation will benefit either way. Keeping out the heat from a Texas sun or keeping in the heat during a Canadian winter, insulation will do its part in your construction of your building. Insulation will also deaden the noise that you produce in your shop. Remember the last time you used an air chisel to remove that rusted body panel at 11:30 pm? Or the sound of the last thunderstorm that passed over your steel roofed shed! Try using as much insulation as you can afford. It will pay you back double or triple over the original cost you invested. Don't forget the vapor barrier, at least 6 mil plastic. Seal the electrical outlet boxes on the outside wall to prevent moisture infiltration into the insulation and wall section.
 Doors and windows
Window are supposed to provide you with light and ventilation. There are many styles of windows to choose from; find something that compliments the style of your home and climatic conditions. Triple pane windows with low E glass act just like insulation and will pay a return over the years. Roof skylights and ridge vents are excellent in larger shops for bringing in light to the center of the building.
For every opening you make in a building, you are losing a bit of security. One option is to use 7/16" OSB to clad inside walls. You can cover the whole wall first, and then cut out the window openings. You can use the cutouts as inner shutters to cover over the windows that you want to make more secure, and hold them on with stud screws and wing nuts. Steel sheeting can be used much the same way if you are lining your building with it. Window bars and grilles are an option.
Main doors should be placed so as to allow you the best access to where you need to go. Door frames should be rugged enough to hold a solid core door of either wood or commercial steel. Residential doors just don't cut it when it comes to security and protecting thousands of dollars of equipment, tools and projects that you have in your building. Outward swing doors offer more security and provide better emergency access if you should ever have to use it for that purpose.
Overhead doors give you an infinite setting on the opening height of your door to allow your project access. It makes no difference if it is a chain roll up or power assisted. You can set the height of the door opening. The door tucks up overhead and is out of the way. Don't forget to get the insulated type. Sliding doors are heavy to move, always in the way and must have a clear path to close properly. Two doors are better than one, you'll never know when you're going to use it and you'll always wish that you put it in. (At least, frame a future door or window in at construction.)
If you plan to put a car lift near the overhead door, ask the door installer about a special "high lift" track that will track the door about 12'-14' up. If you don't do this you will not be able to raise the overhead door any time a car is up on the lift.
Door location is paramount in the setting up of your garage or shop. It doesn't matter if it is the decision between using a single door or two doors on a small garage, or if you should put the door in the middle of the end walls of a large shop. Take out the graph paper and draw your garage or shop area out to scale. Use scale sized piece of paper or wood blocks of 10 X 20 foot dimension to "drive" into your garage and park your vehicles to simulate what is practical for your building size. Sometimes, offsetting an end wall door and parking diagonally will give you better access and utilization of your space. Try going double deep with the garage on a deep lot property, install a OHD on either end, use the back end to move cars under construction into rear yard for sandblasting and painting, while the front end is used for everyday use of the family vehicles. This keeps the neighborhood from getting down on your case.
Rule #1: The supply MUST meet the demand with a safety factor of at least 40%. Start with a 100 amp service. 'Demand' fits in two categories; DEDICATED circuits and CONVENIENCE circuits. Lighting, compressors, welders, post hoists, ventilation fans & heating units, reel-trouble lights, refrigerators, etc., are DEDICATED. Bench and wall receptacles are CONVENIENCE, because you're never going to use them all at once. Sit down with a clean sheet of paper and document the electrical tools that normally don't move and consider each circuit and amperage. Some circuits may be used for two purposes, for example, I doubt if anyone would raise a hoist while using the MIG welder. So, that can be the same circuit. Figure for liberal lighting and NEVER put lights on the same circuits as your receptacles. If you trip a breaker (or GFCI) you won't be groping around in the dark. Add the number of circuits and note the circuit's ampacity. Total your amps and multiply by TWO (because we know you're going to get more)and that's what service you'll need. Service panels come by AMPACITY and NUMBER of SPACES. 230-volt breakers occupy two spaces. A typical Service Panel will have a 100amp main breaker and 24 spaces. You can go up from here if more spaces or more ampacity is required.
For CONVENIENCE receptacles, use #12AWG copper wire on 20-amp circuit breakers. 30-amp receptacles are normally dedicated to a stationary tool and rarely used as 'convenience' outlets. Don't forget that indoor and outdoor receptacles in a garage must be protected by GFCI's (either ground fault circuit interrupter breakers or GFCI outlets). If you protect the first of the outlet boxes in a circuit with a GFCI outlet, all the rest of the outlets may be protected too. A compressor or 220V mig will eat up 30 - 40 amps. Two-post hoists and 230volt MIG welders normally require 20-amps. "Brown outs", lack of correct power will fry a motor over time. If that shop of yours is getting a regular workout, maybe you should go with a new 'drop' instead of drawing off the house circuit. Better yet, stay away from using aluminum wire. Use copper because it rarely needs future attention, wire sizes are smaller for the same amperage, and it has a far better voltage drop over long runs. Electrical supply stores have copper wire in all sizes if your local 'box' store doesn't have it.
Motion detectors work great and are a deterrent to crooks. Point one at or above your entrance door (I also have one inside my garage for when the wife pulls the car in). This is particularly useful in winter months when days are short and weather is cold. BTW, if you live up north, stay away from fluorescent or any lights that use ballasts because if they start, they take a while to put out decent light. Use lighting fixtures that take regular light bulbs with standard 'medium' bases. Fluorescent lighting is fine in heated areas.
Consider running all your wires in metal conduit, surface mounted on the interior walls. If you get your shop all wired up and the wires are buried in the walls, it will be inconvenient to change anything later. If you don't like the look of exposed pipe, notch your studs and use thinwall (EMT) conduit. I keep my shop fireproof by using plasterboard (gypsum). It's cheap, clean, warm, durable and easy to repair. Oh, and a torch will not go through it. Bending thinwall is simple with practice. Have an electrician show you how the bender works because there's a lot more than meets the eye.
Electricity is very dangerous, and should be handled by qualified Journeyman Electricians. They adhere to the National Electrical Code book, written by the National Fire Protection Agency. You want this level of training and you want their work inspected for insurance purposes. Most cities offer 'Homeowner's Electrical Permits' at a reduced cost. It's perfectly ok to do this work yourself; just hire qualified help. Most inspectors are eager to work with homeowners if they get permits BEFORE work starts. They gladly answer your questions and give sound direction. When an inspector finds "bootleg" work, that's when they get upset, and naturally so.
Plumbing is a welcome addition to any shop. No more running to the house for a pail of water to fill the radiator or wash off body filler dust. You want water close by if you weld or grind. Getting water to the shop is easy -- getting sewage and gunk away is the problem. Limiting factors effecting effluent disposal are climatic conditions, topography, municipal concerns, and about twenty other things.
It's nice to have a shower in the shop, especially after sanding fiberglass filler (this also prevents complaints from your spouse about the oil slick you leave in the bathroom after showering). If your budget warrants it and you have the room, a 800 to 1200 gallon holding tank is a great investment to hold the sewage and grunge that comes out of a garage. You can also put in a floor drain connected to a dry well to take gray water from washing your vehicles. Check your local building codes to see if they are allowed in your area, and don't be tempted to use the floor drain to get rid of anything else.
 Heat, ventilation, and air conditioning
See: Garage heating.
Garages have always been social places, but it seems that we are seeking more and more creature comforts coming into the garage each day. If it's cold out, heat it. If it's hot, cool it. It's that simple! No one wants to be working with sweat dripping from their crotch, so why would you want to do that in your garage. If you're welding, spraying paint or have grinding dust, you need ventilation. A wall type ventilator fan with exterior shutters is excellent, even a squirrel cage furnace fan stuck up in the gable end wall in the attic area will take away a majority of the noxious fumes and dust particles. A fresh air source is mandatory if you're using any kind of fossil fuel for heating. A CO2 monitor is also a good idea in a garage.
Yes, you should have air conditioning. If you're comfortable, you'll stay in the garage longer and out of your spouse's hair. It keeps the bugs out of your beer, and you deserve it.
If you did the insulating correctly, you heat the shop in the winter with the heat from the trouble light, and a 8000 - 12,000 BTU window A/C should keep things cool and dry in the summer.
After you have four walls, a roof and a floor, pretty much everything else is just window dressing. These are all the 'I WANTS'! Got $30,000 worth of tools and parts in your garage or shop? Put in a lockable tool crib to house them, or be prepared to lose them over time.
Plan out shop layout and place equipment in proper areas. Use graph paper and cut outs of proper proportions of equipment to see if it fits and works in the plan. Locate compressors and lines the same way.
Plan stripping areas to house power washers and sandblasting equipment. Design a clean area for assembly and painting. Its all in the planning!
Install dependable steel shelves and cabinetry with proper labeling to identify the places for your various tools. Make sure that shelves are capable of handling the weight that you will place on them. One option is to use wire adjustable shelving -- it comes in varying widths and lengths, the dirt and dust falls right through, and you never have to climb up to see what's on the top shelf. Add colored bins and boxes, and it starts to look like a well organized shop. One option for independent shelving units are the "Gorilla" shelf units, available at Costco. The "Gorilla" shelves have a powder-coated angle iron frame with high density wood shelves, and are diagonally braced to prevent shifting. If you're worried about shelf units tipping, just add a turnbuckle, or a hook and eye from the wall to the unit for extra stability.
For cabinets, you can take stackable ledger card bins with pull out drawers, and find cardboard boxes that fit snugly into the drawers for different bolts, nuts and washers sizes. A double door locking paper cabinet with adjustable shelves can house paint guns and precision tools. Stackable computer cabinets with a large opening door and two interior shelves can store paint supplies. Also, a plastic "Euro style" desk unit can be modified into a rolling work bench. The possibilities are endless, if you put your mind to it. Check out the local auction houses and flea markets in your area.
The ignition cabinets with the fancy labeling tend to run in the $100-250 per unit. With proper sourcing, you can get ALL of your cabinets for less than that.
Box tubing, angle iron and rolled 1/8 inch steel top make a nice bench for heavy working and welding. Pretty melamine cabinets should be left in the kitchen along with plastic laminated tops -- you can't hammer on them, welding and grinding sparks put pits in the surface, and spray paint is hard to get off. 10-16 gauge flat steel makes a nice working surface for most hands-on guys. It can be formed to roll over the front lip of the bench, or rolled up for a back splash or a flame and spark deflector. One of the first things that should be installed on a steel bench is a good grounding lug, you can lay a piece of metal almost anywhere on it and be able to weld or tack it. You know you're going to weld on it sooner or later. Tack welds to the bench surface come off easy with an angle grinder and flap wheel. Doors on the benches keep the clutter hidden, welding sparks out of the paint cans, grinding grit on a manageable level, your choice!
A unique option is to use a tailgate from a pickup truck as a garage seat. For more details, see this discussion.
 Indexed stackable plastic containers
Here's one way to handle garage storage.
Buy 24 of those 60-gallon stackable plastic containers with lids and wheels. Ideally, buy clear plastic containers, so you'll be able to see what's inside. Then, attach numbered plastic tags with snap ties to each container, and label them according to their contents (ie: "Spray Paint", "Chevelle", "Flathead", "Air Tools", etc.)
Then, make a corresponding entry book. Each entry should include a bin number, and the contents of the bin.
Then, when you're looking for something, you can first check the book, then look for the tag with the matching number. When you add or remove something from a container, you can update the entry in the book.
 Hanging plastic containers from ceiling
For details on building a ceiling rack from which to suspend plastic totes, see this article.
 Tire rack and cord rack
Every shop should have a tire rack and cord rack. Tire racks can be place on the front part of the shop over top of bench or storage areas. Use 1 1/2" square tubing as a frame work and make sure the uprights come down to the floor for support. Don't just rely upon the perimeter horizontal rails to wedge the tires up, place a center rail to avoid tires falling through. An eight foot tire rack will hold a dozen tires and rims.
Cord racks can be made from 1 1/2" tubing with properly spaced large S-hooks or junkyard tire irons welded to the horizontal tubing. A couple of used rims mounted on the wall will do in a pinch. Air and water hoses can also be hung on the wheel rims, the large radius will avoid stress cracks forming in them.
 Specialty areas
Some people are welders, some are painters, some are mechanically inclined. We all have our specialty and usually build our shops around it. Big is not always better, you just have to walk further to get what you want. Well-organized is better. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to weld up a project, reach over pickup a grinder and polish up the welds, turn around and pick up some nuts and bolts as you place a new piece of equipment on the part you just completed, without spending hours looking for tools and parts? If you are a fabricator, you know you need a place for plans, materials area, a welder, a cutting wheel or set of torches, grinders, drills and bits, supply of fasteners, parts and an area to paint it in. Why not plan your space efficiently?
If you are working with old iron, try building a separate area for racking your steel, or, a separate sanding blasting room with proper ventilation and good lighting. If you work on auto fabrication, why not have a frame jig table or a rolling overhead crane to move frames and engines into place. If auto body work is your game, how can you design it to keep the dust from overtaking all of the building? Maybe a simple divider and an exhaust fan will keep the dust and dirt under control. There are many considerations, plan them out and be open to new valid suggestions.