In a residential re-hab of a traditional home, you’re always faced with a property that either:

  1. Already has a garage
  2. Doesn’t have a garage

In some locations (like Manhattan), no garage can be fine, but for most families and in most locales it’s a necessity.  In San Francisco in recent years, there’s been a lot of push-back by the city against garage additions since the city is trying to “go Green” and cars are a big part of our pollution and global warming problem.

Assuming you’re going to have a garage no matter what, there are some things you can do to make it less of a burden on the planet.  So if you’re rehabbing an existing garage or adding a new one, here are some things to think about.

BUILD it GREEN

Be sustainable when building a new garage and use concrete with a high percentage of recycled fly-ash in it to save water and natural resources.

Insulate the living space from the garage space so that the garage can be unheated without cooling down (or heating up) the rest of the house (which is critical since so much heat is lost through the garage door and needed garage venting).

Be energy efficient and use LED or fluorescent lighting and timer-based or motion-based light switches so that the lights turn off when you’re not there.

PLAN for the FUTURE

Certainly garages today hold cars, motorcycles, scooters, bikes, skis and lots and lots o’ stuff.

But what will the garages of the future hold?

Ummm…

…the same stuff, I’m guessing.

Except!

ELECTRICITY is in the AIR!

Old dinosaur-burners aren’t the only game in town.  There will undoubtedly be a fast-growing percentage of cars, motorcycles, scooters and bikes that will be fully or partially electric.  China already has over 130 million – yes, million – electric bikes or scooters on the roads and new battery technology is making them lighter and giving them better range every year.

Prices were around $5K just a few years ago and are hovering around $900 to $1500 now.  The trend with worldwide volume will continue until they’re ubiquitous here in the US as well (particularly in places like San Francisco where the hills are a killer).  See this great article in the New York Times.

For our main mode of transportation, though, 2011 is the year of the plug-in hybrid.  Starting in 2010 and 2011, the US will see multiple electric cars (Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i MiEV) and multiple plug-in hybrids (like the Chevrolet Volt and the Fisker Karma) that offer all-electric drive for 40-60 miles using batteries but which have a small built-in gasoline/diesel engine or fuel cell that kicks in after that basic distance to charge the batteries on the go, allowing the car to travel indefinitely as long as readily-available fuel is available.

In March 2009, Ford President Alan Mulally stated his anticipation that “In 10 years, 12 years, you are going to see a major portion of our portfolio move to electric vehicles”.

OK…but what does all this mean for your garage plans?

After all, these may be electric bikes and cars…but they’re still just bikes and cars, not flying cars with “special needs”!

Well, it means that you should take the time to plan for the electricity needs of these buggers!  It takes a lot of juice to quickly charge an electric car – sometimes 220V at 70Amps.  To put that in perspective, a typical electrical service panel for an American home might have 100Amps to 150Amps.  The more volts and amps…the faster the charge.

To be safe, for a basic electric car option, add an outlet midway down the depth of the garage with 220v power (like an electric dryer) and at least 30Amps.  If you can spare the full 70Amps, do it.  It’s a lot easier when you’re wiring it with the walls open than trying to retrofit later.

Don’t worry about special connectors for the electric cars just yet.  There’s a North American standard for electric car charging connectors from the Society of Automotive Engineers called the J1772 standard, but you can worry about that after you ultimately acquire your electric car.

For the time being, your electrician can just leave a standard 220V 30A NEMA 14-30 outlet in the wall.

If you’d like to check out an installation like this, we have a 220V 30A line in the garage of 173 Downey Street here in San Francisco.

Since this house also has solar panels on the roof, the house and future electric car become tightly coupled, energy-wise and enable both to reduce their carbon footprints.

I get a charge out of that.

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