Workshop Dilemma - Need Opinions

  • Advertise with us

« back to Focus on the Workspace forum

Forum topic by pete79 posted 02-28-2011 03:37 PM 1659 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View pete79's profile


154 posts in 3380 days

02-28-2011 03:37 PM

You read correctly – as diverse and strong as they may be at times, I’m looking for opinions.

About 1.5 years ago I moved my workshop out of my basement and into our 1.5 car detached garage. The reasons for doing this were (a) I could work in the evenings after our kids go to bed, and (b) more space…in that order of importance.

After 1.5 years in the garage, I’m becoming increasingly passionate about this hobby that I have, and I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way:

1. My garage is not insulated and therefore I can only work out there about 5-6 months during the year as I live in a cold northern climate.
2. My entire garage runs on one 15amp fuse (yes, I said fuse), which is nowhere near adequate. I can run the tablesaw and lights at the same time, but not the shop-vac/dust collection, and not the heater. This makes it a pain for me.
3. Sharing the garage with a large amount of yard equipment and kids toys is frustrating at best as I try not to get everything covered in dust, but it’s next to impossible.

So I’m now facing a decision, and have no idea which way to go. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and can’t come up with an answer, so I’m turning to Lumberjocks for advice.

Option #1 – Move everything except my table saw back into the basement workshop (a 15×15 space). This allows me to work year round, and with a focus on handtools (my latest passion), I should be able to do most of what I need even in the evenings. I could dedicate a block of time in the garage when needed for cutting stock to size on the tablesaw when needed. I would have ample heating/cooling, and plenty of power for dust collection, TV/radio, miter saw, etc.

Option #2 – Insulate the garage, and have an electrician out to run a new service to the house and garage so I have enough power. This gives me the most room, and could probably get me through the winters with a good heater. Biggest problem here is cost (at least $2,000) given that we won’t be in this hose forever, as we’re hoping to move in maybe 5 years or so.

I’m sure i’m leaving out needed details or thoughts, but hopefully everyone’s opinions will help. Thanks!

-- Life is a one lap race.

16 replies so far

View Chris Moellering's profile

Chris Moellering

227 posts in 2887 days

#1 posted 02-28-2011 04:00 PM

Well, insulation and updated electrical service shouldn’t hurt your resale value on the house any.

I like being able to open the overhead door on nice days.

You don’t have to drag things through the house.

I’d go for a garage upgrade if it was me.

-- Grace & peace, Chris+

View NewfieDan's profile


50 posts in 2888 days

#2 posted 02-28-2011 04:10 PM

I recently moved from an extremem Northern climate to one that is much more comfortable during the winters, so I understand your dilemma perfectly.

Depending on your financial situation I would run a new service to your garage. If you have any buddies that are parkies get there advice on your house fuse panel to see if it will be up to that task of running a sub-panle to your garage. The work itself is relativley simple. It is only the connections that the house panel that are a little unsettling for some. Most of the work you can do yourself, like I did. The only work I hired out was the removal of the sod down to undisturbed earth, and installing the gas heater. The electrical I did myself as I am a qualified electrician.

Is your garage attached or detached? If it is detached you will have to dig a trench from the house to the garage. If the garage is attched the difficult part is finding a route from the house panel to the garage.

About 12yrs ago I built a 2 car garage when I lived in northern Alberta. It was the best thing I ever did. It gave me loads of room to work in. I had to share it with a convertible and a couple opf bikes but it was well worth the effort. I ran a 60amp panel to the garage from the house. In the 11yrs after I built I only tripped one breaker. hatwas when I stalled my table top saw out on a large piece of red oak I was cutting. The 60amp was run since I own a lot of large power tools, I have almost everything from cabinet saws (the tabletop was replaced), welder, planer etc…

Depending on your tools you may be able to get away with a smaller size panel, 40amp would also work well. I have also seen services as small as 30amp. They should all be 240V to allow for large tools. Fopr example my table saw can be re-wired for 240V from 120. This will drop the amperage and allow you to run a smaller wire(conductor) size. The smaller size conductors are sometimes a fair amount cheaper than the larger ones. If you need any advise you can PM me and I can help out. The Canadian Electrical Code is largely based on the National Electrical Code.

View rieferman's profile


39 posts in 2931 days

#3 posted 02-28-2011 04:30 PM

You can do most of the work yourself really, and save a lot of money. Trenching, conduit, pulling wire, wiring lights and outlets, insulating, and drywall or osb or plywood.. Those are all DIY tasks in my opinion. Hire a pro to hookup your sub panel if you’re unsure, and have him check your other work while he’s there – if you don’t know what size/type of wire to use, they’ll advise you on that too. Having a really useful, upgraded detached building will be good for resale value, and it keeps the noise/dust/danger away from your family.

-- New to woodworking, old to barn fixin'

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3223 days

#4 posted 02-28-2011 04:49 PM

Given the fact that moving is in near future plans option #2 wouldn’t be very feasible. Since this is the biggest factor your looking at, I would suggest option #1. This will allow you the most shop time due to weather conditions. Since your latest passion has been hand tools this would be a good time to focus on honing your hand tool skills. This would be a good time to build up your hand tool collection so that when you do move to a new shop this will be one area that won’t need as much focus. This will allow you to focus more on the space needed for the table saw and other machines you may desire in your new shop.

Had you not plan on moving I would have said option #2. Currently I’m in the process of setting up a new shop. I bought the building last April and am now getting it wired a year later. It will probably be another year before its insulated and the walls finished. So waiting till you move will give you time to think more on what your shop needs are and what you will want in your new shop.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View HorizontalMike's profile


7770 posts in 3153 days

#5 posted 02-28-2011 05:07 PM


1. Start with upgrading the electrical service. Put in a 100amp Service Box EVEN IF you only run 50amp service. Why?... because the 100 box holds more breakers and gives you more options for dedicated circuits. You will be a ONE man shop so I don’t see any danger of overloading your electrical service by running “too much” at once.

2. Insulation is nice, but think of it this way… You will still be able to run a heater in an uninsulated building with enhanced electrical service. Insulation is cheap and as said before, a DIY project. Work on the insulation one step at a time and IMO use pegboard as your wall covering as this adds all kinds of possibilities. DO NOT FORGET to add a heavy plastic vapor barrier to the outside wall (including the 2×4 framing) before you add the insulation. I noticed some water damage/staining on your current wall siding, particularly in the corners. This may not be too bad, but you do NOT want to have the insulation suck up that water/humidity and act like a sponge holding it in place and speeding up decay. FWIW, the best way to add the vapor barrier would be to take the siding off, staple the vapor barrier up, and then re-side the wall with the same boards (if you get ambitious).

BTW, moving costs a heck of a lot more than your estimated $2,000 to upgrade your current garage/shop. Hoping to move is a poor justification for living in denial for several more indeterminable numbers of years. Who knows, an upgraded garage/shop may make your current housing situation very desirable.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4458 days

#6 posted 02-28-2011 05:35 PM

Option #2 for sure.

I second everything Mike said above.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2932 days

#7 posted 02-28-2011 05:48 PM

I’ve been in a similar position in prior homes. I tried the first option, relegating a room to handtool work. I sounded like a great idea at the time but I constantly found myself running back and forth for that certain tool. Now with a detached shop, I’m always running out in the rain to swap a straight-slot for a phillips, etc. So, two shops doesn’t seem to work for me.

I recently insulated, sheathed, & upgraded the power to my new detached shop. I expect to recaputure most of the investment at resale. I took the opportunity to upgrade several things with safety, multi-use, and expansion in mind. I trenched a larger line out to the shop & had wires capable of handling 200 amps out there (in case someone wanted an electric car in the carport, for example). I even roughed in a spot for a static 3-phase if I need it. I took the opportunity to run phone lines & an intercom line while they were down there. I upgraded to a 100 amp subpanel with plenty of room to grow, if needed. I switched to ground-fault interrupters where needed & while they were in the attic, properly ventilated it. While they were in there, I had a “proper” transfer switch placed for my stand-by generator & installed a hatch so that in the future, the electricians wouldn’t have to cut any drywall. It cost a lot at once but much less than if I’d done the projects piecemeal. I now have a SAFE shop, craft room, etc for the future homebuyer that’s a selling point rather than a source of excuses. I’d go #2 all day & keep track of the upgrades to brag about to the next buyer. One thing I DIDNT do but wish I had was to get natural gas run out there. Perhaps you might be able to. My sincere good luck!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View pete79's profile


154 posts in 3380 days

#8 posted 02-28-2011 06:22 PM

Thanks everyone. Your opinions are confirming what I think I already knew, but the wallet didn’t want to accept. Since I agree that the dedicated space is preferrable, particularly if I have ample heating – I have a few electricians scheduled to come out this week and see what this will really cost me.

Mike – great idea on saving the insulation for later. I’m thinking that with spring around the corner, I could probably get by for a little while with just a heater, and that will help spread out the financial hit.

Hopefully the electric work isn’t too unreasonable and i’ll have some fun workshop overhaul pics in the coming months.

-- Life is a one lap race.

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 2924 days

#9 posted 02-28-2011 06:39 PM

I’d vote #2 and as noted above you will probably get some of that back on resale especially in your case where you still have fuses (what is your service anyway…60amp?).

do check your local building codes though about any needed permits for electrical upgrades. it seems localities are getting much tougher on enforcement, I think because banks are complaining about code issues on foreclosed properties. You don’t want any problems down the road when you try to sell it and have to pull permits then, which may require you to bring the entire structure up to the code that will exist THEN, not NOW. Anybody thinking I am being “chicken little” on that can e-mail me about our former residence where even though we were the 4th owner we got left holding the bag for work done by owners 1, 2 or 3. Why nobody cared on sales 1, 2 or 3 is beyond me.

if permits are needed, you might be required to get a licensed electrician involved (e.g. I think that is a new requirement in Wisconsin) but you may know one that will let you do much of yourself, advise on codes, inspect your work and give you a sign-off.

View klassenl's profile


194 posts in 2898 days

#10 posted 03-01-2011 05:52 AM

“DO NOT FORGET to add a heavy plastic vapor barrier to the outside wall (including the 2×4 framing) before you add the insulation. I noticed some water damage/staining on your current wall siding, particularly in the corners. This may not be too bad, but you do NOT want to have the insulation suck up that water/humidity and act like a sponge holding it in place and speeding up decay. FWIW, the best way to add the vapor barrier would be to take the siding off, staple the vapor barrier up, and then re-side the wall with the same boards (if you get ambitious).”

In cold climates code demands that vapour barriers must be placed on the warm side. I agree that moisture issues can cause the insulation to degrade and cause a host of other problems, so get that fixed before you insulate.

-- When questioned about using glue on a garbage bin I responded, "Wood working is about good technique and lots of glue........I have the glue part down."

View rieferman's profile


39 posts in 2931 days

#11 posted 03-01-2011 03:11 PM

btw, if you’re trenching already, it might be worth considering running a water line out there. That’s a step I skimped on, and I’m regretting it now. Each time I have to wash my hands or a paint brush, it drives me nuts.

oh, and +1 on running wires for other items even if you don’t plan on using them right now.. e.g. running coax out there is cheap and easy. Or, just run an extra conduit and leave a pull string inside it for later. (another miss of mine on my own build!)

-- New to woodworking, old to barn fixin'

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4000 days

#12 posted 03-01-2011 03:46 PM

From the moving-realestate perspective, especially in a tight tough market like Michigan. Any significant upgrade that makes your house “stand above” other competing homes will put your house at the top of buyers lists. Upgrading your electrical service, getting rid of the old fuse box and replacing it with a 200 amp service will make it possible for you or future owners to add significant improvements such as central A/C and kitchen upgrades.

While it is true that you can do some of the electrical work yourself, a Permit will be required as the Power Company will have to do the disconnecting and re-connecting, possibly including a new meter. In Michigan, at least in the U.P., the electrical inspection is done by the State. The inspecter will do a “rough in” inspection before the walls are covered, and then a final inspection after the walls are up and the receptciles have been installed. GFI recepticles will be required in the garage.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Jack_T's profile


623 posts in 3271 days

#13 posted 03-01-2011 04:54 PM

I think it is smart that you chose option # 2. In the long run you probably will be much happier. The upgraded garage will be a selling point if you do ever sell the house. One additional thought is that you should probably build a shed when your shop is finished and move the lawn equipment and kids stuff to the shed. You can sell the idea to your wife by telling her it is safer if the kids don’t have to go in the shop with all those sharp tools.

Remember to pull all the necessary permits and do everything to code. If you don’t it will become a nightmare when you sell the house. Good luck and have fun.

-- Jack T, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3106 days

#14 posted 03-01-2011 06:49 PM

I would put in the insulation and run a new service to the garage. Get the family to work with you on the stuff they store in the shop. You might even could add a small storage shed and build it yourself. Whatever is left could be covered with tarps to keep the dust off. Life only goes around once. The younger you are when you get yourself a workable shop the better off you will be. You will never regret it. You owe it to yourself.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3314 days

#15 posted 03-01-2011 07:30 PM

Let me make a suggestion of an option that you may not have considered.

Most of the things you do with a table saw can also be done with a plunge saw. The Festool is the best known, but there are also products by DeWalt and Makita. They take up less space and they certainly are portable. When you relocate, the money you spend on this will go with you. The money spend on the garage stays behind (and probably does not increase value by as much as you put into it).

Also – If you get the Festool with a dust extractor, you can work virtually dust free. That may be true of the other 2 brands but I am not certain about that.

In my shop I find roles for my table saw, miter saw and plunge saw, but virtually any application can be done on 2 or all 3 of these saws. If I had to pick only 2, it would be the miter saw and plunge saw. The miter saw handles crosscuts and the plunge saw is great for ripping.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

showing 1 through 15 of 16 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics