This is the first part in a series about optimizing the appearance and functionality of your garage. An Englishman's home is his castle, but any guy's garage is his private domain. Maybe you're thinking about adding a couple of windows, an outward swinging door to the backyard, a lengthened and widened third car spot, 220v wiring, extra electrical outlets and the all-important slop sink (which is very important if you're married). Over the next few months, we'll show how this particular garage went from fairly ordinary to a place you could really enjoy working in.

Ever considered having a lift in your garage, but thought it was impossible? That lifts probably didn't come cheaper than $8,000? And anyway, it would be a major pain to install and could only be done by a professional, right? Not so. Buying a lift does not have to break the bank. American Automotive Equipment (AAE), based in Port Chester, New York, has been selling automotive lifts since 1969, with units starting at a little over $1,000. The company has a variety of lifts, but will also build custom rigs.

Assuming your city requires one, it's not too difficult to get a permit. The Building and Safety Department of Riverside, California, (my previous residence) states that any bolted-down lift would require a permit. The home owner must present a layout drawn by an engineer or architect showing how a lift is going to be installed. That drawing, plus the fee for the actual permit, would be the extra possible costs associated with doing it all kosher. It would include permission for 220v hard wiring (should the lift require it), with the permit issued over the counter. The Californian authorities want to see that the lift would be safe in the event of an earthquake, and that it would only be used for simple automotive work-no welding allowed.

Speaking with the building safety department in Shawnee, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City), a permit is only needed if the lift requires being hard-wired for 220 volts (which most household ovens use). You're also technically required to get a permit when adding even a simple 110v electrical outlet. As if that ever happens.

The hardest part of installing a lift is physically getting it into your garage. In most cases, the shipping company used by AAE will get it off the truck for an additional fee, but the customer is solely responsible from there on. Solutions can range from using a rolling engine crane to getting a little more extreme with a Bobcat or forklift. In this case, with no living space above the third car spot, the ceiling support beam was taken out, giving 14 feet of ceiling clearance. We also made the garage foundation two feet wider, with the section that will take the lift given six inches of concrete, instead of the four inches required by AAE.

For those planning to spend a little time beneath their cars, the two-post offers not only unlimited mobility but, unlike the four-post lifts, also allows wheels to come off for full access to brakes and suspensions. I decided to go with theasymmetrical option on the two-post model, which allows car doors to be swung open more freely. Without the ceiling clearance or 220v/30amp wiring, the $1,495 TP8A lift is fine. It sports an 8000-pound capacity and only needs 9.25 feet of ceiling clearance, because the support cross member is located on the floor. But we're happy with the stronger TP09A. Not only does it have a higher lift capacity, but it also has no obstructions underneath the car to potentially trip over. At $1,599 plus about $300 shipping (AAE drop-ships anywhere in the US), this is a bargain and will lift a car six feet in only 45 seconds. The included extension aids will help lift an SUV, truck, or any other vehicle with added ground clearance up to seven feet.

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