Step 7 – Garage / Laundry

Step 7 – Garage / Laundry (PDF)
Step 7 – Garage / Laundry (Page 1)
Step 7 – Garage / Laundry (Page 2)
Step 7 – Garage / Laundry (Page 3)

  • Meg

    Another requirement for me for a laundry is a dedicated space to hang clothes to dry, or access to the garden to dry on the line when the weather is up to it. In some of the places I’ve lived I’ve had to dry stuff in bedrooms and in corridors and when the weather gets humid (like in Tokyo) this takes a few days and it’s not nice to look at. I remember when I lived in Canada I did a lot more tumble drying though.

    There’s no discussion of placement of laundry – the upstairs, downstairs, bathroom, garage question. I spend so long doing laundry I’d love a really well laid out room within easy reach of the kitchen. Room for 3 hampers for sorting, table for folding, room to hang stuff up, good ventilation.

    Remembering places I’ve lived brings me on to talk about why all the people in this group are here. Jim remembers looking at places with his Mum, Terri has moved many times and that’s the same for me as well. I’ve experienced lots of homes in lots of countries so I’ve developed a sense of what works for us and what doesn’t. I’d be interested to hear how others, particularly the non-design-professionals, find themselves interested in all of this.

    Other peoples comments have also made me think. Murray talked about the number of examples and it got thinking that you could look for opportunities to support your arguments by finding plans which support several points. Maybe one or two graphic plans in the centre of the pages with points around the outside.

    Jim talked a bit about avoiding supersizing but avoiding being stingy on space. I think what’s important is that space is relative. The problem occurs when there’s wasted space and it would have been better employed elsewhere in the plan, for example if a good laundry space is missing but there’s a huge master bathroom. Big space in good proportions can be lovely.

  • Grace

    This sentence is off kilter: In a fast house, a laundry room is usually a falsely labeled space because it is more than just
    a storage closet for two appliances.

    possible revisions:

    A laundry room must be more than a storage closet for two appliances, so beware of the false labeling in fast houses.


    In a fast house, a laundry room is usually a falsely labeled space for a deep closet. A laundry room must be more than just
    a storage closet for two appliances.

    Meg wonders why people are on the sight. Jim’s remembrance of going to open houses with his mother touched me deeply, because I spent many a Sunday taking my son house touring! When he comes for Thanksgiving, I’ll have to see if he remembers.

    I also was struck by Jim’s discussion of generosity of space. It may be the fiction-writer in me, but I’m always imagining how life would play out in the homes we discuss, and sometimes the spaces are depressingly stingy; I would feel ‘warehoused’ in some of them. It’s especially distressing to me when the garages are bigger than the living spaces. How cock-eyed is that? Then again there have been some small spaces that are configured with such imagination that it would be a constant delight to be in them. One was a little apartment, the owner of which came on sight to discuss it with us. Another was a tiny place for which Louis designed a side garden that, for me, just opened the space enormously. So size is relative to its imaginative use.

  • Li-Na

    Hello everyone!

    Thoughts on today’s section:

    1) The comma in the first line (introduction) can be removed. “Many communities do not have back alleys…”

    2) I’m not sure if you also wanted to mention in Pitfalls 1 & 2 that the location of the garage takes away access to sunlight for other areas of the home (since you mention this in your introduction)? Also, I’m pretty sure you talk about sun exposure earlier on in the book, right? :-)

    3) I really like that there are specific distances listed in Pitfall 3. It gives me something exact to look for if I were using this book to evaluate a home. I realise that not everything can be so clearly defined but I’d like to suggest that wherever you can nail it down to something exact like this, to please do so. :-)

    4) Pitfall 5. I think a better floorplan could be used for this one. The extra space looks like it would work for storage (and therefore wouldn’t necessarily be wasted). I seem to remember another similar room that had mechanical stuff in it as well so that you just ended up with a really oddly shaped space that wouldn’t have worked as well for storage? Anyone remember this?

    5) Do you present any suggestions on where the garage might be better located? Or options that might eliminate the need for a garage?

    6) Along the same lines as Meg’s comment, I was wondering as I read this section if you had any thoughts on where the laundry might be better situated? Perhaps not a specific answer per se (as it might be different for everyone) but suggestions on what to consider (lifestyle? family size?) when you’re trying to figure out where the best place is for your laundry?

    Grace, I liked your rewrite of that sentence. I couldn’t quite figure out what the original sentence was trying to say. Sorry, John. ;-)

  • Jane

    Not sure if this relevent, but along with the laundry issue in example 6, I have seen lots of new plans with 3 car garage, with the cars stacked. I see why this is done – to decrease the garage door size, but this is counter to decreasing our environmental footprint. I just can’t see that this is effective.

  • John Brown

    Those are great comments on laundry. The issue of laundry placement – upstairs, main floor, basement – is a good one. We will consider how to place it in the book.

    You also ask an interesting question about why people are interested in the site. It is something I would like to know more about.

    Your suggestion of finding a plan that combines several good features together is something that we are already looking into.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the revision to the sentence. When I re-read my version I didn’t understand it either. Yours is much clearer.

    The story of touring houses with your son is nice. It was generous of you to share that. It would be interesting to know if your son remembers.

    I also appreciate your observation that our perception of space is relative. Like time (it usually takes longer to get somewhere than it does to come back), an expansive space need not be large and a cramped space does not have to be small. I believe that the magic of good design is creating a great home in the simplest, most modest way.

  • John Brown

    As always, your detailed edits are very helpful. I particularly appreciate your commentary on the pitfall examples and how they can be improved.

  • John Brown

    I have seen that trend as well. Unbelievable.

    It makes me think of the triple cheeseburger with two layers of bacon and four slices of cheese that is so tall you can’t even fit it into your mouth.

  • Murray

    Hello John,

    John, could you clarify what you mean by the term “falsely labelled”? I take it to mean that a real estate agent or a marketing firm is essentially lying about the practical use of a space and only list it for promotional purposes.

    I believe at some point during the past week you wrote or said that terms such as “falsely labelled” are explained in an earlier part of your book.

    Thanks. I can’t get to this today but will check in tomorrow.

  • Sherry

    I originally stumbled across the Slow Home site while hunting for house plans. My husband and I are in the planning stage for a home. It would be relatively simple if it would only be for us, but we also want to allow for children to return to roost for a bit as well as for our elderly parents to come and stay when and if that is needed. And, we’d like to do this without creating a rambling wasteful monstrosity.

    I immediately loved the “What’s wrong with this house?” segments and watched them all several times. Slow home has helped me refine my ability to spot and define what does not work, generally and for us, in a plan.

    I’ve also very much come to appreciate what the input of a good designer can do for a plan through the design segments.

  • Terri


    You have inspired me to keep marking up your copy! :D
    I do appreciate your openminded spirit for all of my/our suggestions. It’s been so interesting to see how all these great minds come up with various angles to consider.

    Anyway, I took a stab at the Introduction (a rather big one, I’m afraid, with red flowing everywhere!). The other pages looked good, so I spared you. I’ve included the last page, even though I didn’t find much to hack at there. (Okay, I’ll stop with the bloody metaphor…) Those examples of badly placed mechanical equipment are great, if not a little sad to imagine.

    Also…I think someone else mentioned this…Pitfall 1 might include a line about how the living space must now rely on side window. It’s a good place to reinforce that message, I think.

    I’m looking forward to testing your checklist on the WWWTH exercise tomorrow.

  • Terri

    Further to the reasons we come to Slow Home…I’ve often wondered how many are design professionals and how many are simply curious, etc. It seems that many might like to have a little spot here on the blog where we can introduce ourselves. Not suggesting a chat link or anything, just a little intro. It was great to see and learn more about Louis this September, and there are many others I’m curious about (my writerly side is showing…) Or maybe anonymity is what more desire.

  • BradW


    Once again I fail to see the connect between laundry and garage with the predictable confusing result. I thought this chapter was poorly written as is evident from previous comments and was certainly the least enjoyable. You are very negative about garages yet you offer no realistic alternative. Garages are not going anywhere but at least they could be well designed. The real problems are garages the are too small – two car garages which only fit a car and a half, attached garages which do not have a proper direct entry into the house, etc.

    I strong suggest separate chapters for living, dining, study, laundry and garage. This keeps things simple and focused. A section like indoor/outdoor living implies the a study of the connection of these two spaces and should be the focus there. At least, that is my vote.

    John, while I do not always agree, I certainly applaud and support your message.

  • BradW


    I did like the focus box on the location of mechanical equipment. And that brings to mind another issue: Are there rooms over the garage? If not properly built in a cold climate they will be cold.

  • Li-Na

    Meg, I wanted to answer your question on why I’m hanging out on this website in a separate post. Let me warn you, this will probably turn into a rant.

    I noticed that when hubby and I first started looking for a home that many houses just made NO sense. It was like whoever planned the darned things hadn’t considered that people would actually *live* in that house. It seemed to me that if you had the chance to design houses that people would live in, you should at least also have the decency to put some thought into the livability of it. It made me quite furious actually. I would usually leave, ranting about it to my poor hubby.

    I like to think that builders or whoever designs the usual cookie-cutter house don’t do stupid things on purpose. But when you see rooms where there is no good place for the bed because Wall 1 has the bedroom door in it, Wall 2 has the bathroom door in it, Wall 3 has a window and Wall 4 (the logical place to stick the bed) is directly facing the bathroom (and bright vanity lights) AND has heating vents on the floor right where the bed would go, you just gotta throw up your hands and I dunno…give the designer an earful.

    I admit this example is not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things but it is these little things that really grate on my nerves. The same house had a walk-in closet that had a shelving unit resting right on top of a heating vent (in hindsight, thanks to Slow Home, I now know that it was because the closet had wasted space and they had tried to make the space useful by adding the shelving). Seeing this stuff makes me wonder, if they didn’t bother thinking about things like this beforehand, what *else* have they not bothered to think about that are hidden behind the drywall and ceilings? Hm.

    Another wonderful example that sticks in my mind is a 3 story townhouse. Brand new build. It had an elevator so you didn’t have to climb the stairs. Extravagant, but I thought when I saw the ad that it was a great idea for folks who might be in wheelchairs or have mobility issues. I was impressed that the builder had put this thought into the house because someone could conceivably purchase this place and live in it for a very long time. HAH. I was wrong, it was not forethought putting in an elevator, it was a marketing ploy. When I went to check it out (I admit I was simply curious and was not interested in purchasing the place) I quickly discovered that it would have been a tight and very awkward fit maneuvering a wheelchair out of the elevator thanks to the narrow hallway. Since you were going to the trouble of putting in an elevator, why not just go a little bit further and design the place so that *if* someone were in a wheelchair, this place would also work for them?

    What is worse is that people are buying these poorly designed houses!!! Agggh. If people didn’t buy them, perhaps builders wouldn’t put them up, right? But people have to live somewhere. And if almost all the houses out there are like this, many folks don’t think about things like this until they’ve moved in…

    Anyway, to finally answer your question, before I found the Slow Home site, it felt like I was the only person noticing this sort of stuff. Everyone else just seemed to put up with it. At best, they would admit that yes, things didn’t make sense but that’s what you find in all houses so what can you do? It’s really, really nice to know that I’m not the only one noticing these things and thinking that things *can* be better! :-D

    Now that we have a house, hubby and I still do check out the occasional open house when a place catches our interest. But now, we kind of look at it through our Slow Home lenses. :)) I’m slowly picking up the “language” to articulate the problems I see in a particular house and well…it’s empowering being able to do this.

    If you made it this far, thanks for asking the question that allowed me to let my rant out. ;-)

  • Jim X


    Hello John

    I like this section (although I don’t have a car or a garage) because it looks at rooms that are overlooked. (A well-designed furnace room or laundry room are not usually selling points, although they should be.)
    The garage is the one area of the house where social issues and neighbourhood planning limit the options for good design. Changes, such as loss of neighbourhood hardware stores, mean people have to go to a big box store on the other side of town to buy a screwdriver. This means at least one, and sometimes two cars are a necessity for some. Eliminating back alleys mean putting the garage in the front of the house. I feel a rant coming on.
    I hope my comments on generous space weren’t too vague. I think there is a clear distinction between generous space and supersizing. The emphasis is on generous, giving more than people expect and thinking about other peoples’ needs. The space around a dining room or kitchen table able is generous if people can get in and out without banging into furniture or other people. Like generous people, generous space draws you nearer to others. Supersized space is literally empty space: there is no thought of adding to the life of the home. At its worst it becomes a dead zone.
    Related to generous space is intimate space, a space for one or two people and is usually part of another room like a breakfast nook or a window seat. The emphasis is on intimate rather than space, and it is a space that provides a closeness to one’s inner self or other people who are important in your life.
    This is enough “blue sky” for one day.
    I will try to write a bit about my attraction to the Slow Home site and post it on Monday.

    Jim X

  • John Brown

    Sorry for the confusion over the terminology.

    False labeling is the term we use to describe the marketing ploy of giving a room name to a deficient space in order to make it seem better and more pretentious than it really is. Its purpose is to mislead a buyer by promising one thing and delivering another. The false labeling of spaces in a fast house can mask significant design deficiencies that might not become evident until after you have moved in.

    I hope that helps.

  • John Brown

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am very happy that our site has been of help as well as of interest.

  • John Brown

    Thanks as always for the expert editing suggestions. I am developing some strange affinity to red ink.

    In terms of the process so far, like you I am amazed at what has transpired. The range of comments, suggestions, critiques, etc. is truly amazing. Like the design segments, I also continue to be impressed with the thoughtfulness, clarity, and politeness of everyone on the site. Given my experience with other blogs, I think is exceptional.

    I like your idea of having some area on the site where individuals can post a short bio if they are so inclined. I happened to notice that this is the 40th week of episodes for the design school. During that time, I feel like I have gotten to know many of the regulars even though I really don’t know much about anyone. So far I have only had the pleasure to meet Louis from Edmonton and Annette from Los Angeles and interview them for the site. Hopefully that will expand in the future.

  • John Brown

    The most useful comments are usually the most critical and I appreciate yours very much.

    The garage is a conundrum for me. I agree it is necessary. At the same time it is implicated in the environmental footprint of our cars and the lack of appropriate mass transit. I feel an obligation to bring this point up because I think that it is too easy for the average person to not make the connection and believe that just adding a solar hot water heater and other “environmental bling” is enough. The reality is that none of this stuff really matters if the house requires excessive commuting.

    At the same time, as you say, the garage is here right now and a big part of the reality of most houses. The topic obviously needs more consideration.

  • Jane

    I love the rant – I always figured that reno stores and builders were in cahoots with each other. If builders built homes that people could live in, then there would be no reason to renovate.

  • John Brown

    That is a great story. Would you mind if I included it in the book if I can find a place?

    I agree with all of your frustrations. What makes me so mad is the cost of these badly designed houses to the environment, our peace of mind, the quality of our daily lives, and of course to our pocketbook. I am committed to Slow Home because I don’t believe that this is fair. Everyone deserves a great place to live. Home is too important a place -emotionally, socially, and physically for this to continue.

  • Grace

    John–I wonder if you will be addressing “resale” issues in your book. As home buyers get caught up in the fast housing market, one of the hooks is resale value. Even if people don’t need or want or use that extra garage, bathroom, separate dining room, whatever, they are convinced that if they don’t have it, they’ll never be able to sell their house when they need to. It becomes a vicious circle and a self-fulling prophecy.

    The educational outreach of the Slow Home movement is an inroad into the group-think of the fast home industry.

  • John Brown


    You deserve a round of applause from everyone on the site for not having a car or a garage. Well done!

    I like the idea of the garage as a place where social and community issues overlap the private concerns of the home. Very nicely put and your example of the hardware store is apt. Would you mind if I used it in the book?

    There can never be too much blue sky.

  • Jim X

    Hi John
    You’re welcome to use the example.
    However there is more to the story. I live in an older neighbourhood close to a main street, so I have the unusual situation of a neigbourhood hardware store. The man who runs it has retired but comes on a regular basis. The stock is amazing and he is the only person who knows where everything is. So I don’t have to go across town to find a screwdriver, although it seems this is a common experience for others.

    Jim X

  • John Brown


    We discuss resale value at some length in the book – particularly in light of the recent collapse of the housing bubble. For the first time in sixty years, house prices have dropped across the boards. The assumption that real estate is a guaranteed investment has been deeply shaken. I believe that the current uncertainties in the market are only just the beginning of a much longer period of adjustments. We have yet to see the effects that climate change and peak oil will have on value.

    In this new reality, the old world way of defining value in real estate has only limited validity. Through the slow home philosophy and the checklist we have been all been working on, the book proposes an alternative way to think about value – as a combination of long term environmental, personal, and financial values rather than just the short term thinking of the home builder looking to make a quick profit.

  • John Brown

    Jim X,
    I love those old hardware stores. It is fun to just wander around and see what you might think of doing. I send my students to them as an antidote to, or perhaps inoculation against, all of the the big box stores.

  • Li-Na

    Jane, your comment about reno stores and builders being in cahoots made me chuckle. I wonder… ;-)

    John, feel free to use my rant if you think it will be useful, although perhaps Terri will agree to proofread it first if you do so? ;-)

    I’m not entirely convinced that a garage is absolutely necessary. Of course, it depends on where you live and as John points out, the state of public transit (I’ve also been told that if you have kids, it might be easier to have your own vehicle as well?).

    I grew up in a country that has atrocious public transit. You have to drive to get anywhere because you can’t rely on the busses (nevermind that the bus drivers drive like they’re mad). I currently live in Ottawa which has quite a decent public transit system for the most part (although since I’ve seen so much worse, anywhere with half-decent public transit would have been a step up for me!). We purposely chose this house because of the nearby amenities and its easy access to public transit. Like JimX, neither my husband nor I have cars, we don’t even drive actually. People always seem really surprised by that. It is a pain to get to some places but we don’t need to do this very often, and if we have a large batch of stuff, we get a cab. We do have a parking spot (no garage) but we rent it out to one of our neighbours who has 2 cars. ;-)

    For those who DO drive but don’t want to own a car, Ottawa has a car-sharing program and since Ottawa always seems to be the last to do anything, it can’t be the only city that has this scheme.

    All that said, I realise I’m in the minority. Most people have cars and if you asked, would probably insist that they need them. To each their own.

  • Jane

    John – since we are slightly off topic with this thread, I would like to add a comment regarding rural living. We live on a ranch near Calgary, try to have a low impact ifestyle by builting a home that fits a slower home design (with a very big barn for the other stuff).
    Most of your commnents are geared toward urban lifestyles, but recognize that ALL these ideas work equally well for rural homes and lifestyles (except the need to have vehicles for everything!!)
    Please add a comment for us country folk who try to live slow too somewhere in your book.

  • Elizabeth


    Hi John and all,

    Thanks again for the opportunity to comment.

    I think that the combo of garage/laundry is a little tenuous. Laundry isn’t really a storage area, it’s a work area. Perhaps a segment on Garage/Storage and cover some of the key guidelines on providing storage in houses: what if there’s no basement? No attic? Is there a range of linear (or cubic) feet of storage space that any home should have? Anyway, just an idea, I think you’ve got the book planned pretty firmly at this point.

    Just a few comments on the pages.

    Looking forward to some “usability testing” of the checklists tomorrow!

  • Terri

    I enjoyed your “rant” about fast houses. I haven’t toured many myself, not being “in the market,” but I remember when I first noticed the tendency to oversized homes with attached garages in Edmonton in the late-70s and thinking, Who do these people think they are? I didn’t notice the kind of detail you did. You are more perceptive than I think I would be. Going into a new home, especially one that’s been designer dressed, can be a very seductive experience, as John has so often pointed out. They’re selling a new life, not just a new home. (Of course, the devil is in the details.)

    As much as builders make more money due to large floor areas, can they really enjoy building some of those angled walls and other extras? And don’t the plumbers, electricians, drywallers and so on actually curse those nooks and crannies that some of the fixtures or mechanicals are placed in (like today’s chapter)?

    There must be some movement towards good design. Perhaps John’s “Pass it On” idea, the next phase of Slow Home, will become part of the solution.

    BTW, you don’t need my editing… I’m just one of those editors who thinks writers want to know the rules (like me) and I’m all too happy to spread the gospel, one hyphen at a time! I also spend too much time alone with words for company. :)

  • John Brown

    It is great to hear about another regular slow home follower who lives car free. Well done!

  • Terri

    I was glad to see that you included all your edited pages. I forgot to mention the misspelling of “laundries.” Between the two of us, John will learn to hate red ink, I’m sure. ;)

    As for your question about the electrical panel in the closet, I figure that’s a closet that would also be used for storage–possibly a vacuum, broom, or such–and not big enough for a body (I mean a living one of course!). So access is limited whenever someone needs to do anything with the panel.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the reminder about rural living. I think that in many ways it is a bastion of slow living – although the creep of acreage subdivisions with associated mega houses is certainly making inroads.

  • John Brown

    Thanks once more for the in depth comments.

    I agree about the tenuous relationship between garages and laundry (other than they could both be classified as service spaces). Given all of the discussion around the combined categories I believe we are going to have to rethink the number of sections in the checklist.

  • John Brown

    You bring up an excellent point.

    In my professional experience I have rarely run into a trades person who actually gets up in the morning wanting to do a bad job. Rather, it seems that they are caught up in a system that too often squeezes them in all sorts of ways to do the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time. I believe that the slow home movement towards a simpler more common sense kind of residential design can help them as well as the rest of us.

  • Tom

    Hi, John and Slow Home community!

    Li-Na, I too, enjoyed your rant on poor design. I jump out of my skin every time I come into my house at night and have to turn on the light via the switch behind the open door. When the switch could have been, very easily located on the other wall with the switch for the basement stair. Poor product design of all types drives me nuts.

    Oh boy!, I am going to get lynched here!! I am a automotive engineer, previously race cars, own a couple of vintage sports cars, and a motorcycle. But, I only drive one at a time. There is no such thing as a too large garage! The garage is a principle work room for me, I spend hours in there each week, between house reno projects, furniture projects and my auto interest. My lifestyle is, for sure, a little outside of the bell curve of the general population, but among my friends and co workers, this is common place. Too many tools and recreational toys.

    I would suggest that the general population uses garages not as a car closet but more for their lifestyle equipment storage. The fleet of bicycles, tricycles, hockey and basket ball nets, lawnmowers, etc. maybe this room is mis-named? Also obsolete furniture that might get used one day. In my neighborhood there is high percentage of garages, where the car does not fit in because this room is filled with other stuff.

    I really do hate the way a garage door dominates the look of the front of a house. I like the way this is handled in the design of some Eichler homes where the garage door has the same siding and colour as the house and no trim, so it looks totally blended in, to the wall of the house.

    Normally I am involved on the design side of products but I have had some exposure to high volume manufacturing. Where you do, time / motion studies, material flow studies. Most houses I have owned, have had the laundry room located in the basement. from a material flow point of view this just does not make any sense, too much wasted time running up and down the stairs. The laundry equipment should be centrally located next to where the dirty laundry is being generated and where the clean clothes are going to be stored, from a manufacturing process point of view. ( We are victims of our environments)

    John, as an engineer, I enjoyed the dimensional data as a guide for the consideration for the proper amount of space for a given function, egress from the car.

    I am hanging out at this site because of my side interest in residential architecture and I have bought a raised bungalow, aesthetically and functionally challenged but believe it has good bones, in a good location. 1250 sq ft, built in 1967. It is located within walking distance of a nice street with cafes, restaurants, and a band stand with weekly Thursday night music in the summer, as well a farmers market on Sunday morning. (John, you may know Unionville) I think I was heading in a slow home direction before I knew it existed. My real estate agent suggested your site after I bought this house. I also believe we can learn things from other industries that can be applied to our own industry.

    Ok, if I can be saved from the tar and feathering before the lynching, for owning too many vehicles, I am involved on greener vehicle projects at work.


  • John Brown

    Welcome to the site.

    I think that a garage that is regularly used as a workshop is slow. I grew up on “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and firmly believe that tinkering with machines is as slow as cooking or gardening. I would bet that you don’t consider a car to be a thing or product you buy off the shelf as much as a process, a system, a relationship, a contour between driver, mechanic, and machine. Fast is about mindless consumption and that is about as far away from what you are talking about as you can get.

    Thank you for reminding us all that the real proof of a slow home is the degree to which it fits the life of the people who reside in it.

    BTW, I love what happens when you cross a Ford GT40 with a British deck chair!

  • BradW

    Tom, well said.

  • Elizabeth


    Thanks for the explanation re: the closet. I figured it was something like that, and was also trying to point out that it didn’t look too bad to me.

    I’ve got to hand it to John and his partner Matthew for putting this out there for comments! And I hope they don’t find the red ink too offputting! Just trying to contribute to creating a better product right? I always enjoy your thoughtful comments!

  • Murray


    On the subject of the garage – from a suburban child of the 60s.

    Little boxes on the hillside,
    Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
    Little boxes on the hillside,
    Little boxes all the same.

    There’s a green one and a pink one
    And a blue one and a yellow one,
    And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
    And they all look just the same.
    “Little Boxes”, music and lyrics, Malvina Reynolds c. 1962/1990
    Image – photo still from “Edward Scissorhands”, Tim Burton, c. 1990.

    Ah, the car – a necessary evil for many.

    If “a man’s home is his castle” then the car is his war horse complete with protective armour and the garage door is the drawbridge. The garage door, in a suburban setting, presents itself as a defence against the rest of world. Shut the door, go into the house via the garage, and lock yourself away from your neighbours.

    On the other hand, do we even need a house in which to live? We seem to want to live in our cars. In the 50s and 60s there was the drive-in restaurant with food trays clipped to our rolled-down windows, then, after dinner, it was off to a drive-in movie theatre. The drive-in has since morphed into the drive-thru; restaurants, banks, liquor stores, dry-cleaners, etc. Our cars are outfitted with cup holders, table trays, refrigerators, bars, beds, fax machines, phones, radios, CD players, DVD players, GPS units.

    Our cars are a movable public/private space. Like our knight-errant in metallic shell we think we are immune from the rest of the world. We text while driving, talk on the phone, sing along to the radio, put on our make-up, pick our noses, park and have sex, and then our car is about the last place we can legally smoke our post-coital cigarette.

    Our car is an extension of who we are. Our psychological make-up plays out at 120 kms/hr; road rage, drive-by shootings, suicide, accidents and death. Our ego presents itself in the car we choose to buy and/or can afford. At the same time we negate our individuality because everyone like us has the same car and we become simply another demographic.

    I drive therefore I am.

    Ergo – the garage is the most important room in the house.

  • Terri

    It seems that garages are generally used more for other storage, as Tom details so well, in my neighbourhood too. Maybe the Simple part of the Slow Home movement is the part that’ll catch on first.

    Very amusing. “Little Boxes” was written in response to new subdivisions popping up around San Francisco in the 60s. Not much has changed in 40 years, though they’d be called “Monster Boxes” instead.

  • Murray


    Before there was “the Professor and Mary Ann”, the lyrics to the theme song from Gilligan’s Island were “… with Gilligan, the Skipper, too. The millionaire, and his wife. The movie star, and the rest, here on Gilligan’s Isle.”

    This last segment seems to be a bit like “the rest” – and as equally awkward in trying to fill in the missing pieces and connect them.

    You may wish to consider breaking your own rule, add pages, and combine the garage with the front/back entry section. The garage and many of the issues in the entry section focus on a particular suburban demographic so here might be the place to deal with it.

    The laundry could then be combined with the bathroom or kitchen sections.

    The mechanical equipment focus is very good, I think – a valuable concept that many may not consider. Too valuable to leave out, but I am not sure to which section is could be assigned.

    The examples you chose are very clear in illustrating the pitfalls.

  • John Brown

    What a coincidence. We are including the first stanza of the song as the frontpage quote for one of the chapters in the book.

    I like your nod to Gilligan’s Island. It is certainly in keeping with the 60′s pop culture reference. We had originally named the section “Services” because it is about a series of different issues but then felt that this was too obscure. Perhaps we do move the laundry and then keep the garage its own section.

    Thanks as always for the detailed comments on the jpegs.

  • Annette Eason C.S.B.A.

    With the short work week and cooking, I am just getting to posting our comments.I apologize for being so late. In a way it works out well because our comments relate to several of the recent sections( kitchens, bath/powder rooms, laundries, and mechanicals.)
    As you may know, California is facing one of the most severe water shortages in the state’s history. It has forced a reassessment of water usage across the state and has lead to many restrictions. On the other hand, it has created what Jules likes to refer to as a ‘lemonade situation’ and increased the use of sustainable strategies to reduce domestic water usage. Low-flow toilets are standard, code in some areas. We are currently recommending dual-flush. The side benefit of this is that it saves money.
    HE(high efficiency) appliances and mechanicals used through out a home really minimizes the environmental footprint, saves money over the long run, and increases the resale value.

    A note to Murray
    Surprisingly in Los Angeles, the car/driving capitol of the world( a dubious title at best) people tend to use their garages as super sized storage lockers leaving little if any room for their beloved cars.

  • MichaelG

    In my life I’ve never lived in a house with a garage. The house I grew up in had a carport, the house I live in now has a strip of concrete in front of the house to park a car, under the elements. Other places had no parking at all. We’re a 1 car family now, and probably always will be. Likewise, after the house I grew up in, I’ve never had a traditional ‘laundry’. I’ve had washer/dryers in a kitchen in one place (quite common in Japan), hallway closets in others, and a bathroom (the only bathroom) in my current house and a few previous apartments.
    The point I’m trying to make is that especially in this section, there are assumptions made about the way people live and what homes require to fit that life. Particularly common pitfall 4. I’ve lived in an apartment with a washer/dryer in the front hallway closet. Thats perfectly fine, especially in an apartment with limited space. The washer/dryer is purely a mechanical space. Load and unload clothes. The laundering can happen anywhere.
    You’re a long way away from it John, a LONG way, but there is a little bit of ‘one size fits all’ creeping in to some sections. Something to look out for.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the warning.I started this open source review process because we have been working on this so closely for so long, it has become difficult to see things clearly.

  • John Brown


    I appreciate the comments on the technical side of environmental responsibility. We have wrestled with how/where to address this. We didn’t want to create a design based book rather than one centered around construction and the specification of appliances and fixtures seems to fall right in the middle. Perhaps we can devote an inset box prior to the checklist section that deals with all of these issues together.

    Happy Thanksgiving. I hope the cooking has been enjoyable.

  • GaryC

    Further to the reasons we come to Slow Home…I am a curious design layman who has been following Slow Home for quite some time. As I live in Calgary I have had the good fortune of attending a few of John’s weekend sessions. One in particular was with regards to analyzing a real estate purchase with the thoughts of re-making it into a slow home. We started to search for homes with our younger son, who I must say, kept many of the tenets of John’s philosophy in the forefront as we looked from home to home. Once he found a home that would work we ran into the real estate value decisions that had to be made of removing one bedroom on the main to make the home work for him. I am happy to say that three years later he has completely renovated and landscaped the home and it is his pride and joy.
    For me, I have been following the site for many months and try not to miss a day. Through the site I have discovered that good design gives me real energy and I am convinced to make my world/home a better place to live in. I have come to the conclusion that you must take the economics of a decision into consideration but then you have to do what needs to be done to make your home enjoyable to be in. John, as we have been going through the checklists I see the possibility for a Home Report Card that may be 20, 25 or 100 points that can be used to grade a home out of 100% – not necessarily whether it is fast or slow. If this list was readily available to the public it could start getting the builder/developers attention. Thank you to all for making this such an educational site and especially to Luis who is willing to share his image archives.

  • Doug Roberts

    SlowHome came to my attention when I spotted an ad in a Calgary magazine for one of John’s seminars. I did not make it to the seminar, but I did check out the SlowHome website, and have been a regular visitor/participant ever since.

    Like Tom, I also have very little patience for poor design, and a strong appreciation for good design (as evidenced in part by the fact that I am typing this on a Mac). Also like Tom, I have a penchant for vintage cars and love to work with my hands (when I have time), so I too have yet to encounter a garage that I considered to be too large.

    I am not an architect or design professional, but rather a tax lawyer who has always had an interest in home design, automotive design, product design, etc. Even when I was young I used to design proposed additions or renovations to my parent’s houses for their consideration, some of which I actually came across the other day. I have done the same for every house that my wife and I have owned, drawing both floorplans and in some cases interior and exterior elevations to make sure that any contractor we were dealing with had a clear understanding of how we wanted the completed project to look. It did not come as much of a surprise to me when I did some aptitude testing with an outplacement consultant a few years ago and was told that my profile was much more consistent with that of architects or engineers than of other lawyers. Although I enjoy what I do, part of me does wonder from time to time if maybe I missed my true calling. SlowHome gives me a much appreciated outlet to express some of my home design thoughts and ideas and gives me an opportunity to interact with other like-minded individuals. For that I owe John many thanks.

  • JimG

    Better late than never…
    This is sort of a disjointed thought, so I hope it can be made sense of.
    I’ve seen very few, if any laundry rooms that I would rate as slow, but never knew why until yesterday. And that is that very few of them have a big laundry tub in them. I am in the process of planning a bathroom/laundry room remodel and one thing I am considering is a big laundry tub instead of a tiny little bathroom sink. As my partner was struggling with scrubbing out the cat’s litter pans, (don’t slam me, I was doing the dishes at the time) I came to the conclusion that doing that in the bathtub, is a good arguement for the laundry sink I am lobbying for.

    So, the way I see laundryrooms right now is very similar to the way the kitchen was thought of in the late 50s and 60′s. A room of little importance tucked away in a back corner.

  • kaigou

    This seemed like the best place to leave a note on one thing that I think the site either doesn’t address, or just dismisses completely: that garages are more than just for car storage. I live in a city that’s not more than 14 miles from top to bottom, so any commute is relatively short, so we have a car for rain/ice/groceries, and a motorcycle for the rest of the time. The motorcycle goes in one garage bay, and the car sits outside all the time (which isn’t really a good thing, seeing how I live in Texas and the sun is vicious on car paint jobs) — but the second bay of the garage is taken up with my woodworking. Table saw, router table, tool storage, chemicals/stain storage, and a floor-to-ceiling rack of various woods and plywoods. On one hand, yes, fewer cars and shorter commute is good, but on the other hand, I couldn’t have renovated half the house without having that workshop space — when staining wood, you really do NOT want those chemicals in the house!

    To dismiss the garage as “don’t need car, don’t need garage” ignores that garages, by dint of being big unheated unfurnished spaces, have real versatile potential. My sister does her oil painting in her garage; I do woodworking; my mother lays out batik-work across hollow-core doors propped up on sawhorses. The concrete floors mean no wobbling for machinery or tables (as you’d get if set on carpet), and it’s much easier to clean up spills or dust. Most important, those garage doors are major ventilation that no two or three windows + fan can match. (Seeing how too much sawdust gives you the equivalent of miner’s lung, this is VERY important.)Plus, when bringing in supplies, it’s just a matter of backing the car up to the garage and unloading — and if you’ve ever hauled around 8′ lengths of plywood, you know full well that the shorter the distance from car to wood rack, the better. (Plus, not all parts of the country have basements; we don’t, in this area… but pretty much all houses are built with garages, these days.)

    So I absolutely see the point — for most people — that fewer cars, smaller commute, good thing. But for some of your floorplans posted, I feel like the lone person reacting with excitement when it’s a two-car garage with what looks like a third bay hidden behind one of the main bays: woah! look at all that room for my workshop! I wouldn’t have to move stuff out onto the driveway when working on really big pieces! More room for more tools! I could get that planer I’ve always wanted! And so on…

    The drawback is that the houses with such generous garages are often so horrendously designed in everything else, with eight places to eat and six floor-wasting walk-in closets and so on. So on behalf of myself and anyone else who has a favorite past-time for which a big open very-well-ventilated relatively-unfinished double-purpose area would be of great interest, could you possibly highlight houses that successfully incorporate two-car garages and/or major garage-like workshop areas? Because if it’s possible at all, I’d really like to see how one could go about doing/designing it intelligently.

    ps. Unrelated but as long as I’m commenting here: another thread disparaged “ramp to house” as indulgent. My knees don’t think such things are indulgent, as long as we’re not talking about an ugly really-long double-switchback deck-walk addition smacked on the front of the house. My SO, after major car accident and broken pelvis, sure hated even just the one step into our house; with crutches, even that much can be difficult. Beyond that, our city recently changed its coding for new buildings: now every new house must have at least one at-level, no-step-required entry. Someone with good knees might see that as indulgent, but in terms of accessibility, it’s not hurting the good-knees folks to take a ramp instead of two or three steps, but it could make all kinds of difference to someone on crutches, who walks with a cane, who’s in a wheelchair, has knee problems, or even is blind. A well-integrated and -designed ramp isn’t indulgent, it’s a sign of a really thoughtful architect who’s paying attention!

  • BradW

    kaigou – I completely agree with everything you said.

    There is nothing wrong with the garage as a car park, storage, work or hobby area. The garage unfortunately represents a design problem which is difficult to solve cost-effectively. So architecturally it is better to not have them. And from a green perspective, anything related to the car is bad. So on this site you will find the majority do not share your fondness for the garage.

    As to the comments about ramps – anyone who thinks accessibility is not important is simply wrong. Every architect and engineer working in the building industry should be very well aware of accessibility requirements and codes.

  • Doug Roberts

    Kaigou — I too would be interested in exploring the concept of a “slow garage”. I am currently struggling with the challenge of finishing the interior of our 20′ x 20′ drivewayless double semi-detached garage to make it both more attractive and more functional from a storage and hobby perspective, while preserving its ability to provide off-street parking for at least 2 cars. I have already installed some overhead storage racks along the front wall and would love to add a car lift to store my “toy” up and out of the way in the winter, so that we could park both transportation vehicles in the garage during the cold weather. Unfortunately the ceiling isn’t currently high enough and the roof peak and eaves are already at or close to the maximum allowed height, so the only way to make room for a lift would be to do major surgery to the roof trusses. Depending on the style of car lift, I might also need to reinforce the concrete slab at the weight-bearing point(s). After all that I would still need to convince my wife that it would be safe for her to park and walk under the lift. Talk about a major project! It would probably be a whole lot cheaper (and easier on the marriage) to rent a vehicle storage bay somewhere each winter, but we guys like to keep our toys close at hand. ;-)

  • kaigou

    Brad, Doug: I think what makes a garage most difficult is that there just isn’t always enough land to be able to tilt the garage so its short face is towards the street, and that’s about the limit of possible design solutions I can come up with. Even tilted, you end up with just as much impermeable surface by dint of having to pour a much longer driveway to make that curve (unless you’re lucky enough to be on a corner). My property is triangular, thanks to being in a cul-de-sac, so the only reasonable placement for the builder’s mandatory two-car garage is facing the street head-on; if the garage were set perpendicular to the street, my entire front yard would be pavement. From a builder’s perspective, head-on is a decent design: less engineering/street with the driveway design, simple, straightforward. From a design perspective, it’s “big honking garage doors and, uhm, there’s a house somewhere back there”.

    “The garage unfortunately represents a design problem which is difficult to solve cost-effectively. So architecturally it is better to not have them.”

    That’s not how I see architecture, though: when you have a design problem that’s difficult to solve cost-effectively, that’s *exactly* when you *do* need architecture. A builder/contractor will go for the most cost-effective, which would be no garage except for the greater cost-return of buyers demanding two-car garages, which makes the less-than-aesthetic design worth it, in a builder’s mind. An architect has all that training and experience specifically to solve the difficult problems like this, in ways a builder (or renovator) might never even consider. So when I hit a dead-end in potential solutions, I say: this is where I need an architect, not: well, gee, this is where an architect’s answer would be: “just don’t do it.”

    I mean, hell, I can’t even figure out how (or if it’d be possible) to reduce our impermeable footprint by reducing the driveway — because the motorcycle needs a fair bit of room to back up and turn around when leaving the garage, and it’s got to get around the car to do that. (I justify the bike with the fact that it gets 50+ mpg, but sheesh, my little Veedub has a smaller turning radius than that big fat Hog! XD)

  • Doug Roberts


    Kaigou — Instead of reducing the driveway have you considered surfacing it with a permeable product such as Turfstone?

  • kaigou

    I have! But our city has some really peculiar rules about what’s legit for driveways and what’s not. I think some of the city’s positions against non-fully-concrete driveways is because most of the city is former county land, where it was okay to have gravel driveways (which present their own problems in terms of runoff). The city just doesn’t seem to have fully incorporated new technologies into the code, and for all that it’s a strongly green city, the limits of alternate driveway tech seem stop at fake/real cobblestones or bricks… which are great, but can present their own problems for motorcycles.

    My favorite driveway solution is actually in my neighborhood, and involves a gorgeous old tree that the builder, uncharacteristically, decided to save — so the driveway literally splits about halfway up, and goes around the tree. Driving past, you see the house, and there’s the implication of a two-car garage, but the old oak tree is big enough that it takes your attention instead. It does mean the driveway takes up more area side-to-side, so cars can get around, but even then, the tree shades the driveway so it doesn’t become a big honking heat sink (like my southwest facing driveway does, ugh). I’d have to get an exception to do that myself, though, because like most jurisdictions you can’t build within X feet of the property line, and I’m at the limit on one side. Bummer, or I’d be out there with the sledgehammer instead of writing this post!

    Regardless, that particular solution is one I keep in mind for next-house-time, because I think it’s a great way to reduce the visual impact when angling the garage isn’t possible.

  • John Green

    Who works with garage doors in edmonton? I want to get mine redone because it is falling apart. I just don’t know where to start.