Q: I finally did it. I bought the car of my dreams, a 2011 Honda Civic Hybrid that I’ve nicknamed Al (yep, I gave my Hybrid a name in honor of you know who). But there’s one slight problem. Now that I’ve greened my ride, it’s occurred to me that the place where Al lives most of the time, my garage, isn’t up to par when it comes to eco-friendliness.


Back when I owned a gas-guzzler, I didn’t pay much attention to my garage (aka the junk drawer), but now that I have Al, I’d like to give him suitable, environmentally sustainable accommodations. Have any thoughts on how I can green my garage and make Al feel more at home without breaking the bank?


Ingrid, Capitola, Calif.

A: Hey Ingrid,

Awww … how sweet. Congrats on the new purchase. I see what you mean with wanting to surround Al with items that similarly have a low(er) environment impact so that he’s in good company. Here’s the thing: Garages are intimidating to green given that they’re crap depositories where all the “bad” (read: toxic/hazardous) stuff that you don’t want in your home is stashed and forgotten about. Essentially, greening your garage is all about phasing out the questionable items and then repopulating and reorganizing it in a space-efficient, eco-friendly manner. Here’s what I would do:

Start by setting aside a few hours — or a few days — to haul out anything that’s not a good garage-mate for Al and do some serious sorting and decluttering. Half-empty cans of paint, used motor oil, ancient weed killer, chemical solvents, you get the picture. All of these things can be let go at your discretion. Just ask yourself: “Do I really need this? Can I replace this with an alternative that’s more environmentally friendly?” Keep in mind that anything that’s hazardous should be disposed of properly. Check out 1-800-Recyling.com’s handy-dandy Recycle Search database to find a waste facility near you that accepts hazardous household materials.

Next, go through those dreaded junk boxes — or heaps — filled with old sports equipment, camping gear, clothing and holiday gift rejects that pretty much inhabit every garage. Set aside stuff that can be donated to a thrift store, given away on Freecycle or hawked at a proper garage sale. Be conservative when it comes to actually throwing things away.

With your garage now empty, I’d go about touching up, cleaning and reorganizing. Transform those old, pitted out T-shirts into rags and go to town with a broom and a spray bottle of homemade vinegar-based cleaning solution to rid your garage of accumulated grit and grime. If you think Al would appreciate a fresh coat of paint, opt for a low/no-VOC variety. You might not spend a whole lot of QT in your garage, but if it’s attached to the house the indoor quality in there is important. And if you haven’t already, this is your chance to swap out any incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient CFLs or LEDs. Also, if your recycling “area” is in your garage, a thorough garage clean is a great time to reorganize your recycling station and perhaps invest in some new sorting bins.

I certainly would never want to upstage Al but if you have a bike and keep it in your garage, I’d look perhaps into how it’s stored. If it’s collecting dust and taking up space in a corner, the Cyloc Bicycle Wall Mount is a stylish, space-efficient upgrade.

You mentioned you were looking to keep things cheap but there’s an important garage greening task that I shouldn’t leave out even though it might require more of a financial investment. I’m talkin’ about the garage door, the largest door in your home. Attached garages can be a significant source of energy loss if not properly insulated. Weather stripping along the seams of the door to prevent leaks isn’t a huge investment of time or money. Neither is insulating the door itself using a DIY kit. But if your garage door is truly old and rickety and in need or some serious help, there are plenty of heavy-duty, insulated garage doors on the market. Many can earn you a tax credit since you’re undertaking an energy-efficient home improvement project. I’d also take a gander at Eco-Built Garage Doors made from 100 percent recycled wood fiber. Beyond the door, insulating the walls between your home and your garage is also something to consider if finances allow.

So there you go, Ingrid, a few ways you can make Al feel more at home. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day so depending on the state of your garage, it may not reach a state of clean green-dom overnight.

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

How should I go about greening my garage?
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