The attached garage has always been a bad idea

front facade
Promo image KB Homes, Florida

Dozens have died from carbon monoxide poisoning because people leave their cars running.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: instead of fumbling with car keys, many people now have wireless key fobs. Except that many people also now leave car their running even after they get out of it. According to the New York Times, they are "weaned from the habit of turning and removing a key to shut off the motor, drivers — particularly older ones — can be lulled by newer, quieter engines into mistakenly thinking that it has stopped running."

Consequently, more than two dozen people have been killed by carbon monoxide since 2006. The car manufacturers have been aware of the problem for over a decade, but cannot agree on a fix. The regulators are not much help either. According to the Times,

The traffic safety administration released a video two years ago that highlighted the risks of keyless vehicles, including carbon monoxide poisoning. But the agency has postponed adoption of the keyless ignition regulation three times, and in the meantime at least 21 people have died.

Read the whole article in the New York Times.

In most new North American houses, attached garages have become a standard feature. In fact, most suburban developments have streetscapes that are little more than a wall of garage doors. The door from the garage has become pretty much the main entrance to the house; the real front door has become essentially ceremonial. It is all very convenient but it has never been a good idea. Even back in 1953 Frank Lloyd Wright objected to garages and preferred carports, writing in The Future of Architecture:

CarportLloyd Alter/ view from carport in Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House/CC BY 2.0

The indispensable car? It is still designed like a buggy. And it is treated like one when it is not in use. The car no longer needs such consideration. If it is weatherproof enough to run out in all weather it ought to be weatherproof enough to stand still under a canopy with a wind screen on two sides. Inasmuch as the car is a feature of the comings and goings of the family, some space at the entrance is the proper place for it. Thus the open car-port comes to take the part of the dangerous closed "garage."

But nobody listened to FLW; as Kate of McMansion Hell notes,

The attached garage was heavily marketed as a luxury feature at the time, much like the gameroom or the firepit is today. The selling point of the attached garage was convenience - being able to enter and exit your car without interference of the conditions outside, and a short distance from the car to your interior door so your lazy ass can carry all your groceries in at once.

People store all kinds of stuff inside their garages beside cars; there are often paints, solvents, lawn mowers and chain saws, all of which may be emitting volatile organic compounds. Cars drip oil, and every time you start the car, it releases carbon monoxide, benzine and other chemicals. For many years in Ontario, where I live, it was not even legal to have a door from the garage; there was too much worry about carbon monoxide poisoning. The rules were changed to allow a tightly sealed door and a curb. Modern garages are supposed to be tightly sealed, but they often are not; according to the Canadian Automobile Association,

Tests conducted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) have shown that air pressure is often lower in a house than in a garage, especially in winter, when doors and windows are closed. This depressurization inside the house can be caused by the operation of a range hood, bathroom fan or heating appliance connected to a chimney. In this situation, toxic air from the garage is drawn into the house through the smallest cracks.

Attached garages also cause significant heat loss. There is a lot of surface area between them; the home is not usually insulated to exterior wall standards; and the garage doors are almost always leaky.

In the end, attached garages can be deadly, they certainly don't belong in a healthy house, and they are not easy to make energy efficient. Perhaps they are not such a good idea.

Related Content on Treehugger.com