Last Updated on April 19, 2018

Buyers Beware – Is That Garage Going To Work?

By Alan F Macdonald

In the last couple decades, houses have been getting much bigger – everyone wants a large house with a bonus room upstairs, a large ensuite and a study or flex room off the foyer. But there is a functional space that has been overlooked for some time now – attached garage space.

If you look at any new neighbourhood, you’ll find that they are dominated by front-drive garages. You don’t see houses – you see garages, so why aren’t they more important to home buyers? Well I think they are, but I think the problem is that no one is measuring them before they buy. So home builders keep saving money by building small ones, and by the time people find out they can’t park inside, it’s too late – they just got a house that has a pretty annoying flaw – the garage is just too small.

If you can’t fit two reasonably sized cars in a garage – or a car and a small SUV or minivan – is it really a two-car garage? I don’t think so. And remember, new areas do not typically have much frontage, so you can’t just park on the street most times. You’re going to have to park in the garage or on the driveway – which means you might be in the way of the person who actually gets to park inside. I think it would be a tragedy to pay a half a million dollars for a house and not be able to park your cars in the garage. We live in Edmonton, and it gets cold – and your car will be covered in snow and ice most winter mornings. You really should be able to park in your own garage.

An attached garage in Ambleside, Edmonton
An attached garage with a 16′ door in Ambleside, Edmonton.

Many homes will have a garage that is, let’s say 20 feet wide and 20 feet long. So any car that is smaller than this will fit easily, right? Wrong. Don’t forget that garages are measured from the outside – so that 20 foot wide garage is actually about 19 feet wide when you take into account the wall thickness. This can already cause a problem for people who have wide vehicles – especially large SUVs and trucks. And don’t forget, you need to open the doors of your vehicle, too. Can you open the door and still get out? Sometimes you might have quite a bit of trouble just doing that. The second issue besides width is of course length. 20 feet will accommodate many vehicle lengths – you’re not going to be able to open the hatch of your minivan easily with the garage door closed, but you should be able to park and walk around the car – at least on three sides. This might be ok in an empty, unfinished garage, but what about where there is a staircase leading into the home? Staircases have to be 3 feet wide and have to have a landing if the door is too high off the floor – so some of these staircases are actually biting into your parking space by quite a bit. And it’s not like you can just take them off.

Let’s look at an example garage space to see what vehicles might fit:

Example 20 foot by 20 foot garage.
Example 20 foot by 20 foot garage.

Here we have a 20 foot by 20 foot garage – pretty typical in many newer neighbourhoods. You can see that a minivan and compact car may fit in this garage – but not with much room to spare. Remember, you need to be able to drive in and out of that garage door without tearing the side mirrors off your car. And what if you have a full-sized car or an SUV? Can you store anything on the walls, have any shelving in the garage? Can you fit both vehicles in, or do you have to flip coins to decide who gets to park inside?

Now imagine that garage is only 18 feet long, or that has only 19 feet in width. Now what can you park in it? There are lots of garages like this even in new homes. One example I saw was a garage in a 20 year old home in south Edmonton that was too tight even for a medium sized car to fit. It was an instant deal-killer for my buyers. It was a defect in construction and not one that they found reasonable. It might not have looked so bad if it was empty, but we saw how tightly two vehicles fit in it. You might not always know if a garage is big enough by just looking, so measure the garage and measure your vehicles. Think about how much space you need to open up doors, open the rear hatch, walk around the cars, get kids in, get the groceries out. All of these things will matter to you when you live there – think about them now. Don’t assume the parking space was designed for real-world use. Make sure it is.

If you live in Edmonton, you’ll probably want to park inside for half the year. And if you paid for a garage, you probably want to use it. Don’t forget to find out if your car fits before you buy – otherwise, you might be paying for a large unheated room with a wide door that’s only good for hockey equipment and your recycling. That doesn’t seem like a very effective use of your hard earned money to me. Make sure it works for you. Measure twice – buy once.


by +Alan F Macdonald REALTOR® | Copyright © –


6 thoughts on “Buyers Beware – Is That Garage Going To Work?

  1. Wish I had seen an article like this in 2010 when I bought my house.
    We focus on so many other things and assume the garage is subject to some sort of building code that mandates a minimum size.
    I am not sure I can even find a home in our region that does not have a tiny garage.
    Some luxury homes have gigantic garages but then a one acre lot with a 6000 sq/ft home is not what I can afford.

    1. Hi Mark. That really sucks you weren’t aware of the issue beforehand. If you need a real estate agent next time you buy, let me know! I’ll make sure to mention the garage size before you put in an offer.

  2. Great article. This is a lose-lose situation as garages become smaller due to building/land costs, while car companies are making their vehicles larger to satisfy consumer demands for ‘bigger is better’.

  3. Thank you Allan. Shopping for a house now, I’ve run into the same problem: infill house with a nominally 2-car garage with a 19×19 ft space inside. Would have not noticed without 2 cars in it but my agent noted this issue (thank you Dave!). The owners have a sedan inside and a small SUV parked outside…. wonder why.

    I am beginning to wonder how many of the houses have that: 16’ doors and 20’ external wall measurement leaving 19’ inside.

    1. Hi Elena, Glad you didn’t get caught. All outside garage measurements of 20′ will have about a 19′ inside. This can be too small for some vehicle combinations.

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