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Build a storage loft in back of garage

Dear Ms. Builder: Our garage has a fairly high (9 ft.) ceiling. We need extra storage space and it seems like there is a lot of wasted space over the hoods of the cars. Is it possible to build a storage loft? - Lisa N.

Dear Lisa: Not only is it possible, it is an excellent idea and really not very difficult to build yourself. This space above the front of the cars is seldom used and building a loft can provide hundreds of cubic feet of extra storage space.

First, you must determine the height and depth of the storage loft. Consider the items you plan to store on it. If they are not very tall, position the loft high enough above the floor so that you can walk under it without stooping.

If you plan to put some tall items on it and you want the most storage space, go ahead and position lower. Since you will not be able to walk under it easily, make it as low as possible while leaving clearance above the car hoods. It is also easier to access a loft that is lower.

If you have ever built a deck, building a loft uses a very similar design concept. A loft is basically just a raised deck built inside your garage instead of in your back yard.

Let's get started. Attach a 2x8 ledger board to the back wall. Position it so that the bottom provides the height clearance you desire. One-half inch-diameter lag bolts are used to attach the ledger board to the wall. Use one bolt at each wall stud location.

To support the loft at the end over the cars, run 4x4 posts from floor to ceiling. It is a good idea to use pressure-treated posts. The garage floor will get wet when you hose it out and when you pull the car in after rain or snow storms.

Bolt two 2x8 pieces of lumber together to create a horizontal beam. This beam will be attached to vertical posts to support the floor joists for the loft. Use through bolts to attach the horizontal beam to the posts.

Attaching the floor joists differs slightly from building a deck. On a deck, the joists usually rest on top of the beam. Use joist hangers on both the beam and ledger ends. Position the hangers at the bottom of the beam to provide as much loft storage height as possible. Position the joist hangers on standard 16-inch centers.

One very important note that is often missed: always use structural nails when attaching the joist hangers to the beam and ledger. Do not use standard roofing nails that are not as strong. The head can pop off and the nail shank may actually shear right through from a heavy load.

Although you can get by with cheaper 1/2-inch plywood for the loft floor, 3/4-inch will hold up better and provide a more stable feel when you walk on it. Attach the plywood with nails or screws like when building a deck.

Even though you may only store long items like pipe, lumber, etc. on the loft, cover the entire floor with plywood for safety. Also build a strong rail with narrow openings because your children will surely get up there to play.

Don't worry about fancy stairs to access the loft when it is completed. Just a wooden ladder near one is adequate and takes up less garage space. If you feel more comfortable on stairs, purchase and install a metal spiral staircase kit and locate it in a back corner.

Tools and materials required: standard deck building/woodworking tools, 2x6 (joists) and 2x8 (beam) lumber, 4x4 pressure-treated posts, plywood, joist hangers, assorted screws, nails, lag and through bolts

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.