Jan 11, 2012

Why Do Houses Have Front-Loading Garages?

Lee's question:

Growing up in the 50's, the garage to our house was detached and in the back of the house, where you couldn't even see it.

To me, there's nothing nice looking about a garage, so why are so many houses that have attached double garages built with the front of the garage as the most prominent feature?

Some are flush with the front of the house, which doesn't look that bad, but so many are built to stick out several yards in front of the actual house, making the garage door the most prominent feature of the house instead of the house itself.

Is there a reason for this?

Answer:

Lee - thanks for your question!

Yep, there's a reason - with the garage out in front, a room can be put behind it (often a family room). That means the house can be narrower...which means the lot can be narrower. Narrower lots means more lots per development.

As land gets more expensive, lots get smaller. The front-loading garage is one way to make houses narrower and lots more affordable.

You're right, garages don't usually look so good out in front on most homes. That's because garage doors are so much bigger than any other openings in the house - they're out of scale. And garage doors often have very little in the way of detailing, so they're usually big bland holes in the wall.

Some homes, however, have better-looking doors, and detailing to match. Fortunately, most garage door manufacturers have added "carriage" style and "craftsman" style garage doors to their catalogs. That helps a lot.

In many "new urbanism" developments the front-loading garage has been banned in favor of the old alley-loaded garage - like the one you grew up with. That's a great trend - and a big improvement to a community plan. But it costs more - you're not going to see much of this in starter-home developments. And since the detached garage is a non-starter in inclement weather, you won't see it much in temperate and cold climates.

Lastly, alley-loading and rear-loading garages eat up backyard space...in communities without common green space, that's a tall hurdle to get over.

Like you, I hope to see fewer front-loading garages. It's happening, but not as frequently as many of us would like. Development of neighborhood plans that have common green space, and that will accommodate alleys is a pretty big deal and usually involves changing local zoning codes. But it's happening here and there, and that's a start.

Great question, thanks!


Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio.

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:01 PM

    This is one of those things that someone decided was true and everyone keeps repeating it. There is no reason to put garage doors out of sight. They should be treated as something that can be made beautiful like in a carriage house. Everything is ugly if you don't try to make it look good...your car, the rims for your tires, your furniture...

    The cost of driveways is a good reason to keep them up front too. So is shoveling snow around here.

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  2. On the right house, I agree completely. Unfortunately, garage doors often appear on the front of very small homes on narrow lots - pushing the doors way out in front of the house.

    I find a home with a human-scaled facade more attractive than one that make the car's entrance the most prominent feature - especially when a home is squeezed onto a lot.

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  3. Anonymous9:53 PM

    That makes sense. But small houses on small lots are probably the result of tight budgets. So I have to question if it is worth the extra driveway cost trying to make this improvement, instead of just dressing up the doors with an arch and some lights or something.

    My issue is more with the McMansions and the zoning boards that mandate the garage doors be out of sight.

    I think this carriage house is very attractive with the doors and all:
    http://www.mackinarchitects.com/projects/carriage-house.aspx

    I also think the facade showing the garage doors on the "lakeside manor" shown on the TMS site are inviting:
    http://www.tmsarchitects.com/
    Check out the boathouse too...I can imagine a garage with that look.

    BTW...what happened to the stock plans you were selling on your site? The link for those no longer works. I really admire some of those plans. Yours is one of a handful of sites I have found over the years that I bookmarked because of your superior good looking home plans.

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  4. Richard, if I might add a comment, not knowing how old this post is. The previous comments refer to houses that were designed by architects for high end houses, not the perpetrator of this epidemic of the snout faced house. I wrote a blog sharing my opinions where I received many accolades as well as some sharp criticism. http://wp.me/p1gGBj-iB Oddly enough it is one of my most well read posts. I believe home builders and developers in my area simply don't care to eliminate this feature; home owners must not care enough to not purchase it. There are other options in many cases including a basement garage on a sloping lot. Until homeowners demonstrate that it is not marketable, I don't see much change happening.

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  5. Good thoughts, and a good post about garages on your well-written blog.

    This discussion - especially in regard to the comments on your article - reminds me that too many of us in the business of residential design worry about what everyone else is doing "wrong" and do too little to make it "right" when we can.

    Lots of folks out there doing ugly garages - wish they weren't, but there they are.

    What we can do is improve the landscape one garage at a time with better design. One of my contributions to the cause is shown in the photo above.

    Thanks again - great to hear from you!

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