Do you need a garage if you have a heated driveway and walk?

Real estate is expensive. Cars are designed to be stored outdoors. Why devote precious real estate to a garage then? A parked car is not subject to the same setback restrictions as the structure of the house. So the area occupied by a conventional garage can be useful living space and the cars can be left in the driveway.

Perhaps you object that global warming is not yet complete. We will continue to suffer from occasional cold temperatures and precipitation that turns to ice on the driveway and front walk. This makes it challenging to walk from the parked car to the house.

Instead of devoting precious building envelope space to a garage, why not instead heat the driveway and front walk? Then the path from the car to the house is always ice-free. This will also be useful for the day when private car ownership is obsolete and we are dropped off in our driveways by a self-driving car.

The hardware for a heated driveway or walk seems to cost about $8 per square foot (source).  A landscaping company estimates $17-19 per square foot installed here in the Boston suburbs. It may be necessary to add a drain so that the melted snow doesn’t simply re-freeze as ice. Still, if you consider that two cars plus a walk might be 500 square feet (about $10,000 total for the electric heat), that’s not a big cost compared to what the square footage of the garage would be worth as living space (400 square feet times $200 per square foot?). Operating costs for this much heated driveway/walk seem to be roughly $500/year (“no customer has ever complained about the usage cost” says the contractor).

One would still need enough space for storing bicycles and other “garage junk” but a house with a three-car garage could become a house with a one-car garage.

Readers: What’s wrong with this theory? Why do we need garages if we can heat a portion of the driveway instead?


13 thoughts on “Do you need a garage if you have a heated driveway and walk?

  1. Too many errors here to go through all of them. I will just point out a few.

    1. Cars are designed to survive a limited time outdoors in certain conditions, but it is at a cost. Maybe you are leasing and you don’t care. Maybe you are transporting little monsters in the minivan and some sun damage is literally the least of your worries. But the difference between a car that sat in the garage for most of the six years and one that sat at the curb is thousands of dollars when you go to sell it.

    2. Some communities have standards about parked cars EVEN IN YOUR OWN DRIVEWAY. And yes, they can force you to shove them in the garage displacing your sons Reggae-Punk-Soviet-Rock band, as unfair as that may seem (to you, since they then set up in the living room).

    3. My own personal East coast desire for a garage was all about loading and unloading the car in relative comfort. I would even rather have a smaller television room (uh, whatever you want to call your family room) and have more room to walk around the car. Obviously, you like running to the house in the pelting rain carrying the bags from Costco. That’s why I live in Southern California (AND have a garage).

    4. There’s a guy in NJ who used geothermal energy to heat the driveway and sidewalk of his house. It was written up during the last storm. It worked perfectly. Negligible operating cost.

  2. I think more useful is a covered driveway and walkway. A simple, angled vinyl/aluminum roof on legs, that will dump snow/precipitation on the side(s). Wood/shingles if you like. Drain and gutter on the side. Seems like a simpler and drier option if you get more than just a little snow. I think these were pretty common as alternative to garage, though usually didn’t cover the whole driveway. The main objection is they can be ugly if allowed to get dilapidated as they age – that’s of course a problem with any part of the house.

    Would that be prohibited under a lot of suburban ordinances?

  3. I live in London and all houses on my street have been built with a garage. Now my house is the only one with the garage left – others are bedrooms or second receptions.

  4. lvl: The roof of a driveway cover would have to meet setback requirements, the same as any other part of the house structure. In our suburb that’s 50′ from the road.

  5. A large “parking portico” is much better (and more practical) than heated driveway. If parking portico won’t work because of setback requirements, go with a garage. And heat the garage, ~45°F (natural gas space heater with a good fan for better distribution).
    Why garage:
    1. sun does a number on everything, dash material and even tires
    2. no need to sweep car after snow (windows will always be in good shape after snow/frost)
    3. no interference during driveway snow removal
    4. a garage is a luxury treat you give yourself
    5. keep one door opener clicker in the house, one in the sunglasses cubby in the headliner

  6. Automotive paint disintegrates in sunlight. Of course, with today’s negative interest rates & housing inflation, you can just get a new car every month on home equity.

  7. Other than the above-mentioned accelerated aging of uncovered vehicles, my biggest argument in favor of keeping a garage is I have somewhere to work on my cars and motorcycles. It’s illegal for me to do it in my driveway, anyway.

    If you don’t know how to do at least your own oil and brake pad changes, you’re not a man in my book 😉

  8. A garage is the same reason why you have a hangar for aircraft. I do use heated mats for my front door steps because they tend to ice up and ice melt destroys the brick and cement.

  9. Ahh… A common misconception about garages. A garage is to be used only for storage of overflow household and garden items. Plus the occasional beer party and talk radio show.


  10. This might be a relic from an earlier vintage of car technology, but at one time an argument against heated garages was that salt laden meltwater from the car would hasten deterioration from rust. A car kept outside would have less meltwater and an overall slower rate of the oxidation reaction because of lower temperature.

  11. At 4.25%, the present value of $500/yr for electricity over the next 30 years is about $8400. That nearly doubles the cost to $18,500. Perhaps nobody has complained, but it’s a significant component of the cost.

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