If you’ve maximized your wall space (read about some of the best ways to do that here) or just don’t have a lot, you may be looking to your ceiling as a great storage option. It is but there are a few things to consider.
So how much weight can you hang from your garage ceiling? Regular garage ceiling joists of modern construction can generally support 50lb/sqft. If you have trusses or your joists are supporting more than just sheetrock or your garage is older this number could be significantly less. Remember to spread the load ACROSS your joists and not along them. Your joists are strongest closest to the wall and weaker towards the middle. Also important is that metal joists will not support the same weight as wood. Many manufacturers do not recommend using their products with metal studs or joists.
Finding the best spot for overhead storage
Most overhead storage systems will come with some form of brackets that attach to the ceiling. This serves two purposes. First and most obviously it gives the storage unit something to attach to. Secondly, it spreads the load across more than one joist.
If you have unpainted sheetrock on your ceiling you can see where the joists are and which way they run. Just look for the dimples where the nails go into the joists. You will see a few rows of nails that are close together. Those rows are where the joists are.
To find good potential storage areas, look for a place where you can hang a system across a few rows. A good rule of thumb is that the longest measure of the storage shelving should go across the joists. This ensures that the system will have the most support possible. If you turn the system the other way you may risk overburdening the joists.
The manufacturer has designed the system to be hung across joists and the weight rating on the system assumes that you are spreading that load. Also, the unit is most likely designed and sized to accommodate 16” or 24” on center joist construction. This is also an important thing to remember with older buildings that may not conform to modern building standards.
Don’t forget your garage doors! Chances are you are looking at your ceiling dreaming about where you can hang your stuff. Is the door closed? Open those doors and dream again. Only if you have a high ceiling can you consider the space between the open door and the ceiling as a storage option.
Properly measuring the space for an overhead storage unit
Overhead measuring is a pain in the neck even on a good day. If you are doing this alone be prepared to go up and down the ladder many times throughout your day.
The height of your ceiling is, of course, a big factor for where you can install your rack. Some lucky folks have enough space between their open garage door and the ceiling to make use of that space, others like me are not so lucky. If you don’t have enough space between your garage door and ceiling do your initial measurements with the doors up. I put a big piece of red tape where the door ends to act as a reminder.
If you have trouble visualizing how big the storage system will be, you can map it out on the floor with tape. This is a totally optional step but sometimes it helps to have an actual rectangle to look at.
You want to find the center of your joists for maximum safety. If you’re on the edge of a joist you risk having the bolt split the wood or having the unit pull out from the ceiling over time under load. A stud finder can be helpful or you can just tap on the ceiling and listening for the solid sound it makes when you are hitting a stud. Mark as close to the middle of that as you can get.
If you install the unit right up against the wall your job is a bit easier but in any case, you will need a tape measure or a laser measuring tool to figure out where to put the braces and drill your holes. The key things are to make sure you are measuring from the wall toward the middle and are in the center of the joist.
Selecting the best storage system for you
There are lots of different options for hanging your things from a ceiling and which one of these you choose has a lot to do with what you want to store.
If you are storing kayaks, paddle/surfboards or other oversized sporting equipment you might want to look at specific solutions that cater to your needs and properly protect your equipment. For instance, you never want to hang your kayak from the lift handles or suspend it right-side-up as this will warp and damage it. You want to hang it on its side to prevent damage.
A more general solution like a mounted rack can be perfect for boxes and other stackable items. Fleximounts makes great, easy to install solutions that are rated up to 560 lbs. They come in a variety of sizes so make sure you get the one that works best for your area. Here’s a link to them on Amazon. Fleximounts also makes wall shelf units and various accessories. You can read more about adjustable shelves from Fleximounts by reading our in-depth review here.
If you want to get fancy you can get a pulley and cable system for not too much more money. You can even get a motorized system that will help save your back and still keep things out of the way, like this one on Amazon.
What not to store in your ceiling rack system
As convenient as it is to hang storage from the ceiling, remember that gravity is not your friend. Even though your system has a very high weight rating it is probably not good to push it to the max. So leave the heavy bags of cement to a sturdy wall unit like the Rhino Shelf (click the link to find out why they are my personal favorites or just get them on Amazon) or a solid freestanding shelf rack like the ones made by Edsal. Check Edsal shelves out here on Amazon.
Likewise, store unstable objects (an absurd example would be bowling balls) or fragile objects lower to the ground. A little common sense can save you a trip to the body shop or an awkward and embarrassing explanation to the ER nurse.
Lighting and work areas
One last thing to consider is how overhead storage will affect the lighting in your garage. If you have any kind of work area this is especially important.
Overhead storage units can also provide the opportunity to add additional lighting. If you opted to put your unit close to a wall or corner directly above a workbench, you can use the underside of that unit to hang lighting. It’s a great place to hang some tools and other essentials. If your unit is in the middle of the ceiling, a spotlight for your work will counteract the shadows.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. I hope I have answered some question for you and gave you some food for thought. The big takeaways here, I think are, distribute your load across joists and measure carefully.