I started to look into just how much weight I could safely hang from my garage ceiling before I had to worry about it falling down on my car (or my head if I was in the garage at the time).
One of the best ways to open up some extra space in your garage is to get as much off the floor as you can and put it in overhead storage. We’ve got plastic tubes of seasonal clothes and holiday decorations that we walk past every time we go to the car.
So I started looking into overhead storage options to get them out of the way.
How much weight can I hang from my garage ceiling? If you have another floor above your garage, the ceiling\floor structure can usually support up to 40 lbs/SqFt (including the weight of the floor above it). If you do not have another floor above, the ceiling trusses may only be able to hang a maximum of 10 lbs/SqFt. A structural engineer can determine whether how much weight your garage ceiling can safely support.
To give you a little background, I have a two-story home with my master bedroom directly above the garage. So instead of ceiling joists in my garage, I’ve actually got the floor joist for the second floor serving as my garage ceiling. That’s great news for me because floor joists are built to withstand a lot more weight than a ceiling truss.
But just what is the difference?
What kind of ceiling do you have in your garage?
In most American homes, the roofs are designed at a triangle or pyramid. In the old days, the underlying structure of the roof was built with rafters. Now, almost 80% of new construction is built using trusses instead.
Think of a truss (or truss web) as an interconnected set of triangles stacked together. This allows them to be structurally strong while using the least amount of building materials possible.
To explain, take a look at this image of a new home being built in my development. This is an image of a truss which acts as the basis for the second story floor as well as the first story ceiling (floor trusses).
In this image, the wooden triangles make up the truss web. That’s where the strength comes from. The two parallel beams are called chords. Since this is a floor truss, the drywall ceiling is secured to the bottom chord (beam). The floor plywood is then attached to the top chord to evenly distribute the weight with the carpet going on top or that.
If you have a ceiling\floor truss combination like you see in this picture, you should be able to safely support up to 40 lbs per square foot, discounting for any weight you have on the floor above (source: Florida Building Code). In my case, I have a our bedroom furniture directly above the garage so I would limit my storage, just to be safe.
Floor joists on the other hand are large beams usually spaced 16” apart, supported by your wall studs and any load-bearing walls in the open spaces of your home. The second story floor is then placed on top of the joists which gives it the strength to support your weight.
Joists don’t have as much support as trusses so you’ll often see load-bearing walls in between to help out. A joist is much stronger at the edges than in the middle. It’s fairly common to see ceilings sag in homes with ceiling joists.
The big thing to keep in mind with joists is that they are stronger at the edges than they are in the middle, and thus subject to bowing.
You can see in the image above how the majority of the support for the joists is at either edge. There is a small support beam in between each joist, but that is primarily to keep a uniform distance in between.
If you don’t have another floor directly over your garage, your options are more limited.
Here’s another picture of trusses in the same new construction house as before. In this case, there’s no floor above so the truss web doesn’t need to be anywhere near as strong.
If you compare this to the earlier image you’ll notice that the diagonal beams are longer and spread farther apart. These trusses have the simple job of pushing the roof away from the center of the house, not supporting weight above it.
If you only have ceiling trusses like you see in this image (no floor above your garage), it IS NOT RECOMMENDED that you attach anything to the lower support beams (chords).
They were only designed to support the weight of the roof, drywall and lighting fixtures – not additional storage!
Installing overhead storage (location, location, location)
It’s way outside the scope of this article to do a step-by-step installation guide, but I will make a couple of suggestions on how to install overhead storage, if you want to go that route.
Spread the load
The most important thing you can do when installing overhead storage is to spread the weight load over as many trusses or joists as possible. Most support beams will run horizontally across the width of your garage (parallel to your garage door).
Never mount your ceiling brackets along the length of a single joist. It will be much weaker than if you installed it over multiple joists.
Use wall studs for extra support
Most of the DIY overhead storage that I’ve seen on Amazon is only mounted to the ceiling and hangs down from thin metal support brackets. That means it can flex and bend as the weight on it shifts.
That’s great in an earthquake, but not when stuff is hanging over top of your car.
Look for an overhead storage rack than also mounts to the wall studs. This will give it extra support and eliminate any flexing and shaking. Monkey Bar Storage and Topp Rax are just a couple manufacturers that have this option.
Don’t max out the weight
Let me make one thing very clear.
Manufacturers of overhead garage storage only care about how much weight their product can hold before IT breaks.
How much weight your roof can hold before it caves in is a totally different question. Don’t look at their advertised weight capacity and think that your ceiling can automatically hold that. It might not.
When in doubt, go light on the weight you’re storing up there.
When should you call an expert?
Before I bought my first house, I’d never heard of using a structural engineer for a residential home.
Sure…you need them to make sure that a bridge doesn’t collapse or a building doesn’t slide down the back of a hill, but what else do they do?
It turns out quite a bit.
Structural engineers could look at the specifics of your construction and determine exactly how much weight your joists and trusses can support.
On average, structural engineers charge between $300-$500 per hour. Considering the cost to repair a sagging floor can cost upwards of $5000, I think that’s money well spent.
Should you even use your garage ceiling for storage?
Your garage ceiling is meant to handle the weight of drywall, light fixtures, and your garage door opener. The more weight you hang up there, the higher the potential to bring the entire thing crashing down on your car.
But I don’t want to go all Dark Side here. Overhead garage storage is a great option for most people as long as it’s done correctly.
If you find a solidly built rack, that’s installed using wall studs for support, you should be able to hang a good amount of weight from your garage ceiling and eliminate some of that clutter in your garage.
For more tips on eliminating garage clutter, check out my guide on how to clean up your garage without making it an entire weekend project.