One of the best ways to open up some extra space in your garage is to put as much as possible in overhead storage. However, it’s good to know how much weight you can safely hang from your garage ceiling before you do.
After all, you don’t want everything falling down on my car or your head if you’re in the garage at the time.
However, how your home’s ceiling was constructed impacts how much weight you can hang from it.
According to the International Residential Code (IRC), lower-level ceilings in multi-story homes are designed to support a minimum constant load of 20 lbs/SqFt, including the weight of the floor above it, plus a live load of 30 lbs/SqFt. Ceilings in single-story homes are only designed to support a constant load of 5 lbs/SqFt., plus a live load of 10 lbs/SqFt. This varies by the span of the joist and the size, grade, and species of lumber used.
In my case, I have a two-story home with my master bedroom directly above the garage. So instead of ceiling joists in my garage, I have the trusses supporting the second floor as my garage ceiling.
That’s great news because floor joists are built to withstand a lot more weight than a ceiling truss.
But just what is the difference between trusses and joists?
What Kind of Ceiling Do You Have in Your Garage?
Ceiling\Floor Trusses (Another Floor Above Your Garage)
In most American homes, the roofs are designed in a triangle or pyramid.
In the old days, the roof’s underlying structure 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. 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 that acts as the second-story floor and the first-story ceiling (floor trusses).
In this image, the wooden triangles inside two parallel beams make up the truss web.
Since this is a combined ceiling\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 floor on top.
Ceiling\floor truss combination 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 our bedroom furniture directly above the garage, so I would limit my storage just to be safe.
Joists (Older Home, Flat Roof & No Floor Above Garage)
Floor joists, on the other hand, are large beams usually spaced 16” apart. They’re supported by your wall studs and any load-bearing walls in the open spaces of your home.
Thus, the second-story floor is placed on top of the joists. That 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.
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.
It’s fairly common to see ceilings sag in homes with ceiling joists.
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.
You can add overhead storage around the edges, as long as it is supported by the wall studs as well. However, I wouldn’t recommend attaching a punching bag to your garage ceiling.
Ceiling Trusses (Modern Home & No Floor Above Garage)
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. They’re not designed to support the weight above them.
If you only have ceiling trusses as 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. However, 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.
I always thought they just made 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 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.
Is Using Your Garage Ceiling For Storage Safe?
Your garage ceiling is meant to handle the weight of drywall, light fixtures, and your garage door opener. The more weight you hang from your garage ceiling, 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.
As we’ve seen, it’s important to consider what type of ceiling your garage has. But you also need to consider how much weight your overhead storage rack is rated for, as well as the weight of the ceiling, lights, and drywall.
Before you purchase an overhead storage rack for your garage, I recommend checking out my article, making overhead storage as safe as possible.
Can My Garage Ceiling Support a Hoist?
Garage ceiling hoists are a different challenge.
Your garage ceiling needs to be able to support the weight of the hoist itself (usually less than 50 lbs.). It’ll also need to be able to support the weight of whatever you’re trying to lift as well.
If all you’re lifting is a single kayak or the roof of your Jeep, then there’s not much risk. However, some ceiling hoists can lift up to 2200 lbs, which can quickly overwhelm your garage ceiling’s joists or trusses.
If you’re considering adding a ceiling hoist to your garage, be sure to check out this article, where I go into the specifics in some more detail.
Whether you’re trying to add some ceiling storage or you want to install a hoist to help with the heavy lifting, knowing how much weight you can safely hang from your garage ceiling is an important first step.
Then you can purchase a solidly built overhead storage rack or hoist and eliminate some of that clutter in your garage.