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Carport vs. Garage – What are the Design, Structural and Cost Differences?

A home with a garage and a carport.

Not everyone can afford to have both a carport and a garage at home so we set out the main features for these two and the main factors to consider should you need to choose between them.

Do you remember your first car? Most people will never forget the first time they stepped into a vehicle that belonged entirely to them.  There is no forgetting that first sensation of freedom.  That understanding that you can go anywhere you want, right after you fill the car with gas and pay for the title, license, and insurance.

A description of a person’s first car can tell you a lot about them as a person. Practical people tend to purchase a car based on the best combination of quality and low price.  Flashier people may go for the much more expensive car that would be quite impressive if it actually ran.  My first car was a station wagon.  Not because I had a family, but because it was really cheap but in good condition. I wonder what that says about me?

Cars are an interesting piece of human culture. Automobiles made it possible for long daily commutes between work and home, making geographically larger communities possible. On the other hand, the pollution created by internal combustion engines has also had a horrible impact on the environment. But perhaps the largest impact of cars is the impact they have had on our everyday personal lives.

For most people, purchasing their first car is a rite of passage. But right after purchasing the car most of us run into another problem.  How do you protect the car you have purchased?  The elements, birds, and vandals all threaten to damage your most precious possession. Although teenagers don’t have these choices, many adults choose carports or garages.

Understanding Carports

A car parked under a carport.

Because of apartment buildings, carports are perhaps the most widely used version of overhead protection for cars. Simply put, the term carport applies to any overhead structure that does not have four walls. The varieties used in apartment parking lots generally have a series of metal or concrete columns holding a large canopy protecting several vehicles.

Carports used in houses, on the other hand, can be a little different. While many are freestanding, others are attached to the house or shed.  In this way, one or two of the sides of the carport are covered by walls.

Garages, Not Just For Junk

A home garage either opening or closing its rolling door.

Garages, on the other hand, are fully enclosed.  They are sometimes attached to the house but can be freestanding. Garage types are typically separated by the number of cars that can fit inside and the kind of opening device. The most popular sizes are one and two-car garages.  Larger garages can often be seen as a status symbol, implying more extravagant houses and more disposable cash for vehicles.

The other separating factor for garages is whether the door is manual or automatic. Newer structures are built with automatic doors that respond to a garage door opener typically kept inside each of the cars. Automatic openers can help the user avoid unpleasant elements and the task of lifting the large door.  Manual garage doors however rarely require repair.

Asking The Right Questions Before Building Carports or Garages

Talking about the basics of two options is always great.  However, it usually comes down to the question of better selection. While no one article can answer that question for everyone, there are a few factors to consider.  In this case, the factors come down to why you want your car covered.  Understanding your motivations and environment challenges, including costs, can help you make the best choice.

Locations Of Existing Structures

A suburban home with a tiny carport.

One of the first things to consider before choosing whether to construct carports or garages is the arrangement of items on the property.  If your yard is uneven, hilly, or unstable, you may want to consider beginning with a carport. Carports are usually easier and cheaper to construct, and portable versions could allow frequent adjustments.

On the other hand, garages may require significantly more foundation work. Even prefabricated garages are typically made to sit on well stable concrete. While this is generally true of permanent carports as well, temporary varieties could provide protection for those not willing to commit the funds.

Security For Ride And Self

This one is a no-brainer. If you are primarily concerned with securing your car, there is really no option other than a garage. Since carports do not contain four walls, it is far too easy for thieves to wait until they are alone.  While it is true that car covers and alarms provide some protection, there is nothing quite like locking your vehicle up behind four walls.

If you are primarily concerned with securing yourself, however, that is a different matter. Freestanding garages and carports will likely be insufficient.  With both options, the trek from the structure to the house would be unprotected.  If you want to provide safety for humans, especially at night, you will likely need to build a garage onto the house.  This will generally be the most expensive option because the structure will need to be built to match the materials and durability of the house itself.  That means a custom on-site build, using construction professionals.

Protection From Expected Climate

A car is parked outside a home garage.

When it comes to your car’s paint job, weather can be one of the most destructive potential forces.  Accordingly, the kind of weather you expect may determine which protective structure you need.

People living in mild sunny climates have it easiest. A simple aluminum and plastic carport can be purchased in large hardware stores.  These structures typically sit on a series of aluminum poles connected to a metal or plastic roof.  The most stable of these versions are rooted in concrete foundations and are solid enough to withstand fairly severe weather. This kind of shelter will easily protect your car from the sun and rain damage.

However, when it comes to total protection you cannot beat the almighty garage.  Garages provide full protection from sun and rain, but also more extreme storms.  People living in climates where heavy snow or harsh winds can destroy weaker structures may want to consider investing in a garage.  These buildings can be constructed out of almost any material used for homes, including wood, metal, and bricks.

Extra Storage?

Yes, both carports and garages can provide a measure of protection for your vehicle. But there is one particular benefit of garages that simply cannot be met by carports. Garages are known throughout the car driving society as a place where people can store extra stuff. Need a place to keep your tools and woodworking machines?  Need a spot to store your sometimes smelly fishing and hunting equipment? Want a corner to put your mother-in-law’s boxes for a few months?  All those things will fit great in your garage.

This can obviously be a double-edged sword.  Space for extra storage can be a very good thing if you have frequently used items that would be dangerous or bulky in the house. However, anyone who has had access to a garage for years can tell you that it becomes an excuse to keep things better discarded. Garages can quickly become internal junkyards full of noble trash that will never serve any useful purpose.

Which Can You Afford

A home with a double garage and a carport.

Now we ask the most important question for most of the population. How much do carports and garages cost? While there are certainly other important factors, they all surround that element of how much money we have to pay.  After all, most of us would rather eat chef-prepared meals on solid gold tables every day. Unfortunately, we have other places to spend our money.

Carports are the choice if money is your biggest concern.  They are also a great choice if you only need to protect your vehicle from basic elements like sun, hail, rain, and lighter snow.  You can find cheap carports at hardware stores for a few hundred dollars.  These versions are likely made of aluminum poles and plastic or metal canopies.  For a few more hundred dollars you can find sturdier metal poles and more rigid, thicker canopies. If you are willing to spend a few thousand dollars you can build high-end carports with up to three walls that match your home.

At the low end of the garage, the scale is the detached prefabricated versions. These structures can cost a few thousand dollars and can be ordered in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. These are typically made of aluminum, vinyl, or wood.  Custom-built garages can range in cost from about $20,000 to $40,000.  These structures are usually built to match the house in size, material, and appearance.

It is also important to note that garages may have to conform to building codes and require permits from local planning departments.  They may also significantly increase the value of your home, meaning more property taxes. Anyone considering a new structure should consult local ordinances, especially regarding high-end carports or low-end garages. Each community may have a separate description of the legal difference between the two.

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