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Building a Utility Closet

by Lorenz Prem
published on October 15 2010 9:43 pm

The water heater in many homes is located in the garage. Often it is simply attached to one of the walls. When the owners move in stuff starts piling up in the garage. The water heat and the feed pipes soon disappear under a collection of seldom used things.

One solution to this problem is to enclose the water heater in a utility closet. The closet, which is basically an oversize armoire, physically separates your home's heating appliances from the workspace that is your garage.


Begin by planning the closet. Water heaters and furnaces require clearances to allow for adequate air flow. The compressor we are enclosing in this example requires 10 inches in the back, and 5 inches on the sides. It also requires an air vent in one of the walls or the door for fresh air. check the requires of your appliances. Improper cleanses can result in the appliance overheating and starting a fire.

Pick your dimensions and chose the size of your door opening. Pre-hung doors come in standard sizes. It is much easier to build the closet to standard dimensions than it is to customize a door.


The framing is 2x4 with studs 16 inches on center. The usual rules and techniques for corners and opening apply (double studs in the corners, king and cripple stud for the door).

Begin the install by attaching the bottom plate (the bottom 2x4) to the floor. If the floor is concrete, the 2x4 should be pressure treated. Even seemingly dry concrete can channel moisture to the base of a wall. Check your angles.

The walls should be as square as possible. If you install shelving within the closet square corners will be your best friend. Attach the bottom plate to the floor using screws or nails. On concrete a powder nailer works best.

Next build the walls up from the bottom plate. You can either build the walls in place (one piece at a time), or on the floor and tilt them up in sections. Building in place is slower, but yields a tighter fit. Measure carefully and determine what your best choice is. Use framing nails or framing screws to secure the framing.

Do not neglect the transitions from new framing to old framing. Make sure the new framing is attached to the old framing in as many locations as possible. This includes the beams in the ceiling.


Once the framing is done, install any electrical systems you need. Skin the closet on the outside with drywall. Leave a 1/2" gap between the bottom of the drywall and the floor. This gap keeps the wall from picking up water from the floor.

Attach the drywall with drywall screws or nails. Add insulation from the inside, if you want to. Insulation is not required, but can help in some instances. Optionally skin the closet with drywall on the inside.

Install horizontal pieces where two drywall panels meet. These pieces firm up the closet and act as a fire-stop.

Tape all joints and finish the walls with 2-3 coats of drywall joint compound.

Paint and Trim

Apply one coat of primer and two coats of paint. Bare drywall must be primed before painting. Two coats of paint are recommended for a durable finish.

Install the door and trim. Make sure everything is level. The doors must open without binding.


This project uses all the basic skills for building walls in a stick frame home: Framing, drywall install, drywall finishing, finish carpentry, and painting. It is an excellent project to build confidence for more complicated projects.

If you want to build closet for clothes in a bedroom, the design and construction steps are identical to the utility closet shown in the thread.

About the Author
"Lorenz is the founder of Hingmy. When he is not reviewing power tools or improving the site, he is building things in his workshop or playing hockey."