Expert tips for turning your garage into a hangout—safely.

This past summer, the outdoors provided a much-needed outlet for safe socializing during the pandemic. Now, as the weather cools, many of us are investing in our backyards and patios to keep the fun going. But with unpredictable temperatures, plus rain and snow, some are looking to the garage as the next place to hang out safely with a little added warmth.

Though the outdoors is still best, a garage can be a viable option, says Lindsey Leininger, a public health scientist at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth college and chief educator of Dear Pandemic, a public health site. "It's certainly safer than [socializing] inside, as long as the garage doors are open and air is circulating," she says.

Leininger suggests thinking of garage hangouts (and really all social interactions) through the Dear Pandemic SMART framework: Space (always maintain six feet), Mask (keep it on), Air (always have the garage doors open), Restricted (keep it to a small number of people), and Time (keep it short).

So how do you turn a space usually used to store cars and household items into an area that's safe and stylish to hang out in?

Start With the Floors

If you're going to do just one thing to your garage, it should be the floors, says Mark Tavolino, co-owner of Garage Living in Chicago. "Especially if you are going to be spending more time in your garage, you'll want to cover the concrete that attracts so much dust, fluid and dirt," he says.

Tavolino recommends using a Polyaspartic floor coating. The look is similar to epoxy but it has better abrasion, so you won't see the tire skid marks. Plus, it can be installed in hot or cold weather. The best part? Liquids wipe up very easily, so you can get rid of any car fluids that leak out before your gathering, or soak up any beverages before you park your car.

Get Organized

Your garage may already be spic and span, but many of us use our garage to store everything from paint cans and basketballs to strollers and snow blowers. If you are going to utilize your garage, cleaning up is also key to make sure your space doesn't become a safety hazard in a different way. Purge what you don't need and organize the rest, whether it be via slatwall panels with peg boards, or simply bins to remove the clutter. If you'll be hosting children in your garage, make sure to put any harmful chemicals or sharp tools out of reach.

RELATED: 7 Things to Get Rid of in Your Garage or Basement Right Now

Add a Safe Source of Heat

In order for it to be a safe place to gather, you'll want to keep your garage doors open—and windows, if possible—for airflow. On chilly nights, heat will be key. We likely don't have to tell you this, but live fire in a garage is a bad idea, so if you want a fire pit, keep it outside.

The best way to heat a garage is by adding insulation, if your garage doesn't have it already. There are also overhead garage heaters that can be installed. They do make portable heaters for the garage, but make sure they are specifically designed for garages (propane patio heaters won't fly) to avoid potential fire hazards. If you aren't sure, consult someone at your local hardware store or a general contractor.

RELATED: How to Stay Safe Outdoors While Using Space Heaters and Fire Pits (Plus Other Ways to Stay Warm This Fall and Winter)

Have a Game Plan

You probably never thought entertaining in your garage would be a thing, but here we are in 2020. Part of making it COVID-19-safe for your guests is having a plan, so Leininger recommends setting up tables or chairs in advance to ensure guests are properly spaced six feet apart and as close to the open air as possible. Setting a time limit is key. "A quick tea with friends in the garage is great, a four-hour tailgate exposes you to much more risk," she says. Make sure to also set expectations with guests about mask wearing and have things like hand sanitizer readily available.

If you are going to serve food or drinks in your garage, Tavolino says that many of his customers are looking to add butcher block or granite countertops, refrigerators, and sinks to make it easier to entertain just in the garage. However, he warns, "customers are finding it really hard to purchase fridges and freezers right now, there is a shortage on many appliances." So if you are on the hunt, know that ordering times may have a long delay.

Get Creative

Using your garage to be social this fall doesn't have to revolve around food or drinks. In fact, Tavolino is seeing his customers requesting much more creative options. He's had a few guests ask for a basketball hoop to be set up on the slatwall for rainy day play. Garage gyms have also been a popular request, as people section off a part of their garage to add rubber mat gym flooring and some equipment.

"I love the idea of a socially distanced garage yoga class with a few close friends," says Leininger.

Others are thinking of garages as places to put a small art studio or even a small office as more people are working from home.