The single-family home has been the quintessential feature of American family life for decades, but in recent years, U.S. housing needs have undergone significant changes. As the housing market remains uncertain, college becomes more expensive, student loan debt grows more crushing, and we increasingly find ourselves needing to provide in-home care for aging parents, more and more families are finding a need to return (at least temporarily) to the multi-generational homes of the past. However, our homes may not always offer the space to do this comfortably.
When you need more living space in your home, converting your garage into a room can be an attractive option. Although costs will vary according to your location and specific plans, garage remodeling will generally cost about half of what you’d spend having an addition built from scratch. However, before you start stockpiling insulation and tearing off garage doors, there are some things you’ll need to consider.
Garage Remodeling: The Basics
The first thing you should know before deciding to convert your garage into a room is that this will not be a quick job. You should expect the work to take between 4-6 weeks to complete, so you’ll need to be sure that a month-plus disruption to your routine is manageable. It’s also important to recognize that, while there are ways you can cut costs on the remodel, you shouldn’t do it by buying cheap materials or hiring subpar contractors. There are many important updates required to turn a space that was never meant to be habitable into a living space. Don’t endanger your family’s safety and comfort by doing things halfway.
The basic tasks involved in converting a garage into a living space are:
- Raising the floor to allow insulation and a moisture barrier to be installed underneath.
- Insulating the walls, floors, and ceiling.
- Enabling heating and cooling, either by tying into the house’s system or installing an independent system.
- Installing additional outlets and ensuring your electrical system can handle the additional load.
- Removing garage door(s) and installing an insulated stud wall.
- Adding windows and, if needed, a door.
If you intend to turn the garage into more of a studio apartment than an additional room, you’ll also need to account for installing a kitchen/kitchenette and bathroom—which will also mean ensuring your septic system can handle the additional volume and that the space has access to water lines.
Where Will You Put Your Car?
Obviously, you know you’ll no longer have a garage to house your car, but have you considered where you’ll be parking it instead? Do you have room elsewhere on your property to park or will you need to park on the street? Can you park on the street in your town? Some places require that homes have a certain number of off-street parking spots in order to discourage people from parking on the street. Make sure you check the laws in your city.
Weather considerations are important to keep in mind, too. If you live in an area with harsh winters, will you consider having to un-bury your car every morning a fair trade for the extra space? Will parking your car on your driveway interfere with plowing? If you live in a hot climate, keep in mind that converting your garage into a living space may also mean converting your car into a sauna if you don’t have a shaded spot elsewhere on your property to park.
Will You Have Enough Storage?
Most of us store a significant number of items in our garages. And many of those items are ones you probably wouldn’t want or be able to store elsewhere in your home, like lawn mowers, weed eaters, and other gardening or landscaping tools. Not to mention the plethora of other “stuff” we end up stuffing our garages with.
There’s no way around it: if you’re going to convert your garage into a room, you’re going to have to do a lot of downsizing first. Your best bet may be to rent a residential roll-off dumpster. You’ll likely need to rent a dumpster anyway to deal with construction debris from the actual remodel, and renting one early to deal with your junk removal will allow you to get the job done quickly and easily. You can simply back the dumpster up to your garage door and toss the junk in. A task that might have taken you a whole weekend if you had to make multiple trips carting away all the junk yourself can now be completed in an afternoon.
But don’t forget about the items you’ll need to keep. You’ll want to make sure you have alternate storage, like a shed or a space under your deck/porch, lined up before remodeling begins.
Will It Lower Your Home’s Value?
Converting a garage into a room can add significant value to your home—if you live in the right neighborhood. If you don’t, though, the loss of a garage can greatly lower your home’s value and make it difficult to sell if you decide to move. An easy way to gauge the real estate landscape in your area is simply to scope out your neighbors’ properties. If nearly all the homes in your neighborhood have garages, then getting rid of yours may not be a good move. However, if there are plenty of other homes that don’t have garages, then you should be good to go. If you want a more “scientific” assessment, you might consider contacting a real estate agent to get their opinion.
Zoning Laws & Permits
The way you plan to use your remodeled garage will affect the zoning laws you need to obey or will now be subject to. For example, in some places if you add a kitchen to your new room, your home will now be classified as a two-family home, which would make you subject to different zoning laws than in the past. There may be laws regulating how you must heat and cool the space, where you must now park your car, and much more. If you planned on creating a studio apartment, there may be restrictions on who can live in the space (for example, only relatives of the home owner) or how many people can live there (for example, only a single occupant). It’s essential that you fully understand the zoning laws in your area before you begin drawing up your plans. You can find the laws for your area by visiting your city’s website or contacting your city’s building department.
You also want to make sure you’re aware of all the permits you’ll need to complete your garage remodel. What permits are required will depend on what work needs to be done. For example, if you need to connect your garage to your septic system, you may first need to get a permit for that in addition to your building permit. Generally, in order to get the necessary permits, you’ll need to draw up your overall plans for the remodel, then take them down to city hall to be looked over and approved. Then you’ll simply pay the necessary permit fee and you’re ready to begin. If you’re hiring a contractor to do all of the work on your remodel, a reputable contractor will likely offer to take care of permits for you. However, it’s essential that you double check that they actually followed through.
Will It Still Look Like a Garage?
Your goal should be to make your newly remodeled garage look like it was always a part of the house. This is especially important to keep the city and/or your neighbors from objecting to your conversion. In order to achieve this there are some things you’ll need to plan for beyond the basic construction of the space. Some possible examples include:
- Removing or rerouting your driveway, so that it doesn’t lead to what is now a blank wall.
- Raising garage floors to the same height as the rest of the house (garage floors are generally built lower)
- Sound proofing the space.
- Adding additional windows.
- Adding architectural elements to match the rest of your home.
Garage Remodeling: Alternatives
If it turns out that converting your garage into a room isn’t going to work for you, but you still need additional space, you have options. A basement remodel is the most obvious alternative. Because you’ll again be working with an existing structure, you’ll enjoy the same savings you’d get with a garage remodel without sacrificing the storage and parking space of your garage. If you don’t have a basement, or cannot convert it into a room, you could opt to keep your garage and build a room over it. This will generally be more expensive than converting your garage or basement, but will often look like a more natural element of your home.
Are you in the process of converting a garage into a living space? Share your tips in the comments!