When space gets tight, crowded homeowners can get desperate for ways to carve out space from nothing. Garage conversions abound in areas where real estate is expensive and neighbours are close. 

Plus, in this age of online platforms for short-term rentals, a converted garage is one way for homeowners to defray the cost of their mortgage while still living in the house.

Garage conversions appear to be the classic do-it-yourself home remodel project. With nothing in your way like load-bearing walls—and with the box seemingly already in place—a garage conversion may seem like an obvious choice. 

But a garage conversion does also have some significant downsides to consider before embarking on this project.

 When you’ve outgrown your home’s available living space, should you consider converting your garage to living space? That’s a complicated question!

Converting a garage into a living space can be an attractive option for some homeowners in a crowded houses. In areas where expansion is difficult, and property values are low, it can be a logical solution. 

However, converting your garage could have drawbacks. So consider the decision carefully before any work begins.

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Pros And Cons Of Garage Conversions

Converting a garage requires more consideration than refinishing a basement because the positives are balanced out by significant downsides. With the basement remodel, you can hardly go wrong with elevating an unusable dark space into one that is light-filled and usable.

A garage is different, though. With the garage, you trade out a space that is usable for one or several things for a space that is usable for just one thing—living space. At best, this becomes a one-for-one trade. At worst, you devalue your house.

Expanding into the garage preserves yard space, which many may prefer to build an addition, which means more living space but less yard for outdoor activities. But many people use their garage for storage, and even if you think getting rid of this extra space is a good idea, future buyers of your home may disagree. 

Removing the cars from the garage may flout local requirements for on-site parking spaces, and a garage conversion rarely will increase the property value: Many buyers place a premium on a protected parking space, and this is lost with a garage conversion.

Additionally, garage conversions are more work than they may appear. Homeowners may plunge into a garage conversion based on the belief that little more is required than adding a few lights and flooring, as much of the structure (walls, ceiling, roof, and flooring) is already in place. 

On the contrary, garage conversions are costly, extensive, time-extended projects that are not quite on the order of building a new addition but close to it. Though difficult, a quality garage conversion can be done on a do-it-yourself basis, while building a detached addition is rarely done without professional help.

Pros

  • No loss of a yard
  • Structure already built
  • DIY possibility

Cons

  • Loss of storage
  • Parking space challenges
  • No value gain

Zoning And Legal Issues

Changing space meant for vehicles into habitable, safe, and conditioned living spaces invokes legal and zoning issues. Each garage must undergo a significant legal transformation when it becomes a habitable and new conditioned space.

One determiner used by some municipalities is whether or not adequate provisions are being made to replace the parking stalls eliminated from the garage.

The transformation from a garage to a conditioned space requires the garage to meet technical and legal standards that were not required when the area only housed vehicles or acted as a storage area. 

On top of that, most municipalities’ building codes require a range of permits for the activities associated with this conversion: erecting or moving walls; running water supply or drainage; running sewer lines; adding windows; installing a full electrical system.

Due to the rise of short-term house rentals, many municipalities have begun to look more critically at garage conversions—even if the area will not be rented out on the short-term market.

Basics Of Converting A Garage Into Living Space

  • Windows: Add enough window space to provide for natural light and air. In some municipalities, this means 5 1/2 square feet or a percentage of the total garage space.
  • Ceiling: Maintain at least 7 1/2 feet of minimum ceiling height. This may be difficult to do if you are also raising floor height.
  • Heat: Provide heating to maintain 70 degrees F. Retrofit heating options include extending existing central heating ductwork and installing electric baseboard or fan-driven wall heaters.
  • Light: Add at least one well-controlled light switch. Per electrical code, garages already have at least one such switch.
  • Outlets: Add or change wall outlets to meet minimum spacing standards. No cord should have to reach farther than 6 feet to reach an outlet.

FAQs About Garage Renovation

Can I Use My Garage As A Living Room?

With the garage, you trade out a space that is usable for one or several things for a space that is usable for just one thing—living space. At best, this becomes a one-for-one trade. At worst, you devalue your house. Additionally, garage conversions are more work than they may appear.

Do You Need Planning Permission To Convert Part Of Your Garage?

Planning permission is not usually required to convert your garage into additional living space for your home, providing the work is internal and does not involve enlarging the building.

How Do I Convert My Garage Into A Temporary Room?

Furnish the garage with necessary items in lightweight, versatile pieces. Use a futon from another room or an air mattress. Use a side table as a nightstand or borrow one from a bedroom within the home. Add a chair and fold-away clothes rod to make the space more comfortable.

Can A Garage Be Used As A Bedroom?

A garage can be turned into a simple bedroom or living space for as little as $5,000, but if you require plumbing for a bathroom or kitchen, the project can cost closer to $25,000.

How Much Does It Cost To Convert A Garage Into A Living Room?

Experts agree that the costs for converting a garage can range from $8,000 to $25,000 or more. Major variables include plumbing and electrical work. Plumbing can quickly become a big expense, depending on what you plan to do in your living space.

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How To Make A Garage Conversion A Comfortable Space

Insulate The Walls

Most garage walls and ceilings are not insulated. Drywall, if already installed, must be removed, and insulation must be installed. Use conventional fibreglass roll insulation, Rockwool, or spray foam insulation for the walls. Use fibreglass batts for the ceiling.

Raise The Floor Height

Garages tend to be built lower than the house. While not necessary, you’re home benefits if you match flooring heights by adding sleepers to elevate the floor covering above the concrete garage floor. Some localities may require floor insulation to be added.

Install Floor Covering

Even if you add sleepers to raise the floor, you still will need a floor covering. Laminate flooring, engineered wood, tile, and luxury vinyl plank flooring are popular choices for garage conversions.

Install New Drywall Or Finish Existing Drywall

Garages are usually installed with non-finish-quality walls. If the walls are insulated, you can keep the existing drywall but bring the finish up to higher standards.

Replace Or Insulate The Garage Door

Should you leave the garage door in place or replace it with a wall? Many areas may require that the door be replaced with a wall. If you can keep the garage door, you should insulate the door. This is one major question you will need to address before converting the garage into a living space.

Hide Unsightly Areas

Non-load-bearing walls should be added around areas you do not wish to see, such as the water heater, furnace, laundry area, or storage.

The Top 5 Things To Consider Before Your Garage Conversion Project

Does A Garage Conversion Add Value?

For the most part, experts agree that converting your garage into a living space does not add value to your home. This isn’t always the case; it depends on where you live. And if you’re planning to sell your home within three to five years, a garage conversion is usually not a good idea. If you live in an area where garages are desirable (snowy regions, for example), it can lower your home’s value.

Andrew Brown, a real estate consultant from Keller Williams Realty in Massachusetts, suggests studying your neighbourhood. Do most of your neighbours have garages? “If so, this means garages are highly desirable in your neighbourhood, and you affect your resale value by removing it and limiting your buyer pool compared to the average seller,” 

Another expert remodelling specialist from Fixr.com says, “You’ll need to consider that removing a garage from your property may lower your property’s value and your ability to sell it.”

However, if square footage is highly valued in your area, converting your garage into living space could increase your property value, giving you a boost when you’re ready to sell. And if you are in your forever home and not concerned about your home’s value, converting your garage to a living space may be a viable option.

What Are The Costs?

Experts agree that the costs for converting a garage can range from $8,000 to $25,000 or more. Major variables include plumbing and electrical work.

Plumbing can quickly become a big expense, depending on what you plan to do in your living space. Stephany Smith, a certified plumber from “If you want to transform your garage into a completely livable space where you can shower, use the bathroom and cook, be prepared for your plumbing installation. To cost you between $1,000 and $2,500.”

Most garages already have electrical wiring, but it will likely need upgrading. “One high cost will be the electrical work to add breakers for your power requirements,”

McBroom, a home improvement expert . chief operating officer of ColonyRoofers in Atlanta adds this: “Typical garages only have one lighting circuit, so expect to add at least one more 20-amp circuit for basic living conditions.”

You’ll also need to convert your garage door into a solid wall because a garage door does a terrible job of keeping the heat in during the winter and out during the summer. Other considerations are heating and cooling the new living space, insulation, walls, floor, ceiling and security. The costs rise quickly!

Car, Tool And Equipment Storage

One other thing, according to McBroom: Figure out where to store your car, tools and other equipment.

One option for your car(s) is to build a carport if you live where carports provide enough protection from the elements. Otherwise, you’ll need to find another location close by. See if there are any pay parking garages near you, or ask neighbours if they have extra garage space they will let you use.

For tools and equipment, you could move them to your basement or build a small shed. Smith notes that you can use your new garage living space to house your basement appliances, like the washer and dryer, assuming you have the plumbing system set up for it. That would free up some space in the basement for tools.

Permits And Laws

Be sure to research local regulations and what permits are required to convert a garage into a living space. You will more than likely need a building permit, which will cost between $300 and $1,000, depending on where you live and the estimated cost of your project.

 “Expect to jump through hoops when it comes to permits because some municipalities are notorious for making it difficult to convert garages into living spaces,” 

Besides a permit, Brown notes you will need to acknowledge adding square feet of living space to your property. “If you are in an area with high property taxes, this is something to consider because you may have just increased your taxable square footage,” 

Some highly populated municipalities will require a certain number of off-street parking spots. It can be so troublesome to get them to approve your garage conversion. And if you belong to a homeowner’s association, it will have to approve the project.

Are There Better Alternatives?

Another thing to consider: Is there a better alternative? For instance, you could build an addition to your existing home.

“Often additions are more comfortable to add to the home and allow you to have a better final product because you know structurally and code-wise, everything is sound,” says Brown.

Another possibility is expanding the garage. “Adding a room above your garage may be a better choice for resale, as it gives you the space you need while keeping your existing garage at the same time,” 

While the permits you’ll need will potentially be the same, getting the addition approved might be significantly easier because many municipalities are OK with these expansions. The downside? It will likely be more expensive than a garage conversion.

15 Tips On Garage Conversion Into A Living Space

Everyone could use a little more space in their home. Looking in all directions—addition in back, another floor on top or finished basement below—one area off to the side often gets ignored: the garage.

Installing a garage is one thing, but converting a garage into a living space is one of the less expensive ways to add a large amount of room to your home. Since the outer structure is already built, conversion is a matter of creating walls, flooring and other elements that define an indoor space.

Research Zoning First

The legalities of converting a garage to a living space can make or break the project. The rise in popularity of house sharing has, in some communities, made garage conversion permits more difficult to obtain.

Even if you don’t plan on sharing or renting out your garage conversion, you’ll still need to look into local requirements for transforming vehicle space into habitable space. In some cases, you may need to provide adequate off-street parking to replace lost garage parking stalls.

Adjust Financial Expectations

A garage conversion fully outfitted as permitted, habitable space will never be cheap. Instead, think of it as a less expensive method of building an addition. Estimates range from $20,000 to $50,000 for a well-built, contractor-driven garage conversion.

Raise Garage Floor

Garage floors can be as much as 18 inches below the level of house flooring. For safety and to integrate the converted garage with the house, raise the garage floor to the height of the home’s floor with a raised or sleeper system.

Hide Functional Areas

Your garage is the hub of many house functions: Water heater, furnace, laundry room and more. Moving these services can be messy and expensive, so hide them by building closets or interior walls.

Widen Access Door

Promote flow from the house to the converted garage by widening the door between the two areas. If the house footprint allows for it, double the width of the door by running a stronger beam across the header for more of an open floor plan feel.

Create Covered Parking

Love your vehicle? Then you’ll cringe to see it in the open driveway under snow, rain, sun and pine sap. Protect your vehicles by building a carport. For electric vehicles, be sure to include a power source outside.

Improve Exterior Appeal

Focusing on the interior visuals of the converted garage can mean ignoring how it will look from the outside. One advantage of working with an architect is that this professional will help you blend in the garage conversion with the rest of the home’s exterior. In some cases, this can mean substantially altering the house fascia to match the wall that covers the garage door opening.

Install Insulated Garage Door

Another way to camouflage the garage conversion is to go the opposite direction: leave the garage door in place. One benefit is that you can occasionally raise the garage door to open up the living space to the outside. If you go this route, replace your current garage door with an insulated garage door.

Create Driveway Separation

Nothing shouts garage conversion more than a driveway that leads to a blank wall. If you decide to remove the garage door, tweak the driveway to stop short of the garage.

Break up the last few feet of concrete or remove brick to make a planting bed for shrubs or flowers. This narrow division is enough to create a visual break between the driveway and the garage.

Build Supplemental Storage

When people move into a garage, stuff moves out. Much of the plentiful storage you counted on with the garage will go away. As a replacement, build a dry storage shed on a concrete slab for safe storage. Or move large items to an off-site rental storage facility.

Projects That Make Your Garage More Liveable

If a full-scale garage conversion doesn’t fit your budget or plans, you can still make your garage more comfortable. Create an open-air pub, wine bar, workshop or just a general gathering spot for hangouts with friends and neighbours.

While these smaller projects fall short of creating fully habitable garage space, the advantage is that they are easier and less expensive to build.

Create Activity Zones

With two- or three-vehicle garages, you can section out one of the vehicle stalls with a wall, movable room divider or curtain. Use this space as a gym, yoga area or home office.

Install Epoxy Coating Or Floor Mats

Garage floors can be ugly, cracked and spotted with oil and grease. Improve the look and feel of your garage in just a few hours by applying a clear epoxy coating to the garage floor. Ridged, interlocking garage floor tiles are another option, especially for garage floors that are too greasy for epoxy coating.

Build Open-Air Wine Bar Or Pub

Add a bar or casual seating off to one side of the garage while keeping vehicle storage in place. These informal areas may include bars, beer taps, wine coolers, vintage arcade games or anything else for fun.

Add Wi-Fi Or Ethernet Cable

Any proper garage hangout space needs a screen for movies, Sunday afternoon sports or gaming with friends. Add a Wi-Fi booster to improve the signal quality to the garage. Or pull an additional Ethernet cable through to the garage so that you can directly wire your devices to the internet.

Add Basic Drywall

Garage walls are sometimes built with no insulation and no drywall. Even if you’re not converting the garage to living space, you’ll still want to insulate it and add a basic layer of drywall. The drywall only needs to be hung; it doesn’t need finishing, sanding or painting.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a way to enlarge your home without shelling out for a full-scale addition, converting your garage into living space typically adds about 600 square feet (assuming it’s a two-car garage). 

The good news is that you’ll spend less than if you build an addition. The bad news is that your car may suffer, and your neighbours may not be fond of the idea.

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