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Garage Conversions Part 1: Turning Your Garage Into A Livable Space

There are all kinds of reasons you might want to add a little extra square footage to your home. Whether your family is growing or you’ve recently started working from home, sometimes the house you have stops being as much home as you need. But moving or adding an addition to your home aren’t your only options: you can also transform unfinished parts of your home into living areas. Garage conversions are becoming an increasingly popular option, especially in homes that don’t have a basement or attic, and usually make it possible to add between 400 and 600 square feet of living space to your home. This type of remodel is less expensive and invasive than a full addition because you’re adding onto a space that already has walls and a ceiling, and it won’t eat into the rest of your lot, but it isn’t without its own unique challenges.

Get Your Garage Connected

If you want to have lights, running water, internet, or TV in your converted garage, running utilities into the space needs to be a priority in your design (by Tanner Vine - 2Go Custom Kitchens Inc)
If you want to have lights, running water, internet, or TV in your converted garage, running utilities into the space needs to be a priority in your design (by Tanner Vine – 2Go Custom Kitchens Inc)

An attached garage may be connected to the rest of your home by proximity, but it really is a separate space: a garage won’t be fully wired for electricity, gas, or plumbing, it won’t be connected to your central heating or cooling systems, and it definitely won’t have cable. One of the most important steps in converting a garage into a living space is figuring out what utilities the rest of your home has that your garage doesn’t, which ones you want to have in the converted room, and finding a way to get them there. If you want to add a bathroom or kitchenette, you’ll need more extensive plumbing than you would for a simple living room, so this is an important decision to make early on. Depending on the size of your garage, even adding basic electrical wiring may require a full upgrade to your home’s electrical system to ensure you can support the added usage.

New Walls, Ceiling, And Insulation

Even if you leave your garage door intact, having finished walls is important both to the comfort and aesthetic of your garage conversion (by Witt Construction)
Even if you leave your garage door intact, having finished walls is important both to the comfort and aesthetic of your garage conversion (by Witt Construction)

While a garage may have 3.5 walls, a floor, and a roof, they’re probably neither insulated nor finished, and might only have the most basic framing. At the very least, you’ll need to add drywall, but practically speaking, nearly every surface should be both insulated and weatherproofed to ensure your garage conversion is up to the standards of the rest of your home. Especially in a cold climate, a poorly finished garage conversion can wreak havoc on your home’s energy efficiency, and just plain be uncomfortable to be in, which sort of defeats the purpose.

Build A Better Floor

Having concrete floors in a garage conversion is certainly a viable option, but it can make the space feel a bit cooler and less finished (by Beth Dana Design)
Having concrete floors in a garage conversion is certainly a viable option, but it can make the space feel a bit cooler and less finished (by Beth Dana Design)

Most garages have unfinished concrete floors, which is fine for your car, but not great for your family. As with your walls, you’re definitely going to want to upgrade the floors in a garage conversion, not just for aesthetics and comfort, but also as a guard against moisture. Building a wood framed flooring up over the existing floor creates a nice, even surface that will be at the same level as the floors in the rest of your house. It also gives you an easy and non-invasive way to connect all your plumbing and electrical hookups: just run them directly underneath the new floor.

Keep Heating And Cooling In Mind

Opening up a converted garage to the rest of your home can make for a more inviting floorplan, but can make heating and cooling the space a bigger challenge (by Wentworth, Inc.)
Opening up a converted garage to the rest of your home can make for a more inviting floorplan, but can make heating and cooling the space a bigger challenge (by Wentworth, Inc.)

One of the biggest challenges in converting a garage is making sure the new space is actually livable year round, which means not only insulation but also heating and cooling. Linking your garage to your existing HVAC system is possible but challenging, particularly depending on the location of your existing ventilation system. It’s also worth noting that your current furnace and air conditioner may not be adequate for the increased square footage and may need to be replaced if you go this route. Having a separate ductless heating and cooling system that only serves the garage, or even a radiant floor can be a much more efficient alternative, but only works if the converted garage is at least partially closed off from the rest of the home.

Make Your Garage Look Like A Room

A well planned, well finished garage conversion shouldn't look like a garage at all once you're done (by BMF CONSTRUCTION)
A well planned, well finished garage conversion shouldn’t look like a garage at all once you’re done (by BMF CONSTRUCTION)

You may also need to make even larger architectural changes to your garage. Whether or not you want to keep your garage door intact is up to you, but it will at least need to be weatherproofed if not entirely walled off or removed. Similarly, you’ll need to decide how you want the garage to connect to the rest of the home – whether the existing entrance is adequate or if you want to remove all or part of one connecting wall – and how much you want the garage to be connected to the outside. A smooth wall on the front of your home connected to your driveway simply won’t look right, while making your garage your new entryway can require further design tweaking. Adding windows is often legally required to bring a garage conversion up to code, and these and other architectural features will help make your garage conversion feel like an actual living space rather than a garage with furniture in it.

Cost And Considerations

Adding homey, architectural elements is important for making a garage feel like an organic part of your home, but doing it can require professional assistance (by REFINED LLC)
Adding homey, architectural elements is important for making a garage feel like an organic part of your home, but doing it can require professional assistance (by REFINED LLC)

It would be relatively easy to put up some drywall and move a sofa into your living room, but a good garage conversion requires a lot more care. Though it’s much less expensive than having a full addition built, a well-done project isn’t cheap, running anywhere from $20k-$50k, or more if you add a kitchenette or bathroom. It’s also highly recommended that you hire an architect to help plan your design and professionals to help execute it, particularly when it comes to electricity, plumbing,  heating and cooling, and installing windows or doors or removing walls. All of these features need to have the proper permits and be in line with your local zoning laws, and having someone to help you navigate the rules and regulations can be invaluable in making sure you get a design that’s safe, up to code, and won’t come back to bite you if you want to sell your home later on.

Be Aware Of What You’re Giving Up

Leaving the garage door intact and the floor level with the driveway makes it easier to convert the room back to a garage if necessary, but makes weatherproofing and wiring a bit more complicated (by Kerrie L. Kelly)
Leaving the garage door intact and the floor level with the driveway makes it easier to convert the room back to a garage if necessary, but makes weatherproofing and wiring a bit more complicated (by Kerrie L. Kelly)

Of course, the biggest drawback of any garage conversion project is that you have to sacrifice your parking space and any space you might already have been using for storage. This is an important consideration for a few reasons. First and foremost, if your city has ordinances against street parking, or requiring you to have a certain number of off-street parking spaces, you’ll need to make sure you can still meet those requirements without your garage. Leaving your car out will also mean increased wear and tear, and may decrease the curb appeal of your home. More dramatically, having a home without a garage can hurt your resale value, depending on your location, as many homeowners would rather have a garage, and there maybe difficulties in making sure your new square footage is added to your home’s listed total size.

If you find yourself in urgent need of added space, though, and don’t have an attic or basement to convert, a garage conversion project is a great way to get the extra square footage you need in a relatively small-scale project. What do you think of these converted garages? Are they worth losing your parking space? For more ideas about what you can do with a converted garage space, check out part 2 of this series.