Need Extra Space at Your Place? Garage Conversion May Be the Answer

The solution to your need for more room may already be attached to your house. Converting an existing garage is less expensive than building an addition, and it's a lot less complicated too.

By Timothy Dale and Michael Franco and Bob Vila | Updated Dec 22, 2021 3:07 PM

garage conversion

Photo: istockphoto.com

Turning a garage into living space can improve the resale value of your home and your quality of life. In comparison to building an addition, a garage conversion cost is much more affordable and entails fewer bureaucratic hurdles, but that’s not to say it’s a simple project. As you begin planning to convert a garage to living space, take into account these essential considerations.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Garage Conversions

Converting a garage into living space, like a garage bedroom, game room, or even a den, is a great choice for homeowners who may be considering an addition to the home, but who don’t want to encroach on the yard. A garage is already fully built, so you save space in the yard and on material costs. While this will reduce the amount of space available for parking your car, a well thought-out garage transformation expands the total living space in the home, allowing you to fully enjoy the property.

Keep in mind that if you live in an area that experiences extreme cold weather, a garage is a beneficial addition that helps protect the vehicles, so converting the garage could hurt the resale value of the home. Given that the maximum expected return on investment on a garage conversion is just 80 percent, this job isn’t worth it if you are only looking to increase the property value.

Advantages

  • The garage structure is already built.
  • A converted garage doesn’t take up the yard space of an addition.
  • Expands total living space.

Disadvantages

  • Garage space is essential in colder climates.
  • Converting the garage reduces or eliminates vehicle parking space.
  • Homeowners rarely see a full return on investment (ROI).

Understanding Zoning and Legalities

Before planning garage layouts and coming up with garage conversion ideas, learn about zoning requirements and the legalities that can accompany this work. A garage conversion is known as an accessory dwelling unit. Specifically, it’s called a garage conversion ADU and you need to have a plan that satisfies state building codes, energy-efficiency regulations, and local building codes in your area.

With this plan in hand, you can obtain a permit to conduct the necessary work to turn a garage into living space. ADU requirements vary, so you must check the local guidelines and state zoning laws. The growing need for affordable housing has influenced some states to ease zoning restrictions and promote the use of ADUs.

These laws can range from basic size restrictions to more stringent regulations that limit the type, size, and even the design of the garage conversion. Always check local laws before starting this type of project to make sure your plan falls in line with state and municipal restrictions.

RELATED: The Parts of Your Property You Can (and Can’t) Rent to Tenants

Making a Plan for Turning Your Garage into a Living Space

garage conversion

Photo: istockphoto.com

Garage living is an accomplishable DIY task that can make your garage more livable with the right garage conversion floor plans, layouts, and innovative converted garage ideas that can help add comfort and entertainment to a previously underused space. You may even want to convert a garage into a bedroom for one of the kids or use it as a small rental space or a guest suite for friends and family.

Install Appropriate Flooring

In a garage with a flat and dry concrete slab, homeowners have no shortage of flooring options. Tile, whether ceramic or vinyl, holds appeal for its ease of installation. It can be laid directly over the slab, so long as the slab is properly prepared. This typically entails filling cracks with patching compound, cleaning spills with a degreasing solution, and applying sealer to block moisture from rising up through the porous concrete.

Less affordable and more demanding for the do-it-yourselfer are carpeting or hardwood. Both materials require a plywood subfloor, which means the project must begin with patching, cleaning, and sealing the slab. After that, lay down a layer of polyethylene sheeting to further safeguard against moisture.

Next, attach ¾-inch plywood to the slab with concrete screws at 16-inch intervals. Install the carpeting or hardwood over the plywood, resulting in a raised floor height that will need to be managed at the garage entryways.

Design Space for Doors and Windows

Many who complete a garage conversion ultimately choose to leave the garage door intact, imbuing the space with a note of industrial flair. Other homeowners replace the garage door with a solid or windowed wall, or with a compromise solution, such as French doors.

As you contemplate the design of your garage conversion, ask yourself whether the space has a sufficient number of windows. If you’re planning to add any, consider natural light and views to the outdoors, as well as privacy.

RELATED: 7 Features to Look for in Your Next Garage Door

Ensure Walls are Insulated and Finished

You’re ahead of the game if your garage walls are insulated and paneled in drywall. If they aren’t, however, how you address the issue often depends on how your garage is constructed. If the exterior walls are cinder block, then outfit the perimeter of the space in stud framing. Fit insulation between the studs and then fasten the drywall to the framing.

If the walls have drywall but no insulation, you can use spray-foam insulation with little disruption to the existing walls. Before closing up the walls, remember to run electrical wire for overhead lighting. Also at this stage, you must frame out any closets you wish to include as part of your garage conversion.

RELATED: The Best Paint for Garage Walls

Prepare for Electrical Needs

Once the walls are in, hire a licensed electrician to install outlets and light switches, as well as any fixtures you wish to mount on or hang from the ceiling. (Note that it may be necessary to add a circuit to your breaker panel.) Of the many reasons to hire a professional to handle the electrical work in your garage conversion, perhaps most important is the pro’s in-depth knowledge of the relevant building codes in your area.

RELATED: The Best Electric Garage Heaters of 2021

Don’t Forget About Heating and Cooling

garage conversion

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you have a forced-air system, the simplest (most cost-effective) method of heating and cooling your garage conversion is to extend the ductwork from the main part of your house. Alternatively, look into radiant floor heating, which operates through the floor by means of heated water or electrical coils.

Yet another option is to install a mini-split heater and/or air conditioner. Known as a ductless system, this technology consists of a wall-mounted unit that draws from a condenser situated immediately outside the building. As a final set of options, consider the traditional amenities for small-space seasonal comfort, namely baseboard heaters and window air conditioners.

RELATED: The Best Garage Heaters of 2021

Plan for Any Necessary Plumbing

Installing a kitchen, bathroom, wet bar, or utility sink can be the most complicated part of a garage conversion. Chances are good that you will need to set supply and drain lines into the concrete slab to have running water. For that reason, it’s wise to handle plumbing issues first, before addressing other features of the project.

If you wish to build a bathroom but are leery of disrupting the slab, think about an up-flush system, which relies on a macerator (to grind waste) and a pump (to take that waste to your septic tank or sewer). In this setup, supply and return lines are boxed out along the floor, but they almost disappear from view once you have painted and furnished the renovated garage space.

There are many different ways to transform your garage from a relatively unused, unlivable space to an area of the home that the family can enjoy regularly. You can use the garage to add additional sleeping space, set up an area for the in-laws, or even convert it to an Airbnb. Take a look at these top garage conversion ideas.

Studio Apartment

If you have ever gone apartment hunting, then you know that a studio apartment can fit comfortably in a two-car garage. In fact, some studio apartments could fit into a single-car garage and still have room to spare, so making the transition from a garage to a full studio apartment is just a matter of having the skill, materials, and an approved permit.

This space can be used for a teenager or young adult who is looking for more independence, but isn’t quite ready to leave home. Alternatively, you can rent out a studio apartment to generate rental revenue from your previously unused garage.

Personal Office

garage conversion

Photo: istockphoto.com

Home offices were once a luxury that very few professionals needed to have, but changes during the pandemic forced many people to work from home. It quickly became obvious to some that trying to work in a shared space with babies, kids, pets, and partners isn’t the best option for productivity.

Instead of trying to sneak away to the bedroom or another dark corner of the home to get some work done, consider converting the garage to your own personal office space. This idea makes use of the garage while improving your productivity and reducing the stress of working at home.

Home Gym

It seems like there is a never-ending list of excuses to avoid the gym, which results in poor health, increased fatigue, and disruptive sleep. To help prevent these issues and get your personal health and fitness goals back on track, convert unused garage space into a home gym.

A home gym can encourage you to work out more frequently and it is a relatively easy conversion that may not require the same electrical or plumbing updates as a studio apartment, man cave, or home bar. If this is the route you choose, make sure to install appropriate home gym flooring and padding that can resist denting and damage from dropped weights.

Final Thoughts

garage conversion

Photo: istockphoto.com

While converting the garage into a livable area isn’t one of the more straightforward projects, it is a worthwhile option for homeowners who want to expand the living space of the home without infringing upon the yard space. Garage conversion is also a great way to save some money on an addition because the garage structure—including the framework, roofing, and foundation—is already in place.

Just keep in mind that converting this space doesn’t typically increase the property value of the home. It does mean sacrificing indoor parking space, which may be a problem if you live in a colder area of the country or if your vehicle is vulnerable to damage from excessive exposure to direct sunlight in hotter areas of the country.

FAQs About Garage Conversion

To learn more about the cost, planning, and overall decision to convert a garage into living space, take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions below.

Q: How much does it cost to convert a garage into a room?

On average, a full garage conversion will typically cost between $6,000 and $19,000, depending on the size of the garage, the quality of the materials, and whether you take on the project alone or hire a professional contractor to tackle the conversion.

Q: Is it worth it to convert a garage?

You will typically see that a high-end garage conversion has about an 80 percent return on investment when you sell a home. Beyond the strictly financial view, whether it’s worth it to convert a garage into a living space depends on your preferences. If you have a small family who doesn’t need the extra space, then it may not be worth the time and effort, but larger families wanting to take full advantage of relatively unused space around the home will see a big benefit from converting the garage.

Q: Do you need planning permission to turn a garage into a room?

Before converting a garage into a room you will need to have a plan that satisfies state building codes, energy-efficiency regulations, and local building codes in order to obtain a building permit to complete the project.

Q: How long does a garage conversion take?

The length of time it takes to complete a garage conversion depends on the size of the garage, the requirements of the job, and the skill of the installer. Experienced contractors may be able to complete the work in a few days, though it’s more likely that the job will take between a week and a month to fully convert the garage space into a livable area of the home.

Don't want to do it yourself?
Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed general contractors near you.
+