Assessing Your Garage for Conversion to Living Space

Is Your Garage Suitable? Seven Things to Consider

Illuminated garage with open door
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A garage conversion can be one of the quickest and most affordable ways to add living space to a home. The foundation, walls, and roof are already in place. The wiring is often sufficient. And if the garage is attached to the house, the entry already exists.

In many houses, a well-planned garage conversion can create a new room or rooms that blend seamlessly with the existing house. Most commonly, the location of attached garages make them ideal locations for large family rooms, or even expanded luxury kitchens.

The process should begin with a careful assessment of the garage and the problems and promises it holds. Here are seven elements to evaluate as you consider the possibilities. 

1) Garage Door

The biggest question facing most garage conversions is what to do about the garage door. Once the door is removed, the resulting space needs to be filled in so that it both blends in with the rest of the house and provides a useful service to the new living space. Possible options include installing a patio door or framing a new wall that includes a large picture window or bay window. Some homeowners have been known to create entire new entryways where the garage door was located. 

2) Floor

A typical garage sits on an uninsulated concrete slab, which may be several inches below the floor level inside the house. The slab may well be sloped toward the garage door or toward a floor drain. With these circumstances, you will want to consider filling the bottom of the garage door opening with a curb that will keep water out of the converted space and protect wall framing from moisture.

You will also need to decide if the floor should be leveled.

3) Heating and Cooling

If the garage is attached to the house, you may be able to extend the existing heating and cooling system into the new space. If that is not possible, look into an independent system (heat can be supplied by electric baseboards, gas space heaters or wood stoves, for example, while a room air conditioner can handle warm weather).

Add insulation to walls, floor, and ceiling before deciding how to heat and cool the space. Another option is a radiant floor heating system--a relatively easy thing to install on an existing concrete slab. 

4) Wiring

If you expect to substantially increase electrical usage in the converted space, consider adding at least one new 20-amp circuit. Most garages have a single lighting circuit, and most large rooms will require a bit more electrical service than that. It will likely take several additional circuits if your converted space will be used for a kitchen with all its appliances. If you are converting a detached garage to some form of living space, additional wiring can be run from the house through an underground conduit. 

5) Plumbing

This can be the biggest headache of a garage conversion. Getting water supplied to the garage may be easy, but drainage can present major problems. Check with a plumber about your options. If you are lucky enough to have a laundry/utility room connecting the garage to the house, you might be able to turn it into a bathroom. Adding plumbing lines is often the single biggest expense in a garage conversion project. 

6) Loss of Storage and Parking

Much of what is currently stored in your garage could go into a new shed, the basement or attic, or be sold at a garage sale.

To protect your vehicle from the elements, consider building a carport. If your property is large enough, you might even consider building a new detached garage while converting the old attached garage to valuable living space. 

7) Blending In

Think hard about how you can make the exterior of the converted space look like it has always been a part of the house, rather than an afterthought. Try to match the siding, colors, window and door styles and the landscaping. Done properly, a garage conversion can a seamless addition to your home.