Converted garage could solve cramped space

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I happened to catch a renovation show last week that had an interesting twist to it. Basically there is a competition between a contractor and a designer with each proposing a different renovation solution to the functionality issues being experienced by the homeowner. The interesting twist, is that the solution has to be within the current structure of the home. Meaning there is no opportunity to bump out the back of the house to add a gorgeous family living space or to add a master bedroom and luxury ensuite to the second storey.

I have often faced this same situation and the most likely solutions are to redesign the use of an under-used basement or attic or to completely rearrange the layout of rooms on a full floor or storey. It’s quite easy to change a few door openings and like magic, a seldom-used Dining Room can become a private office space, a family gathering spot or a main floor master bedroom retreat.

But there is another alternative that is often overlooked – that being the potential contained right in your garage.

A typical two car garage is usually about 600 sq. ft., which is a large enough space to make a significant impact on the livability of a home. It could easily provide the dream kitchen-family room you have always wanted; or a cute separate space to bring an aging parent in to live with you.

Using the garage is far more cost effective than having to start with pouring a foundation and building walls and a roof for a similar size addition. In fact the savings could be upwards of half of the cost of the addition. Depending on the features you want to include, the expense to convert a two-car garage could be from $20,000 to $50,000. If your plan includes a bathroom, then you should add another $15,000-$25,000.

At first, it might appear to be an easy task, drop in some flooring and a couple of partition walls, but to do it right there are a number of important considerations:

  • Raising the floor height to allow for insulation over the concrete slab
  • Insulating walls and ceiling
  • Providing heating and cooling for the space, either by tying into the main system or adding an independent one
  • Adding electrical receptacles and overhead lighting and a possible upgrade to the electrical service to accommodate the larger load
  • Opening up the partition wall between your house and the garage to create a better traffic floor or an open floor plan
  • Replacing garage doors with fully insulated stud walls
  • Adding windows and doors
  • Then adding the finishes touches of flooring, trim, doors, cabinets etc.

The point about adding windows is one you really need to take special care with, if you want to maintain your home’s curb appeal and value. A successful conversion should completely eliminate any evidence of the old garage door openings. Adding windows, changing the brick detailing and even adding some detail on the roofline all will help. Consulting with a professional renovator or designer is well worth the money to get the design correct.

There are considerations on the downside as well with giving up your garage:

  • in our snow belt, parking outside means scraping your car windows and it might also make it more difficult to have your driveway plowed;
  • more car washes might be needed and constant summer exposure can lead to premature aging of your vehicle;
  • potential for increased risk of a vehicle break-in or theft;
  • loss of conveniently located storage space for landscape tools, lawn mowers, snow blowers, bicycles and recreation equipment, could require the addition of a shed in the back yard.

Lastly, before you start knocking out any walls, you need to check with a professional renovator or your municipality about any regulations governing off-street parking and the amount of allowable lot coverage in your community. If your community’s bylaws allow it, then a garage could just be your perfect solution.

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

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