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How to Convert Your Garage Into a Living Space

Key factors to convert a garage: costs, climate control, property value & local zoning

Garage renovation

(Above) Sweeten homeowner Katy’s garage conversion into an indoor-outdoor room

Increasingly, garages in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are morphing into multi-use spaces. To homeowners, these garage spaces are blank canvases and are morphing into anything from self-contained units to home offices. If you’re wondering how to convert your garage into a living space, there are some details you’ll need to gather first.

At Sweeten, we’re here to help you flip that underutilized garage into one of the best rooms in the house or perhaps an income-generating unit. Before you decide to turn a garage into a home gym or guest house, there are things to consider. Does the space have proper insulation?

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

What to turn your garage into

Anything. Really. Garages have been converted into gyms, personal getaway space, self-contained studio apartments, and home bars, according to Sweeten general contractor Michael. “It’s found space, so get creative,” Michael said.

Should you eliminate car storage space?

While some people are giving up their car’s indoor space altogether, others are slicing their garage in half, said Michael. This leaves room for at least one car, and the rest of the space becomes something else. “That way you can still have a garage when you sell your house,” he said.

Michael believes the jury is still out on if the property value increases whether the garage is converted or not. Some Sweeten contractors believe a garage is much more valuable as a living space for the homeowner and for resale purposes. Reports indicate that a home’s value could increase by as much as six percent, but that’s only if the area has ample street parking. Taking away your garage and off-street parking in a high-density area could bring that value down.

However, some towns might require at least one car space on your property and potentially two in some areas, Michael said. This could mean slotting your car into an outdoor area somewhere else in your front yard. “Do your homework,” Michael said. More on zoning and permits below.

How much does it cost to convert a garage?

Budgets can vary greatly depending on many factors including the state of your garage, your intended use, and the types of materials you want to use. To get an accurate read on your budgets, it’s always best to sit down with a general contractor who can tailor a quote for your situation.

Converting a garage is a good-value strategy to add living space to your home, costing $30 a square foot which is less than an extension, according to NorthJersey.com. Sweeten contractor Michael puts the average range of a garage conversion in the tri-state area between $35,000 and $60,000. “But I’ve seen upwards of $100,000,” he said.

The fit-out for a garage conversion shouldn’t cost more than $45,000 to make the space comfortable, Michael said. That includes plumbing for a toilet, insulation, and heating. However, “A lot of people are putting in bars and fridges, some cooking equipment, or cool decorative wall paneling,” he said. These are just a few examples of what can bump up the price tag.

A basic garage conversion project that another Sweeten contractor has worked on came in at $25,000. The homeowner wanted an art studio. To handle the new 25 lighting fixtures—art studios need a lot of light—the space required an electrical upgrade including a new breaker box. Insulation was also required so it was comfortable during the fall, spring, and summer. A heater was added for the winter.

For a $60,000 project in rural New Jersey, a homeowner wanted to add a fully self-contained apartment to the second story of their garage. That meant adding a kitchen and bathroom, which pushes up a budget substantially. Plumbing, electrical, an interior and exterior overhaul as well as reinforcing the exterior stairs were part of the remodel.

The budget might seem big, but it was an income-generating investment bringing in rental income at $1,400 a month.

What are the conditions of the garage?

Sometimes, you’ll need to clear those spaces out from junk and any animal tenants. Many underutilized garages, especially standalone structures, may have experienced neglect for a period of time.

Whether a stand-alone garage is structurally sound will also be a question. This will take on additional importance if you’re renovating or adding a second story.

Garages can also have random and awkwardly placed columns disrupting the open space, or a ceiling height that isn’t conducive to taller guests. And most floors will be on a pitch so water can run right off it, according to Michael. These are the types of problems that might require a creative solution if you’re going to make it a living space.

Consider: Insulation and heating a converted garage

Most garages lack insulation. Consequently, it probably won’t have heating; so consider what you want to use the space for. If it will be used just for the summer, adding some fans can offer a budget-conscious idea.

If you’re intending to use it all or most of the year, you will likely need to add insulation and heating in your garage conversion. Typically, garages are made of concrete blocks, so they tend to be very cold. However, a garage that is within your home might have some insulation on any wall or part of the ceiling that connects to the main house.

Giving the room its own heat source will cost up to $6,000. Keep in mind that a heat pump might require an electrical upgrade. “You can take an existing heat system in the house and blow it into the garage,” said Michael, of one possible solution.

The floor of a garage is typically concrete and a big source of heat loss. Adding insulation might be necessary. If that’s the case, you will need to dig down or elevate the floor if your ceiling height allows for that, Michael said.

Zoning and permits to convert a garage

Unfortunately, zoning rules can get in the way of a garage conversion. This is because changing the use of your garage can be a big deal for some building departments. “Some zoning codes prohibit adding a loft or a second story,” said Michael. The best way forward is to talk with your general contractor to find out what rules your local area might have.

According to Sweeten contractors, the cost of permits will also change from area to area with a range from a few hundred dollars up to $1,500 if you need permits for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.

“Home Owners Associations often frown on these conversions,” Michael added. That’s because you will be taking away a car (or two) which might have been a vital part of that development’s original approval he said. If your home comes under an HOA, make sure to check their rules! It’s also wise to check the zoning and permitting restrictions in your area.

The top questions to ask yourself

Ultimately, homeowners wanting to convert a garage should do some soul searching first. How much will it improve your quality of life? Will you rent it? How will it impact your property’s value? For many, a garage is worth more as a living space than it is as car storage. Be honest with yourself and any family members who may use the space. Converting unused garage space may add joy and utility to your day-to-day life.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

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