Storage: Converting a Garage
A recent survey commissioned by a home improvement product manufacturer revealed that nearly 45 percent of Americans have turned to the last possible “room” in the house to renovate: the garage. According to the survey, among the most popular uses for today’s garage include a gym/workout room; bedroom/living quarters; child’s playroom; home office; and party room. Moreover, the rest of America isn’t far behind these home improvers. In fact, 18 percent of those polled said they would, or already have plans to, expand their existing garage.
The thought of encumbering all or part of the garage as a means of gaining much needed living space can be quite tempting. However, it may not be as simple as one might imagine and, thus, can require a good amount of planning to determine feasibility. In fact, when all is said and done, you may discover that it is more economical to build on or build up than to commandeer the garage. It helps to keep in mind that a garage is not “conditioned” or “living space” as is the interior of a home and, therefore, without certain upgrades, is not suited for uses beyond that which it was intended.
If you are hell-bent converting your Chevy’s home into a home office, the best place to begin the planning process is with a representative from your local building department since it is the agency that will issue the required construction permits. The building official can cite codes that determine what, if any, structural, electrical, mechanical or plumbing alterations or upgrades that must be made. Moreover, there are natural light, ventilation, egress and energy requirements that must be met. The worst thing that you can do for the safety of your family and the resale value of your home is to disregard planning and building requirements. Building codes are designed to protect you, your family, your neighborhood, your community and your investment.
In addition to getting the blessing of your local building department, it is likely that you will also need approval from the local planning/zoning department. The planning folks will be mainly concerned with parking. Off street covered parking is a HOT button with many communities. Their biggest concern is that the streets in the neighborhoods of their communities will be reduced to seas of cars and trucks, thus, creating an eyesore. Consequently, one of the first hurdles that must be jumped is replacement off street covered parking.
If you have conferred with the local building and planning officials and are set on proceeding, the next step should be with a designer, a design-build contractor, space planner or draftsperson who will create a set of building plans that will detail exactly what is to be done right down to the door bumpers and window sills. The plans are the universal communication device that will be use by ALL parties during the planning and construction phases of the project.
The planning and building departments will use the plans to issue permits, inspectors will use the plans to verify that construction conforms to the plans and you can rely on the plans to ensure that you get everything that you bargained for. Many people believe that plans are an unnecessary expense. Nothing could be further from the truth. A good set of plans and contract documents are worth their weight in gold – even if you will be doing the work yourself. Down the road when you decide to sell, you’ll be glad that you have an approved set of plans and a final inspection to demonstrate that all of the work was performed to the letter of the law.
Beyond code requirements, what follows are a few of the details that you will need to concern yourself with when converting a garage to living space.
• Elevation change: Many garage floors are lower than the floor in residence. Will this work in the grand scheme of things or will all or part of the floor need to be raised? If the floor is to be raised will the ceiling then be too low and also need to be raised? Can the ceiling be raised without altering the roof? If the space will remain lower than the existing residence are the steps up to code?
• Garage Door: Will the garage door remain or will it be removed and replaced with windows and/or other matching finishes? In some cases, the overhead door can remain where the front most portion of the garage is left as a storage shed.
• Heating & Cooling: How will the space be heated and cooled? Will the existing heating and cooling system be used and, if so, is it large enough to handle the additional space? Is it more practical to install a separate system to handle the additional living space?
• Electrical: Electrical lights and plugs must be installed to me minimum code. What additional electrical requirements will be needed for specific uses such as electronics for a home office or exercise equipment for a home gym? Is the main electrical service large enough to accommodate the needed power? What existing electrical wires must be relocated or brought up to code?
• Comfort & Energy Efficiency: Don’t forget to caulk and foam all gaps and penetrations and install insulation at exterior walls and the attic. Insulation should also be installed in the floor if it is raised.
• Windows & Exterior Doors: Where will windows be located to provide the minimally required amount of natural light and ventilation? What energy upgrades can be made to the space (and to the existing house) to maximize the amount of natural light and ventilation? Existing exterior doors must have a threshold, door bottom, weather stripping and a key lock and deadbolt.
• Plumbing & Mechanical: Is there existing equipment (furnace, water heater, water softener, central vacuum, etc. that must be relocated and/or enclosed? Are there plumbing pipes that need to be relocated?
It doesn’t make sense to try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear if a bit of a bath is all the pig needs. If a little space is what you need and the garage is the obvious solution, consider organizing the space more efficiently and you may discover that you may have room for the “stuff” that you need to keep, room for your old Chevy and space for your weights or computer desk.
A piece or two of exercise equipment, a desk with a computer, a carpet with some pillows and toys, a refrigerator, or a television do not a garage conversion make. It’s midnight; do you know where your garage is?