Should You Convert Your Garage to Extra Living Space

By: , Contributor

Published on: Dec 18, 2019

Converting a garage could make for a more comfortable home -- and a good return on investment.

When you're eager to increase your square footage at home, converting your garage to extra living space may seem like an appealing choice. Though you’ll end up losing storage, you’ll gain square footage and potentially increase your property value at the same time. However, local building regulations could make your conversion project more complicated than expected. Here, we’ll review the pros and cons of converting a garage to extra living space.

Benefits of converting a garage to living space

A garage conversion isn't your only option for scoring extra square footage inside your home. You could also opt for an addition, which may give you more extra room than your garage allows for. But when you put on an addition, you lose out on yard space, which could be problematic if you have a small yard and spend a lot of time outdoors.

When you convert a garage, you simply capitalize on existing space. And if you have a driveway or dedicated parking spaces for your home, you won't have to worry about where to keep your vehicle.

Another benefit of converting your garage is that you'll be dealing with an existing structure. A home addition, by contrast, involves installing new floors, walls, and everything in between, and as such, it can be a much costlier, more complicated endeavor. In fact, if you're handy, you may be capable of converting your garage to living space yourself, whereas with a full-fledged addition, you'll likely be looking at hiring outside contractors, thereby adding to your costs.

Finally, if square footage comes at a premium in your neighborhood, a converted garage might add value to your home. That will be a good thing when the time comes to sell it, or when you need to borrow against it in the form of a home equity loan or line of credit.

Drawbacks of converting a garage to living space

Though there's much to be gained by converting a garage and increasing your living space, the flipside is that you lose out on something that could be equally valuable -- storage space. And we're not just talking about storage space for your tools and sports equipment; we're talking about storage for what's likely one of your most valuable possessions -- your car.

If you don't have a driveway or dedicated parking space outside your home, then you probably shouldn't even consider converting your garage unless you relish the idea of grappling with street parking and risking tickets and fines if parking is limited where you live.

Even if you do have a driveway or parking spot outside your home that’s yours free and clear, if you live in an area prone to cold winters or extended bouts of rain, you may come to miss the option of storing your vehicle indoors, where it’s safe from the elements and won’t be so unbearably cold when you go to start it up on those 14-degree days. If you have an unfinished basement in your home, that may be a more suitable space to convert so you can let your garage retain its intended function -- housing your vehicle.

Another factor to consider is that while adding indoor living space might increase your home's value, killing that storage space could have the opposite effect -- less value. If you're not sure how things will shake out, talk to a real estate agent who knows the area well and get his or her take on the matter before sinking money into that conversion.

You may find you're better off investing in a home addition and leaving your garage alone -- especially if you have a decent-sized yard and can afford to give up a chunk of it.

Challenges of converting a garage to living space

Let's suppose you've weighed the pros and cons and decided to move forward with converting your garage to indoor living space. At that point, you'll need to make sure you're not violating any local zoning laws in the process. Chances are, you'll need building permits -- which you'll likely be charged for -- to move forward. So before you get started, contact your local building and zoning department to find out what the process really entails in your area.

You'll also need to figure out what construction requirements you'll need to follow to ensure that your garage conversion is up to code. Some factors you'll want to account for include:

  • Ceiling height: Your town or municipality may impose a minimum requirement (plus, you'll want to impose your own minimum requirement for the sake of your personal comfort).
  • Electrical: This refers primarily to the number of outlets you have in that space and the distance between them.
  • Windows: You may be required to install windows into that space, so make sure there's ample room to allow for that.

Remember, too, that you'll want your new living space to be comfortable to spend time in, so you'll need to factor certain conversion costs into your budget, such as:

  • Heating
  • Flooring
  • Insulation
  • Aesthetics

Finally, you’ll need to decide whether to keep your existing garage door or replace it with a wall. If you retain your door, you’ll also need to keep its electronic opener, which could prove to be a major eyesore.

HomeAdvisor reports that converting a garage to living space costs between $5,958 and $20,605, with the average price tag for this type of project coming in at $12,807. But don't just look at the averages. Figure out exactly what you want to do with that space and who will be doing the work. If it's you, calculate what your materials will cost you -- and don't forget to include permit fees. If you'll be outsourcing the work, get detailed quotes from contractors to see what you'll be looking at.

What will you use your converted garage for?

Before you move forward with your garage transformation, make sure you have an idea of what you'll do with that converted space. Will it be a home office? A family room? A spare bedroom? The function of that new space could dictate the type of work you put into it, so keep that in mind, especially if you're on a relatively tight budget.

Also, think about the location of that garage relative to your home’s floor plan. If it’s right outside the kitchen, you may not want to earmark it for office purposes, since you’ll probably need a more quiet area of the home to get work done.

Is a garage conversion right for you?

Converting your garage could buy you the added interior square footage you’ve been missing. And in some cases, that could lead to an increase in your home’s resale value. Before you go that route, however, you may want to look at alternative options for gaining living space, like putting on an addition or finishing a basement, if you have one. That way, you get more square footage without rendering your beloved car homeless.

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