Who needs the space more? You or the car?
When homes begin to feel too tight and the huddled masses yearn to be free — or at least have a little more elbow room — it’s tempting to eye that two-car garage and wonder how it would look converted into a family room ... or a master suite with a private bath, a playroom for the kids or a hobby room big enough for a sewing machine and a treadmill.
Does the car really need a home indoors?
Like every other large-scale home improvement project, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to garage conversions. Sometimes, there are no other options and the need for additional space is urgent. Sometimes, a garage conversion may not be allowed under a neighborhood’s covenants.
“You just have to be careful,” said Dennis Wiltgen, a general contractor who has been doing professional building and remodeling in the Grand Valley for almost 30 years. “If homeowners are really hamstrung for space, it’s a good option,” Wiltgen said. “It increases the square footage inexpensively; the walls and roof are already there.”
A garage conversion may be the only option for homeowners who don’t have enough equity in their home to sell it and buy something bigger.
Garage conversions, however, often end up on the list of home improvements not to make. They don’t necessarily add value to the house when it comes time to resell and when they’re done wrong, they detract from the home’s appearance.
“If a garage is deep, it may allow you to take part of it for the house,” said Nate Porter, a general contractor who has handled a couple of garage conversions. If the goal is to leave the front portion of the garage intact, make sure there’s enough room to park a car.
“You’ve got to redo several things if you’re going to do it right,” Porter said. If the new space is going to be part of the house, make sure the home’s heating and cooling systems can handle the additional square footage. Although it may be tempting to use an electric space heater rather than upgrade the furnace, electric resistance heaters cost more to operate in the long run than an efficient natural gas furnace or boiler.
Make sure the new space is adequately insulated. Consider blown-in cellulose or foam insulation rather than fiberglass batting. It’s more expensive, but it will keep your new space much more comfortable, especially if you can’t afford to upgrade your HVAC systems.
Pay attention to doorways. If there is a door leading outside from the garage, does it make sense for that door to remain in the converted space? There’s often a door leading to the garage from the kitchen. Does it make sense to continue using that doorway to the new interior space? Or is adding more cabinets in the kitchen and moving the entryway into the new master suite off the living room a better option?
Although homeowners can save money by doing work themselves, getting professional help in the design process or when safety is an issue is never a wrong choice.
When the new space is going to be a bedroom, be sure to add an adequate closet. Are there enough electrical outlets in the new room? Should there be a phone or cable jack? Don’t take a two-car garage and turn it into a rabbit warren, with multiple rooms, dysfunctional spaces and doorways in odd places.
On the exterior of the house, consider the curb appeal of the garage conversion. Replacing the garage doors with walls and a couple windows is simply the first step. Take care to match the exterior finish and trim so the former garage space doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Take a critical look at the driveway; perhaps it makes sense to tear out a portion of the driveway and put in landscaping.
Sometimes, homeowners may recognize their need for additional space while also realizing that their home will be more valuable at resale with a two-car garage instead of an exercise room. Under those conditions, it’s more appropriate to leave the garage door intact, and do only those improvements that will be easily and economically reversed or add value when the space becomes garage again at resale. It may not make sense to upgrade the furnace, but upgraded insulation will make the converted space more comfortable and could be a selling point when the homeowner converts the space back into a garage to sell the home.
Garage conversions make sense under a variety of conditions, but only when they’re done with a lot of thought and careful planning. If you’re considering a garage conversion, be sure and come to the Home Improvement and Remodeling Expo at Two Rivers Convention Center March 4–6 for help and advice from multiple experts.