What to Consider Before Converting a Garage Into Living Space

Thinking about converting your garage into living space? Here's what you need to know first.

When you’ve outgrown your home’s available living space, should you consider converting your garage to living space? That’s a complicated question!

Converting a garage into living space can be an attractive option for some homeowners who find themselves in a crowded house. In areas where expansion is difficult and property values are low, it can be a logical solution. However, converting your garage could have drawbacks. So consider the decision carefully before any work begins.

The Top 5 Things to Consider Before Your Garage Conversion Project

Does a Garage Conversion Add Value?

For the most part, experts agree that converting your garage into living space does not add value to your home. This isn’t always the case; it depends on where you live. And if you’re planning to sell your home within three to five years, a garage conversion is usually not a good idea. If you live in an area where garages are desirable (snowy regions, for example), it can actually lower your home’s value.

Andrew Brown, a real estate consultant from Keller Williams Realty in Massachusetts, suggests studying your neighborhood. Do most of your neighbors have garages? “If so, this means garages are highly desirable in your neighborhood, and you affect your resale value by removing it and limit your buyer pool compared to the average seller,” says Williams.

Another expert, Cristina Miguelez, a remodeling specialist from Fixr.com says, “You’ll need to consider the fact that removing a garage from your property may lower your property’s value and your ability to sell it.”

However, if square footage is highly valued in your area, converting your garage into living space could increase your property value, giving you a boost when you’re ready to sell. And if you are in your forever home and you’re not concerned about your home’s value, converting your garage to living space may be a viable option.

What Are The Costs?

Experts agree that the costs for converting a garage can range from $8,000 to $25,000 or more. Major variables include  plumbing and electrical work.

Plumbing can quickly become a big expense, depending on what you plan to do in your living space. Stephany Smith, a certified plumber from MyPlumber, says, “If you want to transform your garage into a completely livable space where you can shower, use the bathroom and cook, be prepared for your plumbing installation to cost you between $1,000 and $2,500.”

Most garages already have some sort of electrical wiring but it will likely need upgrading. “One large cost will be the electrical work to add breakers for your power requirements,” says Shaun McBroom, a home improvement expert from GetProTip. Zach Reece, chief operating officer of ColonyRoofers in Atlanta, adds this: “Typical garages only have one lighting circuit, so expect to add at least one more 20-amp circuit for basic living conditions.”

You’ll also need to convert your garage door into a solid wall because a garage door does a terrible job of keeping heat in during the winter and out during the summer. Other considerations are heating and cooling the new living space, insulation, walls, floor, ceiling and security. The costs rise quickly!

Car, Tool and Equipment Storage

One other thing, according to McBroom: Figure out where to store your car, tools and other equipment.

One option for your car(s) is to build a carport, if you live where carports provide enough protection from the elements. Otherwise, you’ll need to find another location close by. See if there are any pay parking garages near you, or ask neighbors if they have extra garage space they will let you use.

For tools and equipment, you could move them to your basement or build a small shed. Smith notes that you can use your new garage living space to house your basement appliances, like the washer and dryer, assuming you have the plumbing system set up for it. That would free up some space in the basement for tools.

Permits and Laws

Be sure to research local regulations and what permits are required to convert a garage to living space. You will more than likely need a building permit, which will cost between $300 and $1,000, depending on where you live and the estimated cost of your project. “Expect to jump through hoops when it comes to permits because some municipalities are notorious for making it difficult to convert garages into living spaces,” Reece says.

Besides a permit, Brown notes you will need to acknowledge you are adding square feet of living space to your property. “If you are in an area with high property taxes, this is something to consider because you may have just increased your taxable square footage,” he says.

Some highly populated municipalities will require a certain number of off-street parking spots. That’s why it can be so troublesome to get them to approve your garage conversion. And if you belong to a homeowner’s association, it will have to approve the project as well.

Are There Better Alternatives?

Another thing to consider: Is there a better alternative? For instance, you could just build an addition to your existing home.

“Often additions are more comfortable to add to the home and allow you to have a better final product because you know structurally and code-wise, everything is sound,” says Brown.

Another possibility is expanding the garage. “Adding a room above your garage may be a better choice for resale, as it gives you the space you need while keeping your existing garage at the same time,” says Miguelez.

While the permits you’ll need will potentially be the same, getting the addition approved might be significantly easier because many municipalities are OK with these expansions. The downside? It will likely be more expensive than a garage conversion.

Mark Soto
Mark Soto works for a family-owned company, RoofingMKE, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has comprehensive knowledge of roof installation, repair and replacement and gutter installation. Mark comes from a family of DIYers and has worked with landscapers, plumbers, painters, and damage restoration specialists.