What NOT to Do During a Garage Remodel

Updated: Mar. 13, 2024

Whether you're DIYing or hiring a contractor, don't make these common mistakes during your garage remodel.

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Don’t Skip a Cost/Benefit Analysis

Garage remodels are expensive. But it’s a mistake to assume that any modifications you make will translate into an increase in home value.

Remodeling Magazine found that home renovation projects in general averaged a 66 percent return on investment (ROI) in 2020. The financial return on your garage, specifically, will largely depend on whether you incorporate features that most homebuyers desire.

The top two investments that pay off: Multipurpose functionality, such as additional living space, a workshop or a gym; and a new garage door, which enhances curb appeal. The latter has the potential to net you a 94.5 percent ROI.

Note: Don’t forgetting to factor in the cost of building permits for any electrical, plumbing, ventilation, heating and cooling, or framing modifications you make. The necessary permits are especially important if you’re planning to create living space, especially if you are making any structural changes to the load-bearing exterior walls.

Work done to the wall between an attached garage and the main home may also require a permit because this shared wall (sometimes called a “firewall” or “fire separation wall”) is designed to prevent a garage fire from spreading to the rest of the home.

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Don’t Forget to Plan It Out

Too often, homeowners rush in without having thoroughly thought things through. If you don’t know how many electrical outlets, lights and shelves you want from the beginning, you may have to reopen the walls when you realize you need more framing for shelves, more electrical outlets for your workspace or more lights in the ceiling.

Once you’ve sketched it all out, recognize that every step builds upon the next. Thoroughly complete each in the appropriate order. Start with the framing, then move on to the electrical, then ventilation and insulation, the wall covering and paint, and finally the floor.

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Don’t Underestimate Your Electrical Needs

Really think out your garage wiring needs during the initial planning stages of your remodel. It’s vital you know upfront if you need to move and add wires, install junction boxes or add 220-volt outlets for large appliances like a clothes washer or dryer or an electric heater long before you seal up and paint the walls.

You don’t want to go to all the trouble of remodeling only to regret installing too few outlets for your tools, power in less-than-convenient places or too little light to comfortably work or socialize.

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Don’t Forget About Framing

It’s a common mistake to assume your garage’s existing framing is ready to handle drywall, shelves, light fixtures and HVAC appliances.

Many garages have exposed framing without any wall covering. Yours may not have enough framing members to accommodate drywall, or enough blocking for any additional wall- or ceiling-mounted fixtures you want to add. Even if your garage’s walls are covered, you may still need additional blocking and framing to support mounted fixtures.

The planning stage should include inspecting the framing. This will determine if you need to add framing members to the top plates and inside corners of walls, or blocking material to walls and ceilings.

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Don’t Miscalculate Your Insulation Needs

Proper insulation is one of the most efficient means of regulating indoor temperatures, and the amount your remodeled garage will need depends on the purpose(s) it will serve. It’s easy to under- or over-estimate the level of insulation required.

If you’ll be spending a lot of time in your garage, going the extra mile to ensure the entire garage is thoroughly insulated is important for maintaining a comfortable temperature year-round. This is especially true if you’ll be installing supplemental heating and/or cooling. You may also consider insulating your garage door or replacing it with a pre-insulated one, especially if you’ll be replacing it anyway.

If you mostly expect to use your garage for parking and storage, the extra expense of thoroughly insulating it probably isn’t worth the hassle or expense.

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Don’t Overlook Ventilation

Because active garage ventilation isn’t usually required by law, this is an easy step to ignore. However, neglecting this vital component can have negative consequences on the rest of your remodel.

Adequate ventilation allows insulation to “breathe” and prevents humidity and its consequences, such as mold and rust. Poor ventilation can also lead to the accumulation of toxic fumes from vehicles and off-gassing chemicals.

Properly ventilate with passive or fan-powered vents on the walls and through the ceiling and roof. Many experts recommend one sq. ft. of vent opening for every 300 sq. ft. of attic space for roof vents, and using one fan with a CFM (cubic feet per minute, a measurement of airflow) of 80 to 100 in the actual garage.

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installing mini-split heating and cooling system in garage
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Don’t Disregard Supplemental Heating and Cooling

If you live in an area with extreme temperate fluctuations, think about adding a heating and/or cooling system for year-round comfort. While proper insulation and ventilation will help, you may still want a supplemental source of climate control.

If your garage gets uncomfortably cold in the winter and hot in the summer, consider installing a ductless heat pump (a.k.a. mini-split) capable of heating, cooling and dehumidifying. If you just want to keep the garage cool in the summer, consider ceiling fans or a window air conditioner. For staying warm in the winter, a wall heater might be all you need.

Regardless of which you choose, avoid the temptation to extend the ductwork from your home’s central HVAC system into the garage unless it’s rated to satisfy the additional demand. Many HVAC systems aren’t, so it’s wise to use a separate, dedicated climate control appliance for your garage.

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Don’t Lock Into the Wrong Flooring

Choosing the wrong flooring option for your garage is an all too common mistake that can have functional and aesthetic consequences. Because most garage floors are concrete slabs, the most common way to transform the floor is to use a concrete coating or covering. There are multiple options to consider in each category, including:

If you will be using your garage mostly for parking and storage, applying a floor coating like floor paint or sealers will protect the underlying concrete from moisture, oil, gasoline and corrosive chemicals, while providing an attractive finish.

If you plan to spending a lot of time in your garage, rollout mats or interlocking tiles will conceal any cracks or cosmetic blemishes in the underlying concrete while offering protection from further damage. They can also help to keep the garage warmer in the winter by supplying a layer of insulation from the cold concrete. And they provide a cushioned surface that’s more comfortable to walk and stand on.

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Don’t Sacrifice Car Parking Space

It can be tempting to sacrifice parking to free up floor space for other purposes. Don’t do it. It can negatively impact your home’s value and your remodel’s ROI because homebuyers value garage parking capacity.

Consider liberating floor space by moving as many items as possible from the floor to the wall or ceiling with specialized storage units. You can also consider using free space in the garage’s attic area for storage or living space.

Note: Ceiling joists (the attic’s “floor”) weren’t designed to withstand the weight load of excessive storage, but are usually sturdy enough for a limited amount. Turning that attic into a living area needs to satisfy building code requirements and could require adding larger ceiling joists, an attic ladder that meets residential building codes, and an emergency fire escape.

If you have a two-car garage with a tall ceiling and want more hang-out space without reducing parking capacity, consider a parking lift, which lets you park two or three cars in one space. These units use a hydraulic lift to raise the vehicles parked on them, opening up the space underneath for another vehicle. However, be sure there’s enough overhead space to accommodate the extra height from the vertically-stacked vehicle.

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Don’t Skimp on Storage

A garage remodel is the perfect opportunity to really max out this space. Many people leave a lot of storage potential on the table by not recognizing all the options available. These include:

Regardless of what you choose, aim for maximum functionality and durability along with any aesthetic considerations. Low-quality cabinets and shelving may accommodate your remodel budget, but they may deteriorate much more rapidly and not function as well as those made of a higher grade material — especially if they’re exposed to high humidity in a garage without climate control features.

You can also build your wall shelves, wall cabinets, sliding pegboard storage and bike racks yourself. Depending on the materials you use, your skill level and your creativity, DIYing your garage storage solutions can be a great way to save money while ensuring a high-quality result.