How to Convert a Garage into a Living Area

Conversion of an existing garage into a viable living area

This is one of the most popular, as well as practical solutions to creating additional space within an existing home.

Converting the existing garage space into a living area.

You can always keep the cars in the driveway; what if we can convert the garage into a family room, a new kitchen, bedrooms, or whatever the present need requires?

This is a very viable method for establishing additional living space, without the expense of creating a new addition, or adding a second floor to your home. The garage is already an existing enclosed space, and has a foundation, walls, roof, as well as an easy means of access from the exterior.

Comments regarding this conversion;

  • Immediately accessible for a handicapped individual. The presence of a garage and its ability to allow easy access by an automobile, automatically makes it a perfect space for any type of handicap access. The cost of installing a large access ramp, or even a residential elevator, will demonstrate the practicality of simply converting your present garage space into a livable environment with wheelchair accessibility.


  • One of the primary issues with the conversion of an existing garage space, that will require thought and future planning, is what you will do with the existing garage doors within the garage.

a.) If the garage is to eventually be reconverted into a garage, the doors should remain. If this is the case, an interior wall should be constructed, on the interior side of the garage doors, insulated, sheet rocked, taped and painted. Or the installation of insulation and a paneling such as a texture 1-11 installed over the studded wall, should be considered. It is important that the ability to remove the wall easily, and without damage to the existing garage doors, be designed into the newly constructed interior wall. If the garage doors are going to be reactivated in the future, then no stabilization braces or attachments should be transferred into the doors. The new interior wall should be a free standing, totally independent assembly, allow easy removal.


b.) If the garage space will never be reconverted back to its original function, then the doors should be removed, and the wall reconstructed, to blend into the existing exterior walls of the existing structure. If the assembly of this new wall is to be a permanent addition to the residence, then the placement of windows, and even a new entry door, can be designed into this newly constructed exterior wall. Remember, this is a permanent assembly and should be constructed as such to match the existing siding of the home.


c.) Another consideration regarding the removal of the garage doors, is the resale value of the home. If the presence of a garage is important to the resale of the home, then the design should be based upon the concept that the garage doors will remain, and the wall they are installed in should remain as intact as possible. This will allow the reconversion back to the garage space, if the future owners of the home prefer. The availability of additional living space, may be a practical solution to your needs, however, someone else purchasing the home in the future, may feel that a garage space is more important.


3.) The next most important aspect of converting a current garage space into a living space, is the comfort afforded by the floor. In most situations, the existing garage has a concrete slab as the floor of the garage. Most likely, this concrete floor is a 4 inch concrete slab, on grade, that was pitched towards the exterior garage doors, to provide drainage of the slab to the exterior. If this is the case, and in most situations this is the makeup of the garage floor, I recommend that a subfloor be constructed. Initially install an impermeable barrier over the existing concrete. This barrier can be a layer of heavy polyethylene, or a waterproof membrane that is applied to the top of the concrete slab. The purpose of this barrier is to prevent the accumulation of moisture that could occur below the slab, to permeate up into the voids created by the sub floor. As has been indicated repeatedly within this website, the presence of moisture and condensate, is a very destructive situation, that can cause deterioration of wood as well as create areas for mold to occur. It is extremely important that the voids created by the sub floor be both vented, and the moisture accumulation minimized, to prevent damage due to moisture build up.

Based upon the pitch of the existing concrete garage slab, as well as the height of the ceiling within the existing garage, the depth of the subfloor should be determined. If the ceiling height is minimal, then the build-up of the sub floor to accommodate correction of the pitch, as well as provide some additional insulation is limited. If the floor to ceiling height is greater than required for a finished room, then the assembly of the sub-floor can be more substantial.

The actual construction of the sub floor should consist of at least 1X3 sleepers, which are lengths of wood, spaced at 16 inches on center. These sleepers should be height adjusted with either wood or synthetic wedges, to establish a final level floor, over the pitched garage floor. Dependent upon the depth of the subfloor, rigid styrofoam should be installed within the spaces between the floor sleepers. This will provide additional insulation between the surface of the concrete slab and the finished floor. Once the sleepers and insulation are installed, a layer of sheathing should be attached to the tops of the sleepers. This sheathing can be plywood, plyscore, or any of the synthetic sheathing products now available. The selection of this sheathing will depend upon budget considerations, as well as the height from the floor to the ceiling. I prefer to install one layer of 5/8 inch plyscore, first perpendicular over the sleepers, then a second layer of plugged and sanded 1/2 inch plywood, over the top, in the opposite direction as the first layer. If this subfloor can be assembled in this fashion, the resultant finish floor will be both stable and secure.

Budget is a limiting aspect of the assembly of the sub-floor as well as the selection of the finished flooring material. If carpet is to be installed, the sub floor assembly does not have to be as rigid and solid as the sub floor, for the installation of ceramic tile, stone, brick or any other brittle flooring material. If the finish floor is to be a wood product, then the ability of the wood to flex without breaking or producing separation of joints, will allow a less stable sub floor also.

The more solid the sub floor, and the more insulation installed, the more comfortable will be the resultant room, once completed.

4.) What type of ceiling should be installed? The ceiling of the new space will depend upon what is already in existence. If there is no ceiling, and the current ceiling is simply the floor joists of the second level, or the ceiling joists of the garage, then a full installation of a finished ceiling is recommended. It is important to understand the importance of insulation within the new space, as well as the influence of the insulation on the comfort, within this space. The more efficiently the space is insulated, the less the cost of heating and cooling, and the more comfortable the environment. I tend to prefer a sheet rock ceiling over a suspended type of ceiling. However, again this is a factor of the budget for the room, the skill of the homeowner, as well as your financial ability to hire professional contractors, to install the ceiling. If a sheetrock ceiling is installed, pre-design thought must be given to where lights will be placed, if electrical wiring needs to be run to service new outlets or fixtures, if fans are to be installed, and if the ceiling will include the installation of any ductwork or other type accommodations must all be considered when installing the new ceiling. Once again, the budget will identify the best type of ceiling to install. If the budget does not allow the installation of a full sheet rock ceiling, the installation of a drop ceiling is suggested. A drop ceiling can accommodate any layout of light fixtures, fans and mechanical equipment, and is much more economical than a full sheetrock ceiling.

If creativity is your element, the installation of a full wood ceiling, or a paneled ceiling is possible. The important aspect of the ceiling installation, is the proper and detailed planning of all the elements that should be installed above the ceiling, prior to enclosing the entire assembly. It is much easier and more efficient to prepare an outlet for a possible ceiling fan, prior to the finish ceiling installation, than the future introduction of the wiring, after the ceiling has been completed.

If the existing ceiling is already adequate, the simple routing of any future electrical wiring, or the installation of any mechanical systems should be cut into the existing ceiling and the ceiling patched after all items are installed. An excellent method of patching an existing ceiling is with a popcorn ceiling texture. This textured ceiling, will cover over the patches, and allow the resultant ceiling to be even and consistent.


5.) Electrical work. One of the secrets of additional electrical installation is to cut a 6 inch strip of sheetrock from the bottom of the existing sheetrock perimeter walls. This will allow the horizontal installation of wiring, around the entire area, and the placement of additional outlets or power runs for wall sconces, etc. around the room. The patching is made easy, with a 6″ strip of sheetrock, and the coordination of the perimeter baseboard molding, to cover this strip of infill. This is a trick that many professional contractors use to allow easy access around the entire room, and to provide an efficient method of patching, once the wires are all fed through the walls.

Any additional electrical work for ceiling down lights, as well as ceiling fans and lighting chandeliers should be done, by routing the electrical power runs around the room and up the walls. If the ceiling is an existing ceiling, then the ceiling routing will need to be cut into the ceiling sheet rock and patched at a later date.

Don’t forget the fact that entire sub floor system is wide open for the routing of electrical lines and conduit. Floor outlets can be easily accommodated for office layout or even floor outlets alongside the bed, for reading, etc.

Depending upon the design of the new environment, the installation of an electrical sub panel to provide the proper electrical power to the finished living area may be necessary. These requirements should be discussed with a professional electrician, for their input. In most cases, there are not substantial additional electrical requirements, however, if there are, then a professional will need to be hired to accommodate these requirements.


6.) Mechanical work. The proper selection of the mechanical equipment to accommodate this new environment will be important to the comfort of the inhabitants. Questions such as the need for both heating and cooling, or simply one or the other, will depend upon the climate. In most cases, the installation of a ductless, separate mechanical unit, is recommended to accommodate the new space. The new technology afforded by the ductless mechanical units, will allow the independent controlling of the new space, as well as the management of several rooms, if the new living area is broken up into several separate rooms.

The location of the evaporator or condenser for these units can be vented to the exterior and located in the upper garage spaces, or adjacent to the exterior wall, on the outside of the space. The ability for these systems to accommodate, newly renovated and created areas, within an existing home are incredible. A professional HVAC contractor should be contacted for additional information and recommendations.

If there is a need for additional hot water for the newly constructed area, there are several new, and technologically advanced, tank-less heaters, that are capable of producing hot water. Again, a professional plumber should be contacted for additional guidance, and the existence of gas, electric, oil etc. will determine the type of hot water heaters that are available.


7.) Special accommodations.


There are several different, special accommodations, that can be implemented into the conversion of your existing garage into a new living area. This is basically the same as creating a new space, and all of the new technologies and conveniences can be added. Some of these possibilities include;


a.) Solar heat and cooling. Because the new space will require additional heating and cooling, the possibility of implementing a new solar energy system becomes a very practical accommodation. The spaces are small, and in many instances the roof areas are plentiful. In addition to the ability to operate the new mechanical systems on the solar installation, the provision for added electrical power into the primary home, should be considered. In addition to being a fun project to incorporate into the new space, the economical benefits as well as possible tax breaks could be substantial.


b.) Under floor heating and cooling. Due to the fact that you are probably installing a sub-floor, the ability to install an under floor radiant heat and cooling system, is a strong possibility. If the use of solar power is also installed, the entire setup could be extremely interesting and exciting. Under floor heating and cooling is a very efficient accommodation for the new space, and will provide an extremely comfortable environment within the newly constructed space. In addition, the heat from below, will efficiently and effectively reduce or eliminate the negatives of being on a slab that conducts the cold.


c.) Data and computer networking . Since this is a newly created space, dependent upon the use, the total and complete wiring of the space is possible for full data capability. The walls will be wide open, as will the ability to run conduit and wiring through the floor and ceiling systems. Now is the time for all future accommodations for wall hung televisions, speaker systems, etc.


d.) Bluetooth accommodations. The new blue tooth technology is available to stream data, inclusive of video, audio as well as internet connections. With the ceiling open and the walls being open, the accommodation of new blue tooth systems can be implemented.


e.) Special security systems. Dependent upon the use of the space, special security accommodations can easily be met during the new construction of the space. If there is reason for separate security entry into the newly renovated spaces, this is the time to install this specialty system.


f.) Special gun and valuable safes. There is nothing as secure as special gun and valuable safes that are built into the construction of the new space. These safes and enclosures, can be installed to be invisible to the average inhabitant of the space, and therefore offer the ultimate in security. If they cannot be seen or found, they cannot be broken into.


f.) Alternate entry and exit from the newly designed space. If there are special requirements for entry and exit from the new space, again, now is the time. If the area will be inhabited by separate individuals, that are not a part of the primary family of the home, specific entry capability could be required. If this is the case, then separate entry to the newly established space can be accomplished at this time. If special security is required , such as specialty door and window locks, these can also be provided.


g.) Installation of a small kitchenette. If the existing garage space is large enough, a trip to IKEA to get some ideas of how to establish an entire living area, within a small square footage, is a possibility. Once you are in the store, you will realize that a space of 400 square feet can be designed to include a bathroom, kitchen, living and sleeping space. Imagination is a wonderful thing, especially if you consider the newly acquired living area as a blank slate, where anything is possible. Think and imagine, this area could be a total living environment, even for renting purposes. A typical garage space is approximately 22 feet by 22 feet, which is over 400 square feet. Go to IKEA and see what they can do in 400 square feet, you will be amazed and impressed.


h.) Installation of bathroom. See the note above regarding the installation of a kitchen. The same comments are related to a bathroom. The ability to accommodate an entire living area within the space of the existing garage, is a home run, and should be considered.

Remember that the underground sewer can be either located within the sub floor, or it can be buried under the existing garage slab on grade. The ability to install underground plumbing is accommodated by the fact that there is a new floor being constructed over the top, and that all patching requirements can be covered over with this new floor.


In summary, the conversion of an existing garage space into an inhabitable living area is an economical method, for creating additional space, within an existing home. The possibilities are endless, and the excitement of new construction can be realized within a smaller and more economical area. Primary considerations are;


1.) Garage door decisions / remain or infill?

2.) Garage floor overlay with subfloor / dependent upon the elevation of the existing ceiling and garage floor

3.) Ceiling considerations / need to access for electrical and mechanical

4.) Mechanical / will the area be heated and cooled with window units, the use of the existing homes systems or separate mechanical system, specifically designed to accommodate the newly created area.

5.) Electrical / is a new sub panel required and what special services should be provided?

6.) All the special accommodations listed above.




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