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Renovation Solutions: Converting your garage to living space

Published: Friday, Nov. 8 2013 5:09 p.m. MST

By moving the garage into the basement, this family was able to add a great room off its existing dining/family room. The change also gave them a beautiful bay window with a great view.

Brent Murray, Renovation Design Group

Finding existing space in your home to repurpose, convert into living space or reconfigure may take some creativity. We started our series on creatively remodeling existing space by discussing attic conversions. This week we are going to consider converting the garage into living space.

Obviously, throwing a couch or a bed out in the garage does not count as converting the garage to living space. The measure of the successful conversion of such an area into livable space is to make it feel like it has always been part of the house. You never want your garage conversion to feel like you are still walking into the garage that has been gussied up with wallboard and carpet.

There are several ways to do this remodel, and of course it will depend on the layout of your house. The first consideration is whether you are going to re-create the garage in another location. Architecturally speaking, a garage door that is seen from the front of the house is not terribly appealing. So, if your lot allows you to set the garage back from the front of the house, detach it entirely and place it in the rear yard, or place the door to the new garage on the side of the house to make it more architecturally attractive.

Once you have decided whether to replace the garage or do without it, you can focus on the renovation of the former garage space. On the exterior, the driveway needs to be removed or rerouted if you have any hope of visually tying the old garage space into the existing home. If the original garage door faced the street, the door will need to be removed and replaced with materials that will match or coordinate with the existing house. This can be trickier than it sounds, since you cannot go out and purchase brick from the 1940s or siding from the 1970s. It is probably best to plan on replacing the exterior materials of the entire wall, since it is rather obvious if you just infill the door area.

One of the advantages of repurposing the garage area is that it already has a roof and some walls. These will need to be sufficiently insulated to meet today’s codes. If you are dealing with a carport that you wish to enclose, walls will need to be built. The existing 3-to-4-inch concrete slab is not really prepared to deal well with the added load of a wall, windows and doors. The slab will need to be removed and standard foundation walls (with footings below the frost line) will need to be added.

In dealing with a garage, you will have to address the existing concrete slab floor. If the garage was constructed properly in the first place, the slab will slope toward the door. This slab must be leveled before new flooring can be installed. Typically, the garage slab will be lower than the floor of the house, so if you raise the floor to the main level of the house, it will help make the final floor plan more seamless.

We had a client who wanted to convert their garage into a great room off the kitchen. Their lot sloped seven or eight feet in the front down to the street, so we excavated underneath the existing garage to make room for a new garage on the basement level. The new driveway now slopes down slightly instead of up steeply as it once did, and the former garage space now houses a spacious family room that comfortably accommodates large gatherings of family and friends.

This remodel was intensive and obviously required the use of a contractor who had experience excavating basements and a structural engineer. It was nerve-wracking seeing part of their existing roof suspended in midair, but they love how it turned out in the end. You would never guess that the finished family room was ever a garage.

Another client wanted to remodel their L-shaped rambler and add more gathering space. The existing garage was set back from the front of the home, so we were able to move the garage function forward with new construction and remodel the old garage behind it to create livable space. The L-shaped house turned into a rectangle, and as a bonus they were even able to reduce the length of their driveway.

A garage is actually a big selling point for a house and one of the first things male buyers look for, so you don’t want to eliminate this feature altogether if possible. Even if you are not anticipating selling your home, you need to carefully consider living without a garage yourself. Parking on the street and scraping the snow will get old even if you do have that extra room.

So once again we are going to say you need to create a master plan consult with professionals. They may be able to see something you don’t see or raise issues worth considering before you proceed with your project. Residential architects can be an asset to your project when it comes to creatively finding and reconfiguring existing space to improve the function and increase the value of your home.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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