Garages are where homeowners can safely keep their vehicles, store extra items, or fiddle with personal projects. Other times, they are the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest innovations and talents.

However, some homeowners opt to convert their garages into an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for extra living space, such as a home office, art studio, small apartment, recreational room, or bungalow. An ADU may also help expand the property to start a business or make room for a relative to live with you.  

In the United States, approximately one in four adults resides in a multigenerational household. About 57% attribute their living situation to the spread of COVID-19. However, before the pandemic, 70,000 homes with ADUs sold in 2019, accounting for 4.2% of residences listed on the market.

Those interested in converting your garage to an ADU should consider a few essential items as you begin planning your project. 

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Things to Consider Before a Garage-to-ADU Conversion

Before jumping into a garage-to-ADU conversion, be sure the timing is right for this renovation. An ADU is a time-consuming, costly project that you must consider before diving in. 

According to HomeAdvisor, converting your garage into extra living space costs about $15,000 to $30,000. However, it could be much higher. The timeframe for the project will vary, but most homeowners can also expect it to take weeks to months to complete. 

Ask yourself the following questions before getting started:

  • What’s my budget for the project, and how am I financing this renovation?
  • How much space am I working with?
  • Am I adding additional square footage to my ADU?
  • What’s the intended use for this space?
  • How should I design the layout?
  • Will adding an ADU increase my property taxes?

Once you answer these questions, you can begin the planning process for a garage-to-ADU conversion.

Steps for Planning a Garage-to-ADU Conversion

You must take several actions to convert your garage into an ADU. Here is a breakdown of the most critical steps.

  • Hire a Contractor

Any extensive renovation, such as adding livable space to your home, can come with immense stress. Therefore, hiring a reputable contractor is important. They will handle the construction and design of your ADU and work alongside you to ensure your project comes out just as you envisioned.

Your contractor should have specific ADU knowledge regarding adding necessary plumbing and electricity, airflow, regulations and permitting, and how to make your unit more sustainable.

Ask a potential contractor for references and examples of previous ADU projects. Past clients will be able to tell you how their experience was working with the contractor, what the communication was like, and if they were fully transparent about the timeline and costs. 

Most importantly, make sure that whoever you hire is licensed and insured. You may receive a cheaper quote from an unlicensed contractor but think of the expenses you’ll have to pay when something breaks or the liability risk if a worker gets injured. 

  • Design the Layout

Designing the layout of your ADU can present challenges due to tight space and the building codes you’ll have to follow. A practical design should contain the following:

  • Optimal window placement for natural lighting
  • Privacy or some visual separation between your house and the ADU conversion
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Plumbing for the kitchen and bathroom 
  • A focal point for visual interest

Whatever features you decide to include in your garage-to-ADU conversion ultimately depends on its intended purpose. 

  • Obtain Permits

Any major renovation, including ADUs, requires you to file for permits with your city or county. Your contractor can usually assist you with this step. Once your design plans are submitted, approval may take a couple of days to several weeks. However, it’s essential to obtain authorization before starting your project. 

Obtaining permits ensures that your ADU meets the safety standards set by your local government. They also prevent issues if you list your home on the market. Houses with unpermitted work may result in legal problems, a lower asking price, or having to undo the completed work. 

Permits may also help you save money throughout the project. In most cases, property insurers won’t cover the costs of damages if you didn’t obtain authorization for your ADU conversion or any additional work. 

  • Revamp the Infrastructure

Converting a garage into a livable space necessitates enhancing its structural integrity, including components like roofing, windows, flooring, and insulation.

In a typical garage, insulating your garage doors can improve energy efficiency, create a sound barrier, improve durability and deliver safety from external conditions. The same can be said for properly insulating the walls in your ADU. After all, someone intends to live in that space. Proper insulation will maximize their quality of life and comfort. 

Your ADU should be airtight, meaning you’ll want to invest in new windows and may even need to install new roofing to prevent leaks or other weather-related damage to your unit. 

  • Pick Out Your Finishes

Perhaps one of the more exciting aspects of any renovation is picking out the actual design elements. From tiles to hardware to floors to paint, the possibilities are endless for creating a comfortable living space in your converted garage.

It’s best to pick out the finishes and accessories for your ADU as early as possible to prevent delays in completing the project. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported over 90% of builders faced supply chain setbacks in 2021 for appliances, lumber, and other construction materials. 

Whether you plan to move a relative into your ADU or rent it out, you’ll want to put in eye-catching, durable, and cost-effective finishes. Consider adding standard and a few high-end options, such as stainless steel appliances or engineered hardwood flooring. 

Luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) is significantly cheaper at $600 to $2,000 compared to hardwood flooring, which may start at $2,800. 

Effective Planning for a Simpler Garage-to-ADU Conversion

Effective planning can make the process much smoother, whether you’re still weighing your options or are ready to dive into your ADU renovation project. Work with your contractor to best prepare for your garage-to-ADU conversion and bring your vision to life.

In case you have any architectural, structural, and MEP design including fire sprinkler design requirements, or need an energy-efficient home design including structure, and HVAC design, feel free to contact us.  We provide you with the full permit set design + T24 for your request.


Author’s Bio:

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated. She’s most interested in sharing home projects and inspiration for the most novice of DIY-ers, values she developed growing up in a family of contractors.