Garage Conversions: 10 Must Know Steps to Convert Your Garage

Dec 19, 2022 | Garage Conversions, ADU

Garage conversions are an excellent way to add living space to your home. As one of the most affordable additional dwelling units (ADUs) to build, it is no wonder many people have considered developing one of their own. The most common question they face though is: How do you convert your garage into a living space?

Changes in ADU laws have made it easier than ever to construct an ADU on your property. Although there are quite a few steps you need to take to convert your garage, the resulting benefits are more than worth it. Read on to learn about the steps necessary to convert your garage and tips to make the process easier for you.

1. Consider Your Household Essentials

The first step to undergoing a garage conversion is determining whether it is the right solution for you. Many people have household essentials in their garages, such as water heaters or HVAC equipment. Moving these appliances is possible, but carry a significant cost, posing a design challenge and taking up space in your new unit. There is the option to build small storage closets around them, but they will still be taking up valuable space in your conversion.

For most people, that is no problem. However, there is also the issue of parking and storage. Garages are typically used to store lawn care items, decorations, tools, etc. You need to determine where these items and your car will be stored once the garage is converted. Many people choose to build a carport to store their vehicle within and sometimes small sheds for their belongings that are usually stored in the garage.

If storage and parking are an issue, you can always build your garage conversion on top of your existing garage or consider another ADU type. Detached ADUs are a popular option, but you can also consider attached, internal, and JADUs.


2. Create A Budget

Once you decide a garage conversion is right for you, the next step to building an ADU yourself is to create a budget. Budgets help prevent overspending and give you a good idea of how much everything should cost.

A typical 2-car garage conversion can cost anywhere from $90,000 – $119,000. This price range may vary depending on the condition your garage is in. If you need a new primary structure or foundation, these costs can go way up. ADU costs are also dependent upon your design styles and material choices. The more expensive your taste in design is the more expensive your garage conversion will be.

You can use this garage conversion cost calculator to help you determine your basic costs.


3. Secure ADU Financing

With a budget established, you can now secure your ADU financing. You have a variety of options, including:

  • Cash-out refinancing
  • Cash savings
  • Chattel loan
  • Construction or renovation loan
  • Home equity loans & HELOCs
  • A personal line of credit

Due to changes in Freddie Mac rules, you can now pay off your loans with ADU rental income. This gives you the ability to qualify for larger loan amounts.

Also, thanks to the state of California, there are several ADU grants, loans, and programs available to make your conversion as affordable as possible. For example, the CalHFA ADU grant program that gives you up to $40k for pre-construction costs.

Talk to an ADU professional in your area to learn more about local government programs that can help you finance your ADU.


4. Learn About ADU Zoning Laws

All cities have multiple geographical regions with different zoning laws. These laws will determine whether you can convert a garage in your area, and what regulations you need to meet to do so. We highly suggest talking to your planning board or with an ADU professional to determine what sorts of rules and regulations you will need to meet before you start designing and planning your unit.

If you don’t meet all the rules and regulations outlined in the zoning laws that apply to you, you can face expensive fines and be prevented from doing any construction in the future. Also, your garage conversion won’t count towards your property value if it does not meet zoning laws, resulting in you possibly losing thousands of dollars if you ever decide to sell your home. So, to be safe, make sure you meet all the regulations.


Garage conversion laws

5. Design Your Garage Conversion

With a good understanding of the regulations that apply to you, you can now work with a designer to determine how your garage conversion will look. Here are a few tips you should keep in mind while you work with a designer.

  • Install more windows to bring in more natural light to make the space appear bigger
  • For attached garages determine how you will either take out the garage door or make it look like it belongs with the rest of the unit
  • For attached garages consider raising the floors to be at the same level as the rest of your home
  • Plan for laundry units
  • Plan your ADU appliances and furniture from the start
  • Design for people of all abilities

Remember, by law, an ADU garage conversion needs a kitchen, bathroom, and living space. Make sure you are prepared to incorporate these into your designs.


6. Planning and Permitting Your Conversion

After you design your conversion, you will need to work with a team of professionals to create a plan. Planning a garage conversion involves:

  • Architectural drawings
  • Structural engineering drawings
  • Electrical drawings
  • Plumbing drawings
  • Energy calculations

Once your plans are created, you will need to submit them to the city for approval. Working with an ADU professional can ease the process because they are familiar with the process and sequence of things. Once city approve your plans, you will be issued a permit so that you can legally begin construction.


7. Find an ADU Contractor

You should always work with a contractor who specializes in ADUs when undergoing a garage conversion. Whomever you choose should be fully licensed and insured, have good reviews, be able to provide you with a list of completed projects and be affordable.

Check out this article to learn more about how to find the best ADU contractor in your area.


8. Construct Your ADU Garage Conversion

With everything in place, it is time to construct your ADU garage conversion! You will have a city inspector assigned to your project that will make sure the construction is done based on approved plans and meeting all safety codes, the inspector will visit on predetermined phases. Be sure to check in regularly with your ADU contractor during the different phases of the build to ensure everything is going how you want it to and how I should. Your conversion will usually take between 3 to 4 months to complete depending on the availability of materials, scope of work, and changes in plans.

As with any form of construction, there will always be contingencies. Working with the right professional will prevent these contingencies from setting you back too far. However, always be prepared for potential setbacks during construction, as most of the time, they are inevitable.


9. Add Appliances & Furniture

You should have a good idea of what appliances you want to include in your ADU from your design stage. Now comes the time to add them to the unit.

Space is very limited in a garage conversion, so be sure to choose furniture that doubles as storage and appliances with multiple functions. For example, you may want to consider:

  • A tankless water heater
  • A mini-split HVAC system
  • Over-the-range microwaves that functions as a hood
  • Compact refrigerator
  • Washer and dryer combo
  • Murphy bed
  • Sofa bed
  • Wall-mounted fold-down table

The more storage you provide your tenant, the better. That is why you want to make the most of both vertical and horizontal space in all aspects of the unit. The appliances listed above can help with this.


10. Start Using Your ADU

Once you have a fully furnished garage conversion, you can begin using it! There are many ways to use a garage conversion, including:

  • Guest house
  • Home for aging parents
  • Home for struggling family members
  • Home for when you age
  • Home for young adult children
  • House hacking
  • Non-living space options
  • A place for caretakers to live
  • Rental unit

Besides bringing in additional rental income, you can use your conversion to house your aging parents so they do not need to go into assisted living. You can also use it to house your children when they want to taste independence but are not ready for the real world yet.

House hacking is also a great option. You can live in your unit and rent out your house to pay off your mortgage more quickly. This option works well if you can rent your primary home out for considerably more money than your garage conversion.

Finally, you can also choose to use your conversion as a non-living space. They make for great home offices, gyms, art studios, and even pool houses.

Whatever you use your conversion for, we are sure you are going to love it!


Garage conversion value

Do Garage Conversions Add Value?

The extra livable space garage conversions provide is treated as additional square footage which increases the price of your home. So, yes, a garage conversion does add value to your home. There is some debate as to how much it adds but having the additional living space that can be rented out will increase the value.


Will You Need to Replace Parking?

You are not required to replace parking if you live within a half mile of public transit or rideshare. If you do not meet this requirement, your driveway can count towards the parking requirement as long as it has been hardscaped and is at least a 9×18.5′ space.


Ways To Save Money on Garage Conversions

Garage conversions are usually the most affordable ADU option as long as your primary structure and foundation are in good shape. However, they can still be quite costly to complete. To help with this, here are a few tips to help you save money on your garage conversion.


Work With the Right Professionals

Sometimes, working with a contractor who gives you a higher bid saves you time and money in the long run. Therefore, it is always important to pay close attention to the bids and make sure they include the entire scope of work. Working with a contractor who has bad reviews and not a lot of experience can result in hidden fees and low-quality of work.

Always compare bids and ensure the person you decide to work with is communicative and trustworthy. To find a good contractor, we highly recommend talking to family and friends for referrals or going to websites like Houzz to look at reviews.


Keep The Primary Structure

If your garage is currently in good condition, keep the primary structure as is. It will be more expensive to tear down load-bearing walls and start over than to change your design to fit within the given structure. Now if your garage is not in as good of condition as it should be, this won’t work for you.


Find Used Appliances

You don’t need to buy brand-new appliances for your ADU to be good. Shop around for used ones to see what can fit your needs while saving you some money. Often, contractors may know of some places where you can acquire appliances and even materials at a discount. Hence, why working with the right professionals can also save you money.


Garage conversion appliances

Is A Garage Conversion Right for You

After reading everything that goes into converting your garage into an ADU, you might be wondering if it is the right move for you. Although there are several benefits, there are a few drawbacks to consider.

Cons Of a Garage Conversion Pros Of a Garage Conversion
Need to find somewhere to store your belongings and park your car Adds living space to your property
Costs around $90,000 – $119,000 Adds value to your home and is usually the most affordable ADU to build
Takes around 3-4 months to complete Rental income opportunity
Multi-generational housing opportunities

In the end, a garage conversion will increase the value of your home and give you extra living space you can rent out long-term. If you are not willing to give up your parking spot in the garage but want most of those benefits, you can always consider building a different type of ADU.

No matter what ADU you decide to build though, make sure you work with a qualified ADU professional to get the job done. Also, be sure to do your research before diving in. Here is a free ADU guidebook and eCourse to help you get started with your ADU development.


Start Your Garage Conversion Today!

If you are ready to start building the garage conversion of your dreams, there is no better time to start than today! Here at Levi Design Build, we have been developing ADUs for years. Our team of experts offers a personalized approach to designing, planning, permitting, and putting you together with the right contractors. Contact us today for a free consultation where we cover all the essential information you need to know before starting your project.

Let us help make your ADU dreams come true!