Angie's LIST Guide to
Building or expanding a garage

A homeowner's guide to options for having a new garage built or remodeling an existing garage to convert to livable space.
 

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Building a garage can provide additional space to park cars, store equipment or act as an additional living space. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Ken D.)
Building a garage can provide additional space to park cars, store equipment or act as an additional living space. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Ken D.)
 
 

Should you build?

If you’ve ever circled a busy urban city block multiple times searching for a parking space, you’ll no doubt know the value of having a dedicated personal parking enclosure conveniently located on your property.

A garage is also an excellent space for storage and for hobbies like auto restoration and woodwork. Another recently popular trend is using a garage to create a “man cave” – a space dedicated to “manly” features that are dedicated to pastimes such as sports, video games or drinking beer.

If you can afford to make the investment and have enough room on your property, building a new garage can also provide you home with a great resale advantage over nearby homes that don’t feature one. Finally, you may want to build a new garage to replace an aging, damaged or structurally unsound existing one.

Considerations for building a new garage

If you’re thinking of building a new garage, one of your first considerations should be whether or not you’re legally able to do so. If you have an existing garage on the property, it’s likely that you shouldn’t have a problem building a new one to replace it. However, no matter your current situation, you or your contractor should first check with the local building department to learn what steps are necessary to gain clearance for construction.

Depending on local building codes and regulations, you may need to obtain a permit to demolish an existing structure. For new construction, it’s a good idea to find your property’s current plot plan or to have your property surveyed to make sure the new garage doesn’t abut too closely to property boundaries or existing utility corridors for municipal water or electricity lines. Your building plan will also need to pass muster with the local building department before a new building or construction permit can be issued.

The contractor who built this Kentucky garage took care of securing all required permits. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Roger P.)
The contractor who built this Kentucky garage took care of securing all required permits.  (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Roger P.)

If you live in a neighborhood or district with a historic designation or a neighborhood association, gaining clearance for a garage demolition and/or construction is also an essential to-do before commencing with any work. These types of committees will also likely have some say-so in what dimensional properties and aesthetic features your new garage will have.

Can you afford it?

As mentioned previously, adding a new garage where one didn’t previously exist may give your home a resale advantage, but that comes with a cost. According to experts, a new garage will cost tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum and more depending on its size and features. And while adding a new garage may provide a resale advantage, it’s unlikely that you’ll recoup the investment upon resale. According to Remodeling magazine’s latest Cost vs. Value report, if you built a mid-range garage that costs about $60,000 to build, it would only add about 60 percent that cost to your home’s resale value.

Who should you hire to do the job?

As with any major home investment or improvement, you’ll want to thoroughly vet the contractors you ask to bid on the job. Getting at least three estimates, especially for a project of this size, is highly recommended. If your locale requires one, it’s a good idea to select a licensed contractor, as they’ll be able to obtain building permits, if needed, and they’ll likely be more familiar with local building codes.

Don’t forget to personally verify references provided as well as ensuring that a contractor’s licensed, bonding and/or insurance are current and adequate to cover your project.

What features do you want?

If you’ve cleared the hurdles of building permits, association approval and financing, you’ll want to start considering what features you may want to include in your new garage. Beyond the basic stick-frame construction of a garage – four walls and a roof – there’s a myriad of options available, especially as more homeowners are bringing traditionally home-based elements into garages.

Do you want the interior to be finished with drywall or remain unfinished? What kind of electricity options do you need for your equipment?   What kind of lighting?  How many windows? All of these are questions to answer before building begins. If you’re unsure about these elements, you may benefit from hiring a firm that can provide design services as well as construction.  And don't forget about the most important feature in your garage -- the door.  There is a wide range of choices in garage doors to consider.

Planning tips

When building a new garage, consider these helpful bits of advice produced from Angie’s List interview with highly rated garage builders:

1. Pick the right time of year
While interviewing and the design processes can take place at any time, if you live in a climate with freezing winters, early spring or fall is the best time to break ground on a new garage. Getting the work done early in either season will help avoid weather delays and minimize disruption to your yard.

2. Think about the future
You’ll want your new garage to not only accommodate your current needs but also your future needs if you plan on staying in your home long term. Consider the size of the structure and anticipate what your future storage needs may be.

3. Talk to the pros before you make permanent plans
If you’re just considering building a garage and haven’t made a commitment yet, take the time to call a professional garage builder to get ideas. You may learn about ideas you would have never considered.

4. Make sure it matches
From an aesthetic standpoint, you’ll want to have your garage match your home’s design elements as closely as possible. Conflicting appearances may jar potential buyers or appear out of place.

Converting the space

For many households there's a need for more living space as well as a larger garage, so sometimes both can be achieved by remodeling the original garage for living space and then adding an entirely new garage. 

With a little planning, a little investment and a little energy, only the imagination and the four walls can limit the new uses of your garage. According to the California Building Industry Association, here are four ways you can transform your garage into extra livable space:

An additional bedroom: Some families have increased in size, either by having additional children or receiving a parent or grandparent into the home. Extra sleeping space also may be necessary for occasional visitors or vacation guests.

More living space: Rather than building an additional room, the garage may be converted into a family room, dining area or even a game room.

A studio or office: New technologies, such as wireless networks, now allow more companies to grant remote privileges to their employees. Telecommuters need office space at home and a transformation of the garage may be just the ticket.

An apartment: Perhaps additional income may be important as a homeowner. Changing the garage into an apartment could provide some much needed help in paying the mortgage.

Preservation

Once you’ve constructed a new garage or invested in remodeling an existing one, you’ll want to protect your investment with regular maintenance. Follow these guidelines to help keep your structure sound:

1. If equipped, clean your garage gutters at least two to three times each year. Failure to manage water runoff can accelerate the decay of the structure, including comprising the foundation or allowing moisture to stand in wooden areas.

2. Reseal your concrete floors every few years. In many garages, the concrete slab floor also serves as the foundation pad for the structure. Sealing the floor regularly will help prevent water intrusion, which may break apart concrete in cold-weather climates, and will help prevent chemicals from cars or other garage products from deteriorating the concrete.

3. Power wash and paint the structure regularly

Taking the time to wash away dirt and grime as well as address peeling or fading paint will not only help keep up a tidy appearance for your garage, it will also help ensure moisture and decay doesn’t penetrate the garage exterior.

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