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The Pro Guide to Garage Remodeling

Few among us are happy with how our garage looks. Even if it’s perfectly clean it still disappoints with poorly used space or unused potential. Remodeling your garage can be just the ticket for alleviating that mental tick you’ve been living with for years.

What is Possible?

With the right amount of time, effort and money you can turn your garage into anything you want. The open floor plan of your garage is uniquely adaptable to most anything you can imagine. Here’s a partial list of the possibilities:

  • Organization – Get that stuff off the floor
  • Workshop – Woodwork, metalwork or mechanics bay
    • Make room for a good vacuum system
    • Make sure you know the power requirements of the equipment you plan to use
  • Art Studio – Create the perfect atmosphere to make your space your muse
  • Home Gym – You could fit one of each type of exercise equipment with ease
  • Man Cave – Hide away in your game room, bar or home theater
  • Office – Build yourself a nice quiet spot to run your business
  • Living Space – Lots of families have children returning home; give them some space of their own (and keep that empty nest you’ve grown to love)
  • ADU – Accessory Dwelling Unit – a stodgy term for a place to store visitors (or in-laws)

The limits are only your imagination and your budget. Your garage is most likely the largest open space on your property. Why not put it to better use?

Things to Consider

Before you run off to your local big box, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. There are certain practicalities that need to be considered before you finalize your plans.

1. Parking

Before you kick your car out of the garage, make sure that you have a proper replacement. Some communities don’t allow street parking or restrict it to certain hours. Others require all vehicles to be parked underneath a structure. Verify your plan won’t run afoul of local laws.

2. Building Code

Local building codes can differ widely. Contact your local zoning office and ask for their definition of minor updates vs home construction. Some localities will consider altering the purpose of your garage as a major remodel that requires permits and inspections.

3. Resale

You might love your new space, but will a potential buyer feel the same way? The answer to that question hinges on the quality of the work and the functionality of the space.

You may plan to stay in your home for the rest of your days and none of that matters but, if you think it likely you will move later on, it’s a question you need to consider and consider again before you move ahead.

Maximize the Potential

Take the right steps when remodeling your garage. Make it a true extension of the living space on your property by ensuring that you have a safe, comfortable and usable new space. Make sure you include these elements in your remodeling plan, regardless of the direction you decide to take.

The Door

How will you address that giant opening? Wall it in? Treat it as a movable wall? Lock it down and cut a normal opening for a standard door? Your answer will probably hinge on your planned use of the space and how extreme your weather can get, but you need to figure it out now, before you start creating your budget.

For an office or living space you will at least need to insulate the door for the sake of comfort, but the look will be awful. For a workshop leaving the door functional could be a planned benefit of setting up in the garage instead of your basement.

Flooring

Concrete is not comfortable flooring. Handy for a workshop but even then, not the optimal choice. Plan on building a subfloor and installing insulation to keep the cold from rising through the floor.

For a workshop a subfloor could be handy for running air, water and electrical lines underfoot. Just be sure to protect your plumbing lines from the cold with heat tape or extra insulation.

Insulation

The open framing in your garage is perfect for installing insulation. It may not seem important now, but you’ll thank yourself for accepting the extra effort and expense. Besides protecting your space from temperature extremes, insulation will also serve to soundproof your new space which frees you up to make as much noise you need (or want), without disturbing your neighbors.

Sheetrock

Installing proper wall material will give your new space a finished feel. Plus, once it’s painted it will look fantastic. And if you are building a bar? One word – wainscotting.

Lighting

Most garages have one anemic bulb burning high up in the rafters. That’s simply not enough for a living space. Plan on running wiring for several lighting fixtures.

Climate Control

If your garage is connected to your home, you can simply tie it into your home system. If it is separated from your home things change. A space heater and window AC should be enough to heat and cool the space, but you may want to investigate getting a ductless mini split heat pump to do both jobs.

WiFi

If your home WiFi gets sketchy in your garage, there are boosters available to strengthen the signal. You can usually order one from your provider, or pick one up on your own if you prefer not to rent one.

Electrical

It is always a good idea to at least consult with a professional electrician before you start slinging wire all over your new space. They will know what questions need answering and the best method for providing what you need safely and reliably. Workshops especially will need proper planning to support the powered equipment you intend to use.

Plumbing

Plumbing is another area where the advice of a professional will be valuable. Getting water from Point A to Point B is easy enough to figure out, but how to properly vent and drain your extended system is another story.

Project Costs

Trying to do this job on the cheap is not the best idea. Once you have formulated your design you need to make sure you budget enough funds to do the job properly. Besides material costs you need to consider other items that need to fit into your budget.

Total Cost

The average garage remodel costs from $6,000 to over $22,000 depending on the scope of your project[1]. Professional labor is from 10% to 20% of that figure, so it can be as low as $4,800 to $17,600 if you tackle it all on your own.

The number can rise significantly if you plan to create an independently livable space with a functioning bathroom and kitchen. Doing so can add as much as $10,000 to $20,000 to the high end of the scale. See our full Garage Remodeling Costs guide for more details.

Paying “The Man”

As always, the government will want its cut. Make sure to call your local zoning office to get the fees associated for each permit and inspection required for your chosen project. These fees aren’t often terribly high, but if you are cutting it close on your budget, they can put you over budget in a hurry.

Professional Installers

Simple labor for a project like this will generally run you $15 per hour but the professional installation companies will add approximately 10% to 20% to the project cost to cover labor. Keep in mind that major electrical and plumbing work are not generally included in such agreements. See our full guide to hiring garage remodeling contractors for more details.

Energy Costs

Be prepared for increased energy bills once your project is complete. Powering additional electronics, lighting, appliances or large equipment will boost your energy use. If you have added a heating or cooling element to the space your bills will reflect that addition as well.

Common Errors

We’ve covered plenty of items to watch out or plan ahead for, but we feel it’s necessary to lay them all out in a single section. We want you to have the best possible experience during the build process while enjoying the fruits of your labor afterward, so please don’t let these oversights infect your process.

Good Enough

In construction good enough doesn’t exist. There is right and there is wrong. That’s it. Read the instructions, follow recommendations and don’t skimp on materials. You’ll thank us years later when everything is still working and still where you put it during the build.

I Know What I’m Doing

You might, but you might not know exactly what you are doing. Electricians and plumbers are our friends, and they are perfectly willing to consult with you on your plans. Put their services into your budget so that paying them for their time won’t feel like such a hit.

Not Planning for the Increased Load

If you have power to your garage right now there is a good chance that the existing circuit won’t be able to handle the increased load of your remodel. Now, before you put up the sheetrock, is the time to get everything properly wired and new circuits installed.

If you are building a workshop, make sure you have all the options available for powering your equipment. Sometimes moving from a standard 20amp service to a three-phase 240V outlet will let you purchase more machine for less money. The time to prepare for that is now.

Not Protecting Your Pipes

Don’t go by what you’ve experienced the last decade. Plan around the worst possible weather your region might experience. If that means heat taping your pipes before you cover them up then that’s what you need to do. A burst pipe under a subfloor is not something you want to experience.

Not Having a Complete Plan

Before you sink the first nail you need to know exactly what is going to happen and what will go where. Think of the last time you missed a step while building something you bought at Ikea. Now multiply that by hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. Ugly, right?

Inspiration

Now that we’ve spent the last 1500 words or so wagging our proverbial finger at you, it’s time to show you a little of what you can accomplish. Here are just a few examples of a properly planned and executed garage remodel.

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