How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

What are the common problems when a homeowner converts a garage to conditioned living space, such as a family room?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A well-executed garage conversion is the classic home improvement that can add more value to a home than it’s cost. The best ones integrate seamlessly with the original floor plan, with the loss of protected parking and storage more than compensated by the added living space. 

    But a shoddy conversion, like the one above, makes it painfully obvious at a glance that what was once a garage is now an awkward extra room. The driveway that still runs up to the front wall of the house and lack of a window to balance the front elevation are a give-away. 

    Also, because this type of remodeling project is often tackled by a homeowner, without a building permit or inspections, the defects we point out in our inspection report are related to minimum building standards that are not met. Here’s a few examples:

•• The ceilings and exterior walls of a garage are not required to be insulated, because it is not a conditioned space. Many garage conversions skip the expense of insulating the new living space, increasing energy consumption of the new living area.

 •• A garage typically has one, or maybe two, electric receptacles. As part of the remodeling, there should be receptacles installed on each wall with no more than 6-feet to a receptacle from any point on the wall. Often this is overlooked.

•• A typical 1960s to 1990s-era home requires one ton of air conditioning for every 400 to 500 square feet of conditioned space; so, converting a two-car garage to living space should require an additional ton of a/c capacity. When this doesn’t happen, the existing system may prove inadequate for the hottest days of summer. 

•• Occasionally we find that there are not even ducts run to the new room with service registers, or a former two-car garage that’s approximately 20-feet square has only one small register supplying conditioned air to the room. In either case, the newly-created living space is always hotter or colder than the rest of the home.

•• Every exterior entry door into a living space in a home is required to have two switches at the interior wall near the door: one that turns on an exterior light so you can walk safety out at night, and one that turns on interior light so you won’t stumble in dark trying to turn on a lamp when entering. When a door into a garage becomes a door into a room of the house, it should meet this safety standard. 

•• A garage floor is sloped slightly toward the garage door. When it becomes a room, unless a leveling pour is done, the floor of the room wll be out-of-level.

•• Many homes in our area are wood-frame construction and, to avoid moisture intrusion and wood-rot, the wood framing is kept a minimum of 6-inches above the ground by a stem wall or elevated concrete slab. But the floor of a garage must meet the level of the driveway at the overhead garage door and, when the garage door is framed-in to create a new room, a short masonry or concrete stem wall should be built to set the wood wall framing onto. So homeowner remodelers often put the base plate of the wall that frames-in the garage door opening directly on the floor slab--which is at, or very near, ground level. Moisture intrusion and wood-rot problems typically begin within the first year.

   Several of the most elegant garage conversions we have seen convert the space into a master bedroom/bathroom suite at the opposite end of the home from the original bedroom cluster. Others become a game room or home theater. As long as a few basic building standards are applied to the remodeling, they are an excellent home-improvement project.

    Also, see our blog post What are the problems to look for when buying a homeowner remodeled house?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

If we already looked at the house very carefully, do we still need a home inspection?

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What do I need to know about buying a foreclosure? 

What should I look for when buying a former rental house?  

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What should I look for when buying a house that is being "flipped" by an investor seller? 

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

   Visit our STRUCTURE AND ROOMS and COMMON PROBLEMS pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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