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.
•• 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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