Are Garages Considered Habitable Spaces? (Explained)

If you have a garage, you may have thought of renovating it or even making it into a spare bedroom for potential guests. Whatever your remodeling goals, we all can add a little more living space to our homes. However, there are some key things to consider whenever you are looking to remodel your home.

A space needs to be considered “habitable” under U.S Residential Building Codes to be safe for occupants. While building codes will differ depending on the state, some requirements will never change. In this article, we will be breaking down if a garage is a habitable space and what you can do when your garage space is not habitable.

garage

What Are Habitable Spaces?

While you might not know the technical term for it, a habitable space is an area in your home used for living, sleeping, eating, or cooking. These areas could be your bedroom, dining room, living room, or your kitchen. There are a few things that every space should have to be considered habitable.  

The first thing you need is at least one openable window in the room. An openable window is required by code for ventilation purposes. Secondly, you need to have ceilings that are tall enough for comfortable living. U.S Building Codes require that your space has 7′ feet or higher ceilings to meet building regulations.

Lastly, each habitable space should have no less than 70 square feet of floor area. Habitable spaces are the most regulated areas of every home because people spend most of their time in them. Your home also has many areas that aren’t considered habitable or living spaces.

Some areas of your home that are not considered to be habitable are your:

  • Bathrooms
  • Closets
  • Hallways
  • Storage Rooms  
  • Utility Spaces

These areas typically don’t meet the floor space and window requirements. Additionally, you need to follow other requirements such as electrical system installation, proper lighting, and HVAC system codes. Now that we have defined what a habitable space is, why is it so important?

Why Does Being a Habitable Space Matter?

Without receiving the label of a habitable space, a room does not meet the criteria to be a living space. You would not be allowed to rent out a non-habitable space to another occupant, as you would be breaking housing codes and the law. Habitable spaces are required for you to become a landlord and provide a safe environment for tenants. 

Additionally, adding another habitable space can boost the value of a home on average 6.2% of its value. If the area has not gone through the process to be considered habitable, you will not be able to list the additional room. You should always ensure the space is habitable wherever someone is living, sleeping, or eating. 

Is a Garage a Habitable Space?

In most cases, a garage is excluded from a home’s total living space measurement and is not considered a habitable space. Garages are typically not equipped with the systems that make a living space. Some of these requirements include continuous heating or cooling, proper insulation, windows, and finished walls.

However, many garages do meet the required ceiling and flooring requirements that have been set in U.S Residential Building Codes. The average two-car garage is 18′ x 20′ or 360 square feet. This square footage is more than 5x the minimum amount of 70 square feet required by law.

If you are looking to add more living space to your home without building any new structures, your home’s garage space likely has the potential for it. You will also increase the value of your home once the space is considered habitable and can be made into anything from a family room to an in-law suite.

Can You Legally Convert a Garage Into a Habitable Space?

Note: It’s always recommended that you talk to your city’s local building permit and zoning department before doing any large home renovations.

If you plan on converting your garage into a living space, you will need a building permit for the remodel. Changing the purpose of a space requires the oversight of an experienced building inspector that will ensure the space meets building codes. Each city has different requirements, and you will need to follow them to pass the inspection.

Applying for a permit will require developing a floor plan with an architect and speaking with a local representative. If you follow the standard building permit and zoning process, it is perfectly legal to convert your garage into a habitable space. However, you will also need to speak with your homeowner’s association before doing the conversion.

Some homeowner’s associations require that you have a minimum number of covered parking spaces for your home. Eliminating your garage can prevent you from meeting those requirements, which can result in hefty fines. While renovating your garage is an extensive process, it can be done for anyone that wants to convert a garage into a habitable space.

Cost and Requirements of Converting a Garage

If you want to convert your garage into a habitable space, you likely want to know what it would cost to make this conversion. Converting a garage is no small feat, so you should be 100% set on this project. According to HomeAdvisor, the average garage conversion will cost between $5,675 and $23,352.

Are you wondering what is included in these prices? Here is a breakdown of the most common renovations you will need to make and their average costs.

  • Building Permits: Garage conversion permits will range from $1,000 to $1,500, depending on your city.
  • Windows: If you want to meet the minimum of one openable window, the costs will range from $150 to $800 for window installation.
  • Heating and Cooling: Most garages do not have ducting or gas lines installed, which will cost an average of $2,500. These costs can vary widely depending on your climate.
  • Electrical Outlets: Building codes require electrical outlets within 6′ of each other around the room’s perimeter. Each outlet will cost $75 to $500 each.
  • Drywall and Insulation: Most garages have unfinished walls with no insulation. The walls will be one of the most significant expenses, with professional drywall installation ranging from $1,000 to $2,900 and insulation costing $1 per square foot.
  • Interior Design: These costs are entirely up to the homeowner. Depending on the budget, a nice coat of paint, furniture, and light fixtures could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000.

If you are experienced in DIY projects, you can also learn how to convert a garage into a living space. The prices will also be reduced if you can take on most of the work during the conversion. However, please leave it to the professionals for more specialized systems like electrical or plumbing unless you are highly experienced.

Once you make all of these changes to your garage, you will need to have a building inspector visit the property for an inspection. If it passes the inspection, you are free to do whatever you want with the space. You may also include the square footage to your total amount listed for your home.

Before committing to a conversion however, also carefully consider the downsides of not having a garage. If your home lacks other storage space, you may be doing more harm than good. 

Conclusion

Standard garages will not be considered a habitable space in most cases. A habitable space will be your bedrooms, dining rooms, kitchens, living rooms, or home offices. However, you can convert a garage into a living area with the proper modifications and direction from your local building department.

Be aware that the renovation is not a small project and will require a complete transformation of the walls, mechanical systems, and interior to meet local building codes. But, if you are looking for that extra room you built from scratch—the garage is a perfect choice to make it happen!

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