Six Steps to a Successful Garage Conversion


Six Steps to a Successful Garage Conversion

Your underutilized garage = POTENTIAL 

If you’ve considered converting your garage to a more functional living space and you’re not sure where to start, this post is for you. 

Garage conversions can come in all shapes and sizes, and special considerations need to be taken depending on what the intended use of the future space will be. 

Are you a musician who needs a soundproof space to compose your rock opera? Does a family member want to move closer to you (but maybe not, in, with you)? Are you an artist yearning for a quiet space to create, but also make “like, the biggest mess ever”? 

Well good news: if you have a garage, a financial plan and some patience, that can be you.  

And if you’re cool in your big house and just looking to increase your property value or make extra money via a garage-turned-ADU, that’s great too – keep on reading. 

Here’s the thing: no matter what your intended use is, you can’t just start building willy nilly – there are rules and processes you need to follow. 

So first, we’ll take you through the steps you need to take before you can pick up a hammer (or hire someone who will). 

The process

Even though you’re just converting an existing structure, you still have to apply for and obtain the appropriate permits, complete paperwork, and pass inspections before you can start building (or tearing down). 

Once you know what you want to do with your garage, you’ll need to complete the steps below before you can get to building. If you’re planning on turning your garage into a bona fide dwelling unit, read this post (link to what is an ADU? Post) for more ADU-specific information. 

PRO TIP: Rules and regulations vary from state to state and county to county. If you live outside of PDX, make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules in your specific area. 

In general, the steps looks something like this:

  1.  Clean out your garage!

Determine whether or not you now need a shed or other storage for things you decide  to keep).  While you’re cleaning start to get a feel for the space and what you would like it to look like.

  1.  Decide what your budget for the project is. 

Prices vary from project to project, and it may be helpful to make a scaled goal for the final price tag. For example, try set an A, B, and C goal.  This can help guide you as you start making design choices later on as well.  For a 400 SF minihouse, this might look like:

  • A goal: $110,000
  • B goal: $120,000 (more on this)
  • C goal: $130,000
  1.  Research the zoning and permitting laws in your area. 

Depending on where you live, you need to make sure zoning codes in your area will allow you to convert your garage in the first place. Then you’ll need to apply for permits and licenses and such before going to the next step.

If you’re not sure which permits you need, the City of Portland has an excellent tool that will help you figure out what to apply for and how much it will all cost.

For more information about ADU rules, regulations and requirements in Portland, Oregon, visit the latest version of the City of Portland’s ADU Program Guide. If you live outside of Portland, be sure to look for 

  1.  Find a designer. 

Oh wait! We did that for you

  1.  Obtain the appropriate building permits for your project.

Before you can legally start building, you’ll need to get your permit application (and everything else you uncovered in step 3) approved by your local governing body.

This process can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. It includes the city’s approval of the building plans, inspection of the property, payment of application fee(s), and other, more specialized steps depending on the project.

  1.  Hire a contractor(s).

Note: if you have a contractor in mind, or find someone earlier in the process, that’s great!  In small spaces, where everything is a game of inches, the sooner you can involve a builder the better! Just know their time is valuable, so come prepared with as much as prep work as you can.

Special Considerations 

We encourage people to think about whether the structure is worth making use of or whether it’s better to start fresh… garages weren’t really built for living, so we have to do a lot to make them comfortable and energy-efficient.”

Jack Barnes, Architect

Turning a garage into an art or music studio is going to look a lot different than turning a garage into a Accessory Dwelling Unit

Will your project require plumbing? Custom electrical wiring? Wheelchair accessibility? It’s important to think through what will make your garage conversion successful for you.

For a more detailed breakdown of garage conversion tips and tricks, visit the City of Portland Development Service’s website.

Let’s Talk About Your Project

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