paul has a new video  

 



visit the thread.

see the DVDs.

  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Converting a garage to an apartment  RSS feed

 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 231
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
9
urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We've got an oversized two-car garage (approximately 20' square) on our property.  It's nice to have in the winter, but not a necessity - and might be better used as a rental apartment, since the demand for housing in our neighborhood significantly outpaces the supply.  If we convert the garage to an apartment, I'd like to make it as sustainable (and cost-effective) as possible.

The structure is basic - concrete slab, cinder block for the base of the walls, wood framing, plywood, and vinyl siding.  It has electricity, with one breaker (in the main house) for the garage.  There is no insulation, plumbing, or heating.  Other than the east-facing garage door, there are one door and one window, both on the northern side.  The northern side faces our back yard.  The southern side is almost exactly on the property line.  The western side faces trees and a hill - windows there would provide much light.

At a minimum, we'd need to:
- add more windows
- make sure at least one window is large enough for egress
- insulate the walls and finish them
- add heating
- add a bathroom (and therefore plumbing)
- add a kitchenette

We would probably also remove the garage door and replace it with a wall with windows (and insulation).

We live in western Massachusetts, in a wet temperate climate.  Winters can get down to -15 F at times, and July/August can bring 90+F temperatures and significant humidity.

The conventional way of doing things would probably include the following:
- add rigid board insulation to the walls and ceiling (or would cellulose work better?)
- cover with drywall
- put carpet or floating wood floor on the concrete slab (with insulation underneath?)
- connect the garage to city water
- connect the garage to city sewer
- use electric appliances for the kitchenette
- use electric heating (possibly a mini-split)
- add a small electric hot water system (or solar hot water if feasible)

I'm not opposed to any of the conventional treatments here, not least because they would probably make the structure easier to permit and rent out, but I'd like to see what other options there are.  What other options do you think we should consider?

Some caveats and considerations:
- A graywater system is not likely to be cost-effective here because we can easily harvest more rainwater than we'll ever need.  Whether or not we convert the garage, we'll likely be redirecting the garage gutters and downspouts to a water tank for the garden (and for emergencies).
- A wall of windows on the south side would be good for passive solar, but might pose privacy concerns for our neighbor (whose yard that side of the garage abuts) and tenant.  Clerestory windows might be a better solution
- The existing eaves are relatively short, so large southern windows would not be shaded in midsummer.  This is also true of our house, and is a major cause of overheating in the summer.
- We are lucky enough to have a ReStore-like establishment (http://ecobuildingbargains.org/) near us, so we should be able to get secondhand windows and other materials pretty easily.
- We don't want to make the structure taller since it would block light to our garden and would entail major cuts to a neighbor's tree that partially overhangs the garage.

Thanks!
 
David Livingston
master steward
Posts: 3826
Location: Anjou ,France
194
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would have a quiet hypothetical word with the authorities before you spend a penny . Some places have lots of regulations regards planning hygiene codes etc etc . You really dont want to spend a penny and then be forced to make it back into a garage.

David
 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 231
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
9
urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
David Livingston wrote:I would have a quiet hypothetical word with the authorities before you spend a penny . Some places have lots of regulations regards planning hygiene codes etc etc . You really dont want to spend a penny and then be forced to make it back into a garage.

David


Yes, we definitely will talk to them before we do anything! 
 
David Livingston
master steward
Posts: 3826
Location: Anjou ,France
194
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Why dont you integrate the garage into the house ? If its close enough . I know someone who built a passage way to his garage out of reclaimed windows Garage became an extra room ( increasing value of home ) and the passageway doubled up as a green house . He had more space, a guest bed room/ spare activity music room  , green house, kitchen  door better insulated plus he negotiated a better loan deal on his house as it was now worth more  . ( previously his loan was 100% of value after he negotiated a loan for 85% of value 2% less interest same value loan )
 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 231
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
9
urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
David Livingston wrote:Why dont you integrate the garage into the house ? If its close enough . I know someone who built a passage way to his garage out of reclaimed windows Garage became an extra room ( increasing value of home ) and the passageway doubled up as a green house . He had more space, a guest bed room/ spare activity music room  , green house, kitchen  door better insulated plus he negotiated a better loan deal on his house as it was now worth more  . ( previously his loan was 100% of value after he negotiated a loan for 85% of value 2% less interest same value loan )


Interesting idea.  It's not really appealing to us in our particular situation, though.  We don't want more space in our house (1600 sq ft for 3 people is a lot already) and the configuration of our lot would make such a connection awkward and expensive.  If anything I'd like to tear the garage down to make for a larger and sunnier garden, but that's not the best move financially.
 
David Livingston
master steward
Posts: 3826
Location: Anjou ,France
194
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Can you post some pics other folks may come up with something different?
As for the space if you ever need to renegotiate a loan there are only two issues size and where If you can getting a cheaper loan by making the place bigger very cheaply I would think about it
 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 231
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
9
urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here are a couple of photos for context.

David, I appreciate the advice.  Expanding the house might make sense for some people, but it definitely doesn't for us.  Making better use of the garage might, though.
front.jpg
[Thumbnail for front.jpg]
garage.jpg
[Thumbnail for garage.jpg]
 
David Livingston
master steward
Posts: 3826
Location: Anjou ,France
194
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lots of questions
Which way is south ?
How is it constructed  - walls for instance .
How easy will the drainage be sewage in particular  and where will the water come from ?
Is there a similar building /conversion in the street ?

David
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
119
forest garden urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just pulling information from the first post

The structure is basic - concrete slab, cinder block for the base of the walls, wood framing, plywood, and vinyl siding.  It has electricity, with one breaker (in the main house) for the garage.  There is no insulation, plumbing, or heating. 

Other than the east-facing garage door, there are one door and one window, both on the northern side.  The northern side faces our back yard.  The southern side is almost exactly on the property line.  The western side faces trees and a hill - windows there would provide much light. 

At a minimum, we'd need to: - add more windows - make sure at least one window is large enough for egress - insulate the walls and finish them - add heating - add a bathroom (and therefore plumbing) - add a kitchenette


It sounds like it would be pretty routine to connect the garage to city utilities including sewer and water, if he decides to go that route. We're being given an early opportunity to brainstorm more sustainable options before any work begins.  At least, that's what I'm getting from this discussion.
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 802
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
43
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Random thoughts from me:
Short windows, high on the South wall so they give passive heat in winter, shaded in summer and still have privacy
Insulation under the floor would likely be a great idea.  Other wise a paper bag floor right on the cement would be cheap and then put heavy rugs on top of it to keep toes from freezing.
Fiberglass or denim batts in the wall is probably most economical
Plan out drains well because you'll be cutting through concrete to make them happen
Is there a floor drain to work around (unlevel floor, etc)
What kind of shape is the roof in?  If you need to replace it soon you could extend the eaves on all four sides at the same time.
The block part of the walls will leak heat so you may want to insulate inboard of them.  Then the walls may have to be made thicker to match (oh darn, more room for insulation).
I wonder if propane for the heat, water heat and stove may be better than electric?  Just run them all off of a 100 lb propane tank that you can get refilled as needed.
I'm sure someone will suggest a RMH for heat
Turn the garage door opening into a sunroom addition?
 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 231
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
9
urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Mike Jay wrote:Random thoughts from me:
Short windows, high on the South wall so they give passive heat in winter, shaded in summer and still have privacy
Insulation under the floor would likely be a great idea.  Other wise a paper bag floor right on the cement would be cheap and then put heavy rugs on top of it to keep toes from freezing.
Fiberglass or denim batts in the wall is probably most economical
Plan out drains well because you'll be cutting through concrete to make them happen
Is there a floor drain to work around (unlevel floor, etc)
What kind of shape is the roof in?  If you need to replace it soon you could extend the eaves on all four sides at the same time.
The block part of the walls will leak heat so you may want to insulate inboard of them.  Then the walls may have to be made thicker to match (oh darn, more room for insulation).
I wonder if propane for the heat, water heat and stove may be better than electric?  Just run them all off of a 100 lb propane tank that you can get refilled as needed.
I'm sure someone will suggest a RMH for heat
Turn the garage door opening into a sunroom addition?


Thanks Mike!

I was also thinking clerestory windows on the South side might be the way to go given the eaves.  The roof is in good shape (though the ridge droops slightly and needs to be fixed / reinforced) so I think the eaves are here to stay.  On the other hand, extending them now would be easier than later.

Good point on the drains.  There is no floor drain now and the slab is level (more or less), though it does have a couple of cracks.  Some of the cinder blocks have shifted a bit, too, since previous owners let dirt build up against the western side.

Insulating around the blocks will definitely be an issue.  Maybe I could build in a bench the whole way around, with insulation under it?  That way we wouldn't lose the entire thickness of the block all the way up to the roof.

Propane is an option, yes.  It's probably more efficient, but a mini-split would do double duty as A/C, so both have advantages and disadvantage.

A sunroom is a really intriguing idea.  It would be on the East, not South, and would face the street,  but those are solvable problems.
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 802
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
43
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just had another thought...  Feel free to just roll your eyes and ignore this idea because it's a stretch.  But maybe you could jack up the building temporarily, remove the blocks and replace them with a normal thickness wall segment.  Then you wouldn't have to do a bench around the perimeter or deal with insulating the blocks.  In a normal house that would be a hard project but since you don't have plumbing, walls, electrical to deal with at this point, it might be considered.  The siding would have to be extended down or the new segment of walls covered with an exterior material that goes well with the siding.
 
David Livingston
master steward
Posts: 3826
Location: Anjou ,France
194
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you could jack it up a bit would you have the ability to crate  a mezzanine bedroom ? does the garage have a ceiling and if so could it be removed   Do you guys have velux windows over there ? http://www.velux.co.uk/
 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 231
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
9
urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Skylights might be an option, though that would complicate waterproofing and insulation.

Temporarily jacking the building up to change the lower walls might make sense, but what sort of material would you suggest replacing the cinder blocks with?  It would need to be something that resists water damage.  Brick maybe?

I am reluctant to change the exterior envelope of the garage, including its height, because I don't want it to cast any more shade on the garden than it already does - and because I'd like to stay on good terms with our neighbors.  The fewer external changes we can make to the garage, the less they have to complain about.
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 656
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
24
trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The cabin at my orchard was at one time a garage, and here are a few pictures that might give you some ideas. The garage-door sized sliding glass door lets in a good deal of light, and the loft area is a pretty good spot for a mattress.






 
Mike Jay
Posts: 802
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
43
books food preservation hunting solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Steven Kovacs wrote:Temporarily jacking the building up to change the lower walls might make sense, but what sort of material would you suggest replacing the cinder blocks with?  It would need to be something that resists water damage.  Brick maybe?


Assuming that is two cinderblocks high, it's about 16".  I'd either:

1.   Remove the blocks and the lower sill plate (which is hopefully treated or rot resistant).  Put 16" long scab pieces of 2x4 or 2x6 to extend each stud longer.  Sister a piece to the side of some/all of the studs for stability and reinstall the sill plate on the slab with a piece of sill sealer insulation under it.  Then set the walls back down.

2.   Remove the blocks.  Build 16" high wall sections with studs that line up with the studs above and tuck it under the wall with sill sealer foam under it.  Then set the walls back down.  Attach the old sill plate to the new top plate of the 16" high wall securely.

3.   Replace the 8" blocks with 4" solid blocks.  That may be easiest from a structural, exterior finish and water perspective but wouldn't help with insulation.

I'd probably lean towards #1 since it uses less wood and I'm not good at masonry. 

I'm not 100% sure on the outside material to sheath it with.  I'm thinking a 16" strip of exterior grade plywood on the outside of the studs would keep everything stable.  Then maybe cover that with fiber cement siding that goes past the plywood and down over the edge of the slab a bit.  Caulk the joints really well. 
 
William Bronson
Posts: 1540
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
22
forest garden trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just an idea, but if the cinder block portion of the wall is a big heat sink,maybe build a new floor,  level with the top of the cinderblocks.
Then you would have a space to insulate heavily,run plumbing,electrical,radiant heat, whatever...
The floor could be tile. I love tile floors,especially ones with floor drains for easy clean up.
Of course you would create the need for a step or ramp to enter the cabin, and you would loose head room, either of which might be non-starters.



For heat, I vote for propane to back up wood heat.
If you are providing appliance hook ups, gas is the way to go for those evil dryers,propane makes no demands on the electrical service, and it can be purchased incrementally, a great way to control/monitor costs.


Of course, maybe there is a better way to make money off of the garage.
"Self storage" comes to mind. If living space is tight in your market,storage might be in demand.
If you could rent out two or three segregated spaces,you still probably won't make as much as an apartment, but the up front investment is negligible by comparison, and the hassle could be minimal.
I can't see where you are at on my phone, but I know some one who makes a killing sub letting his parking space in Chicago. He bikes, buses, ubers, etc,and avoids the costs of a car entirely.

A home business, buying bulk items and selling them locally,producing local organic quail eggs,or maybe a combination of these two,high quality grain and bedding for backyard flocks,eggs for eating, and hatching...

Anything that wouldn't need massive infrastructure changes, but still provide income, might be a better choice.
 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 231
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
9
urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for all the ideas!

The roof pitch is too shallow for a loft to work well, unfortunately.

The cinder blocks are 2 blocks high for the front of the garage and 4 high for the back (the garage is on a slope so the back of it is below grade).  They do add some width to the walls but insulating inside them is probably the more economical option compared to taking them out.  Raising the floor to match the cinder block height won't work because they are stacked too high (especially in the back).

I will have to consider propane more carefully - it hadn't occurred to me originally.  A rocket mass heater might work too but I suspect the code enforcers (this is Massachusetts) would have a fit.

William, a home business - or at least a home woodworking shop - is definitely another option for the space.  Rental storage isn't since there are plenty of self-store facilities nearby.  The garage is valuable not because of its size but because of its location - housing is very constrained where we are (a few minutes' walk from the center of a college town, and a few minutes' walk from the college).

I suppose we could turn the garage into a greenhouse, but I haven't done any research on what that would involve.  The slab could stay, presumably, but could the wood structure?
 
Bill Erickson
steward
Posts: 1136
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
132
books chicken forest garden hugelkultur hunting wofati
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Steven, one thing I am pretty sure of is that the local department of sad is very likely going to require you to put in a breaker box for the various amendments you plan on making. They may or may not require a separate service, but they are definitely going to require a second box with sufficient size wire to support it. It's a smart thing to do anyway, just for convenience sake if nothing else.
 
Danger, 10,000 volts, very electric .... tiny ad:
Permaculture Playing Cards by Paul Wheaton and Alexander Ojeda
https://permies.com/wiki/57503/digital-market/digital-market/Permaculture-Playing-Cards-Paul-Wheaton
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!