by Athena McKenzie
With everyone spending more time at home — and desiring separate areas for specific activities — people are getting creative with the available space. One spot sparking ideas for creative use is the garage. On the South Island, with its temperate climate, many homeowners don’t actually park their cars inside, making that expanse available for a myriad of other functions.
“The space is full of possibilities,” says Mika Nishimura-Pennimpede, interior designer and project support at LIDA Homes. “It depends on where — or if — it is attached to the house. Around 80 per cent of our clients interested in garage conversions are actually looking to build guest suites above their double garages. It’s often a 25-by-25 foot footprint, so it can be a bachelor or even a one-bedroom. But we’ve also seen interest in using the actual space to extend kitchens or create luxury ensuites. People have also inquired about creating home gyms. One woman who missed going to the yoga studio wanted to make one in her garage.”
Depending on the municipality, any homeowner looking to convert garage space to living space will have a number of considerations to work through, advises Sheldon Johnson, manager of engagement for the City of Victoria. These include permits to comply with building code and confirming the use is permitted under the zoning bylaw.
“The B.C. Building Code has minimum building requirements to ensure that if space is intended for human habitation, it is properly built — structural adequacy, fire safety, proper insulation and other aspects, ensuring it meets minimum standards for the safety and health of the intended occupants,” he says. “We recommend anyone considering going down this path check all of the guiding documents we have online under Development Services and discussing their project with staff in our Permits and Inspections Division, as well as our Development Services Division, who would be happy to offer early advice before a property owner commences the permitting process.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that some places may require the availability of other on-site parking before approving a garage conversion.
Converting your garage into a living space goes beyond décor and furnishings. While much of the necessary structure is already in place, various things need to be done to make the space habitable and comfortable. These include:
The door: Installing an insulated garage door makes it more energy efficient to maintain comfortable temperatures, while still providing easy outdoor access.
Walls and ceiling: One of the most important steps is to fully insulate the walls and ceiling and to put up drywall. If you want the space to have direct access into the house, you may need to open up a partition wall.
Flooring: Insulating the floor and installing flooring above the concrete slab will raise your floor from its original height. Maintaining a distance of at least seven and a half feet between the finished floor and the ceiling is recommended.
Windows: Adding windows will provide more natural light and air.
Plumbing and electrical: Depending on the scale of your conversion, these utilities may need to be added or upgraded.
Finally, esthetics are also important. Consider adding walls or panels to cover up pipes or machinery, such as water heaters. In terms of interior decorating, the sky is the limit for finishings, including flooring options, paint and fixtures.