If your family is outgrowing their current home, what do you do? Moving to a larger house can be costly, or mean you’re leaving behind your local community. Building an extension is another option, but it’s not always practical.
One possibility that’s gaining in popularity. Converting the garage instead.
The plan has several pluses. It’s an existing structure, making it more economical to covert than if you built something from scratch. You won’t have to go to the hassle of moving out while the renovation is under way. And it’s usually far cheaper than selling and buying a larger property.
That said, it’s not as easy as swapping your Corolla for a chest of drawers. There are building standards that have to be met for living (or sleeping) spaces, which most garages won’t meet without a formal conversion. You will also need planning permission from your council, and if it’s a strata title property, from your owners’ corporation.
Do you need planning permission?
Under the National Construction Code, a garage is classed as a ‘non-habitable structure’ or Class 10a building. A dwelling space must be a Class 1a habitable area.
To convert your garage, you’ll need it to be reclassified from a 10a to a 1a building. This will require development approval from your local council.
If your property is a strata title unit or townhouse, you will almost certainly need permission from the owners’ corporation to alter the garage. Check your corporation’s by laws or get in touch with your strata manager to be sure. Generally, anything that alters the usage or external appearance of your unit, even if it’s on your lot, will need permission.
What’s involved in the conversion?
Building standards for a living space or bedroom are stricter than for a garage. You’ll probably need to make several changes to make sure your new room complies. It’s strongly recommended to talk to a builder or architect so that you’re confident about what’s required.
You’ll need to ensure:
The floor is waterproofed and a termite barrier (in most states) is laid. Then you can add flooring. Unless the concrete is completely flat, tiles can crack. Floating timber or laminate floors are a good choice if you can’t ensure a completely level surface.
The ceiling is at least 2.4 metres high. This requirement might be a tricky one to meet, unfortunately, as the minimum (and therefore standard) height for a garage is only 2.1 metres. If the garage is a stand alone structure, you can raise the roof. If it’s built into the main dwelling, and especially if it’s on the ground floor of a two-storey building, it might be impossible.
The walls are sealed against rising damp. If your garage is made from single bricks, you’ll need to use a waterproofing membrane and/or waterproof paint so that it complies. The next step is to add a stud wall, so that you can add insulation and electrical wiring, before finishing the wall with plasterboard.
At least 10% of the wall space is taken up with window space to offer fresh air and natural light. For a garage conversion, you’ll already be taking out the access doors or roller door at the front, so your plans for replacement should include at least one substantial window.
The building code also requires that the new living space is compliant with energy-efficiency provisions. These vary by state, but most follow the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme.
For proposed granny flat conversions, there are additional council requirements having to do with the minimum block size and the maximum size of the granny flat space. There can only be one granny flat and one house on a single block.
In some council areas, you may need to show that you have an alternative parking spot for your car/s now that you’re not using the garage. You may not be able to park on the street.
What can you use it for?
The requirements are the same whether you’re using the garage as a bedroom or living space, with one exception: for a bedroom, you’ll need to install a smoke alarm.
What you use it for, therefore, is largely up to you — and the type of garage you have. A free-standing structure in the garden will make a great teen retreat, rumpus room or home office. If the garage is under the main roof, you have added flexibility to use it as an additional bedroom.
You may want to use the additional space as a jumping-off point to change your whole layout. You could use it as a new lounge, convert your old lounge into a dining room and utilise the dining room to enlarge your kitchen. Or create a butler’s pantry, store room, study…whatever you want!
If you have a garage you want to use as extra space, have a chat to a builder or an architect about your plans. You might be surprised at how many options you have.