Garage Repair, Renovation, and Conversion
Archived Q&A and Reviews
We have a very strange garage/carport hybrid in our back yard which needs a complete overhaul. It is right up against the property line - has an automatic garage door, cement foundation (but no drainage), electrical and a pitched roof complete with rain gutters. It is a 2 car structure. The catch is that it has no walls and is not framed for walls either. It was clearly done without permits. It is not in bad shape, but it does not suit our needs and it is pretty ugly.
We are looking for a contractor to do this for us - with permits. We want to tear down/rebuild this structure possibly using the existing footprint OR possibly reframing it, siding and dry walling the interior, and making it water tight for storage and an artist's studio OR rebuilding as a one car structure to maximize yard space.
Before hiring a contractor to build, rebuild, repair, you need to do a search of your property's history in the Zoning department, and learn when it was built, if there were permits, what is the ''legal'' status of the structure.
Then go to the other side of the office, the Building Department side, and learn what are the current requirements for set backs, etc. for a garage. Just ask for general information, you do not have to disclose your property address.
When you have a thorough grasp of what is permitted by the city, then it is time to talk to an architect, and or contractor. But you will save money and perhaps huge mistakes by doing the preliminary research yourself.
I am recommended Curt Ferson for any building requirements that you may have. He is very knowlegable, takes great pride in his work, cahrges reasonable fees and is extremely honest in dealing with clients. I have used him for several projects that I have worked on throughout the years, and each and every client was thoroughly pleased with his work and responsiveness. He is in Berkeley, experienced with the local officials and very easy to work with. I'm throwing his name out there because I have not seen him recommended in this forum before and he does fabulous work. Contact CEF Contractors, 510-915-0814 wc
I highly recommend Terry Wilson Construction. When we refurbished our house in Piedmont (from the foundation up, it was a disaster), Terry did truly great work, on time, on budget, and exactly as planned. He has a very hard-working crew, and Terry helped us figure out how to get around a lot of sticky conceptual problems. Our house turned out so great that our neighbors across the street hired Terry to re-do much of their house both inside and out (replace windows, rebuild walkways, stairs, bathrooms, etc.) Now we get to look across the street at their beautiful house! I think you will be really pleased with him, he is a very nice man and has done a lot of work in Berkeley. He can be reached at 510-685-3290. Big Terry Fan
We live in Oakland and would like to landscape our backyard. We have a 1 car garage at the bottom of our driveway that needs a lot of repairs. We would like to tear it down to make the space in the backyard larger. Does anybody know if this will seriously depreciate the cost of the house? It seems like more people would like a spacious back yard then a garage. Anybody have any experience in this department? To keep or tear down
Garage definitely adds some value to the house. Not as much as a bedroom or bathroom. If its finished garage it adds some value to the property. I have re-finished my garage, some new drywall and texture. Added some garage cabinets, I'm happy with the results. JB Construction was there to help us along the way. Call them for your project, I really recommend them. E-mail: powerlabor [at] yahoo.com, cell: (510) 735-4052 Cristina
I don't know about how it will impact the value of your home but we are in the process of building a garage because we have no outdoor storage (for bikes). We definitely thought that was a downside when we bought our house. However, if it's in bad shape it's not going to be a selling point anyway. Alison
I don't know what it does to your value but I would check with the City to find out if you can somehow preserve your (or future owner's) right to put it back up. Seems to me having that option would be important. anon
We need either an experienced contractor or architect (or lawyer?) who knows Berkeley planning, zoning and permitting rules inside & out and can advise us on what course of action to take to either repair or tear down a garage & shed (sounds simple, but apparently it's not due to unpermitted structures, fences and easements), apply for the permits, and, if this person is a contractor, do the work. Any recommendations as to who could help would be appreciated. Thanks! -anon
We just have gone through a somewhat similar adventure, but in Oakland. We decided to try and keep the structure instead of tearing it down.
Not to scare you, but the reality is, that it has taken us 2 years to go through all the hoops and finally get a building permit.(You need to have this before you can legally begin to build/repair anything) Be prepared for lots of bureaucracy, lots of visits to the Building/Zoning department and spending lots of $$$. (Not to mention the stress...)
Definitely, get a good architect, don't try to do it alone! We worked with Jarvis Architects in Oakland. You'll need lots of architectural drawings and plans as well as someone on your side who has traveled this road before.
Also, do research and find out as much info about your property as you can; visit the library,go to the County Accessors Office, look at old parcel maps, find old aerial photos (UC library has some), talk to your neighbors etc...We found info that the city didn't have in their records.
I'll have to let you know in a couple of years, whether it was worth it.
Best of Luck! anon
would like to install storage cabinets in my garage without paying a fortune -- any recommendations? Anyone dealt with california closets or garage solutions companies? pat
We used Premier Garage in Foster City and they were great. Veny (I think that was his name) came out within a day or 2 of us enquiring, and was prompt, pleasant and polite. He gave us a good range of options and suggestions as to what would work and when we'd made the decision gave us great 3D printouts to show how our garage would look, detailed specs and prices. He does it all on his computer on site so we had the pics and the price right then and there. He was happy to move and change things until we were happy. The installers were also very well behaved. We're very pleased with the look and quality of the finished product.
The disadvantage is that they have a standard range of cabinet sizes which you fit into your space the best you can. Custom cabinets will be more expensive although they may fit a pace better. tidy garage
Hi, I just looked in the archives about garages, and I really want to have an external garage built in my backyard. I currently have a narrow attached garage. I don't even know where to start, and have concerns about permits and cost. Preliminary investigations show me that I have the space for it. Any recommendations for contractors that can work with me from square one till the final inspection? Thanks much... need help with my new garage
Start with Tuff Shed (they have a website). They did our detached garage in Albany and they were great. Permits are a hassle anywhere, and you might want to consider a property survey so as to make sure your garage meets setback requirements. Tuff Shed will build you a great garage for a fraction of the cost that a contractor will charge you. We explored both options and Tuff Shed was a no brainer. Happy Tuff Shed Customer
Garage conversion without permits?
We need advice. We want to convert our small garage into a simple studio (no plumbing). This will not take away from the city's required parking space, but we're loathe to go through the permit process because it will take many months longer and cost 20% more of the total cost and the house we purchased as unpermitted remodeling done (although there is no reason for the inspector to enter our home). Does anyone have any advice on doing basic garage conversions with or without permits? Most contractors are asking for permits and architectural plans, but all we want is floor, dry wall, and possibly small electrical heater. Is it crazy to do it without permits or is this just what most people do and turn a blind eye? anonymous worrier in berkeley
Any unpermitted construction, no matter how small, is a big risk, IF a permit is required. Some neighbors suffered penalties after a back porch construction was red-tagged. Their house is on the corner, so the back porch is clearly visible from the street. It cost them double. Perhaps your garage is not visible from the street. As to permits, the city will not permit a garage conversion per se, which means retaining your garage-type doors. However the laws cannot require that one actually park in the garage if it is theoretically possible to park in it. Mere repairs do not require permits. You could sheet rock the inside, install new flooring, etc. If there is electricity in the garage now, adding more outlets and lights should not be a problem. There are plenty of handymen or handy-ma'ams who can do this work and do not demand permits.
The licensed architects and craftspersons have to consider the risk to their license - but this board has lots of suggestions for good handy persons.
Also, take a class or two at the Building Education Center. You will meet others who have successfully dealt with your issues, and meet building professionals who can help with services and advice. Lynn
You do realize you are committing a crime. In asking a contractor to do something you already know is illegal. You are putting the contractor livelihood at jeopardy. You are not thinking this through either. The city has records and more recently pictures. They will know you converted the garage illegally and before you can sell your house they will make you covert it back to a garage and fine you are an illegal conversion. (You might think the folks who work for the city are stupid, but they are not that dumb.
You could hire an illegal contractor to do the work. Only problem is if you get ripped off you have no recourse since you are committing a crime. You could do the work yourself or hire an illegal contractor but if one of your neighbors reports you or the city inspector happens to drive and notices construction going on at a non-permitted address they have the power to make you stop. And if they feel it's a safety issue can enter your property with police escort to search for other illegal construction or safety issues. Here's the advice - Pay the extra 20% and be able to sleep at night knowing everything was done properly and that the contractor you hired did it properly. ANON
I recommend you get a permit. The main drawback with doing without one is when you go to sell the place. A friend of mine had to open up the walls to show that his electrical was done well. This was after he waited through offers that were pulled when prospective buyers found out the work was done without permits. He finally got an offer from someone who would only buy it if he could see the electrical work! . Andus
Need advice about converting garage into studio
I'm contemplating converting my free-standing garage on my Albany property into a studio that can be rented out for income. It's in a desirable neighborhood. The garage is well constructed and was already finished (i.e. drywall on walls, windows installed, flooring placed) with permits before I purchased the house, but it lacks a kitchen, bathroom, and heat. So...here are my questions. I would love your advice and recommendations on any or all of these: 1) How do I figure out if it's worth going through the effort/expense? I don't have any idea how much rent I could charge, nor do I know how much the renovation would cost. And I would want to do it with permits, so it would presumably raise my property taxes well. Any recommendations about who would be able to provide trustworthy advice? (a realtor? a property manager? a contractor? specific names?) 2) Assuming I go ahead with this, I think a way to save money and be good for the environment might be to install a composting toilet so that I don't have to run a sewer line, but then there's the issue of water from the shower and kitchen sink. Are there any contractors out there who have experience with composting toilets and grey water? Recommendations? Advice? 3) For the hot water there are obvious options -- solar hot water (would that be sufficient in the winter?), on-demand hot water, and a traditional water heater. How to decide? 4) What about heat? I would prefer not to have the tenants use electric heat, so then what? Seems crazy to install a furnace for a studio. I like the idea of a gas fireplace, but there's currently no gas running to the garage. Suggestions? anon
I will give you my experience from my field of work (a property management prospective). If you convert the garage into studio, the rental price will depend on the size of the studio and what amenities it has. You need to provide heat, cooking and lighting by rental regulations. I am not sure if you will be able to provide heat through electricity and how it will be established. If the tenant will have separate account for PG$E or not. You know electricity is expensive. So probably putting a small furnace would be the best option unless you have another thought. If you need more advice please e-mail me privately and I can help you. M.
Converting garage to bed and bathroom
Wondering approximately how much it would cost (and whether it be worth it) to convert our currently unused and unfinished 1 car garage into an additional bed and bathroom for our El Cerrito home. We live in a 2 bed, 1 bath and could really use another bathroom. Would this add enough value to our home to be worth the cost? Would it detract because we'd be losing the garage? We have ample street parking at all times. We would need someone to obtain permits and do the framing/sheetrock/plumbing/electrical work/put in windows/install a tankless water heater, but my husband would be able to do all of the finish work (paint, tile, fixtures, mouldings, flooring, etc). Would appreciate advice from anyone who has undertaken a garage conversion, as well as recommendations for contractors. Thanks! LS
Before you embark on this plan, you might want to check with your local planning department to see what the the constraints are for such a conversion. Some cities do not allow a garage parking space to be eliminated, others require that it be replaced with another parking space. You can certainly choose to undertake your project without the required approvals but if you do you probably want to at least be aware of the ramifications. Good luck. Anon architect
before you put any more energy into this, you might want to make sure the city is cool with it. i considered doing just that in berkeley a number of years ago and they wouldn't allow it, though i can't specifically remember the reasons why. lotusgreen
Funny, I just finished making our garage into my tweener's bed room. (Tho' I did not do a bathroom.) The hardest part was sealing it up. The walls & floor oozed & were cracked & there were a lot of slug tracks... So, I took my time filling, checking in the morning, & re-filling with concrete patch which is pretty cheap and you control the thickness with time & water. So, I sealed it all up, basically floated a new floor, sealed & painted. That was about $100. Painted walls & ceiling, 4 coats if you count sealer, primer, + 2 coats and trim and cost about $100. Actually, it all topped out at around $350. bc I got IKEA drapery hardware & fabric. They have nice cotton by the yard & it is incredibly inexpensive comparatively. Plus hardware store closet fixin's; rod pole & wood casing. Screwed it in place as a big box. We had all the furniture and I did all the work. & now..
I would be certain that you are allowed to convert your garage. Years ago at least there were strict rules in El Cerrito and usually the city did not allow it. I looked at a home once where the owners were forced to undo all the work at their own expense. I would check with the city. anon
I'd strongly recommend Rick Hoffman. He helped us with making a garage conversion secure for domestic use, and he did a beautiful job. Four years on, I still appreciate the thought that went into his work. He is wonderful at both design and build aspects. He's done other work for us in the meantime, and it's always of a very high standard. He is one of those people who can grasp your needs and visualize what will have to be done to meet them, without you having to direct every aspect. His number is 510-371-4803. John
Want to convert garage to an office = permit?
I have a several-part question! We live in a 1600 sq-ft home with 3 bedrooms and are looking to convert our two-car garage into an office for me as I work from home. It will also have a half-bath. We have a driveway and intend to park our car in the driveway. 1) Has anyone recently gone to to the city to get a permit to do something like this, and if so, could you please share your experience& tell me what the process, wait-time, etc. was like. 2) If we don't get a permit and make the conversion, what risk do we run? Can our neighbors get us to stop the work? 3) Also, if it's not approved, does the additional living space improve the house value or detract from it? 4) Any recommendations or contractors, carpenters who can work with a tight budget? Thanks! Dreamingofextraspace
I assume you mean the City of Berkeley, where one off-street parking spot is required for each residential unit. This parking space can be in your driveway, provided you have 18' between the garage and the setback line. So even though the driveway has plenty of space to park on closer to the sidewalk, that space doesn't count.
Since you will be changing the use of the building, you will need to apply for a Use Permit. Therefore the time it will take you to get an approved building permit is probably about 6 months.
You don't want to do this without a permit. Neighbors can stop you, so can a random inspector, or someone in a different neighborhood. The costs and aggravations incurred when this happens are greater than those incurred at the outset, going the prescribed route.
Additional living space improves the house value. You will therefore pay a little more in taxes.
My advice is to go to the Permit Service Center and talk to a Planner, to get the initial parameters for your project. The people there are very helpful. It is also advisable to hire an experienced person to help you through the process. . Andus
Garage conversion (minimal)
We recently bought a house in Alameda that's just crying to have the attached garage turned into a playroom. We're fairly certain we can't do it with permits, so we want it to be simple and easily reversible. It already has drywall, electrical outlets, and good windows. I think all we need to do is cover the concrete floor, fence off the laundry/water heater end of things, and do something about the garage door. Is there much chance that an inspector would come sniffing around if we replaced the garage door with a more people-oriented door/wall? Is there a way to make it look more finished from the inside while still looking like a garage door from the outside? Also recommendations people have about the first two tasks, or for people who could do the work, are much appreciated. pining for a playroom
I have the perfect contractor for you. His name is Scott Montgomery. His e-mail address is michael.montgomery4 [at] yahoo.com and his phone # is 925-382- 4112. Scott has done several large and small projects for me. The reason I think Scott is your man is that he just completed converting his own garage into an office/play room/laundry room. And he did so with the intention of easily reversing it back to a garage when and if they want to sell. E-mail or give Scott a call - I know you will be thrilled with his work. Please call (945-7747) or e- mail me if you'd like more info. Dee
We had our garage converted a few months ago and were very happy with our contractor, with the process and with the result. About a year ago our 2 year old son banged on some toy drum to the beat of a Zeppelin song playing on my husband's ipod in his office room. my husband decided that this means that our son can become the next John Bonham if only we would create the right environment for him. My husband also thought this is a wonderful opportunity for him to re-live his so called glory days as the drummer of ''Northern CA best ever high school garage jam band to implode 2 hours before their first (and last) gig''. From that moment on he decided our garage will become his and my son's man-cave/rehearsal space.
We hired Idan Bearman of Bearman And Sons based on a recommendation from this newsletter and his references and were very pleased with our choice. We had him sheetrock the walls and ceiling, clean and paint the concrete floor, install a skylight and window, cut open a side wall and install a regular door, screw shut the garage door and build and frame/sheetrock the inside of it, build a corner bar with fridge and sink, add outlets and install an entertainment system with surround sound, xbox and flatscreen tv. My husband loves his man-cave, my son loves to hang out there with his dad and I love that their mess is out of my kitchen, my living room, my bathroom, my bed room, my... - you get the point.
Idan was great to work with, very open to our input, gave great suggestions, laid out all our options, very positive energy, clean and organized and a top notch carpenter. The work took under a month, the bill at the end matched the quote and we have nothing but positive feelings about the project. In fact, we're going to have Idan remodel our master bathroom next winter. We love our garage conversion and we highly recommend our contractor. His info: Idan Bearman of Bearman And Sons bearmanandsons [at] yahoo.com 510 830 7927 Mikella
We are thinking of making our garage into an office/play area and don't need anything elaborate. That is, we dont want to go through all of the necessary permits, etc. We just want a very simple extra room to use, since we don't even use it for the car; and obviously, we want something affordable. One thing that I thought of, though, is changing the current garage door to something like double French doors or even a rolling garage door (ours is original 50's door). If we did this, then would we need a permit? Also, would it really affect insulation (what little we plan to have) if the entire garage is just not walled up (i.e, garage door covered by a wall inside)? Any suggestions or recommendations for the job? Many Thanks. Anon
I suggest you think twice (at least) before undertaking such a big remodel (it will almost certainly be bigger than you think) without a permit. If you are adding/moving electric components, heating, etc., you will benefit from having the work checked out. Future buyers will also check whether the work was done with proper permits, and you may end up with fines down the road. The problem that may come up, however, depending where you live, is that you may not get permission to undo an off-street parking space (even if you don't use it).
If you do decide to proceed, remember- A garage floor slopes; do you want your extra room floor to slope? The floor is concrete, which absorbs moisture from the ground. This moisture will be absorbed by (and maybe ruin) whatever flooring you put directly on it. The garage is not heated; what will you do about this (even in our relatively mild climate, it will get cold). If it is closed in, things can get musty pretty quickly. Be sure you install a smoke detector, since the space is quite separate from your other living space. anon.
We are thinking about converting our small detached garage in our backyard into something more useful like a studio or play room for our child. The entire structure is in bad need of repair, especially the roof and floor. Does anyone have a recommendation for a contractor or carpenter who has done this? Also, for anyone who has had a successful conversion, do you think it has added or detracted from your property value? Thanks! Jocelyn
Don't see specifics in the archives that answer my question... Looking to convert an old garage into a finished room, like a tiny studio, with a small bathroom. The structure is very old and water seeps in easily. There is no existing plumbing. Anyone have any contractors they can recommend for this type of job or have any tips? Nic
I have two terrific carpenters to recommend for your Garage conversion, or other job. These are not contractors, but I guarantee you that you will get BETTER quality work with either of these two than you will with a contractor. Most of their business is from repeat customers, because they're so good. Not only will the job be done RIGHT, but you'll pay less than you would with just about any one else (these guys don't charge as much as they should.... shhhhh). Brian Henrie (the Old Fashioned Carpenter) (510) 234-0487 Mark Lencl - (510) 763-7438 Alesia
I have a free standing garage in my backyard (in Oakland) that I would like to convert to at least a studio and maybe a small one bedroom cottage. Can anyone give me a range I can expect to spend? Is it worth doing at all? For instance I saw a complete cabin in Sunset that was built for $70k Mine has no plumbing, electricity, and needs a new roof. Basically it would be a rebuild from the ground up. Thanks. Kean
We converted a 2 car garage into a small guest cottage and attached workshop. We originally intended it for our office but outgrew it quickly. I don't have a cost off the top of my head (I think I've intentionally forgotten) but I'd be happy to talk to you about the process and some of the solutions we worked out, and even give you a tour. Kristin
First check with the Planning Department in Oakland to see if they will allow you to convert your garage into a studio. You might not have the required parking for this conversion. If you want to talk to me about planning issues and costs you can call me at 527-5677 Deborah Lane, Architect
I am looking for recommendations for a contractor to convert my garage into a guest cottage and do some renovation in my house (remodeling the kitchen and adding a full bath). I live in Rockridge. Is it legal to renovate the garage in this way? I would not be renting it but would like it to have a kitchenette and bath for my parents when they come to stay with us. I would also like to live in one of the structures while the other work is being done, if possible. Any experience with this is greatly appreciated! Elizabeth
We live in Rockridge, and converted a downstairs area for my mother-in-law to live when we first moved into the house about 14 years ago. This area includes a garage that had already been made into a room before we bought the house and another attached large room, and has a door to the outside. When we went to get the permit for the work, including putting in a small kitchen in one end of the large room, electrical work, a ceiling, and a shower, we had a fair amount of difficulty getting it. Our neighbors were sent a notice from the city telling them what we planned, and a number of them sent back the questionnaire saying they had concerns. We were new to the neighborhood, so did not know the neighbors, and did not explain to them our reasons for doing the work. They assumed we were going to have a rental, and they didn't want rental units in the neighborhood. At that time most of the people on the street had been there a long time, and had raised families there. We ended up with a conditional use permit which said only an immediate relative could live there, and we had to pay a yearly fee (I can't remember what it was - somewhere between $200 and $300 I think) and we had to take the kitchen out when we sold the house. I asked what that meant, and they said it meant remove the stove. I hope that's right, since I would hate to have to tear out the sink and cabinets. As far as I could tell it was the kitchen that raised all the concerns, and the city permit people tried to convince us to not put in a kitchen. I was told by a friend who is a lawyer that that kind of use permit could be considered illegal, since it requires that people who live together are related. In any case, after 2 years when my mother-in-law died, we stopped paying the yearly fee, but did not tell the city anything about why. We never heard from them. I don't know what will happen if we decide to sell the house. Hope this is helpful, although maybe things have changed in Oakland since then. -Susan
Brian Bourke just did a very nice job converting a laundry room into a small kitchenette (and several othe updates), transforming that area of the house in question into an in law unit. The house is in Oakland, so I think his experience is relevant. I don't know if he has any time in his schedule right now (he's working on a large houseboat project), but you might want to call and find out: 510-703-0402 (cell); 510-832-6547 (home), bbourke AT earthlink.net. Dawn
I have considered doing the same thing with my garage. To my knowledge you would not be able to get a permit to convert this to living space. Depending on what needs to be done you would be able to get a permit for foundation/drainage/floor work as this could also be needed in a garage. For all other work you would have to work with contractors/carpenters/plumbers/electricians who can do the work over weekends and holidays. According to the contractor I spoke to who does foundation work this is quite common. If you are doing work inside your house I would suggest getting all of this finished before tackling your garage. -Mary
Help! Our house is too small! Sound like a familiar problem? Since the garage of our little MacGregor is essentially useless (too short to house our Honda Accord), we are considering converting the garage into a plus-room. I know a lot of people have done this, but when I checked the website, I didn't find any references to this. Here's our task: we will have to create an entrance into the garage from the house (the garage is attached but only accessible through its front door), build a few steps down from the house into the garage, create some light with windows, run wiring into the garage for computer and other use, and put in some kind of not-too-noxious floor. We may be able to leave the ceiling as is. Could anyone help us with the following questions? Has anyone done anything like this? How much did it cost, roughly? Was it hard to get permits? What kind of contractor(s) did you use? Anyone you would recommend/not recommend? How long did the work take? Does the finished room feel like a room in a house, or like a converted garage? Linda
We did a less-extensive conversion to a space for projects and storage. We're really happy with the results. It feels like a little garden house: attractive, and comfortable enough to sleep there while having floors refinished.
The original floor is was old concrete slab on grade. In the winter, the water table is high enough for water to ooze through the cracks, forming puddles. We had a contractor put down (in order) (1) a layer of thisck plactic film (2) pressure-treated 2x4 sleepers (3) Another layer of plastic film (4) a layer of 3/4 plywood, shimmed to be level and smooth. He further smoothed the edges of the plywood using a belt sander, and I painted it with floor paint. We didn't get any permits, and the whole thing cost a few hundred dollars. The contractor used a high-power nail gun that requires him to have the right license. Lots of natural light can really improve a space. At the contractor's suggestion, we also installed a skylight, which was easy given the one-layer roof and unfinished appearance. At this point I'd like to add a few small windows to further brighten the space. Kathleen