How To Legally Convert A Garage Into A Usable Room

What’s a usable room? Over the years, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) have been called granny flats, mother-in-law suites, casitas, converted garages, backyard cottages, man caves, she sheds, guest houses, bonus rooms, and even alternative home office space. But no matter what we call these ADUS, the goal remains the same: a usable room that provides additional space in precious California real estate.

Usable rooms like Accessory Dwelling Units are a great way to make space for your loved ones and add value to your home. Since California has passed the new ADU laws this year, usable rooms like garage conversions can be used as a source of passive income. Even if you’re only planning on converting the garage to an additional bedroom or home office, permits will be needed for residential construction.

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to update you on the latest developments in ADU laws and how California residents may benefit as homeowners, property managers, and future homeowners.

The 2023 Updates for Accessory Dwelling Units in California

A more transparent approval process

In 2020, permits for Accessory Dwelling Units were required to be approved or denied within 60 days. An increase in applications led to many permits being denied with cause or reason. The 2023 update requires that permitting agencies provide detailed documentation with the denial of an application.

Revised height restrictions

Height restrictions have been relaxed for ADUs in California. Two-story, multi-family homes can have an ADU up to 18 feet tall. ADUs that are attached to the primary house can be up to 25 feet tall OR as tall as the primary house.

No more restrictions on ADUs with unpermitted work on the property

Building code violations and unpermitted structures no longer stand in the way of an ADU.

Fire sprinklers are no longer required in the primary residence.

Assembly Bill 1033

California homeowners can build, buy, and sell Accessory Dwelling Units separately from the primary residence, much like a condominium. You’ll need to notify local utilities like water, sewer, gas, and electric, of the building and separate conveyance of the unit.

Guide to Legally Converting Your Garage into a Usable Room

Converting your garage into a usable room, or an ADU, is one of our favorite ways to maximize space in your home and add value to your property. California has updated the laws about ADUs to make these additions more attainable, but your home improvement project will still need to meet legal and safety standards.

What is required to convert a garage into a usable room or Accessory Dwelling Unit?

For a legal garage conversion to ADU, the garage must meet building code standards. You might ask yourself the following questions before getting started:

  • Is my garage structurally sound?
  • Does my garage have the capacity for utility hookups?
  • Is my garage insulated?
  • What are the best options for HVAC?

Check fire safety requirements.

Take stock of the areas around the garage, extending to the property line and nearest dwelling.* Fire sprinkles are only required if the primary residence has them.

*If the primary house and garage share a wall, create a sound barrier.

Have a professional evaluate the garage’s foundation and walls.

Keep in mind that if the foundation or walls need to be repaired or replaced, the cost of your home improvement project will increase.

Consider utilities and appliances.

Think about where you will relocate your water heater, washer and dryer, and storage once you’ve converted your garage. You can include a small utility room in your building plans, switch to a tankless water heater that can be stored outside, or stack your washer and dryer.

Upgrade the property’s electricity, water, sewer, and gas lines to meet the increased demand (if necessary).

Load calculations may need to be performed to determine if upgrading your utilities is necessary. It’s common to require electrical service with greater capacity. You can also add a subpanel for the new usable room.

Finalize the budget for your garage conversion.

A garage in good condition can usually be converted into a usable room for less than the price of others, like additions or detached casitas. However, there are a few different factors that can impact the cost of your garage conversion.

  • Size of the usable room – A usable room such as a bedroom must be at least 70 square feet. An ADU can be up to 800 square feet, while a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit is around 500 square feet.
  • Fire Access Requirement – The fire code will need to consider the distance between the curb to the back of the usable room.
  • Type of ceiling – Vaulted or flat? Believe it or not, it matters!

Convert your garage into a usable room with a trustworthy general contractor like Schatz Construction

When looking at potential general contractors, it’s important to consider not only the costs quoted but the company’s track record and reliability as well. Check the company’s website for project galleries. Building additions and garage conversions can be tricky, especially when it comes to the licenses and permits required to do it legally.

But with Schatz Construction & Restoration you don’t have to worry! Our years of experience in home renovations have given us the attention to detail and innovative design that will give you everything you need to legally convert your garage into a usable room. Contact us today to get your project started!

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