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Austin Trends: Garage Apartments

April 24, 2018

Developing an extra living space separate from your home’s main structure can significantly increase your property value. It can also add flexibility to your residential property’s total living space for all sorts of family uses. Even better, adding a separate living space can provide an income suite.

With the growing popularity of garage apartments among U.S. homeowners, it’s not surprising that an increasing number of custom homes here in the Austin area include additional dwelling units (ADUs). If you are thinking about adding a garage apartment (or casita) to your property, use the information below as a basic guide to adding a garage apartment as part of your current new home construction plans or as an improvement to your existing home and property.

Garage Conversion Options

A well designed garage apartment affords all the comforts of a full size home and can incorporate space for washer and dryer, ample closet, and a kitchen with full scale appliances. A variety of layout configurations are potentially possible, but the most efficient floor plans often place a primary utility closet in the first level garage, freeing up the second level for as much practical living space as possible. Detail from the plan set from 2019 E. 3rd St., Austin, TX 78702.

A garage apartment is typically set up as a miniaturized version of a house, sometimes with the living quarters on the second story and a dedicated garage space on the first floor for the occupants living above. The main house is entirely separate, with its own garage and driveway. This arrangement of spaces offers benefits for homeowners in four residential expansion markets, including those who want to add:

  1. An income suite
  2. Detached guest suites for short-term visitors
  3. Living quarters for long-term family residents
  4. A variety of other personal or professional purposes

All four kinds of additions can add substantial value to a residential property, and the first one adds income as well. There are, of course, many practical considerations to be weighed before you embark on such an improvement to your property. Here are some of the most significant points to think about as you make a decision to transform your existing garage or build a new one.

1. An Income Suite

Converting an existing garage or adding a small free-standing garage apartment to create an income suite can be a smart solution for offsetting monthly mortgage payments and/or other costs of home ownership. Modern full-amenities in garage apartments entirely fit into an average garage interior space of approximately 18–20 feet x 34–36 feet, or from 612 to 720 square feet.

  •  A rental suite should include a small kitchen with at least a refrigerator, microwave, and hot plate
  • Providing furniture can be very cost effective, allowing you to add a premium for it. And supplying furniture can greatly expedite move-ins and move-outs, eliminating most major moving-related activities around your home.

2. Guest Suite

There’s just no better way to spoil your guests than by giving them their own little home to enjoy during their visit. And it can be more enjoyable, relaxing, and convenient for you to give guests a separate space that preserves your privacy and theirs.

3. Additional Permanent Dwelling Space

A garage apartment can provide housing for a college-age child or a retired parent who needs to live with you.

  • Teen Quarters — Parents with older teens or college-age kids can provide greater privacy for student and parents, while still having the student as close to home as possible.
  • Retirement Home Alternative — When evaluating options for a retired parent, a garage apartment (or casita) may be just the answer. Naturally, by the time we reach retirement age, we have developed our own long-time habits and preferences for our homes. With a separate apartment, everyone can enjoy their own personal living space and avoid irritations that can result from adults with differing habits sharing a living space.

4. Other Garage Use Options

A garage is an especially versatile structure in terms of development potential. In addition to offering opportunities for increased living space for guests, rental residents, or family members, a garage can be converted to serve a wide variety of other purposes.

  • Recreation and Entertainment — If your detached garage is rarely used, you might make the most of that extra space by converting it into a recreational and entertainment space. There are countless options, like putting in game tables for billiards, ping pong, foosball, or air hockey. Or, you can transform the building into the home theater of your dreams. Finally, you might prefer to create a crafts space, or an art or music studio.
  • Storage — You can create a smaller living space, perhaps with just bed and bathroom, and still utilize part of a large garage for more common uses. A roomy garage can provide guest accommodation above, or to one side, while still offering great opportunities for reorganization that makes space for any imaginable residential storage use. Add a system of adjustable shelves, cabinets, hooks, hangers, ceiling storage platforms, and still have room for your car.
  • Home Gym — Work out in the privacy of your own exercise facility, complete with treadmill, weights, stationery bike, or yoga mat — and don’t forget the wall-mounted TV.
  • Gardening House — If you love gardening, you may consider reimagining your garage as a potting space, including a potting bench, utility sink, and gardening tool racks and hangers. Sturdy shelves for stacking pots or nurturing seedlings can be added, as well as a few windows in sunny locations. Or, add skylights and walls of windows to create a sunny space for growing.
  • Home Office — For business owners who need office space, converting a garage into a home office can save a great deal of operating expense. If more space is needed, consider adding a second level or expanding the garage. If your garage is attached to your home, install an exterior entry door on it so your customers can enter your office directly, without having to walk through your home.
  • Multi-functional Space — For maximal return on your investment, add a sofa bed or Murphy bed in your office to accommodate guests, or create a small rental income unit above or below the office space.

The well thought out kitchen layout of 1006 Daphne Ct. makes the most of space through the large island that allows for plentiful counter space and a seating area for eat-in dinning.

Garage Apartment Design Plans

Possibilities for unique garage conversions are virtually limitless. Small spaces naturally lend themselves to design efficiency and simplicity. The vast array of options for exciting, practical, stunning, innovative miniature interior designs inspire many homeowners to apply some of today’s most cutting-edge architectural and interior design trends. Before you draw up your plans, look at a number of floor plans to gather great ideas to incorporate into your own design.

  • Educate Yourself on Design Elements— Even if you already have a very specific concept in mind, unless you are a professional designer, we recommend that you view a number of garage plans to gather practical and creative structural and decorative ideas before you start designing.
  • Evaluate the Option to Build Upward— Space can be a problem, but relocating to a larger house may not be an option. In that case, adding an apartment above your garage, whether as a rental unit, guest space, or living space for an older child or parent, may be the ideal solution.
  • Design Consistency— In order to avoid negatively impacting your own and your neighbors’ property values, your garage addition must fit with the scale and style of your main house
  • Style— The architectural design must make sense stylistically in conjunction with the main house. The addition must not overpower it
  • Scale— Scale down plans for an upper floor as necessary to maintain proportionality with your home’s height. Also use a similar roof line
  • Consistency— Exterior paint, doors, windows, shingles, shutters, walkways, driveways, and landscaping elements should all complement the general aesthetics of the main house.

Legal Considerations

An additional living space that is separate from your home can be an exceptionally beneficial improvement to a residential property, offering many opportunities. Such structures have long been used as excellent guest houses, home offices, pool houses, and creative studios. However, before you proceed with plans to add an ADU, be sure to address all legal matters.

  • Zoning Restrictions— Local restrictions on property development vary, especially regarding water sourcing and proximity of sewage systems. Before you add a second dwelling on your property, check with your municipality to learn all city and county zoning laws that are relevant to your project. If adding a second dwelling is a concept new to your area, you may also need to check with your state’s department of natural resources about applicable state laws that your local authorities may not be aware of.
  • If you plan to build your garage apartment attached to your main home, you will, of course, be in closer proximity to guests or other occupants. On the other hand, you will probably encounter fewer zoning restrictions and pay less in additional real estate taxes. A separate building is likely to involve more zoning complexities and lead to higher property taxes.
  • HOA Covenants and Restrictions— If you live in a community with a homeowner association (HOA) in authority, be sure to confirm with the governing organization that garage apartments are permitted. Read the rules carefully, and be very clear on conditions regarding additions of separate structures on your building lot. If variances are required, be sure to get all terms in writing from a duly authorized representative of the HOA.
  • Building Permits— Adding an ADU to your property typically requires submitting construction plans, obtaining building permits, and adhering to building regulations in your area. This includes meeting all standards of relevant building codes applicable to water lines, sewage systems and connections to public systems, and fire safety.
  • Clearly Define Intended Use— Decide on a specific purpose for the space to be added. Having a clearly defined use in mind will help you approach all other considerations more efficiently, including legal and design matters.
  • If you plan to use the space for entertainment,you may need to include additional or special wiring, electrical outlets, and sound insulation.
  • If you plan to create a home office, you may need to add floor outlets at workstation locations and enhanced surge protection for the building, as well as increased security features.
  • If you plan to accommodate renters with disabilities, you will need to install ADA approved handicap accessfeatures, such as wider doorways and hallways, access ramps, handrails, and bathtub and toilet grab bars, among others.

Cost Considerations

Even for a small garage space, there are the cumulative costs, which can add up. Make sure that the investment will be cost effective before you move forward with construction plans.

  • Construction— On average, creating an ADU can range in cost from around $100 to $500 per square foot for remodeling or new construction, respectively.
  • Building Permits— These can add $15,000 to $25,000 to construction costs.
  • Long-Term Costs— Regular costs of ownership can include increased real estate taxes, home maintenance, utilities, and insurance.
  • Rental Costs— If you plan to rent the space, calculate the monthly rental income you anticipate, making sure to include the cost of vacancy and turnover costs. Then figure out how many months of rent collection would be necessary to recover your investment in constructing the unit.
  • Additional Utilities Costs— For whatever purpose you use the converted garage space, unless you have a renter paying for air conditioning, heating, electricity, water, garbage collection, and so on, your budget must support these additional monthly household expenses.
  • Configuration— A guest house may be designed as a small apartment attached to the home, as a small apartment above a garage, or as a separate structure from the main home or garage. A stand-alone guest house provides more space and privacy for everyone, but it may be more expensive to construct and maintain.

Careful consideration of how tenants will utilize a space should help guide the placement of windows, lighting, and other elements in a garage apartment. Better layouts definitely make for better quality living and a better investment! Image of the proposed interior of the garage apartment at 2019 E. 3rd St., Austin, TX 78702.

Features and Benefits

Your guests may never want to leave when they spend some time in your comfortable guest apartment. An approximately 19 x 36 foot space can include an open-concept living room and kitchen, bedroom, full bathroom, and a laundry and storage nook.

  • Special Accommodations — Your garage apartment can include a desk, hobby counter space for crafts, or accommodations for virtually any other indoor activities for which people need space and facilities.
  • Design Layouts— There are many beautiful designs with layouts that can give your garage apartment an airy, open feel while clearly defining all of the rooms.
  • Sound Insulation— Install adequate soundproofing material in the ceiling, walls, and doors for optimum privacy for your family and guests. This provides an ideal practice space for children aspiring to music careers (such as drummers and electric guitar players). Ensure that electrical systems provide necessary outlets and carrying capacity.
  • Stairs— For an apartment above your garage, exterior stairs are a space-saving and economical choice. Interior stairs require cutting through the garage ceiling, and they require connecting auto parking space to living space.
  • Such integration of interior spaces requires proper sealing to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the apartment space.
  • Interior stairways also consume precious floor space. For winter access, consider thick cedar stair treads that can withstand salt treatments or salt residue on boots and shoes.
  • Structural Stability— Before moving forward with construction of a second floor on your existing garage, consult with a structural engineer to ensure that the addition will be properly supported.
  • Cottage Entry— Splurge on great garage entry doors and hardware, if possible, to give your garage apartment a spectacular, unique aesthetic. You may even consider a high-end roll-up garage door for an ultra-modern, youthful design and a fun indoor/outdoor living option.
  • Floor Tile— On the one hand, a garage apartment is a small space, which makes it comparatively inexpensive to install higher-end flooring. On the other hand, if the space is to be used as a rental, for multiple guest occupants, or as a kids’ recreational space, foot traffic can be heavy. That means more frequent maintenance and replacement costs are likely. Choose flooring based on a budget that is most reasonable for the intended use of the space.
  • Hallways— When designing for countertop and door installations, wall decor, and furniture placements, keep in mind that hallways must be three feet wide. Building restrictions may also require this width or wider.
  • Interior Doors— Pocket doors, French doors, and narrow double doors can add flair while providing the most practical option for room separations. Keep horizontal lines consistent across door and window tops, transom line, and cabinet tops. Maintaining alignment of these linear features helps make the interior feel more spacious.
  • Storage— Add plenty of storage options, including bars and hooks for towels and robes in bathrooms as well as well-designed closet interiors for maximum efficiency. And include sufficient cabinet space in kitchen and laundry areas. Also, find space for additional storage for sports equipment and miscellaneous items. It’s worth sacrificing a bit of space elsewhere to avoid forcing the apartment occupant to keep such items exposed in living spaces or leaning against the exterior of the garage apartment.
  • Lighting— Few features can transform a space more than ideal lighting. Recessed lights, pendant lights, and three-way adjustable switches add the widest possible range of control over ambiance to enhance the cozy feeling of a great garage apartment.
  • Custom Features— While you may find almost everything you need to construct and furnish your garage apartment, you may consider adding a few customized features. Window treatments, bathroom sink, dining table, or other special aesthetic features can infuse the living space with its own unique style.
  • Attention to Detail— Add custom touches to your garage apartment. Also, using quality hardware for cabinets and interior doors as well as attractive kitchen and bathroom plumbing fixtures can make a big difference in the feeling of luxury in a small apartment, without adding much to the total cost of construction. Installing attractive exterior shutters, entry walkways, and shrubbery can also give apartment dwellers a warm, inviting sense of home.
  • Quality Budget— As with building any home, the recommended approach to investing in a garage apartment requires striking a balance. There are the needs to stay on budget and build the most enduring structure possible — and there are the desires to develop the most comfortable, feature-rich, and aesthetically satisfying home possible.
  • To balance your needs with your desires, you will have to make choices such as using stock cabinets to make room in the budget for a high-end backsplash, installing slightly less expensive flooring to allow room in the budget for marble countertops, or selecting an inexpensive model refrigerator with faux-steel front to allow purchase of a deluxe bathtub


A garage apartment was recently listed at the top of the Airbnb rankings, and some Yelp reviews and Reddit posts have also extolled the benefits of garage apartment options. Such indicators make it increasingly apparent that there has been no better time to create a garage apartment that can dazzle guests. Homeowners who may have missed out on the opportunity to generate rental income during earlier years of their home ownership can start at any point and quickly begin to realize a strong ROI in increased equity and monthly rental income.

With careful attention to construction requirements and design details, you can add a guest house or income suite that offers a lifestyle unequalled by typical guest accommodations or efficiency apartments.