Can You Convert Your Garage into an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

Lately, you’ve been eyeing your garage, thinking it would make a fabulous accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Still, you wonder if a garage conversion ADU is legal in California. The answer is yes. Below, the pros from Forever Builders, the full house and kitchen remodelers San Diego homeowners trust for exceptional craftsmanship and outstanding service, provide the latest information on California housing laws for garage conversion ADUs.

Evolution of ADU Legislation

In January 2017, California legalized ADUs for single-family homes meeting the local zoning and building codes. Three years later, California expanded its ADU regulations to permit ADUs on multifamily lots. Then, in January 2023, new ADU laws came into effect. Below are the highlights of this legislation and its implications for your garage conversion.

Building & Demolition Permits

All agencies involved in granting permits have 60 days to issue them. Previously, only local planning departments were required to adhere to this time frame. Before 2023, if you had unpermitted work on your property, you had to fix any shortcomings before building an ADU. Now, unpermitted work is fine unless it poses a safety or health risk. Moreover, when you erect an ADU, you don’t have to install fire sprinklers in your home.

If you want to replace your garage with a new one, you’ll get the ADU and demolition permits simultaneously. Previously, cities could deny demolition permits.

Structural Guidelines

Thanks to the new ADU bills, many prior building restrictions no longer apply. Here are the current structural specifications.

A garage ADU can now be 16 feet high. If you have a two-story multifamily home, the ADU must be at least 18 feet tall. Thus, your garage ADU can be two stories as well. With an attached garage, the ADU can be 25 feet high, provided it meets the local zoning code.

The size of an ADU can range between 150 and 1,200 square feet, and it should have a wood frame. Otherwise, the architecture should match your home’s roof pitch, windows, and paint color. Additionally, the unit must have a separate entrance, living space, kitchen, and bathroom. If your structure is within half a mile of a public transit station, you’re exempt from providing on-site parking.

Building Code Considerations

A garage conversion ADU must meet local building standards regarding its:

  • Foundation, roof, and walls
  • Doors and windows
  • Insulation, on par with the CA Title 24 energy code
  • Utilities, including sewage, water, and electricity
  • HVAC system

Often, homeowners must alter a garage’s foundation, usually by underpinning or replacing the existing slab. Or they may need to add a moisture barrier between the floor and the slab. If you have an attached garage, you’ll want a sound barrier between your home and the ADU. Regarding an HVAC system, many homeowners choose a mini-split design with a separate ductless heat pump.

Timeline for Conversion

The time it takes to complete a garage conversion ADU depends on your design. For a modest, simple unit, planning and permit acquisition can take eight weeks. Then figure on eight more weeks for the construction phase. If you envision a large ADU, estimate three months for the planning and permitting stages. The construction can span six months. From start to finish, a garage conversion ADU can take up to nine months.

Uses for Your ADU

ADUs have many versatile uses. Most likely, you already have a specific purpose in mind for your garage conversion. Still, there are numerous options, such as:

  • Apartment for a local college student
  • First apartment for an adult son or daughter
  • Home office
  • Art or yoga studio
  • Housing for an extended family member
  • Space for a senior parent to age in place
  • Apartment for an older couple downsizing from a home

Since an ADU is highly adaptable, it goes by many names. Some common ones are garden cottage, granny flat, accessory apartment, and in-law unit. Still, it’s best to use the term “accessory dwelling unit” with planners, inspectors, government agencies, and contractors. This way, the intended purpose of your garage conversion is clear to all parties involved.

Whatever your reason for converting your garage into an ADU, it will boost your home’s value. According to Porch Research, urban homes with ADUs sell for as much as 35 percent more than those without them.

When you’re ready to add an ADU to your home, make sure to hire the best contractors in the business. The team from Forever Builders are the experts in home renovation San Diego homeowners can trust to provide the most affordable home remodeling services and ensure their visions become reality. From design to completion, we’ll help you create the home you’ve always wanted, meeting all your expectations while keeping your costs within budget. To find out more about our outstanding remodeling services, give one of our friendly team members a call today at (833) 243-5624.

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