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Building Basics

If you have decided to build a new garage, you already discovered you have a need for extra space whether it is additional parking, a workshop, loft storage or living quarters. This is the first step in the garage building process. However, there are many more steps on the road to completion, and it is important to familiarize yourself with the basic steps of new construction. Also, take some time to learn about the roles of the many professionals you’ll be working with along the way. Be aware that some steps in the construction of your new garage may overlap by a few days or a few weeks depending on the construction schedule and the contractors and subcontractors working on it.

You may want to begin by choosing a builder or general contractor for your construction project. Many will argue that there are huge benefits to hiring a building professional first as he or she will have valuable opinions and knowledge about all the other phases of construction such as choosing a garage plan, preparing the lot and hiring a residential designer or architect if required. The builder is the person who oversees the construction project from start to finish. You will have the most contact with this person throughout construction so it is necessary that you hire someone you are comfortable with, communicate well with and trust. This person is responsible for the construction of your new garage, so do your homework when it comes to hiring the builder. Ask for recommendations from family and friends who have recently built a home or garage, check references thoroughly, talk to references and visit jobsites where you can check out each builder’s work.

Now it is time to identify your needs. Envision how you and your family will use the garage space. It is important to identify your needs and how your garage will be used so you can choose a plan that will satisfy all your needs and desires. Consider these questions:

  • Do you need a garage strictly for parking? 
  • Do you plan to store lawn and garden equipment, the family bikes or a stroller?
  • Do you want a workshop?
  • Could you use over head storage or a loft to accommodate attic overflow?
  • Is there a need for extra living space?
  • Would you like to earn extra income by renting out an upper level apartment?
  • Could your family use a recreation or game room?
  • Do you want a home office that offers privacy?
  • Would a garage satisfy home-based business needs?
  • Do you need a place to organize and store mechanic’s tools?
  • Does this place offer the comforts of home? Will it be vacation home/secondary residence?
  • What other specific needs does your family have?

After you have considered and identified all your family’s needs, it is time to think about the space you have to work with. If you are building a garage apartment as a weekend getaway in the woods, chances are, you’ll have plenty of room to work with. But, if you are adding a garage or garage apartment to your residence things could be a little trickier. Be sure to identify property lines, easements and setbacks. This may require a survey. Review a site plan to make sure the new garage will fit on your lot properly without interfering with other buildings and features on the lot such as your existing home, septic system, electrical lines, a creek running through the property, etc. You will need to know how much usable area you have for building so you can choose a garage plan that fits on your lot, while accommodating your needs. Also, invite your builder to look at the lot and evaluate it. Ask for opinions regarding the appropriateness of the lot and any potential problems that might cause issues with construction or in the future.

Your next step is to choose a garage plan. When it comes to pre-drawn plans, there are hundreds of choices for garage plans in a wide range of sizes and styles. You will find everything from just the basics to the latest features and designs. If you need room for storage or a future home office, consider a garage plan with loft. Maybe you just need a space for the family vehicles and your motorcycle, a three-car garage plan might be just right. The garage plans on this site are separated into categories based on the number of bays they offer and their special features making it easy for you to find the right plan. Those with finished spaces are displayed in order of their finished square footage. There are many benefits to building with a pre-drawn stock plan. These garage plans are relatively inexpensive as opposed to a custom drawn blueprint. They have already been built proving their quality construction and design, and they can be modified to suit your specific needs.

Once you have selected a stock garage plan, it may be necessary to consult a local residential designer or architect. Your builder will know if this is necessary and will be able to suggest the right professional for you to work with. Pre-drawn plans are designed to be built as-is. However, if you want to make a few minor changes, the designer or architect will be able to help you. Also, many cities and counties require that the plans are brought up to local building codes and are officially approved (certified, stamped or sealed) before construction begins. This will require the expertise of an architect as well, one who is licensed in the state where you plan to build.

Construction cannot begin without adequate financing. If you plan to obtain a construction loan you’ll need to consult with a mortgage broker or lender. Be aware that the lending company may require a copy of the garage blueprints, building specifications and appropriate building permits before approving your construction loan. There are plenty of financing options available. It is necessary to investigate all possibilities before making your final selection for a lending company.

Now you are ready to start the actual construction of your garage. At this point, your builder’s role is very important. The builder will be responsible for every step of construction from now until the garage is complete. Acting as a general contractor, your builder will hire all of the subcontractors necessary to finish the construction project such as framers, plumbers, electricians and masons. The builder will oversee each subcontractor’s work and handle any problems that arise. It is advantageous for you to let the builder do all the hiring of the subcontractors. This person has experience with all the subcontractors and has a network of capable and trusted craftsman who are on time, work efficiently, cooperate with other workers on the jobsite and deliver desired results without mistakes or delays. You will protect yourself if you allow the builder to hire all the subcontractors. Should something go wrong during the building process or after your garage has been completed, your builder is responsible. It may seem logical to hire family members or friends who are skilled in a particular trade or construction related field (i.e. your uncle owns a carpentry business or your brother pours concrete) to help with the construction of your garage, ultimately saving you money in labor costs. However, if something goes wrong, it could be hard to pinpoint the blame, and ultimately you may be the one paying to fix the problem. Your builder will have other important tasks during construction such as ordering materials, applying for building permits and scheduling inspections with your building official.

The next step is to clear and grade the land. Your lot may need to be cleared of trees and underbrush or graded making it suitable for the foundation. Once the lot is cleared and graded the foundation can be poured or laid according to site conditions and your preferences.

Framing your garage is the next phase of construction. This means the skeleton of the garage is constructed. Generally, walls are built with 2x4 or 2x6 studs. Occasionally other methods are used such as concrete block or CMU. The framing phase also includes roof framing. There are two types of roof framing, conventional framing, which uses various sizes of lumber, or a truss roof system, which uses prefabricated trusses, the most efficient way to frame a roof.

Once the garage has been framed, it can be dried-in. This means all the exterior finishes are applied protecting the interior from the outdoor elements. Exterior finishes and trim such as vinyl siding, brick, stone and stucco are added, roof covering is applied and windows and doors are installed in this phase. Sometimes exterior finishes are easily interchangeable and can be switched to achieve a preferred look. For instance, vinyl siding can be replaced with wood siding according to the owner’s preference achieving a more rustic look. Just be sure to discuss any changes with the builder before construction begins. Also, remember that the geography and climate may dictate some of the finish materials. For instance, if you are building in a warmer climate such as Florida or Southern California, it may be necessary to use clay tile for your roof instead of asphalt shingles. Consult with your builder when choosing exterior finishes and trim.

After the exterior shell of the garage or garage apartment is complete, construction can begin inside. This phase includes the framing of interior walls that have not already been framed and the installation of rough-ins for plumbing, electrical, and heating and cooling (HVAC) when applicable. (The tradesmen will return to the jobsite at a later date to install finished fixtures such as switch plates, lighting fixtures, vent covers, faucets and towel bars.) Also during this phase wall and roof insulation are added and drywall is installed. When all of these items are properly completed, you can move on to the interior finish and trim where necessary, specifically in garage apartments and garages with finished areas such as an office.

Your new garage, particularly a garage apartment or carriage house, will come to life with this phase of construction. This is when you will add character and personality to your new living space. This phase includes wallpaper, paint, carpet, flooring, trim, cabinets, appliance, fixtures and more! Make decisions about these items early on in the construction process so when it comes time to work on interior finish and trim, you’ll be ready. More importantly, once you’ve made decisions about the interior finish, stick with your choices rather than changing your mind. This wastes time and money. Plus, if you decide early on what light fixtures you’d like in the family room or the type of flooring you prefer in the kitchen, you’ll have plenty of time to watch for sales and deals at home improvement stores.

When construction is completely finished, your building official will give a final inspection of the garage making sure the structure complies with all the local building codes. The building official will deem the garage or garage apartment structurally sound and/or habitable.

The last step of the construction process is a final walk-through with the builder. At this time you and the builder will inspect and review the garage making a list of problems that need to be corrected, adjusted, fixed or completed. Take your time and note anything that doesn’t seem quite right. Are there leaky faucets? Do all the light switches and fixtures work? Are any cabinets scratched or dinged? Do the garage doors open and closet properly? This is your garage so speak up and ask questions. If there are any items that need to be corrected, ask the builder for a schedule of when you can expect the problems to be corrected or fixed.

Once the problems have been corrected, all you’ll have to do is enjoy your new garage!

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