How to Design a Garage Apartment

Updated February 21, 2017

An apartment built over an existing garage can provide space for guests or in-laws. Such an apartment can also provide rental income at some point in time. Constructing the apartment costs much less if all the roofing and walls are already in place. There are many designs for garage apartments in home-planning books and on various websites. Design the space to essentially function as a small house so that anyone staying in the apartment will have all the comforts of home.

Review all aspects of the garage for safety. Inspect the flooring, wiring and stairs leading up to where the apartment will be constructed. Correct any problems before you invest in launching renovation or construction of the apartment. Sketch a floor plan for the apartment and transfer it to graph paper. Talk with a builder about any special issues that might arise. Don't forget to obtain a building permit and review local building codes as well.

Look at the roof areas of the garage apartment to see if repairs are needed. Inspect exterior walls and windows. Engage an electrician to go over wiring needs and special concerns, if any. Discuss the heating and cooling options for the space as well. Call in a heat pump specialist to review how the space could be constructed to accommodate vents and duct work, if you plan to use a heat pump.

Design the interior space of the apartment to include an open living area with a kitchen at one side. Include a bedroom and bath. Plan to build a wall unit to hold books, a TV and all media equipment so clutter remains under control. Include at least one large window in the plan to add light. Add insulation in all spaces to keep down heating and cooling costs. Cover any exposed framework in the walls with drywall or bead board panelling.

Construct stairs leading out of the apartment on the exterior of the garage, not leading into the actual garage interior if possible. Design the stairs to be at least 42 inches wide to accommodate moving furniture up and down. Build the walkout door of the apartment to include deadbolt locks for safety. Plan to purchase a steel walkout door to add security.

Paint all of the interior of the apartment in a neutral colour, such as white or beige, to make the apartment look bigger. Use cutting-edge building materials in small places. Install glass bricks as a room divider, for example. Buy a few granite tiles to place on a kitchen counter. Plan to install hardwood on just part of the floor, if the remodelling budget is limited, and carpet on the rest. Use high-quality mouldings around the ceiling area only to keep costs down.


Don't use oversized furniture in a garage apartment. Purchase sleek furnishings that won't take up a lot of room. Add mirror tiles along a wall to reflect more light and open up the space. Buy drapes that can be pushed back from windows during the day to give more light.


Place the stairs coming out of the garage apartment in view of the house's living area. For safety reasons, never install steps on the far side of the garage. Include motion detector lighting to discourage unwelcome visitors at night. Building a garage apartment can cause a garage to collapse. Review weight limits on types of garage construction. For example, go over how garage joists are built and consult with experts before you add weight to any garage attic area.

Things You'll Need

  • Sketch pad
  • Graph paper
  • Building consultant
  • Copy of local building codes
  • Inspection of garage
  • Heat pump specialist
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About the Author

Judi Light Hopson is a national columnist for McClatchy Newspapers. She is founder of Hopson Global Education and Training and co-author of the college textbook, Burnout to Balance: EMS Stress. She holds a degree in psychology from East Tennessee State University, and has been a professional writer for 25 years.