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  • Daniel Saloner

ADU FAQ's: San Diego Garage Conversions

When was the last time your garage space felt well used? Not long after you moved in? Whether it’s because of clutter or storage, most of us know we could be utilizing our garage more efficiently. This is why we want to help you think about how much value your garage space could offer -- both for your home and it’s value -- if you converted it into something more. Investing in real estate doesn’t have to be overwhelming or intimidating. It can be as simple as converting your garage into an “Accessory Dwelling Unit” (ADU) that is fully permitted as a residential unit.




Questions? We’ve got answers. Here are some critical starting points you might find useful:


How much will it cost?

Converting your garage into a fully permitted unit can be the cost effective way to build an ADU. You don’t have to worry about building a new structure or remembering where your sprinkler lines are buried when the electrician asks, because the structure is already there. On average, a garage conversion can cost anywhere between $75,000 - $130,000 depending on size, location, condition, and other factors. It may sound like a lot , and it is an investment to be taken seriously. But when you realize you’re adding significant square footage to your home and earning income from the ADU, you will start to realize the potential of this investment.


That sounds expensive. Why?

You might assume that because a structure is already there, converting to an ADU is as simple as adding a bathroom, bedroom, and calling it a day. Although the square footage of an ADU can be roughly half that of a single-family home, you are still paying for much of the same infrastructure: bath, kitchen, plumbing, heating. With an ADU, you’re purposefully foregoing much of the empty space like hallways, great rooms, living spaces, etc. that lower the price per square foot on a single-family home. In other words, investing in and ADU is almost exclusively investing in the more expensive infrastructure components of a home. In addition, costs associated with permitting and design should be considered and are normally fixed costs. Ultimately, while the development costs may exceed expectations, the return on investment for an ADU will also exceed your expectations.


Is there a difference between an attached and detached garage?

Yes and no.


If your garage is attached, you could turn it into a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU). JADU’s come with some limitations, including that the unit must be owner-occupied, and it also must be fewer than 500 square feet. However, one of the main advantages to a JADU is that you are also allowed to build a NEW detached ADU in your backyard, which means extra units generating more income and maximizing your property’s potential.


If your garage is detached, standard ADU regulations apply to your conversion. If you are converting the space and not adding any square footage, you can abide by your established setbacks. However, if you add more space to the existing structure, you have to abide to the current setbacks per zoning code.



Are there rules about how far my ADU needs to be from my property line?

There are. Standard side and rear setbacks are four feet between the property line and your new structure. However, with garage conversions those setback requirements are exempt so long as you are not adding any additional (new) square footage to the existing structure.


One of the main advantages of building an ADU is that you are able to encroach into certain setback regulations. Let’s take a deeper dive into certain circumstances regarding setbacks.

Conversions or Interior Alterations of Existing Structures

Whenever an existing structure is converted into an ADU, the ADU continues to observe the setbacks of the existing structure

Demolition and Reconstruction of Existing Structure

When a structure is demolished and an ADU is built, the ADU continues to observe the setbacks of the original structure. The reconstruction, however, must be at the same location and has to be the same dimensions as the original structure that was recently demolished

Addition of Floor Area to Existing Structures

When you add to an existing structure for an ADU, the ADU must observe the front and street-side setbacks of the zone. However, the ADU may encroach into the side and rear setbacks, including up to the property line.

Construction of New Detached Structures

When a new ADU is proposed, the ADU must observe the front and street-side setbacks of the zone. The ADU may encroach into the side and rear setbacks, including up to the property line.



Do I have to replace my parking spaces if I’ve converted my garage?

You do not. There are no replacement parking requirements when converting an existing garage into an ADU, which helps save additional costs to your budget.


Am I required to make upgrades to a brand-new garage to comply with building code?

When converting your garage into an ADU (or JADU), you will need to make modifications and upgrades to meet residential building code standards -- if you think back to your first question, this is part of where the cost of an ADU comes from. Those upgrades may include a moisture barrier between the slab and your new flooring, adding ceiling joists to support insulation and drywall, upgrading utilities, replacing windows and doors, etc. These upgrades are included in the overall cost of converting your garage and will never be presented as add-ons once a project is underway.


What about an ADU above my garage?

Building Buddy is more than happy to help with an above-garage ADU, but there’s a catch: above-garage ADU’s can cost significantly more than converting the space you already have. Think of new infrastructure, additional flooring, more substantial architectural and design work, and a new roof . That’s all before dealing with the fact that many of our garages were not designed to support a second story, which means investing in structural improvements. Assuming your existing garage is well-maintained, these types of improvements are not necessary to convert your existing garage space into an ADU.


Ready to learn more?


If you’re ready to use your garage well again, reach out to Building Buddy today to speak with an Accessory Dwelling Unit Specialist to learn more about how we can make a garage conversion work for you.