Do I need to get planning permission to convert my garage?
Q: We would like to convert our garage into a living space with an additional bedroom above - does this require planning permission?
A: In principle, a garage can be converted under exempted development, meaning that you do not require planning permission. However, there are a few questions regarding planning regulations that require exploring first:
- Has the house been extended previously? The total allowable area for an extension which may be considered exempted development is 40sqm (with certain conditions). A garage conversion can be included as part of this overall area, but if it increases the total new floor area to more than 40sqm, then planning permission will be required.
- Are there any planning conditions from previous planning applications that prohibit the undertaking of works normally considered exempted development?
- Are there any covenants attached to the property that prohibit exempted development? An architect or solicitor would be best-placed to advise on this issue.
- Is the property a protected structure? In this instance, no exemptions to development apply.
Every property is defined by a unique set of conditions and it is always worth seeking architectural advice to make sure you are in compliance with the exemption criteria. If you can clearly establish that none of the above issues is relevant, then you would, in principle, be allowed to proceed with a garage conversion without planning permission. However, it's worth noting that extending above a garage is not exempt from the regulations and planning permission would be required.
Most garages, by their nature, are narrow, have a floor level lower than that of the main house, and are un-insulated. The garage roof will most likely be solid concrete and at a lower level than the first floor. Many have electric/gas meters stored within - these will need to be moved if the space is to become a domestic room. Existing drainage routes should also be checked to ensure there are no primary access points located inside the garage; the last thing you want is a manhole in your new room!
A garage can be simply converted as a room but, if poorly designed, it will always feel like a garage conversion, underused and unsuitable for your needs. To avoid this, the following are a number of issues to consider in order to make the most of your garage conversion:
- For added comfort and space, think of lifting the roof level to provide a minimum ceiling height of 2.4m (8ft]) or higher if you can, but check the schedule of exempted development for maximum heights.
- Existing garage spaces are not, of course, built for living in, and it may be necessary to install new windows or rooflights to provide adequate natural light and ventilation.
- Look at upgrading the insulation to current building regulation standards. This will not just provide savings in the long-term but will, importantly, make the room easier to heat, keep the temperature constant with the existing house, and improve the use of the new space.
- Simple things like running the flooring across the room draws your eye across, making it feel wider.
- Large glass windows to the front can make it brighter and feel larger and, for privacy, you could place a hedge in front of the garage, creating a private courtyard.
If you're planning to extend over an existing garage, ensure your foundations are checked to see whether they can support a second floor or if it might be possible or necessary to reinforce the current structure.
Should you be planning to add the bedroom extension above at a later date, make sure that any garage conversion works include the preparations necessary for a future first-floor addition - this will be a more efficient and cost-effective strategy in the long run.
Finally, don't assume a garage conversion is your only option. It might be better to just leave the garage as a garage and extend elsewhere - you might get a much better and bigger room from a bit more of an investment. Arrange an initial consultation with a registered architect, it might open up all sorts of possibilities.
If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Find one on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.
- Gary Mongey is a registered architect and a director of Box Architecture; box.ie.