Upper-Level Garage Renovation

Everything you need to know

Published on March 3rd, 2022

Upper-Level Garage Renovation featured image

Do you need a spot that is secluded from the rest of the household to work from home, study, or play a musical instrument? Or would you like the kids to have a secluded playroom? If your garage has a vaulted ceiling with adequate height for a second level, that can be a perfect solution. 

Compared to building an addition, renovating to create usable space on the upper level of a garage is quick, efficient, and affordable. Your bonus space is just waiting to be optimized.

First steps in a garage renovation

  • Building permits - Before you renovate, check with the zoning department of your municipal government for restrictions related to ceiling height, fire safety, external access, etc.
  • Plumbing - Running water is a luxury that you may not need for a room on the upper floor of your garage. However, if you need a sink or bathroom, contact a plumber for a written estimate.
  • Heating and cooling - It may be possible to extend your home’s HVAC system to the garage, but if that is not feasible, there are alternatives including baseboard heaters and a portable air conditioner. 

First Steps in a Renovation 

After reviewing local zoning regulations and your budget, you’ve decided to renovate, but where do you start? Begin with the big-ticket and structural elements. 

  • Windows, skylights, or light tunnels: Garages commonly feature tiny windows above the garage doors, but they are largely for decoration. Additional natural light will make the space feel brighter, larger, and more inviting. Depending on the layout, you could install a window, a skylight, or a light tunnel. Installing a dormer window on a pitched roof requires significant construction work, but it does provide extra headroom.
  • Electricity: Although your garage may already be wired for electricity, you will need the services of an electrician to upgrade the upper level by adding power outlets, boxes for light fixtures and possibly wiring for baseboard heaters and an air conditioning unit.   
  • Insulation: Garages typically have little or no insulation, so that is something you will need to add to the upper level. Since the space is relatively small, air quality is especially important. Insulation can release chemicals and fine particles that can reach the lungs. Consider healthier options: Aerogel has been used in space suits due to its very low thermal conductivity; sheep’s wool offers exceptional insulation and fire resistance; and cork is a natural, renewable, and biodegradable option.
  • Floor: The floor between the upper and lower levels should form a complete seal to prevent car exhaust from seeping up from the garage. Add insulation between the ceiling joists to mitigate temperature fluctuations. Once the insulation and joists are covered by a subfloor, you can finish the space with carpeting, vinyl, hardwood, etc. You may try to match a product used in the main house, or, if you prefer to save money, check out Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore or your local classified listings for inexpensive project overruns. 


You might decide to decorate as you did in your main house, or perhaps this secluded spot is an opportunity to have fun with a bold, new design or colour scheme. After all, you are likely dealing with a modest 300 square feet above a two-car garage.

If you are not sure where to start, begin with the function:  

  • If the renovation is intended as a kid’s playroom, consider a colourful, interlocking foam floor, and washable paint and/or chalkboard paint on the walls. 
  • If you are planning an office, choose a more sophisticated colour palette, as well as ergonomic office furniture and effective task lighting. 
  • An art studio or hobby room will require lots of natural and artificial lighting, a solid, washable floor, and open space to work. 

Make the most of every inch by adding built-in storage and maximizing any vertical space. Try a light tone on the walls and use artwork and accessories to add punches of colour. 

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