Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are Stairs in the Garage a Good Idea?

The time to address stairs in the garage is during the design phase.

Adding livable space, or a bonus room, above the garage is an excellent way to add space to meet the needs of modern living lifestyles while keeping the vintage look of the old house. Adding stairs from the garage to the bonus room should be carefully considered while you are in the process of drawing your floor plans.

Adding stairs in a garage may seem like it is an easy "add on". Just be aware that adding stairs may change the size of your garage floor space and whatever square footage you add to the garage floor space will be added to the bonus room above.  This impacts your cost per square foot of construction costs and architect fees. 

How we would access the bonus room on a daily basis caused me to stop and think. 

Adding the stairs was not brought to my attention by the architect or contractor, probably because I was constantly saying, "don't design renovation changes we can't afford".  Sound familiar?

You owe it to yourself to consider the pros and cons of this option.  Remember, you can't add the stairs later.  Why?  You will be using 4' of width in the garage for the stairs, not including the space for "the turn landing" and approach steps as shown in the photo.  This means you need to adjust your garage parking space so you have enough room not only to park cars, but to fully open the car doors and have walk space between cars!

Imagine yourself driving into the garage.

Think about how you will use the bonus room, you know, every day living for you and your family.
  • Bedrooms for yourself or kids?
  • Separate living quarters creating privacy for a mother-in-law, care taker, live in help?
  • Do you have a large family or lots of guests who "vacation" with you?
  • Do you work at home and need office space?
  • Will you  have clients come to this area?
  • Will you hire office help?
  • Will this be a recreation area for the family?   

Stairs and much more! 

The photo above shows how garage stairs can be added to access the bonus room above the garage. The stairs should be 4' wide at a minimum.  Looking at the photo above, be creative and make every inch of space usable.  As an example, the area to the left at the base of the stairs could be used for a garage refrigerator, open shelves (always needed in a garage), coat hooks and a boot seat, or an enclosed built-in closet.  There is plenty of room to build a coat closet underneath the stairs and the remaining 4' width could be a breezeway, with access to the backyard.  There are lots of possibilities depending on where your stairs are located.

Now is your chance to add closets, storage and perhaps a breezeway.  Old homes, and especially old farmhouses, were not built with the closet space needed for today's lifestyles. You are paying for square footage so use every inch of space for something useful. 

Pros and cons to consider when building stairs in the garage

Pro:  Add another exist from a the second story addresses fire safety issues.

Pro:  Using the garage stairs directly up to the bonus room saves wear and tear on carpeted stairs in the main house.

Pro:  You can enter the bonus room from the garage without disturbing the rest of the house.  Privacy for office visitors or care taker quarters is a benefit to everyone.

Pro:  Moving furniture to the bonus room or to the 2nd floor is easier using the 4' garage stairs instead of the narrower house stairs.

Pro: The 4' stair width permits space to add storage, shelving, closets or a breezeway.

Con: It "eats up" a minimum of a 4' wide area of your garage floor space.

Con:  There may not be a good place to add garage stairs. 

Con:  You may not have a wide enough space on your lot to add 4' to your garage.

Realistic budget checklist

for adding stairs in the garage

 If you and the architect find a space to add stairs in the garage and you have space on your lot to increase your garage space, then the question is "how much will it cost"?  Here are the categories that are impacted by your decision. 
  • Labor
  • Hand rail (required by code)
  • Door (insulated door?)
  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • HVAC duct work
  • Electric (don't forget an outlet so you can vacuum)
  • Electric fixtures, light switches
  • Trim
  • Hardware for door and railing
  • Painting and staining
  • Stair covering
Extras in Garage
  • Labor
  • Shelving and or boot seat with hinged seat for storage
  • Built-in closets: doors, hardware, painting/staining, poles, shelves, and supports
  • Electric for garage refrigerator, light in closet, etc.

Extra for Breezeway
  • Labor
  • Door from garage to breezeway (insulated door?)
  • Door(s) for new closet under stairway
  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • HVAC duct work
  • Electric (don't forget an outlet for vacuum or table lamp)Electric fixtures including light in closet, light switches
  • Trim
  • Hardware for door
  • Painting and staining
  • Floor covering



My Tip of the Day:  Recessed Stair Lights

Add recessed stair lights. I am SO VERY GLAD I added them to every stairway.  I love them and so do my guests.  The light fixtures are inexpensive and you can buy 15 or 25 watt florescent (non-heat) bulbs that last a long time.  They illuminate the stairs at night without leaving on bright lights. I love them!
Recessed stairway lights



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