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What's in your garage?

So you've done all you can with your house. The basement features a family room, the kitchen has a breakfast nook and even the kids' closets are organized. (Hey, you can dream!)

What happens now? If you're like many Canadians, you might be feeling the need for more space, or a better use of the space you have. The good news is there is one space in your home you may not have considered and it's a big one: the garage.

Garage renovation has shown early signs of moving up the charts as the next big household project. But before you call the contractor, here are a few factors to consider.

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Do you need a garage?
In most areas of the country, the answer is yes. Canadians are faced with variable weather conditions and unless you choose to live without a car, street parking can be an ongoing challenge.

But if the garage is rarely used, then converting the space into a legal secondary suite may be an option worth considering.

"I think it depends on the neighborhood," says Barrett F. Smith, a building contractor who has been working independently in Victoria, B.C., for the last decade. "(Garage-to-suite conversions) happen a lot in the older houses, where the garage is attached the basement. You add a door and a couple of windows -- it's not that hard to do. You're looking at spending $30,000 to $40,000."

While a garage-to-suite renovation doesn't come cheap, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC, recognizes that more Canadian families are including adult children and grandparents in their living arrangements. Partly in support of this trend and partly to meet a high demand for reasonable, accessible rental accommodation, the CMHC offers financial assistance to homeowners who create an accessible secondary suite for a person who lives below a certain income level.

If you qualify for this program, you can receive a forgivable loan ranging from $28,000 to $36,000 to put in a secondary suite depending on where you live. However, you need to meet the requirements of the CMHC and the zoning laws of your municipality. And in some cases, that can prove to be challenging.

For more information on support for secondary suites, visit the CMHC website.

Are you feeling squeezed?
Some people find their garage slowly turning into a depot for belongings that have nowhere else to go. Once the basement is renovated, extra storage becomes difficult to find and slowly the garage begins to fill up, sometimes to the point where it becomes difficult to squeeze even a car inside.

"About 80 per cent of the time the garage gets used for storage anyways. Most of the time I find garages end up just full of stuff," says Smith.

If you fall into this category, there is professional help available. Garage renovation companies will take your cluttered old garage, paint it, clean it, reseal or redo the floor and install enough storage to maximize the space.

"Storage and organization is a growing trend in both retail and installing services," says Aaron Cash, general manager of Garage Living, a garage redesign company based in Vaughan, Ont. "People want to make more efficient use of their space as well as increase their (home's) value."

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-- Posted August 09, 2010
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