guest quarters over garage

guest quarters over garage

Some clients of the HOME ARCHITECTS ® wish to have an initial garage with living space above it before they get around to building their Main House.  This article explores this, from the perspective of a leading residential architectural firm.


guest quarters over garage
Guest Quarters Over Garage, (C) Copyright 2007-2013, Home Architect, PLLC, All RIghts Reserved Worldwide. This architectural firm often changes the massing of the garage wall to break up the fact that more than 2 vehicles are involved, and to keep things on a residential scale, along with increased roof interest and overhang at entry points.
Click image above to see more about Garage Architecture.


Some clients call this “establishing a beachhead.”  Owners sometimes request that a totally independent guest cottage be designed and constructed, at some particular distance from the proposed location of the intended Future Main House.  Others, realizing that they would like their investment in initial facilities to be well-spent and assist in defraying the cost of the Main Future House, instead prefer to have their Architect design a semi-detached garage with living quarters above it.  This allows the early capital investment to help provide facilities that might have been desired for the Future Main House: like the Garage and independent, private guest accommodations.


And what constitutes a “Guest?”  Does it have to be someone unrelated?  More often than not, the guests of the Owners are their kids with kids.  This changes over time, and as the children have children of their own.  And once in a while, the Owners may have friends from their church, club or business join them at their idyllic place in nature.


What is the purpose behind this long-range planning: first a preliminary “cottage”, then the Main House later?  The desire of the Owners often is: to have their land and special house become the center around which the entire clan gathers for special occasions, like major holidays, family events like birthdays and graduations and a place to heal in times of stress, or simply the family homestead in a beautiful spot.


Often this Family Homestead is to be designed and built on acreage of the Owners: 5, 10, 20, 50 or 100 or more acres.  People seem to like the idea of getting off on their own park-like setting, well buffered from society and neighbors.

guest quarters over garage
The gable end walls become important is guest quarters over a garage. That can be one of the main sources of daylight. Also, the garage should have human passage doors facilitating pedestrian traffic to utility areas without having to open an overhead garage door. (C) Copyright 2007-2013, Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Designed by Home Architects.  Note: while this particular house had logs as an exterior finish, this firm can design your project with stone, brick, lap siding, board and batten or whatever appeals to you.
Click image above to see information about family estate architect.


It may sound simple: an apartment over a garage.  Yet there are special issues regarding this that come into play.   For instance, the International Residential Code Table R302.6 requires that the garage be separated from all habitable living space above it with 5/8″ Type X gypsum board or equivalent.   Why?  So that if combustible materials stored within the garage and internal combustion engines firing up in the garage happen to cause a fire in the garage, the people above have some time to get out before the fire progresses to endanger them.  This is the sort of thing that your Architect will know about, assuming that they are experienced with designing residential projects.  Contrary to some popular opinion, the DESIGN OF A HOUSE IS ONE OF THE MOST DETAILED project types that an Architect can design.  There is more happening per square foot than any other project type.  Click here to see more about: Building Codes and Residential Design.

Rand Soellner, Senior Staff Architect with the HOME ARCHITECTS ® said: “I’ve designed Veteran’s Administration Hospital Intensive Care Units, Neonatal Intensive Care Units, Dining facilities, NASA optical laboratories, high schools, grade schools, water treatment plants, churches, State office buildings and more, and none of them is as complex as a residence. ”   The American Institute of Architects echoes this sentiment, as does the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and State governmental administrative agencies.  Why?  Take a look at the kitchen in your house.  Take a photo of it.  Now go into town and find a nice, high-rise office building.  Take the elevator up about 10 floors.  Walkout onto the floor.  Look around.  See anything with more happening in less space than that?  You probably see large, open office areas with dozens of cubicle furniture.  Furniture doesn’t count.  It’s mainly an large open space with very little happening.

The point is: it is not “just a garage with some living space.”  It is a complex combination of multiple story vehicular maneuvering, vehicular and chemical storage, mechanical space and equipment, water treatment, utility service entrances (often for water, sewage, gas, electrical power, phone, DSL and satellite TV), along with a house on the top of it, housing a kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, porches, stairways, storage, air-conditioning, heating and other facilities, each of which has particular needs and requirements to be safe, healthy, functional and durable for the long term.  Sometimes building codes specify the requirement, like the fire rated drywall above, but there are others as well, that the experience residential Architect knows is wise to provide.  For instance: large areas of glass orienting toward the “Big View.”  Quite often, this can be overlooked in the rush to get a preliminary facility like this designed and built.  It can take some special research, using 3D World contour visualization software to document the best view directions.

quest quarters over garage
Views can be blocked by existing trees and other vegetation. The Home Architects use virtual reality software on huge monitors to reveal the possibly grand views waiting beyond. (C) Copyright 2007-2013 Home Architects, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
Click on image above to see more about Site Selection & Site Planning process employed by this company.

Existing trees often block the best views, so discovering these views through software research can help optimize the best orientation, long before clearing begins.  And there are other detailed requirements: such as: it could easily overlooked in some attic spaces that you can Not expose the kraft paper vapor barrier backing of fiberglass insulation, even in structural and attic spaces: you do have to cover them, at least with gypsum board or other finish, to render the fire hazard minimized.  And there is more: such as: you really don’t want to specify recessed light fixtures in the garage ceiling.  Why: because the fumes (and smoke and potential fire) can breech those openings and gain access to the structure and floor above, threatening the life safety of the people above, not too mention the unhealthy effects of carbon monoxide coming from the incomplete combustion of vehicles entering the living quarters above.  Special precautions need to be taken to seal each and every drilled hole, crack and crevice between the garage and living space.  And how about the doors?  Not many people know that the door between the garage and living space must be either fire rated or at least a completely solid 1-3/8″ thick (with no allowances for recessed panels).  And such doors are supposed to have closing hardware on them, to keep the door shut and not accidentally left open.  But if such a door begin life as an exterior door, you will probably want that to be galvanized steel and insulated, to better resist the outside environment, rather than a standard interior wooden door, which can decompose and admit too much heat or cold from the outside world.  And you also would need to specify this door to be fire rated (likely at least 20 minutes), because it is not solid wood.  So: you have shifting future conditions impacting decisions made today.  Because the future house will likely have some interior space on what begins as a exterior garage human passage door.  See what we mean?  LOTS to think about.


And what about the appearance?  Many people want the mass to be perceived as a single story house, rather than as a commercial parking garage.  Which becomes interesting when the garage is to house 3-1/2 cars or more.  The Architect, in this case, must have artistic and technological capabilities that allow him or her to create a design that looks like a nice, one-story house, while in fact it is a 2-story house with a giant garage under it.


And what about the MASTER PLANNING for future living facilities?  You don’t just have happy accidents.  Your Architect can design likely future sizes of a future “Connector” or Breezeway and a Main Future House and show these on his or her Site Plan.  This allows for easy, gradual implementation of a phased, logical development as your expenditures and needs dictate.



And what about septic fields, septic repair areas, retention, water wells, powerline easements, property lines, vegetative buffer zones, driveways and other site impacts?  Where you think you have plenty of room may swiftly get eaten up when things the size of houses and vehicular maneuvering start getting placed on your land.  In one recent Living Quarter over Garage project designed by the Home Architects, the Master Planning revealed that only a 2′ margin for error existed between the Future Main House rear deck post and the existing septic field.  In site planning terms, that’s a near miss.  Good to have this knowledge now, before beginning construction.   And especially several years down the road: knowing that the Future Main House WILL fit, without disruption of existing improvement.


These are just some of the reasons why obtaining the services of a licensed Architect can help you properly plan for your own living quarters over a garage.





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