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Transforming an Old Garage Into a Tiny House (Part 1)

Tiny House Garage
Our “Tiny House Garage” before getting started

Tiny houses have recently become a huge grassroots movement focused on scaling back our cluttered lives and living more simply. Quality over quantity is the theme of the movement, and I’m a big proponent of that.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share an exciting project we’ve just finished here in Orlando. I’ll walk you through the whole process of turning an old garage into your very own tiny house.

We’ll talk about the nuts and bolts like framing, floors and siding, and I’ll also get into the finishing details, layout and space saving design tips.

There will be a little bit for everyone in these posts whether you are an avid DIY builder, historic home fan or interior design guru.

Tiny Houses

While I’ve been a big supporter of the tiny house movement, I have been unable to convince my wife that our growing family (we have a 2-month old son) should make the jump to a tiny house. We currently live in a 1300 SF 1929 bungalow so it’s not exactly a mansion, but the idea of living in less than 500 SF is still a bit frightening.

So, with the birth of our son, Charley, I decided that this would be the perfect time to build my own tiny house in our backyard. Not for my wife and me, but for all the family members who were planning to come visit and help us adapt to parenthood.

I had a head start on the project because we already had the original detached garage in the backyard.

The garage was in pretty rough shape though. It was full of wood rot and termite damage. It had a couple outdated plumbing lines run to it for a washing machine. The foundation was two different heights, one side was a little lean-to addition that was likely added in the 1960s and had a 2″ lower floor level than the original garage. But it had potential!

I was convinced that this wasted space that stored our junk was going to become my first tiny house project. And since I renovate old houses, I would do the work in the style of the old houses I love so much. Every piece would look like it was original to the 1920s.


ready to startTime, Materials and Goals

This project took about 1 year to complete since I had to work on it in my spare time, which is always pretty limited. Total working time was more in the 4-6 weeks time frame. And aside from a plumber and electrician, my wife and I did all the work along with some help from my father-in-law and a couple friends.

Our plan was to divide the 1960s addition into a full bath with a tiled shower stall and reclaimed vanity and a kitchenette with laundry to help make our tiny guest house completely self-sufficient. We then planned to turn what was the old garage portion into the bedroom/living room.

We budgeted $10,000 and other than framing and structural items we vowed to use as much reclaimed and salvaged materials as possible. We wanted this tiny guest house to look like it was original to the 1929 house it was a part of.


Getting Started

First thing we needed to do was strip the off the wall coverings inside and see what was going on with the framing. I knew that this garage had lots of water problems before the roof was redone. So, I figured we would find some wood rot and termite damage, but nothing prepared me for what we found.

The framing was completely destroyed by water and termites. Frighteningly, we were able to take most of it out with our bare hands (no hammers needed!)

My father-in-law came in for a week to help me handle the framing. He used to own a framing company years ago and is a whiz with a 2×4. His help made the project go much faster.

The first step was removing the old siding. We planned to reuse as much of it as possible to keep costs down. There was even old siding hiding under the drywall in the addition. People’s laziness can sometimes be a benefit!

Rough Framing

Once the siding was off, we put in temporary jacks to support the roof load while we removed and rebuilt the outside walls and set them in place. We didn’t do anything fancy for the framing. Southern yellow pine 2x4s spaced 16″ O.C. which is code here in Florida. And the addition of Simpson hurricane straps brought the new walls up to code

Our layout called for removing the existing window and adding two new smaller wooden double hung wood windows. One window would light the bathroom and the other would go over the kitchen sink. The exterior doors would remain, but the interior door would be moved and an additional pocket door added to access the kitchenette.

The load bearing walls went up without much of a problem the first day and then we moved on to laying out and framing the interior walls to divide the space into bathroom and kitchen/laundry room.

Before putting up the interior walls, we needed to bring the floor of the addition up to meet the floor level of the old garage. For that we laid pressure treated 2x4s flat on their faces and anchored them into cement slab then installed a 3/4″ Advantech T&G subfloor over top. (Tip: When installing subfloors I like to “glue & screw”. That is, I apply construction adhesive on the floor joists and then screw the subfloor down with 1 5/8″ screws. This creates an extremely stable subfloor and virtually eliminates creaks and nail pops.)

Here’s a few pics from the first few days of work getting the rough framing complete so that the garage didn’t fall down.

Next week I’ll be showing you how we added historic replica windows and salvaged cedar siding to get our tiny house garage dried-in. Just wait till you see the finished project…even I was blown away!


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7 thoughts on “Transforming an Old Garage Into a Tiny House (Part 1)

  1. Hi Scott,
    Big fan, you deserve an HGTV show! Working on it?
    I loved your garage conversion, and I am finally getting around to do the same to my detached garage here in Washington, DC. It’s a narrow 10×20 garage with no electricity or plumbing, so it’s going to be a challenge. I’m looking forward to it. My question; I have a 3″-4″ cement slab, and I am wondering if I should build up with treated 2x4s as floor joists, and insulate between to warm up before laying a plywood subfloor on top. This would raise the floor up 4+ inches, and
    I currently have an 8 1/2 ft. ceiling. Any suggestion?

    1. AJ, thanks for your kind words! From your lips to HGTV’s ears, right? 🙂 I would probably install PT 2×2 on their side and fit 1 1/2″ of rigid foam insulation in the bays. That way you get some insulation but don’t lose the valuable headroom.

      1. Thanks Scott.
        Last question, I promise 🙂
        how would you secure the 2x2s to the concrete slab?
        And would you use a 6mil vapor barrier on the slab prior to wood install? Or would that just trap moisture and ruin the rigid foam?

        1. AJ, either tapcons or a ramset to fasten the 2×2 to the slab. As for vapor barrier check your local codes. Here in Orlando I would skip the 6 mil plastic on the slab and put down 15 lbs felt over the subfloor to protect the finish floor.

  2. I kept seeing these posts on Facebook, but didn’t realize it was YOUR house your were working on! You’ve shown us that taking on a tiny house project can be fun (yes, I did say fun), and with a limited budget and an unlimited imagination, great things will happen! And the fact that you and your family are actually thinking of downsizing to a Tiny House after just having a son… well, that’s unheard of in today’s “bigger is better” world. You are an inspiration to us all, Scott. Don’t ever give up the dream!

  3. Wow, what a cool project! I’ve never really heard of living in tiny houses. I’ve heard of mother-in-law quarters, so maybe that’s kind of the same thing. And it is a great idea for visiting family. Can’t wait to see the finished project. And congrats to you and your wife on the birth of your son. It’s such an exciting time! My son is 3 and the years have just flown by! 🙂


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