Should You Convert Your Garage or Tear It Down?

Rather than converting a garage into an ADU, sometimes it's better to demolish it and build a new unit in its place. Learn when and why in this blog post.

Last updated 
November 29, 2022
Should You Convert Your Garage or Tear It Down?

Should You Convert Your Garage or Tear It Down to Build Your ADU?

So, you’ve decided you want to build an accessory dwelling unit—an excellent investment that is sure to increase your property value and provide an opportunity for rental income. A garage conversion can be a great choice, particularly if you want to keep as much of your backyard as possible. But depending on the condition of the garage, it might make more sense to tear it down and build a new ADU in its place.

This blog post will help you understand when and why a teardown is the better option and answer some common questions about the process.

Why tear down and rebuild?

There are many benefits to garage conversions, the most obvious being the cost savings. Using a garage’s existing framing, slab, and foundation—among other features—can potentially save thousands of dollars during the construction process. It can also preserve valuable yard space, as garage conversion ADUs are generally exempt from setback and building spacing requirements to which new-build accessory units must adhere.

In some cases, however, the amount of work required to bring a garage up to code can outweigh the costs of a new build. When that’s the case, the better option is to demolish the garage and rebuild (perhaps in the same footprint).

Teardown warning signs

How can you tell if a garage teardown is the best choice for your project? There are many factors that indicate a need for demolition, including:

  • The age of the garage. If it was built before 1950, there’s likely no footing and a higher risk of termite and water damage, as well as other age-related issues.
  • Inadequate spacing of wood framing requires substantial repair, which can be costly.
  • A lack of concrete curb or a slab that isn’t higher than the adjacent grade can allow water intrusion. While a project might make it through construction and inspections without a curb, it could go on to have water intrusion issues in the future.
  • Similarly, insufficient concrete slab depth or a lack of perimeter footings is often a warning sign that a full perimeter foundation needs to be installed. This would suggest demolition is a more efficient approach.
  • Missing or nonexistent garage permit. A lack of permit complicates the ADU permitting process and could potentially result in denial of a conversion permit.

These are a few of the most common indications that a straightforward garage conversion might not be the most cost-effective choice. If you’re unsure about whether or not to demolish and rebuild, talk to an ADU expert to have your garage evaluated.

Garage teardown Q&A

Q: I’ve had other contractors give me a garage conversion estimate, but none of them mentioned tearing it down and rebuilding. Why not?

A: Many general contractors will give an estimate for a project before fully evaluating the conditions, making cost adjustments later on in the process. Without extensive experience with garage conversions, some contractors might miss early warning signs that a garage demolition is needed.

Otto performs a 75-point garage inspection during the first phase of every conversion project to thoroughly assess the structure’s condition. Because we only do ADUs, Otto can confidently and quickly evaluate which garages are good candidates for conversion and which would be better off demolished and rebuilt.

Q: If I tear down my garage, can I rebuild in the same footprint?

A: It depends on the jurisdiction, but most do allow a new unit to be rebuilt in the same footprint as an existing structure. This can be helpful, particularly if the garage is located closer to the property line than is otherwise allowed for new accessory dwelling units.

Q: Is solar required if I tear down and rebuild?

A: Maybe, as it depends on how the new unit is permitted. If it is permitted as a conversion, then solar is likely not required.

The City of Los Angeles allows a unit to be permitted as a conversion if it keeps 1 foot of wall from the existing structure. This classification as a conversion (rather than a new unit) means it doesn’t need solar and can keep the original structure’s footprint. Other jurisdictions may have different rules, so check with your city planning department or local ADU experts to understand the requirements in your area.

Q: Can I expand the footprint of my existing garage with a conversion or rebuild?

A: Yes, as long as the new portions meet the current zoning and setback standards.

Q: When will I know if my garage needs to be demolished?

A: An experienced ADU builder like Otto can usually make an assessment early in the process. Certain concealed conditions (like extensive footing repair) may only be discovered after exploratory demolition and can change the cost breakdown of repair vs rebuild.

Q: How much more expensive is a teardown vs a conversion?

A: It depends on the project. For some, a teardown might not be any more expensive than a conversion.


When it comes to deciding between converting a garage or demolishing it and rebuilding, there is no “right” answer. Each project is different, so you’ll need to weigh out your options and decide what is best for your situation.

Otto has extensive experience with garage conversions and as well as rebuilds, and our team has the skills to evaluate and advise based on your specific circumstances.

If you’re ready to start planning your garage conversion—or teardown—contact Otto for a free property evaluation.

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