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How to Build a Garage: Save Thousands Building DIY Garage Vs Hiring a Contractor

Learning how to build a garage is not as daunting as one would expect, well, for detached structures at least. Homeowners who build their own garage can save thousands over hiring a builder who, in many cases, will subcontract to the same construction crews that you can hire. Or if feeling adventurous, or just downright thrifty, one can invite friends over for a few beers over the weekend and put them to work.

There are many items to consider while in the early planning stage such as:

Garage size: One car, two car, or even a three car garages can be designed with various sizes, but the lot and homeowner’s budget are generally the limiting factors. Local building codes vary, but typically a structure must not encroach within eight feet of property lines in rural areas and from zero to four feet in city limits. Detached garages must also be set back from other buildings by a minimum of eight feet, but this must be confirmed with local building offices as bodes vary. One important consideration is roof overhang. Eave and gable end overhangs are typically 12″ – 24″ (although less than 12″ is common in windy areas) and must be considered when determining building size and placement.

One method of determining the perfect size is to add 12′ to 15′ of width for each vehicle. If planning to use the interior walls on the sides for storage this will require another two feet of width per side. The length should be a minimum of 22′ and add four to ten feet for a work bench and storage. A two car garage could be calculated as 2 x 12′ +4′ for storage along each wall = 28′ x 22′ long without a work bench. Common sizes include:

1. One car: Common garage sizes include 12′ x 24′, 14′ x 24′, and 16′ x 24′. A length of twenty four feet is pretty much the minimum if you have a full size truck and even with a small or mid-size car there will be little wiggle room at twenty or twenty two feet.

2. Two car: The most common garage size in many states and provinces is 24′ x 24′ because many building codes required an engineered drawing and two inspections by a structural engineer for concrete floating slabs (monolithic) larger than this size. If space is scarce and the two cars are small to mid-size a 20′ wide may adequate, but certainly not comfortable.

3. Three car: There are many three car garage sizes due to more room for numerous designs and homeowners often have larger budgets when considering these larger construction projects. Common sizes are 36′ – 42′ wide by 26′ – 30′ long.

Foundation: floating slab (monolithic) and slab with frostwall are the two most common foundation options. The floating slab is less expensive and easier to build, but often require an engineered drawing and two inspections for larger concrete slabs (i.e. 24′ x 24′). In cold weather climates many contractors install 2.5″ foundation foam under the concrete to reduce heaving during freeze/thaw events. Engineered floating slabs in cold climates usually require this with an addition two feet extending out around the perimeter of the slab.

Adding 6′ x 6′ #10 wire mesh to the slab is an inexpensive method of increasing the floor strength and reducing cracking of the concrete. Most contractors install floating slabs with a thickened concrete perimeter 12″ – 16″ thick around the outer 16″ – 24″ of the perimeter. Adding two rows of #4 rebar will increase the edges. Concrete strength should be a minimum of 3,000psi and many contractors use 4,000 and 4,500 psi as the additional cost is minimal. Another consideration is ordering concrete with fibermesh, and macro-synthetic fiber used for secondary reinforcement of concrete. Local concrete suppliers can provide costs for adding this to concrete. Slab thickness is dependent on the concrete strength and reinforcement designs, however a good rule of thumb is to pour a 4″ or thicker slab.

Frostwall minimum depth is determined by local building codes and is typically 48″ in cold climates and 36″ in more moderate areas. Once the trench is excavated a footing approximately 12″ wide by 8″ thick is formed and poured and a keyway is etched the length of the footing to prevent movement of the concrete wall. The frostwall is formed and poured on the on the footing and anchor bolts are installed in the to attach the walls to the foundation. The concrete slab is then poured to designed thickness. Obviously this foundation system requires more time and expense.

Wall construction: If the garage is going to be insulated now or possibly any time in the future the wall studs size is important as 2″ x 6″ studs allow more insulation that can meet building code requirements (for garages with apartments) than 2″ x 4″ studs. Of course, 2″ x 6″ studs are stronger, which results in a more structurally sounds building.

Walls height: Walls are generally 8′, but 9′ and 10′ walls are common. In city downtown areas there is often a height restriction on structures, such as less than 16′ to the roof peak based on the average height from the four corners measuring at grade. This means that you can get a little extra height if the garage is nestled into a bank with a concrete curb or retaining wall on this end and backfilling to top of retaining wall. Another method to maximize height in these areas is to pour a 12″ concrete curb on the concrete slab perimeter and backfill earth up to the top of the curb and grade away from the structure. This method can gain 12″ of height while still meeting the height restrictions (confirm this will local building offices prior to implementing this strategy).

Garage door placement: The garage doors can be on the gable end or the eave side. A few things to consider:

1. Existing house design may dictate the direction of the roof line. A method to assist visualize this is to take a picture of the house and include the area where the garage will be built. Print two copies of the picture and hand draw in the garage using both the gable and eave options.

2. If the garage will be built in a cold climate the garage doors in the gable end is a better design as snow and ice will slide down the eave end.

3. Flexibility with the garage doors in the gable end allow height for a future car port.

Roof style: Often the roof style is dictated by the existing house, for example if the house has a hip roof this would be a good option for the garage. If this is a DIY project and the homeowner is building the garage it should be noted that a hip roof is more difficult to build than installing standard trusses. Roof pitch must be considered as well and often this should match the existing house. Roof pitch less than 4/12 (rises 4″ for every 12″ of run or length) is not recommended due to increased chance of water leaks. Higher pitch roofs with certain truss designs can allow for storage, loft, or even apartments above the main level. The most common roof trusses for garage roof design include:

1. Standard Fink: This is the most common residential truss.

2. Double fink: Designed to handle high weight loads for higher snow load requirements.

3. Attic: Common for designs that allow storage above the main floor. Access can be stairs or attic drop-down stairs and the option available may be dictated by local building codes.

4. Scissor: This options provides cathedral (vaulted) ceilings that provides more interior ceiling height. For example, a 24′ x 24′ garage with an 8/12 pitch may have a ceiling height of 12′ in the center and 8′ at the wall. This system is usually weighted against building with regular fink trusses and higher walls.

If this is a DIY garage project don’t forget to order two gable trusses for each gable end. Otherwise two regular trusses will require wood filling for attaching sheathing and siding (not too mention the building inspector may not pass the framing inspection. If insulating the ceiling consider ordering “raised heel” trusses to allow adequate insulation between the wall top plate and the roof sheathing. This is the only way to meet many attic insulation level requirements (i.e. R40).

Garage plans: Once decisions are made on the above items it is time to get the garage plans for the building permit application and the builder. It is important to obtain good quality garage plans that are easy to follow, accurate, and provide a materials list (well, a material list is not important, but it will certainly save a lot of time). There are several websites that offer garage plans create by dozens and hundreds of different company so consistency and quality control are something to keep in mind. There are a couple of companies that do their own in-house drafting and a search of the internet should find these companies. Another option is to hire a local draftsperson to create the garage plans.

Plot (plat) plan: The building compliance department will require a drawing showing (site plan) the lot with existing structures, proposed structure, and property lines with measurements indicating distances between property lines and structures. This can be a hand drawn diagram of a marked up copy of the plot/plat plan. The building department may require a survey to confirm accuracy of measurements for precise garage location requirements.

Building Permit: Make an appointment to meet with a building inspector to discuss the project and submit the garage plans, material list, and site plan to the building department. A building permit may be issued at this time or the building inspector will require a few days to a couple of weeks to review the documents.

Long-Distance Home Ownership – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When Paul J. Hesse, Major, USAF (Ret), found himself manhandling scores of garbage bags containing the remaining possessions of a former renter he’d evicted from Hesse’s family home, he began to rethink the decisions of the last few years.

It had seemed a good idea to keep the home just north of Cincinnati when Hesse received PCS orders for a base 1500 miles away. He’d had good tenants for two years, but then he hired a local real estate agent in 2002 to serve as property manager for new tenants.

Bad tenants, and a bad property manager who didn’t know how to evict them, resulted in the bad day for Hesse who thus found himself pitching the garbage bags, one by one, out his front door.

He’s returning this year to retire in that home. So what did this long-distance owner of property learn? “Both my successes and failures came down to whether or not I did my homework, whether I was managing it myself or having someone else do it,” Hesse concludes. “It’s not about managing property but about managing people.”

Not everyone plans to return to live in the house they leave behind after a PCS. At one time, Desley Sant Parker, Commander USN (Ret.) and husband Brance James Parker, Captain, USN (Ret.) owned a primary residence and three rentals. Selling one of their rentals, too small for the dream retirement home they wanted, provided them with the cash for a second vacation home/rental. “If you can only manage to have one rental,” says Desley Parker, a Florida-based Certified Success Coach, “keep one in the area you may want to retire to. Even if it is not the home you retire to, it will provide you a foot in the market.”

Unlike Hesse, the Parkers liked a hands-on experience that saved money and allowed “relationship building” with tenants and continued connection with the community.

Dollars and Sense

Do it yourself from afar (either hands-on or through a friend or family member) or hire out management? The typical 10% paid to a property manager would seem a simple calculation — until you factor in the requirement of some management companies of a minimum amount of capital to remain on deposit for unexpected repairs, bringing initial costs up even higher.

Philip Dyer calls those surprise factors, which also include unplanned vacancies and setting rental rates too low, the “alligators” that slowly eat a landlord one bite at a time. Major Russ Perkins, US Army IN, Active duty, who has owned several rentals, advocates “counting the cost” ahead of time and setting aside a minimum of six months’ mortgage payments to stave off such alligators.

But there’s money to be made on residential real estate. Philip Dyer, MOAA’s deputy director for financial education, points out: “Any loss – real or paper – taken on the property is an ‘above the line’ deduction on personal income taxes, which directly affects a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI). You can deduct mortgage interest, property taxes, repairs, management fees and two annual visits to the property for inspection from your gross rental receipts.”

Dyer and California-based David A. Shaw (who served in the USAF, Space Command, before becoming an a tax expert known as an Enrolled Agent, licensed by the federal government to represent taxpayers before the IRS) give the following military-specific pointers about long-distance home ownership:

Go with a plan. Shaw points out that it matters if a house is a primary residence or intended to be such for retirement, because a rental property will always be depreciated (allowed or allowable by the IRC, whether or not it’s taken.) “The loss created by the rental activity, including depreciation, is limited to $25,000 and is subject to a phase out when AGI is between $100 – $150,000,” says Shaw, who also cautions that not all repairs or improvements are fully deductible the year of the expense, and may be subject to state laws that may differ from federal ones.

State your state. “If the home is located in a state in which the officer has no income from other than the rents,” says Shaw, “he may still have to file an income tax return with the state the home is located in [resulting in] a tax liability in not only the state of his home of record, but the state in which the property is located as well.” Two state returns may be necessary for “snowbirds” who don’t rent out a second home, but use it as a residence part of the year. However, if it is treated as a second home or vacation home, says Shaw, “the interest on the mortgage and property taxes are deductible similar to a person’s primary residence.” Such a second home cannot be rented out for more than 14 days a year.

Plan for Tax Issues if you Sell: A primary residence you live in for two of the five years immediately preceding the sale qualifies for a $500,000 exemption on income taxes ($250,000 for single filers), says Dyer. However, you can move back into a rental property, re-convert it to a principal residence and sell it after the proper holding period (two out of the preceding five years from the close of escrow on the original sale.) Thus you can requalify the property for exemption, though you must pay depreciation recapture taxes at a flat 25% on properties if the depreciation is taken or allowed after May 6, 1997.

Repair or Improvement? “In the case of a rental, all ordinary and necessary expenses to maintain the home as a rental are deductible to offset the rent income,” says Shaw. “Do not confuse improvements as expenses as they are subject to depreciation and the rules that apply to depreciable assets.”

Passive or non-passive? “If a person manages the rental property themselves, they have normal income from a non-passive activity,” says Shaw. “Should they choose to have a management company handle matters for them, they take a passive role. Thus, they have passive income or loss. A non-passive activity will be allowed to be deducted…. but passive activities that create a loss are only used to offset passive income. “

Just rewards

Long distance home ownership can be a powerful tool for building wealth, given the ideal of low vacancy rates and maintenance costs. Albuquerque resident Senior Master Sergeant Shannon Roberts, USAF (Ret.), for instance, has successfully juggled rent properties through his career, with the only regret that he wishes he’d started earlier. Dyer says that some retired officers accumulate 6-8 properties during a typical military career and can gain considerable equity while letting someone else make the mortgage payments.

Property Abroad and Snowbird Issues

What if your rental is overseas? In terms of income, Shaw says there’s no significant difference because you’ll probably hire a property manager who’ll send you net proceeds that will be taxable.

Dyer says snowbirds–those who legitimately spend equal time in two domestic locations-can choose one location (usually the one with the best tax structure, such as Florida or Texas) as the domicile state to keep more earnings from pensions and Social Security. “By changing the domicile state to one with no state income tax, they can save significant amounts on state income taxes, since most part-year resident tax laws only applied to earned income, not retirement/pension plans,” says Dyer.

Shaw, however, offers a note of warning: “I have seen states try to go after snowbirds in an attempt to establish domicile. Theory is correct, but make sure you have a strong position that the nontaxable state. . .is your true domicile.”

Some snowbirds skirt the whole distance issue with recreational vehicles, which usually qualify as second residences. For instance, Arnold L. Payne (Technical Sergeant, USAF Ret. E-6), and wife Mary Ann “go anywhere we want,” says Mary Ann. Their long-distance home maintenance issues of their primary home in Lynnewood, Washington, are handled by their daughter, while their “vacation home” is located anywhere its wheels will take it, with a new picture-window view every day if they wish.

Advice You Can Use

Homework, homework: Investigate a property manager. Investigate prospective tenants. Don’t sign a contract you can’t understand with a property manager. And don’t issue a renter’s contract you can’t understand.

If possible, buy near a base where renters will be military. Points out Rob Harol, product manager for financial services at, you have recourse resources: “You get a little more peace of mind than the average landlord if they are renting to fellow military members.”

Don’t buy a “quaint” house. Buy a practical, three-bedroom, two-bath house that rents quickly and will sell quickly if you need it to.

Consider a home warranty company. For a small monthly fee (and sometimes a nominal trip charge) they’ll repair any appliance and/or system they’ve warranted.

Get over how it looks: Remember, you can always repaint or put in new carpet if and when you decide to live in it again.

Apartment Buildings – One of Real Estate’s Most Stable Investment Vehicles

With property values plummeting in areas such as Florida, more and more investors and turning their focus from single family housing to multifamily apartment buildings. In the past the main reason why investors choose apartment building is because they like the idea of having the tenants pay down the mortgage and pay the expenses of the property as they enjoy the benefits of real estate appreciation, and if purchased and financed correctly the owners can receive a monthly income similar to what most people make on a regular 9-5 job. Apartment building ownership is no longer suited for just the handy man type investor, as more management companies have become more competitive to handle the head aches associated with tenants for a fee of just 7 – 10 percent. Again it goes back to buying right, with the property financing and apartment ownership can be put on auto pilot.

Multifamily Investing allows for greater cash flow and minimizes risk as you have numerous tenants, when compared to investing in single family homes. This increase cash flow makes it possible to hire a management company and to cover other cost involved with owning a multifamily apartment building.

Even in today’s declining real estate markets such as Florida, multifamily apartment properties have proven to be one of real estates most stable investment vehicles. And as foreclosures continue to increase, people most find somewhere to live and although some may move back in with family, majority will turn to renting Apartments, which as a result will cause low vacancy rates for apartment building, I guess there is a silver lining in this sub prime mortgage meltdown after all. This will lead to a boom in the demand for rental multifamily apartment properties. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, when it comes to commercial properties, there as been a significant decline in the demand for loans on most commercial property types and minimal decline for apartment buildings.

With Multifamily apartment properties being a preferred property type for most government agencies such as Fannie Mae, makes financing readily available whether buying or refinancing an apartment building. Despite the recent credit turmoil, lenders are still offering 75 to 80 percent financing at attractive rates. As investors check out risk-tolerance levels and other issues involved in owning other commercial property types, multifamily apartment rental loan programs will more than likely prove to be more attractive.

Now if you are considering buying an apartment building, it is important to note what lenders are looking for from borrowers. They like borrowers that have established multifamily experience, managing tenants and usually at least a 680 credit score.

When it comes to the property, they like to see a debt service ratio of 1.20, which means that the property is able to cover the expenses on its own, without assistance from the borrower’s personal income. Also they don’t like properties that have a lot of deferred maintenance, delinquent rent payments and occupancy issues, as these are signs of poor management and as a result poor marketability of the property. This will raise concerns for the lender as now they will be concern with how the property will match up to competing apartment buildings in the rental market over the long haul.

Although there are lenders out there for the borrowers with lower scores or for a rehab type situation, you will find yourself in a short term and expensive loan with rates ranging from 12-18% and also a loan to value of 50-60%. These types of private loans are short term are mostly suited for the experienced investor that like to rehab and flip properties.