Or How to turn the least used room in the home into something special for the kids.
As a dad, you know there’ll come a time when the kids outgrow their bedroom, and they’ll need more space to play. Lots of families find the living room taken over as a playroom by the little ones, and it becomes a minefield of toys. How many times have you stepped somewhere you shouldn’t and heard a crack underfoot and the squeal as your kid realises their favourite toy is no longer in one piece.
So, how do you solve the problem of giving your children a safe place to play where you can keep an eye on them, that can be a year-round place they can call their own? The answer for more and more families is to turn the garage into a playroom. Most modern homes are built with a garage, but it’s very rare to store a car inside, as they generally sit out on the driveway or the street outside. The garage has become what was once called the box room, a place to store all the detritus of living, out of sight and out of mind.
The underutilised space of a garage can be used for a lot of things. I know people who have turned into a guest bedroom, a hobby area, and a man cave, but if you’ve got small children, there’s nothing better than converting it into their very own playroom.
The Daunting Task
Let’s be clear from the beginning, garages are never designed as living spaces, and often don’t have the same insulation or services you find the rest of the home. That’s both a good point and bad. Bad because you’re going to have to install everything you need to make it habitable, and on the good side, it’s a blank slate so you can allow your creativity to run wild and create something your kids will enjoy for years to come.
Before you do anything, it’s best to declutter the garage and get rid of anything that’s been hanging around and not used. A yard sale or a trip to the local tip are two ways of getting rid of the accumulated junk. Once you have a clear space you can see what you’re dealing with.
Measure & Plan
Time to measure the space you have and start working out a plan for the playroom. You may have to consult an expert as local building regulations need to be adhered to if you are planning to rewire or plumb the space with say a washbasin. Unless you are a competent DIYer, it may be wise to bring in a qualified electrician and plumber to do any wiring or plumbing, particularly if you intend to provide extra heating and lighting. At this time, it’s probably a good idea to check the state of the concrete floor slab. Most garages have an untreated concrete base, and you’ll probably need to include some insulation, so plan for that as well.
Warm & Friendly
If there’s one place in the home that’s going to be cold in winter and hot in summer, it’s the garage. So turning it into a room will mean extra insulation and heating for the winter months, and ventilation and cooling for the summer. In the UK we don’t have much need for air conditioning during the summer, but in a lot of other places, it can be a necessity. The only other option during the warm summer months is to open the door to allow adequate ventilation. Talking about the garage door, modern roller garage doors meet new standards of insulation and are much less prone to gaps that can cause drafts, or allow heat to escape. If the garage has windows make sure they’re insulated with double glazing.
If the children are going to be playing in the space, it’s probably better not to have freestanding heaters. If you can’t add an extension to your central heating system consider wall-mounted electric radiant heaters. These heaters give off infra-red heat and can be relatively cool to the touch, so little fingers are less likely to be burned. At the same time, you’re likely to need to install electrical sockets for computers and chargers for all the powered toys kids love these days.
Many garages have unfinished walls, with just paint over brick or blockwork. A layer of drywall can improve the insulation of the room, and enhance the look of the walls. It can hide all manner of pipework, wiring, and awkward crannies away from spying eyes.
A concrete slab floor can be pretty cold at any time of the year, so it is worth considering raising the level to include a layer of insulation between that at the concrete base. A cheap way of covering is to use carpet tiles, which can be easily replaced if they get dirty or worn. A laminate floor is a bit more expensive and will give the room a more homely atmosphere. If you are thinking of putting in a climbing frame to the playroom, or anything the kids can climb on, there are some excellent shock-absorbent tiles you can get that fit together like jigsaw puzzles. These tiles can be used underneath the climbing frames or used as a soft floor throughout the play area. And don’t forget there are lots of cool mats you can buy that like those made to look like town maps for playing with toy cars, or airports for planes.
Walls & Ceiling
Because you intend this to be a play space, you too can play at creating a colour scheme that will spark your kid’s imagination. There are lots of mural wallpapers available, which can be anything from country landscapes to space stations, to fairy castles. If papering is not your thing, you can always use bold colours to brighten up the space, and then add stickers to the wall to give some attractive highlights. One playroom I know has a fantastic tree with an owl sticker that takes up almost one wall, and on another a pink flamingo is there to measure your kid’s height. A quick search online will show you what’s available.
Add the Fixtures
No matter what you say, the kids are going to spread their toys everywhere, its part of their nature. Even so, they need to have a place to store them, so cheap storage bins and shelving are a must. It makes cleaning up after them so much quicker. Shelving should be secured to the wall so that it can’t be brought down by accident. Everyone’s favourite blue and yellow store has a wide variety of storage solutions at affordable prices, with many specifically designed with children in mind. If you’re putting in a climbing frame ensure it to is securely bolted to the floor or walls so it cannot be moved by accident.
I’ve been assuming that you do not intend to remove the garage door and replace it with something else, as in most cases this will increase the cost dramatically. If you are going to keep your roller garage door, make sure the internal controls are disconnected, or at least out of the reach of the kids. Make sure any remotes are kept in a safe place well away from your children too.