Dear PoP – Backyard Question


“Garage vs. Outdoor Space

Dear PoP:

I have a question for your fellow readers. I am contemplating a serious renovation of the backyard. Currently, there is a giant, steep driveway that leads into a garage under the house. The lot is not very long so the driveway essentially takes up most of the yard space. And, since, it is so steep I have not even attempted to park my car in the narrow garage. For my purposes, the garage is essentially useless. The space next to the driveway is basically what is used for the parking space.

I am trying to assess whether having the garage is more valuable for resale or if having at least a bit of a backyard with a parking space would be better.

I have had a couple of suggestions. 1) Make a parallel parking space across the back (the lot is pretty wide 23-24 feet. 2) Don’t completely fill in the driveway but instead make the garage door into french doors and have a walkout basement that would bring in light.

I have attached pics (they don’t quite show the width of the space) for your readers to get a better understanding of the situation.

Any ideas, thoughts, comments, suggestions are welcomed!”

Folks had lots of good suggestions for this couple. What do you guys think about this situation? Personally, I think I’d rather have a bit more of a backyard.


14 Comment

  • We’ve actually been considering something like this for our house, since we have a similarly steep, useless driveway and garage. Our lot also isn’t deep enough to park straight in, and stairs down from the kitchen and down into the basement on opposite sides of the lot prevent parallel parking.

    The plan is to rebuild the basement wall up to alley/ground level and have the largest windows we can in the remaining space. What’s now the garage would eventually become a 4th bedroom. We planned to build a deck over the newly filled-in space so we can actually use the outdoor space. Having a deck seems preferable to having usable space at ground level, as we’d probably want to fence that in. The neighbors’ fenced in, small, alley-level rear yards seem a little claustrophobic.

    Street parking is rarely a problem on our street, though, so offstreet parking isn’t a big deal for us. I have no idea how resale really would be affected, but I think a garage is a waste of space if you can’t actually park a car in it.

  • I think having a walkout basement is a good idea. You could even rent it and have a steady cash flow right away without waiting until you sell the house to realize the added value.

  • I would propose using the driveway for parking, b/c with practice you’ll get used to the dimensions. My driveway used to feel very tricky, but with repitition it becomes second nature.

    But, I would add a deck. It could be over the driveway, or next to the flat space.

    One inexpensive improvement is to add a full glass back door upstairs. That made a huge improvement in bringing light inside.

  • Thanks, all!

    @dreas.. Yeah, there is plenty of off street parking where we are so not a big deal for us but…. I know that parking spaces do add value so don’t want to get rid of it completely. My original plan was to fill in the driveway and use what we do now as a parking/slash patio space. However, I really like the idea of getting more light into the basement by not filling the hole in.

    @Thor.. yes a more longer term goal would be to possibly have an apartment but a lot of work is needed in the basement for that.

    @mphs. The space can definitely be used for parking. Our friend got his jeep in there but I really don’t foresee us putting a car in the garage so it seems like a huge waste of space. I like the idea of putting in a full glass door. The upstairs of the house gets tons of light because there are essentially no other houses directly behind us.

  • Go vertical! Convert the garage to a living space, maybe widen and/or re-slope the driveway so you’re comfortable using it for parking, then build a sweet city deck above it. Maybe with side panels for privacy, a roof with a skylight and or ceiling fan, then landscape what’s left of the yard so it’s nice to look at from the deck — a raised garden, maybe a water feature…

  • I like the idea of getting rid of the garage and driveway, then filling in dirt to ground level and using available space to install windows in the basement. Then you could add a deck in the backyard for entertaining. If the deck isn’t the full width of the house (maybe from the door to the right) you could keep it from blocking the light to basement windows (add on the left). You may have enough space to have parking for a single car (maybe parallel parking). Even if you don’t use it much, just being able to say there is off-street parking helps. I would build a deck to cover as much of the remaining area of the backyard as possible and include some large planters for a little greenery. I think this would end up getting use much more than a fenced-in tiny yard.

  • I would convert the garage into a bedroom: an extra bedroom is a huge value added (as the Real Estate Valuations guy would say), leave room to park a car, and turn the rest of the space into a nice parking space. Off-street parking adds a lot of value, but a garage doesn’t add much to that.

  • For a nice example of things you can do with the back yard of a rowhouse, visit the north corner of Holmead and Meridian. It’s elevated, over the garage, and is lovely. I covet it.

  • I’ll bet there’s an HGTV show that you could summit to – I’m sure I’ve seen one where they do backyards.

  • sell your spot? going rate is 30k, more if covered. block off any entrances to your house and build a deck above the garage.

  • Whatever you end up deciding to do in this situation, put at the top of your list of priorities to provide for proper and adequate


  • I keep hearing people talk about how easy street parking is in Petworth, as if it’s going to be that way forever. The more high rise apartments they build, the more houses get subdivided into condos, etc., if you plan on staying in that house for another 10 years, you might want to rethink changing your parking situation to street-only.

  • What I would do is do a Redfin search and/or talk to a real estate agent and see what their opinion is if you were to eliminate the garage as a viable parking spot. If losing the spot would devalue it by a $ignificant amount you may want to rethink this. But if you are going to do a rental then this could offset the loss from a garage.
    If you do go through then I would dig out the driveway and create a basement level terrace for the garage. Then put in some nice windows and french doors – this can be the beginning of a rental conversion.
    You could jazz up the patio by putting in two “terrace” planters to add some green/color and give the area a bit of privacy from the alley.
    For the parking pad/patio – dress it up so it can be used in the summer for BBQ’s and in the winter as a close in spot to park.
    Those are my two cents.

  • if the garage faces north you want to fill it in completely with earth, or at least insulate heavily that side of the house, including low-e multipane argon glass windows, etc. Keep the size and number of the windows & doors to a minimum.

    If it faces East or West you want lots of draperis and blinds on the windows to regulate the light. Extereior cannopies and operable external shutters are better than internal.

    The south side you want the maximum size windows, as many as possible, and draperis / blinds are less necessary. If you garage is facing south, I’d open up that area even ore and make the whole side insulated glass panels etc.

    Move the parking to a surface pad, although I’d get ride of it completely and build a nice big flower garden – find a landscape archatect – great landscaping can increase the value of your house as much as parking – and you can still park on the street.

    – LW

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