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Garage of the future

Self-driving cars are quickly becoming dinner table discussions, especially when they end up in the news. And things are moving fast in the world of autonomous vehicles. From investments (which topped 80 billion last year!1), to tech developments, to safety incidents as these vehicles get started, there is a lot to watch. Depending on where you live in the country, autonomous vehicles may already be buzzing around your city as they are closely monitored by the companies developing them.2

There’s much to be said about the benefits that driverless cars can bring—convenience and cost, to name a few. If these vehicles are adopted, however, there’s another consequence that no one’s talking about. To me, it’s one of the more interesting changes that could take place.

When I’ve been hearing about driverless cars lately, I’ve been thinking to myself: What happens to our garages, if we use them for something other than the vehicles we drive?

 

How could vehicle ownership change?

 

Many thought leaders believe that the advance of self-driving cars may actually end car ownership.3 4 The thought is simple: if on-demand transportation is nearby, the need to own a vehicle diminishes greatly. In fact, vehicles today actually sit, unused, roughly 95% of the time. The prized vehicles we have worked hard to buy mostly sit idle waiting for us to drive them.5

Couple that with projected savings. A vehicle which sits in your garage depreciates, on average, $5,600 each year.6 Many families, like mine, have two cars (the average American family had 1.97 vehicles in 2016).7 Given that the average cost of room and board at colleges and universities was between $8,060 – $11,890 last year, suddenly these costs start to add up to real dollars that can go towards something meaningful.8

As a self-proclaimed ‘car guy,’ I still have dreams of pulling away from a red light in a supercar or classic muscle car. I have a hard time thinking of handing over the keys to a computer. As a TV fan, I related when even the most recent season of ‘The X-Files’ dealt with self-driving cars (Season 11, Ep. 7 ‘Rm9sbG93ZXJz’).9 In fact, several sci-fi writers have dealt with the theme of computers learning from us, and the notion that the responsibility to make sure our computers are ‘taught’ appropriately lies with us. With self-driving cars, this concept stands likely to become reality in the not-too-distant future.

 

Inside today’s garage

 

Take a look inside your garage. It’s likely that you use it for two main purposes: vehicle parking and the storage of household items. A typical two-car garage might contain about 400-600 square feet of space, whereas a three-car garage might contain 750-1,000 square feet. If your space is finished with drywall, it is probably not insulated from the exterior, nor is it generally heated or cooled.

Even if your garage is insulated, you’d need to heat and cool it for any real effect. And if you do so, it’s not the most energy-efficient play: that giant garage door opening and closing can cause most of your conditioned air to leave each time you open the door.

Why is that? Simply put, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that heat naturally flows from an object of higher temperature to an object of lower temperature. This leaves most garages cold in the winter and warm in the summer.

All in, the garage of today does not make a very hospitable place to live without many alterations. When you take driving vehicles out of the equation, today’s garage isn’t so functional in its current state after all.

 

The garage of tomorrow

 

With the advent of self-driving technology, “garage” may be a word that children born in 50 years may not even learn. Already, garages are becoming less necessary. Parking structures and lots in major cities are already being taking over by other types of development due to a boom in construction in these areas. Car-sharing services have already driven car ownership rates down significantly.

So what will today’s suburban homeowner do with their extinct garage and driveway? They could take those spaces back, either as green space or finished living space. Given that the space is already attached to the home, in many cases, it would need only a minor build-out. This makes the overall construction much cheaper than a new addition to the home. The possibilities are endless.

 

A space re-imagined

 

Hollywood comes home

With very few windows and good insulation, your additional space could make a wonderful media room. With garages as wide and open as they generally are, as well as some already having tiered floors, modifying your garage into a media room could be quite simple. In fact, that outlet in the ceiling for the garage door opener would be perfect for installing a projector.

 

Feel the burn

Have you been wanting to cancel that expensive gym membership? Adding a home gym is perhaps one of the easier conversions for your space. Much of the equipment used at a commercial gym would likely fit inside the space freed up by losing those spare tires (your car’s).

 

That garage startup

With their abundant open space, garages have served as start-up space for many successful companies—think Google, Amazon, Apple, HP, Microsoft, and Disney. If you no longer had to park a vehicle at your home, you could make your garage space more much comfortable and repurpose it into a real working space (with insulation, heating and air conditioning)—without feeling guilty about pushing your family’s vehicles into the driveway. Your new garage would be luxurious compared to what some of the founders of the above business had to work in—putting you in the right frame of mind for your next great idea.

 

Honor the classics

Classic cars, that is. If operator-driven vehicles are no longer the norm, you might convert your standard garage into a showplace for your classic car collection, complete with a replica gas station. Back to my love of sci-fi here—if the world’s computers ever get hacked, this would also mean you’d likely be one of the few people on the block that has access to a vehicle—assuming it’s still legal to drive them.

 

Culinary arts

Expand (or move) your kitchen and entertaining area into your garage. Imagine the added space allowing for an open-concept kitchen, or a dining table long enough to entertain guests. Your former garage doors could even open in the warmer months for that true indoor/outdoor feeling on your new patio (a.k.a. your former driveway).

 

Why stop there?

 

What a reclaimed space could become is really up to you. Here’s an interesting fact: the U.S. self-storage industry made over $32.7 billion in 2016.10 And while we may always need someplace to store our overflow of ‘stuff,’ we might not always need our garages in their current form. Reimagined living space may soon reign over that three-car garage—and seal the real estate deals of the future. So, what would you do with that reclaimed square footage?

Nick Sedlak is Vice President, Underwriting Operations at Berkley One (A Berkley Company).