Suburban garage at the end of a driveway, ready to become an ADU.

Case Study: Malvern Garage Conversion

Your garage might be holding more than just old tools and cars—it could be holding potential. With the growing pressure for more living space, converting underused garages into Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can be the perfect way to get the most out of your space and not be forced to move. Sound challenging? With the right guidelines and a touch of creativity, anything's possible. Join me in this month's journey as we delve into the ins and outs of ADU conversion in Malvern.

Within Malvern, the only option for ADUs is to convert existing space. Regulations prohibit changing the overall footprint of the property, or even modifying the exterior of any structures, beyond safety requirements. That still leaves a lot of possibilities, however, so strap in for a more comprehensive investigation than my prior ADU articles.

So, Just What is an ADU?
The How To's of ADUs

Let’s set the context for this case study. Even when we limit ourselves to a conversion in Malvern, we still have several notable options. We could investigate the process to convert an existing auxiliary structure, or a section of the primary structure, or even an entire story of a structure. To keep things relatively contained, we’ll look at the process to convert an existing garage into an ADU.

The use of the ADU is important in this process, too. Many municipalities have specific uses in mind for allowable ADUs, so let’s add some clarity to our example. We’re converting the garage into an ADU so a health care provider can be on-site for the health needs of one of the family members in the primary dwelling.

Let’s begin.

The Overview

When diving into a big project like this, I like to know the full scope of the task before we get going. In the case of this article, that means clearly identifying all the regulations specifically pertinent to ADUs in Malvern. In this case, I already know that the regulations are linked directly on the Chester County Planning Commission’s website. I’ve already stated the importance of finding the right lawyer for your situation, but it bears repeating that I am not a lawyer and am not providing legal services.

Looking at Section 220-2401(A.)(11) of the Malvern Borough Zoning Ordinance, we can see there are 9 major criteria specific to ADUs:

  1. The ADU must be affiliated with single family detached dwellings.
  2. The ADU must remain secondary to the primary dwelling, no more than 35% of the total floor area of the principal dwelling.
  3. Limit to one ADU per lot.
  4. ADUs can only be conversions with limited alteration to the exterior of any buildings.
  5. Any alterations to the exterior of subject structures must be on their side or back.
  6. Allowable alterations include safety features.
  7. One additional off-street parking space is required.
  8. The owner shall occupy either the ADU or the primary dwelling.
  9. All other zoning ordinances and restrictions apply.

When we take all of this and apply it to our example, things become a little easier. We can check several requirements off the list based on the situation: 1, 2, 3, and 8 are already met. So, let’s focus on the remaining requirements and outline a plan.

The Process

Before filing the first bit of paperwork, there’s plenty to accomplish. This is again where having the right team of professionals on your side makes the process smoother. Even in areas where there are clear guidelines for obtaining an ADU, zoning ordinances in general mean there will be a bureaucratic process to navigate. These requirements are mostly so officials can cover their buts.

To get through the red tape, we’ll need to have sufficient supporting collateral. This is everything from the required paperwork to architectural plans to demonstrations of sewage and parking capacity for the additional tenant. For our example, we’ll need to pay special attention to street-facing modifications to the exterior of the garage and proof of parking availability.

Architectural plans will need to be drawn up, both for the borough and for the contractors doing the construction. Even though there are only nine major considerations on the books for ADUs, one of those regulations is to comply with all other zoning regulations. Navigating the dense world of zoning regulations is another reason the right professionals go a long way.

Once all the supporting evidence is gathered and the right team of professionals is on your side, it’s time to file applications. For our investigation, we’ll assume our preparations were enough and the ADU is approved. After all, we did the right preparation with the right professionals.

Now that everything is in place, with all “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, construction can begin. This is where the skills of a general contractor come in. Throughout this part of the project, it’s important to ensure the plans are followed as designed and to keep construction moving.

Throughout the build, it’s likely that inspectors will come around to see how progress is coming along. When construction is complete, there will be another round of inspections. When it comes to it, simply passing inspection is less important than having the features checked for installed properly. It’s up to the general contractor to ensure all the municipality’s standards are completed the right way.

Now that the process is complete, from gathering supporting documentation all the way through applications, building, and final Use and Occupancy approval, we’re ready to enjoy the new accessory dwelling unit. The health care provider can move in, and we can continue living where we want to live.


From garages filled with forgotten tools to vibrant living spaces, the transformation is nothing short of remarkable. It's evident that as our living situations evolve, so too must our living spaces. Utilizing ADUs is more than just a trend—it's a testament to our ability to adapt and make the most of what we have.

I hope you've found this case study enlightening, and as always, I'm here to guide and share. With this Malvern case study under our belts, I'm excited for our next ADU adventure. Thanks for joining me on this exploration, and here's to the many more to come!

Case Study: Malvern Garage Conversion

Work With Jon

His extensive knowledge of Chester County and broad experience in real estate is an invaluable advantage to his clients. Representing and consulting with clients either buying or selling new or resale homes, residential investment properties, building lots, and raw ground, he is dedicated to accomplishing his clients’ goals ahead of all others.