Sep 15

Building a home office

This is one from my personal archives. It’s a project I did about nine years ago but it’s still relevant although the costs might be a little different today.

There comes a time for most folks when they out-grow the sapce that’s available to us. For my family and me, the time came when the kids needed some more personal space and the only way that could happen was for me to move out of the spare bedroom. However, the need for a home-office meant that I needed to come up with a Plan B.

I had a large shed that was underutilised. Sure, there was a place for the lawnmower, wheel barrow and a few tools but most of the space was cluttered with junk. The decision was made to build a new, smaller garden shed and convert the 6.5 by 3.5 metre shed into an office.

The construction

The first step in this project was to build the new shed so that anything that wasn’t going to be scrapped had a pace to go. Fortunately there was some space in the backyard for the new shed so  a new concrete slab was poured and a new shed erected. Then we moved what was to be kept and threw away the rest.

Next, the old shed had to be cleaned out and sealed against moisture. While some, minor water leakage is OK for a garden shed there’s no amount of leaking that’s acceptable for an office. Fortuantely, Mother Nature rendered assistance and provided some heavy rain so I was able to locate a small leak. As an extra preacution, I ran some silicone sealant around all the edges just to be sure.

In order to be able to plaster the internal walls the interior needed to be framed and the large, double doors on the front removed and a frame constructed. After a trip to the local timber-yard, I had enough framing timber. I borrowed  a drop saw and then cut the time to length. Fortunately, the shed’s frame had timber beams running along the length making it easy to attach vertical lengths of timber. A new front door was hung on the new frame that repalced the old doors. A new timber window, recovered from the demolition of an old house, added some natural light to my new workspace.

Having ensured that the main structure was ready, it was time to get into some serious planning. Having consulted with couple of electricians, I established the number and position of lights, powerpoints, a telephone connection TV antenna and how to get an Ethernet connection between the house and the new office.

A run through the classifieds in the local paper and a few quotes later and I engaged an electrician. The appropriate electrical cabling was run within the new office and back to the meter box. In addition, Cat6 data cabling was run from the house, where the Internet connection comes in, to the office.

Once the cabling was in place, the walls and roof were insulated with batts. I hired a plasterer, from the local paper, to clad the walls. A day later, that was done and I put the pre-painted skirting boards in place. Then the fresh plasterboard was washed, undercoated and painted in a nice soft colour. Then the electrician was called back and all the electrical and data fixtures were connected and tested.

Coming up with an affordable floor covering proved a little tricky but a visit to the local carpet store straightened me out. It tunded out that a durable carpet was cheaper than timber or linoleum. As the new office under 3.5 metres wide, the cost was kept low as that was just inside the width of a standard carpet roll.


Furnishing a new office can cost a small fortune. That’s where a keen eye and ear can save you lots of money. Bookshelves and cupboards can be purchased from Officeworls, Ikea or other reatilers but it’s worth waiting till they have sales as the cost can be halved.

For a desk, I was able to buy a unit from an open plan office that was being refitted. Typically, these desks can cost up to $800 for an L-shape. I was able to get a used one for just $100. The only hassle was I needed to take off the short side of the “L” as it didn’t fit but that was a minor hassle and I was able to reuse the extra section to extend the other end of the desk. The net result is a three metre bench that provides me with plenty of room to work from.

Even though the walls and ceiling were insulated, I had a reverse cycle air-condtioner installed. For the cooler days, I also had a security door fitted so that I can keep the front door open to let some fresh air in.


Some lessons learned

For anyone contemplating a similar project here are a few things I learned.

1 – Get plenty of quotes, especially for big ticket items. For example, the most expensive single item of expenditure was the work and materials for the electrician. The final cost was around $2000 but I had a quote for $5000. The  work was done and certified by an A-Grade Electrician.

2 – Look for opportunities to save money. My carpet was a very surprising cost saver. It was far cheaper than lino or timber. Also, shop around for secondhand furniture and materials from building demolitions.

3 – A lick of paint can make an ugly structure into a feature. For my office, there was a metal frame that I couldn’t hide. By painting it with a strong, contrasting colour, I made it into a feature. It also provided a sturdy frame for a shelf that I use as a charging station.

4 – All my power outlets are set at above desk level making it easy to power up and disconnect my gear. In retrospect, I wish I’d had a few wired in at floor level although the electrician left plenty of slack in the internal cabling so adding extra points should be pretty easy.

Cost summary

What How much

New garden shed $1100
Building materials $1500
Air conditioner $580
Plasterer $1000
Electrical $2500
Carpet $540
Total $7220
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