Working from home? Turn your shed into a home office

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With more Americans than ever working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some are having to get creative when it comes to carving out a dedicated office space within their existing footprint.

Increasingly, this means taking work outside in the form of a home office shed, as companies that specialize in the construction of affordable pop-up units have reported massive sales spikes since the start of the year.

However, a modest investment in a prefab shed office isn’t always necessary, with some ambitious work-from-homers opting to retrofit existing structures to function as a temporary—or permanent—workspace, instead.

The DIY route can be a practical, affordable solution for those who already have the walls, roof and windows in place, but the process of converting your outdoor junk drawer into a serviceable office still has its pitfalls.

So, before you start decorating (and when you do, please don’t underestimate the effectiveness of strip lighting), read on for a few important do's and don’ts when converting your garden shed to a home office.

Power up

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An office shed without dedicated electricity isn’t going to cut it in the long run.

You may be confident in the life of your laptop battery on a given day—and the best power banks can keep your laptop running for awhile—but an office shed without dedicated electricity isn’t going to cut it in the long run.

If your setup is simple, you can get by running an extension cord through the yard, but a permanent power solution may be in order if you’re serious about your office shed buildout.

You can run your own wiring, if you’re up for the job, but the safest bet is to hire a licensed electrician to make sure it is completed properly. You’ll want to check with your local permitting office to verify whether a permit is required depending on the scope of work.

You’ll also want to determine whether your shed office will need 120-volt or 240-volt power, although 120 is adequate in most cases. (Your cooktop and your clothes dryer are examples of appliances that utilize 240-volt outlets.)

If you do hire an outside company, you can save yourself some cash by digging your own trench, which will eventually hold the PVC conduit carrying the wiring. The standard for depth is 18 inches, and it’s tough, dirty work, so you may find it’s worth renting a trenching machine depending on the type of soil where you live and how far your shed is from the house.

If you’re looking for a less labor-intensive solution, you could also use a generator or some other portable power solution to juice your devices and light up your home office shed. You may even already have one on hand.

If you go the gas generator route, please, don’t use your generator inside the shed. Newbies to the generator game should learn that a cardinal rule of owning one is that you never, ever run a generator in an enclosed space. The carbon monoxide in a generator’s fumes can be deadly, so keep it a minimum of 20 feet from the building, with the exhaust pointed away from the shed.

Another thing to know about generators? They’re not meant to withstand the elements, so if unpredictable weather is an issue where you live, you’ll want to invest in some sort of enclosure or other waterproof covering to protect the machine’s components—another benefit of a fully-wired shed over a generator-powered option.

Consider your connectivity needs

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A WiFi boosting system carries a strong wireless connection from your house to the far reaches of your yard.

If you’d told me in 1995 that in 2020 I’d be able to surf an endless web of cloud-hosted data from a handheld, touchscreen phone-computer hybrid that also takes professional photos, I’d have thought you were out of your mind.

But, despite all the advancements in technology over the past quarter century, there are still limits to how far even the best wifi signal carries without a little help.

While I don’t personally work out of a home office shed—I currently share half of what used to be a playroom with a second grader and a toddler, thank you very much—I do live in a 1950s house with solid cinder block walls. This may be great in a hurricane, but it’s a nightmare for my WiFi signal.

However, my Eero mesh WiFi system provides the perfect solution and carries a strong wireless connection to the far reaches of our front and backyard. There are other great WiFi-boosting products on the market, as well, so do your research and pick the one that’s best for you.

Don’t skimp on heating and cooling

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Don't work in misery, open your wallet in the name of your own comfort and buy a portable air conditioning unit, a space heater, or both for your office shed.

Where I live, in Florida, we’re still in what feels like the dead of summer. (I sweated through my T-shirt just typing that sentence.) Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, folks have already seen snow and are settling in for six months of winter.

Regardless of where you live, there are going to be times when the mercury in your thermometer isn’t quite reading where you’d like.

So, rather than force yourself to work in misery, open your wallet in the name of your own comfort and buy a portable air conditioning unit, a space heater, or both.

When it comes to A/C, window units and standalone units each have their benefits and drawbacks, but given the size of a typical shed, a high-powered machine should not be necessary.

You may even opt for a really great desk fan.

Protect your investment

Credit: Getty Images / B4LLS and xeipe
Protect your investment and lock up your home office shed, whether its with a smart lock or an old fashioned one.

Because sheds are so often filled with dirty, heavy, smelly, or otherwise undesirable items, securing that bounty is not always top of mind. But, if you’re going to replace your old weed whackers, Allen wrenches, and empty gas cans with a desk, a laptop and a mounted TV, you’re also going to want to spend some time thinking about protecting those assets.

This may seem elementary, but in addition to being an important part of whatever interior design style you implement, window curtains are also very effective at keeping wandering eyes out of a room—in this case, your home office shed. In addition to housing expensive tech stuff, your shed will also be stocked with a desk and an office chair.

It’s also probably a good idea to put a smart lock on the door to further discourage any potential intruders (including those meddling kids).

And, if you want to be able to keep your eyes on your stuff even when the workday is over, it might be worth checking out the many options on the indoor and outdoor security camera market. My wife and I use the Nest outdoor cameras at our house, and we love them.

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