Garden offices available on the Internet are many and varied.
A really important point when thinking about buying an office through an online company is that the web is the “Wild West” of the 21st century. Website advertising is not regulated in the same way as printed advertising. Over-inflated claims and misinformation can be found on some, but not all, garden office websites. However The Advertising Standards Agency is about to start targeting small business websites over bad advertising practices.
There are four broad types of garden office. Starting with cheaper and temporary offices and ending with bespoke, permanent office buildings:
A garden office the DIY way – sheds and log cabins
The cheapest type of garden office is a shed or log cabin. These buildings have no insulation, are cold in winter, red hot in summer and aren’t a good environment to try to work in.
We know someone who worked in a cabin that was so damp he had to take his computer out every night! Adding some insulation plus better quality doors and windows will make a cabin more habitable, but it isn’t a long term, all weather solution.
A Shed is light weight, made with thin wood and topped off with a felt roof. Sheds need regular maintenance to stop rot and warping and to make sure that the roof doesn’t leak. A log cabin is sturdier and available in a variety of log thicknesses. It will also have a felt roof and will need insulating and maintaining.
Garden office ideas: You will need to insulate the floor and ceiling as well as the walls. Think about head height as this type of building isn’t very tall.
- Cheap, easily available and a familiar type of building so you should be able to tell the difference between good quality and bad. If not ask for help from someone who does.
- Short term solution.
- Will cost a lot to heat and cool.
- Only a solution if the floor space is a) less than 15 sq metres if you want to put the shed or cabin next to a fence or b) between 15sq m and 30sq m if you can position it more than a metre away from any boundary.
Any building that has more floor space than 15sq m (or conforms to point b) and is heated has to meet building regulations for fire, insulation, structural stability, foundations etc. You won’t be able to meet building regulations with a shed or log cabin; even if you have retro insulated it.
Being realistic: A shed or cabin will provide you with a cheap to put up, but expensive to run, short term “fun” solution.
Suppliers: Shed and log cabin suppliers – there is a shed/log cabin supplier in most towns.
An install-in-a-day office – the super shed
A super-shed stands on a level concrete base and is designed along the same lines as a shed – put up, take down, and sell it to someone else if you don’t want it any longer.
Usually manufactured by small joinery companies, the super shed has a thin layer of insulation in between the outer plywood wall and the inner wall. The inner wall is either vinyl board or MDF and the windows are uPVC. A sort of plywood caravan, without the wheels.
Health-check: MDF continually releases urea-formaldehyde which is known to damage human health, so check that the supplier has carefully coated all four sides of the MDF walls and ceiling to seal them. You may wish to research the health issues further.
- Quick to install
- Small, so useful in a small garden
- Can be resold
- Limited life span
- Low ceilings and caravan-type interior
- Exterior ply and roof needs to be maintained
- Insulated, but not well insulated
Being realistic: These aren’t permanent buildings but they will do the job if your budget won’t allow you to build something more substantial.
Suppliers: There are two or three well established companies making this type of office in the UK.
A flat-roofed office with “foundations”
There are many, many building companies offering this type of building and price competition is intense.
This isn’t necessarily good for you, the purchaser. As suppliers continually cut their prices to make a sale it has a knock on affect on the quality of the materials used and the care with which they build.
Suppliers enter and leave this sector of the garden office market all the time. A number of suppliers that are prominent on the internet have dissolved their businesses due to cash flow problems and debt and then started trading again under a new, slightly changed name.
But, there are some good quality, financially stable companies so: –
Advice: Check how long a business has been trading before buying from them and do your research to see if they have any financial problems or a bad credit rating. Look for businesses that has been trading for 10 years or more without having been dissolved at any time.
- An ‘off-the-peg’ semi-permanent building
- SIP construction provides good insulation levels – but quality of construction, quality of building materials and quality of insulation varies greatly. If you choose a SIPs building make sure that the panels carry the TRADA Q-mark.
You will have to research your garden office ideas carefully to choose the right building because of extreme variations in quality, design and construction standards, price and the reliability/financial stability of the supplier.
To help you think through the pros and cons of this type of building, let’s start with the foundations and work upwards:
Some suppliers will tell you that “foundations” are included in their building price – they supply plinths known as Swift Foundations that stand on top of your garden soil.
Swift foundations are potentially OK as long as:
- the building is light enough to be supported by them
- the installer understands ground conditions, the science of load bearing and knows how to survey a garden professionally.
Some suppliers claim on their websites that these plinths are “building regulations approved.”
The documentation on the Swift website states clearly that the plinths were given, in 2008, a ‘type’ approval for one particular building built in certain situations. This is not a blanket building regulations approval for all buildings in all situations. It is one approval for one building in 2008.
Also, most garden offices with a floor area of less than 30 sq metres don’t need building regulations approval so, unless you employ an architect or surveyor to check the soil conditions and the builder’s foundation plans for your particular garden you have no independent safe guard to confirm that Swift foundations are suitable in your garden and that your building won’t subside.
Swift has this disclaimer on its website:
Individuals are responsible for an assessment of their ground conditions on site
Warning: It’s up to you and the supplier to assess if your garden is suitable for these plinths, otherwise make sure you have a conventional, well constructed slab foundation.
2. SIPs building system
In brief, SIPs ware insulated with plastic and they rely upon mechanical air-conditioning to keep the interior condensation free. This applies to a garden office made from this system. In a SIPS building you are sitting in a box insulated with plastic. The building can’t breathe and unless you vent the office properly or use air-conditioning, condensation may occur.
3. Cedar cladding
Cedar cladding has a long life span of up to 35 years but can be damaged easily if knocked. Check out your suppliers cladding options and have a look at an older building to see how the exterior cladding has weathered.
The windows in this type of building are often very big, which can look great, but has the building been designed with your comfort in mind?
From a practical point of view, a large expanse of floor to ceiling windows in a small building means that the building will get very hot in summer unless it is north facing, and will loose a lot of heat in winter. Even if the windows are double glazed and even if the walls are well insulated. So, make sure you work with a supplier who understands thermal loss and thermal gain.
5. Flat roof
Manufacturers of flat roof rubber or bitumen coverings guarantee their products for between ten or twenty years. However for the guarantee to be valid the roof has to be designed and installed correctly. Failures occur because of haphazard installation. So, check the competence and training of the roofer.
6. Low ceilings
Some suppliers build flat roofed garden offices with very low ceilings. This make the building cheaper to construct and also to avoid planning permission. Think about how it will feel to spend hours in a very low ceilinged building.
Common sense: A garden office is a big investment. Ask to see buildings and speak to previous clients before making a choice. Take someone who knows about joinery and building projects with you.
Suppliers: There are many with websites on the internet. Many are owned by small builders and experienced garden office suppliers, but some are owned by directors and marketeers with no building experience. Buyer beware!
A permanent office – a detached extension to your home
If you have the budget a bespoke garden office design from a well established architect or building company can make sense if:
b) you are going to spend eight or more hours a day working in your new building.
Homeworkers often spend more time in their garden office than they do in their house, and you may find that you do, too.
People that choose an upmarket garden office or annexe want:
- permanence and quality – a ‘detached extension’
- the reassurance of the technical abilities of an experienced architect
- to work with a trusted company with proven design experience
- to add value and sale-ability to their property
Pros of a bespoke design:
- Built with a traditional building system.
- Solid foundation system so that building won’t sink or move if ground gets wet or dries out.
- A bespoke design service that ensures you get the building you want.
- The best building materials.
- High ceilings with plenty of headroom for full size cupboards, shelves and high level storage.
- Strong roof so that you can have Velux roof windows.
- individually designed windows that let in light where you want it.
- Planning applications / building regulations applications should be included as part of a top notch office design.
- Craftsmanship: experienced builders and joiners who go the extra mile to do their best work.
- Your individual requirements should get individual attention.
1.A bespoke building costs more.
How do you know how long a building will last?
By the quality of the materials and the generosity and substance of a building details, such as strong structural timbers and so on. The care with which the company builds an office and the craftsmanship of the final details.
Common sense, again: A garden office costs money so ask your supplier lots of questions. Ask to see buildings and speak to previous clients. Take someone who knows about building projects with you.