Garden Living Space Feature

Outdoor Moves

Ed Jones tells Devon Home about his experiences in building an outdoor office in North Devon

1 September 2013

I was, essentially, kicked out of home. The arrival of my baby daughter meant that my once peaceful, airy, minimalist study needed to be transformed into a toy-ridden den of pink.

Where to go? I had been hankering for a ‘man-pad’ for a while, but couldn’t get my wife to agree to spend a few thousand pounds on a room in the garden for watching football and drinking the ‘odd beer’ in. So, what about an outdoor office? Cheaper than renting a work space, no fuel costs (77 footsteps door-to-door) and on hand for any baby emergencies. She needed no more convincing.

I am not the only one, it seems. Devon, along with the rest of the UK, has seen a boom in offices being built in gardens, with more people working from home who have the space outside, rather than in, in which to create their working environment. According to a report from Vodafone, three-fifths of the organisations in the UK now equip the majority of employees with remote working solutions.

Living in rural North Devon, I am fortunate enough to have a garden that is large enough to accommodate my 4m by 3m office. With the green light from ‘her indoors’ to become ‘him outdoors’, I embarked on my research.

There are some essential considerations, not least the issue of planning permission. Outbuildings are considered to be a permitted development, not needing planning permission, subject to certain limits and conditions. “Firstly, it is best (and quickest) to check any development plans with your local Planning Officer,” advises David Matthews, Director of Inside Out Garden Rooms in East Allington. “Generally speaking, outbuildings don’t have to conform to building regulations and there are no restrictions on what you can build.” However, there are still certain limitations, such as the height and the proximity to a boundary. If you live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or a Conservation Area, it is prudent to check before going ahead with any project.

We decided on a timber-frame building and both companies agree that 4in by 2in timbers are more efficient than 3in by 2in timbers for use in garden offices. “We wouldn’t opt for smaller timbers than these because there is enough room to accommodate insulating materials in between. If you’re using your building as an office, the last thing you want to be is cold in the winter,” explains David Hayes, Managing Director of Riviera Log Cabins in Kingskerswell.

There are a number of different materials available – another key factor. David Matthews says: “Most cheaper sheds and garden offices are made from tannelised soft wood and have a ten-year guarantee. There is also the option of using western red cedar cladding, which is more aesthetically pleasing. We actually use cement fibre board, which is really popular in the USA but we are the only ones to use this material locally, as far as we know. The benefits are that it has a wood effect and comes with a palette of colours, so has a built-in colour, saving costs on painting. It comes with a 50-year guarantee and is maintenance-free. It’s easy to clean: even 20 years later, after a jet wash the exterior will come up good as new.”

David Hayes adds: “The exterior cladding of an outbuilding is a personal choice. The benefit of using western red cedar is that it has a high natural oil content, so there is no need to treat it with a preservative. It looks after itself and smells beautiful too. Over time the wood turns silver, which lots of people like, but you can also treat it to keep its original colour. Depending on the weather, a cedar-clad building can be expected to last between 20-25 years.” 

Another fundamental element is the base on which the office is to stand and it is a general rule that this should be inspected and installed by an expert. “Make sure the base is secure and properly installed. Preparation is very, very important for a building constructed on a frame,” David continues. 

What about keeping warm? The correct insulation in your garden office will help maintain a comfortable temperature all year round, not just keep the chill off in the winter months. U-values are used to measure thermal performance, and the whole building’s u-values are considered, including the materials on the floor, walls and roof. The lower the u-value, the more efficient an area is.

The type of insulation you choose depends on the wall thickness and there are plenty of options available. Rigid insulation is commonly used, polystyrene being the most familiar product, and is usually faced with foil to add reflective insulating properties. A reflective foil can also be used to reduce radiant heat transfer; it is lightweight and thin. Insulation can also be made from sheep’s wool, recycled plastic, hemp and mineral wool. Again, seek advice on what suits your office and working practices best. 

Having been settled in my warm, yet airy, spacious office for a few months now, I am very pleased I made the decision to build this space. I have never had such a happy working environment and I would encourage anyone to do this, space permitting. The only downside? Distraction… I really must get back to work!

“Firstly, it is best (and quickest) to check any development plans with your local Planning Officer”

About Devon Home magazine

Devon Home is published by We Make Magazines, a family-owned Devon company. The only specialist interiors magazine for the county, Devon Home is a celebration of homes, gardens and interiors, with expert information from local designers, architects and craftspeople. Together with our Devon-based writers and sales team, we show you how to improve and love your living space.

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