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How to Turn Your Shed Into a Home Office

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A sequestered home office can be a fortress of productivity. Beyond serving as a telecommuting base, it also gives you a space to relax, enjoy a little privacy, and work on a hobby or two. But adding a room to your house is no small undertaking. Our solution: Transform a backyard storage shed into a workspace.

Shed Size and Location

Many office cubicles measure just 6×8 ft., but a shed should be at least 8×10 ft. to accommodate a comfortable workspace. A 10×12-ft. shed is a near-perfect size—if you have a shed or barn larger than 14×20 ft., partition off the interior to keep half for storage.

If the shed is close to your house, it’s easier and cheaper to run electricity. But you can still convert a shed on the farthest corner of your property.

shed office

This 10×16-foot pine shed belongs to illustrator Zachariah OHora in Narberth, PA.

Jesse Southerland


Power

Often the biggest—and most expensive—challenge is supplying the shed with electricity. An electrician can tap into your home’s main electrical panel to run new circuits out to the shed. That typically requires digging a trench at least 18 in. deep to bury an underground feed. If that’s not possible, your electrical supplier can pull power from the nearest utility pole.

shed office

The shed required two additional 20-amp fuses in OHora’s fusebox, one for lighting and work equipment, one for the AC/heating units.

Jesse Southerland

To help the electrician design the right home-office electrical system, give them a list of all the electrical equipment you intend to use—or might use in the future.

Plan on at least two circuits: one for general needs such as lighting and outlets for accessories, and another for sensitive equipment like computers, routers, and modems. You may need additional circuits for your heating and cooling, but an experienced electrician will pinpoint your requirements.


Lighting

To light your immediate work environment, install LED fixtures on dimmer switches as task lighting. These are compact, affordable, and energy-​efficient, and they produce clean, white light. For ambient lighting throughout your shed, use upward-facing torchère-style floor lamps to brighten up the office with less monitor glare than recessed lights. For your computer workstation, consider a portable, adjustable LED desk lamp.

shed office

To accommodate his standing desk, OHora chose a cathedral ceiling with overhead track lighting.

Jesse Southerland


Windows

Most sheds have small windows that admit little light and do a lousy job of blocking out cold drafts. Replace the shed’s windows with energy-efficient insulated-glass windows at least 32 in. wide x 36 in. tall. Vinyl windows are affordable and virtually maintenance-​free, but vinyl-clad wood windows pair low maintenance with a natural wood look.

shed office

OHora installed windows in each side of his shed to let in ambient light and make the space feel bigger.

Jesse Southerland

A skylight will also brighten an office. They can be either operable (can open for airflow), or fixed (non-operable)—these cost half as much.


Flooring

Most types of flooring can be installed in a home office, including hardwood strips, laminate planks, engineered wood, or vinyl sheet, tiles, or planks. However, low-pile carpeting is affordable, durable, sound absorbent, and easy to roll around on in your office chair.If you’re on a tight budget, paint the plywood subfloor, then use an area rug under the desk. Just be sure to use a porch-and-floor paint; it’ll hold up better than standard house paint.


Heating and Cooling

If you live in a moderate climate, you might be able to survive the winter with an electric space heater, and the summer with a couple of window fans.

But most of the country requires a heater to stay warm through winter. Two small oil-filled electric radiators can take the chill out of your shed in minutes, particularly in regions with shorter winters. For colder climes, opt for a portable or wall-mounted electric or propane heater. (Your electrician will suggest the size and style of heater best suited to your situation.) A single 1,500-watt radiator produces enough heat to warm 150 sq. ft. of space.

shed office

During winter, OHora puts his heater on a timer so the shed is already warm by the time he enters.

Jesse Southerland

To cool your office during hot, humid summers, a small window air conditioner with a cooling capacity up to 6,500 BTU will suffice. Be aware that air conditioners typically require a dedicated, 12-amp electrical circuit.

Sheds don’t often have passive ventilation, but you can add it by installing soffit vents and a ridge vent. The two work in combination by admitting fresh air at the soffits, which rises and then pushes hot air out the ridge vent.


Doors

Shed doors aren’t weather-proof and they provide little security, so replace the existing door with an exterior-grade entry door. Choose an entry door made of wood, fiberglass, or steel, and install a lockset and deadbolt. A fiberglass door is particularly low-​maintenance. You’ll likely have to reframe the existing doorway opening to accommodate the new entry door. Here’s how!

enlarging shed office door

George Retsteck

1. Take off the existing shed door by removing the hinge screws with a cordless drill. Then use a pry bar to pull off any interior or exterior trim.

2. Install new studs to the left and right of the existing opening, placing them each 1 in. wider than the width of the new doorframe (A).

3. Cut and install a new header at least ½ inch taller than the new doorframe (B). The extra space helps you adjust and shim the new door to ensure it’s plumb.

4. Use a circular saw and reciprocating saw to remove any siding, sheathing, and studs within the studs and header you just installed (C). Also cut out the sole plate running along the bottom of the newly expanded doorway.

5. Run a bead of silicone sealant along the bottom of the doorway opening; it’ll prevent air and wind-blown rain from seeping under the new door.

6. Set the new prehung entry door into the opening from the outside (D), check it for plumb with a 4-ft. level on all sides, then tap shims between the doorframe and rough opening. Place shims at and opposite each hinge (E). Tap in the shims just tight enough to hold the door in place. If you pound the shims too vigorously, you could bow in the doorframe.

7. Secure the door by screwing through its brickmold and into the wall studs (F). Use 3-in. galvanized decking screws, space them about 12 in. apart, and drive them through the wooden brickmold on the sides and top of the door.

8. Trim the shims flush to the doorframe with a fine-tooth handsaw.

9. Reinstall any interior and exterior trim, and install a new lockset.


Walls and Ceiling

For insulation in the walls, ceiling, and floor, fiberglass batts faced with either an aluminum foil or kraft paper moisture barrier are easy to install. Mineral-wool insulation, however, has greater insulating value and is much more resistant to moisture and fire.

When installing fiberglass insulation, be sure the foil or paper moisture barrier faces toward the inside of the shed.

When choosing your interior finish, gypsum drywall (Sheetrock) is affordable, durable, and easy to paint. If you prefer the natural warmth of wood, install solid-wood paneling. The long pine planks have either tongue-and-groove or shiplap joints, and they can be installed vertically or horizontally. Another option is pre-finished sheet paneling made from thin plywood or hardboard (Masonite). It comes in 4×8-ft. sheets for covering walls and ceilings. You can mix and match materials by putting drywall on the ceiling and wood paneling on the walls, or vice versa.

Sheds typically have exposed rafters that extend from the tops of the walls to the roof peak. Depending on the size of the shed, there might also be exposed ceiling joists spanning the width of the building. To finish the ceiling, you can apply drywall or wood paneling directly to the underside of the rafters, creating a cathedral ceiling, or fasten drywall or wood paneling to the ceiling joists to create a flat ceiling.

A cathedral ceiling will make the office feel more spacious, but an office with a flat ceiling is easier to heat. If you’d prefer a flat ceiling but the shed doesn’t have ceiling joists, they can be added easily enough. Ceiling joists are usually cut from 2x6s or 2x8s, depending on the width of the shed, and spaced 16 in. on-center.


Shed Inspection Checklist

Before you begin, inspect your shed. Then you’re ready to tackle each aspect of the conversion.

FOUNDATION

For sheds on concrete blocks, check that…
□ Each block supports the shed (opposed to shifted/sunk)
□ Each block is free of cracks.
For sheds on concrete slabs, check that…
□ The slab is free of bad cracks (hairline cracks are okay)
□ The slab is level within ½ in. across the length and width.

FLOOR

Walk across the floor to ensure that…
□ It doesn’t bounce up and down
□ It doesn’t sag between the floor joists.

If necessary, lay more plywood on top, or replace the old floor deck with ¾-in. plywood to create a stiffer, stronger floor.

ROT

Check the following for rot:
□ Floor frame/floor deck
□ Perimeter band joists/floor joists
□ Corner posts/poles (in pole-barn sheds)
□ Wall studs/wall sheathing/siding
□ Ceiling joists/collar ties/rafters
□ Plywood roof sheathing/roof shingles.

WATER LEAKS

Check all components for signs of water damage, including:
□ Dark water stains
□ Damp areas on the underside of the roof sheathing
□ Wet spots on the floor.

If any part of your roof system shows evidence of a leak, replace it.

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