Building a home office
As part of starting my new position, I’m transitioning from a job where I’m going to work at an office to a work-from-home position. This has a number of personal benefits for me, but I also knew that I was going to need an office to work out of. Working from my dining room table, or from the sofa, was going to be problematic for me for the following reasons:
- I need a transition between work and home – I knew that if I worked from inside my house, I was not going to be able to easily do the mental switch from “I’m at work” to “I’m at home”. “Home” and “Work” was inevitably going to blur into some mishmash that I mentally dubbed “Hork”. That did not sound pleasant, either for me or for my family.
- I need quiet – Like a number of homes, mine is occasionally very noisy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that’s just the way it is. Very likely, there were going to be numerous occasions when I needed quiet when working and what was happening in my home was not quiet at all.
- I need room for work-related stuff – Where I worked was also going to be where I was going to use and store my work-related gear. For my own peace of mind, I didn’t want to store my work-related equipment near where my pets and younger members of the family would have access to them.
- I need to set up work-related equipment on a permanent basis – For various reasons, I like working on a desktop workstation, with attached displays, keyboard and mouse. I also like not having to constantly disassemble and re-assemble my desktop and its attached peripherals, which means I need a place where I can set them up and trust that they’ll be able to stay there on a long-term basis.
With all of those needs in mind, I decided to go the route of having a purpose-built office constructed for my work needs. For more details, see below the jump.
For my new office, here are the resources I started with:
I am fortunate in that I have a sizable yard outside of my home, as that meant I had room to build as large an office as I could afford.
I had a certain amount of money available to draw on for the budget, which I believed was going to be sufficient to build the office and outfit it. However, I also knew that I would need to shop around carefully to find vendors who could deliver what I needed within my budget.
What I wanted:
- A space with a lot of natural light
- A space with sufficient room for both myself and my work-related equipment, while not feeling cramped once everything was in there.
- A building suitable for year-round use, with heat, air conditioning and insulation
- A building with sufficient electrical capacity to power all of my current work equipment, the HVAC equipment, lighting and other needs, along with the ability to accommodate potential future growth.
- Multiple Ethernet networking outlets in convenient locations inside the building
- Multiple indoor electrical outlets in convenient locations inside the building
What I didn’t want:
- Personally having to handle the acquisition of the needed construction and electrical permits
- Having to build anything myself
- Going over my budgeted amount of money
With these criteria, I spoke with several builders. None of the initial folks I spoke with were able to provide something that met my criteria and the budget I was working with, but eventually my research led me to the folks at Stoltzfus Structures, who had a pre-fabricated shed model that would meet my needs with some added customization:
- Upgrading the electrical breaker box from a 70 Amp breaker box to a 100 Amp breaker box
- Installing four interior electrical outlets with integrated USB power ports
- Installing four interior Ethernet outlets using Category 6 Ethernet cabling
- Installing one exterior weather-proofed electrical outlet.
The shed would incorporate a 12 foot by 16 foot office space and a separate 12 foot by 8 foot storage space, which gave me a lot of room for my office while also providing dedicated space for other storage needs.
Once we had agreed on a price for the customized shed and the costs associated with getting construction and electrical permits, we moved on to construction.
Note: One aspect of the office construction which was not handled by Stoltzfus Structures was the connection of the shed’s network to the main house’s network. For this part, I worked with Tom Bridge from Technolutionary to connect an existing Ethernet network in the main house to the shed’s Ethernet network. More details on this topic will follow later in the post.
As part of the process of building this shed, I re-learned a saying that applied over and over again:
“Everything will take longer than you think it will.”
As an example of this, I met with the folks at Stoltzfus Structures at the beginning of October and paid half of the cost of the shed so that the construction process could begin. The original timeline was to have it completed by the end of October. The actual completion date for the shed, with various delays due to weather, getting permits from the county, and other hangups, was December 1st. Meanwhile, the electrical work’s final inspection (where it was signed off as OK by the county and no other work needed to be done) was December 16th. Please see below for some shots of the construction process and final product:
Fortunately for me, I didn’t absolutely need to have the shed in operation until January 2nd so I didn’t tear my hair out over how long it was taking. The lesson to take from this was pretty clear though: However long you think a construction project will take, plan for it to take at least twice or even three times as long. That way, all your surprises will be pleasant ones.
As part of the construction, one of the goals I had in mind was to ensure that the office network was going to be use Gigabit Ethernet networking at the present time, but with the option to upgrading to 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking at a future date. To ensure this, I had the shed equipped with Category 6 Ethernet as that would be compatible with a future upgrade to 10 Gbit Ethernet networking.
Meanwhile, Technolutionary’s network contractor used 10 Gbit-compatible fiber optic cables to connect the shed to the main house’s existing Ethernet network. That allows the shed to share the main house’s existing internet connection over a dedicated landline connection, which avoided the need to set up a potentially more expensive wireless bridge between the main house and the shed.
Outfitting the office
When it came to outfitting the office with furniture and other gear, here’s what I wanted:
- Sufficient desk space for multiple displays, desktops and laptops to co-exist without feeling cramped
- Sufficient storage space for various cables and other accessories to be put away but still be readily available
- Desk-mounted electrical outlets
- A soda machine (because I’ve always wanted one.)
- A comfortable office chair
I decided on using two writing desks and arranging them in an L pattern. These desks’ large flat surfaces allowed me to place displays and keyboards in convenient locations, while also providing a lot of additional room for desktops and laptops to sit on the desks’ surfaces. These desks also include metal grommets on the desks’ surfaces to provide basic cable management for cables coming up from under the desk.
I decided on a 12-drawer mobile organizer designed for classroom use for my storage needs. It has a mix of small and large drawers for storage, and is also able to be rolled to wherever in the office I may need it.
Desk-mounted electrical outlets
I decided on two desktop power strips because they were easy to install and offer both three AC power outlets and two USB power outlets. One power strip is attached to each desk.
I decided on a Hisense Chill, which is a beverage vending machine designed for use in the home and includes the ability to stock both bottles and cans. The Chill can also be configured with customized front panel art and button labels, both of which I took the opportunity to change out.
In this case, I was fortunate and received a comfortable office chair as a Christmas gift.
As this project progressed, I learned several lessons that will no doubt be familiar to folks who have done similar projects:
Everything takes longer than planned
I began the planning for this project in early 2016, with accumulating the financing needed for this project. That process was completed by June 2016, and I assumed that the hard part was over; now I just needed to find someone to take my money and build an office.
That assumption was incorrect, it wound up taking until early October 2016 to find a builder for the project.
From there, the project timeline was that construction from start to finish would be completed within the month of October; ending in early November.
That assumption was incorrect, it would take until early December for the office construction to be completed. It took another couple of weeks for all the electrical work to be completed and inspected, so it was mid-December before the lights actually went on and the heat started working. Having the heat working is especially important for mid-December in my area.
Pay attention to the details
For the most part, construction went smoothly but I tried to keep a close eye on what was going on. One place in particular where I caught a problem was in the installation of the Ethernet cabling in the wall. Once it was installed, I checked on it before the wall paneling went in place. It turned out that that Category 5E Ethernet cabling had been installed instead of the Category 6 cabling I wanted.
When I checked back with the construction project manager, we saw that only “Ethernet” had been specified in the construction plan. Category 5E Ethernet cabling is cheaper, so it had been installed. I requested the Category 5E Ethernet cabling be removed, Category 6 Ethernet cabling installed, and agreed to cover the additional cost.
Catching this at the time I caught it was important for the following reasons:
- Category 5E Ethernet cabling can support gigabit transmission speeds, but is not able to support 10 Gbit. Since I wanted to have the option to support 10 Gbit down the road, having Category 5E Ethernet cabling for the wall outlets would have made that more difficult.
- Identifying the issue before the wall paneling went in place made fixing it a lot more simple. If it had been caught after the wall panels went into place, removing the wall panels would have been needed. The removal process would have been both expensive and time-consuming; in fact I probably would have just lived with having Category 5E Ethernet cabling and installed a makeshift solution later for 10 Gbit Ethernet.
Communications breakdowns will happen
As part of setting up the office networking, the networking contractor installed a wall-mounted box in the shed for the fiber optic and other cables which were run from the main house. He suggested installing a larger box and I agreed. Between the time that we had that conversation and he actually returned to install the box, the office construction crew finished the walls and closed in the space around the existing small box.
I didn’t know that the networking contractor needed to know when the construction crew was closing up the wall in question, so the larger networking box did not get installed. I have the small networking box and have been able to work with it, but not being able to communicate to the construction crew what was needed meant that I have a solution I can work with instead of the ideal solution.
I am both happy and proud of how this particular project turned out, and I look forward to being able to use my new office for years to come. For those who are thinking of similar projects for your own use, hopefully this information helps you out in the process of turning your ideas into reality.