What do you find to be the hardest part about working from home?
Perhaps it is the distractions created by your family, or the fact that you can’t stop helping yourself to the contents of your fridge when it is just a few yards away from you.
Or maybe, without your usual commute, you find it hard to switch out of work mode at the end of the day.
If you’re trying to find a solution to one of these problems – and you have the luxury of a garden – then it might be time to invest in a ‘shoffice’.
A shed office structure is allowed if it does not take up more than half of the outside space
With almost a third of the UK workforce now working remotely according to the Office of National Statistics, ‘shed offices’ – or work spaces built in the garden – have become something of a craze for homeowners.
Given the uncertain future ahead, the trend may well be here to stay.
1. What is a shed office?
As the name suggests, they are a cross between an office and garden shed.
But these modern super-sheds are a far cry from the moss-covered, cobweb infested, rusty tool stores of the past.
In some cases, homeowners are fitting them with every modern convenience, from insulated walls and underfloor heating to high-speed wifi and luxury bathrooms.
‘In our experience, they are favoured by people who have decorated their homes beautifully and now want a bespoke space in their gardens – or owners of traditional houses who crave a more contemporary space to style and enjoy time in,’ says Rachel Oliver, marketing manager at Malvern Garden Buildings.
2. How long do they take to build and how much do they cost?
As you might imagine, the cost and construction time depends on the type of outbuilding you go for.
The typical cost can be anything from £5,000 to £25,000 depending on the design and materials used.
The cheaper, more basic models are usually around 2.4metres by 1.8metres, whereas the more expensive installations measure up to 5metres by 3metres.
The build time can also vary widely depending on whether you would prefer your shed office to be built from scratch on site, or to purchase a pre-fabricated one which can then be delivered and put together in a matter of days.
‘If using a pre-fabricated structure, this could be ready for use once delivered to your home within a few days – but as with anything, you will likely pay a small premium for this luxury,’ says Conrad Cherniavsky, an architect at CVC Architecture.
‘Alternatively, using a more traditional on-site construction process you are likely looking at around 6-9 weeks depending on the size and complexity.’
3. Do I need planning permission?
Typically you won’t need to have planning permission, as the majority of garden offices would fall under the scope of what is known as permitted development.
However, within these rules there are certain limitations that it is useful to be aware of.
First, the eaves of the building must be no higher than 2.5metres, whilst the highest point must be no more than 4 metres if it has a dual pitched roof, or three metres for any other type of roof.
Pre-fabricated shed offices often only take a matter of days to erect once delivered
Second, the floor area must not exceed 15 square metres – otherwise you will require building control sign-off to show the structure fits within building regulations.
Third, a garden office cannot contain a sleeping area and must not be used as a separate dwelling unit.
Fourth, if you need to connect your new workspace to the mains utilities you will need permission from building control.
Finally, it must not take up more than 50 per cent of the outside space surrounding the original house.
The original house refers to your property as it was first built, or as it stood on 1 July 1948 if it was constructed before that date.
This means that you would be wise to check whether your property has been extended by a former owner – in case that compromises the amount of space you can build on.
You can use your garden office as you wish – as long as you don’t have a stream of visitors that could disrupt your neighbours and you don’t intend to sleep overnight in it
Furthermore, if you live in a national park, a listed building or a conservation area, you will need to seek specific permission from the local planning authority.
‘Strictly speaking, a garden shed can be erected without planning permission as it falls under permitted development,’ says Cherniavsky.
‘But if you’re forking out £15,000, you may prefer consulting a professional in order to secure a lawful development certificate prior to construction in order to give you peace of mind.’
4. Will it impact my home insurance?
One aspect that homeowners might forget to consider is home and contents insurance.
‘Make sure you update your insurance provider, as it could increase the rebuild cost of your home,’ says Jessica Willock, home insurance expert at Confused.com.
‘Not doing this could invalidate the policy if you need to make a claim in the future.’
Some insurance providers will not offer full cover for items in any outbuildings as part of their standard policy.
A homeowner would be wise to check the exact wording of their home insurance policy to understand to what extent they are covered.
‘It’s important they consider the insurance implications of storing items in external buildings,’ says Adam Holland, head of technical and development underwriting at AXA Insurance.
‘Although items stored in outbuildings can often be covered by a standard home contents insurance policy, there is usually a limit of around £2,500 – but it can be lower.
‘Exclusions also often apply to items such as valuables, money, business tools, bicycles, keys and locks.’
5. Is a garden office a good investment?
Improving the saleability of your home is often a key consideration when making improvements.
With many predicting home working to be a feature of our lives in a post lockdown world, a garden office can be expected to appeal to buyers in the future.
‘They certainly do add to the value of the property, as the initial £15,000 – £25,000 outlay will usually be matched by the increase in value of your home on a pound per square foot basis,’ says Grant Bates, director at estate agent Hamptons International in Islington.
‘The only caveat is that the build quality must be good, ideally using sustainable materials and having running water and electricity – making it an extension of the house as opposed to a glorified shed.’
Not all insurance companies will offer cover for items in the garden or in outbuildings
It is also important to consider whether your new office compromises the existing garden space – this could mean you might put off some future buyers where a larger garden is a priority.
”Shoffices’ are a smart investment, not only for the longevity of you living at the property, but also for purchasers seeking a property with this functionality,’ says Henry Longton, senior chartered building surveyor at Knight Frank.
‘However, it’s worth homeowners considering the other side of the coin, whereby the size of your garden could be compromised. It is reasons such as this that make it difficult to conclude whether this home improvement would directly add value to a home.’
6. What else should I consider before building one?
First and foremost, you’ll need to work out what you’ll actually be using it for.
‘How the room is going to be used will have major implications on the size required and what facilities need to be accommodated,’ says Cherniavsky.
‘Bathrooms or a utility space will need a water supply and plumbing which will add to the overall cost, as well as likely adding limitations to where the building can be positioned.’
Next, you’ll need to consider the style, design and features that are important for you.
‘We’d always advise people to go for a double-skinned and insulated building so that it’s a comfortable space to work all year round,’ says Oliver.
‘Consider what size of building best suits your needs, and what you would like it to look like – do you want traditional or modern?
‘Also think about where you would like to place doors and windows, whether you would like it painted or unpainted, and which style of roof you prefer as well as considering how it will suit the kind of work you’ll be doing.’
The popularity of the Shoffice has been fuelled by the home working trend since March 2020 with people looking to move their office out of the house into a completely separate space
Finally, consider the orientation of your shed office: whether it is north or south-facing could make an enormous difference to how you design it and use it.
Quite often, a garden office will only have windows facing in one direction, because they are typically tucked away at the end of a garden.
‘Natural light and orientation plays a critical role in creating a good working space,’ explains Cherniavsky.
‘For example, an artist would specifically want a north facing studio so that they avoid any direct sun and have softer ambient light throughout the day.’
‘Others will want a south facing structure, with extensive glazing to maximise natural light, but will then quite often suffer from overheating in the summer, therefore requiring some element of shading to be incorporated into the design.’