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Feature for 'Jobs and Careers' May 2004

Setting up a garden office.

The main priority for any teleworker is a room of their own to work in, but what do you do when there isn't enough space in your house? The solution may be to build your own office in your garden, reports Cian Molloy.

Home working can help many people achieve a better work-life balance, by reducing commuting times and introducing greater flexibility in working, but sometimes people don't have the room available in their homes to have a dedicated home office.

For other teleworkers, the arrival of children often means that their home office is no longer available because it's suddenly being used as a baby's bedroom.

The most expensive solution is to move house - but that is an option that could cost you tens of thousands of euro and a great deal of hassle. A simpler and less costly solution, if you have the space outside your house, is to build a home office in your garden.

But even if you have space within your home, it's worth considering having a home office, for a number of reasons.

Occupational psychologists, for example, reckon that there are definite advantages to personal productivity if your workspace is completely separate from your office environment. The very fact that you leave your home to work, albeit to travel only a few yards to your garden office, helps prepare you mentally for the tasks ahead of your for the day. For those with children in the home, having a garden office - rather than an office in the home - means that your less likely to be troubled by family interuptions.

Alan Denbigh, MD of the Teleworking Association, says: "The advantages of a garden office are numerous: it gives you you real peace and quiet for those creative moments; you don't have to clear away your work stuff each day, all you have to do is lock up and walk away. A home office, quite literally, helps compartmentalise your workspace."

Planning permission

Under Irish planning law, most garden offices fall under the category 'exempt development' and do not usually require any planning permission, providing basic requirements are met.

"You don't usually need permission to build an outhouse on your property providing it is no more than 25 sq. meters in area and providing you leave at least 25 sq. meters of free space in your garden, once the building is completed," says Seán Copeland, general manager of Shomera, an Irish company specialising in manufacturing and installing fully-completed home offices. "Most Irish gardens are big enough to take a Shomera without coming anywhere near the maximum size allowed. You could build a 12ft by 24 ft building, which would give you a very large room, and be well within the planning exemption."

In certain cases, where a garden office is used for certain commercial activities other than general office work, planning permission for an outhouse will be required. But garden office suppliers like Shomera or Gardenrooms will quickly advise you, free of charge and without obligation, on whether you need pre-approval from your local planning authority.

In addition to general office workers, John Sheery of Gardenrooms says the people using his range of log cabins for work include: architects, accountants, consultants, graphic designers, reflexologists, hair stylists and crèches.

Shomera have supplied some of their rooms to be used as classrooms and two of their buildings are used as commercial premises at hospitals in Cherry Orchard and St Mary's in the Phoenix Park.

Prices

While building a home office is cheaper than the cost of moving home, the financial outlay required is reasonably high.

Looking at those companies providing fully-finished garden offices, the cheapest option we found was the 'Compact Office Standard' from Henley Offices in the UK. Providing an interior space of 2m x 3.2m (6.56ft x 10.49ft), the Henley Compact costs St£5,375 plus an extra 20 per cent for delivery and installation in the Republic of Ireland, ie a total of €9,686.52, excluding VAT.

Among Irish suppliers, the smallest home office in Gardenrooms log cabin range is the 3.3m x 2.9m (10.82ft x 9.51ft), which is priced at €12,775, excluding VAT.

Shomera have recently launched a new low-priced standard range where Prices in Shomera's new lower-priced standard range start at 2.74m x 4.87m (9ft x 16ft) rooms start at €14,950, excluding VAT.

If you are paying VAT at source, it will add 13.5 per cent to your final cost - however, if you are a business registered for VAT, this additional cost is immediately reclaimable against tax.

The capital cost of a garden office can also be written off against income tax over a six year period - but you should think carefully before doing this. If you are likely to move house within, say, the next 10 years, it may not be good policy to have the cost of your office included in your tax returns, because should you resell the property, and the overall value of the office has increased significantly, you will have a large capital gains liability.

Before launching their less expensive range, Shomera reckoned that an investment of €17,000 in a garden office paid for itself within five years, in terms of the time and money saved on not having to commute.

Extras

Once you go a little beyond the standard models available, there is a great deal of additional and bespoke features that you can add into the final design.

"In our non-standard range, we are almost completely flexible on windows and doors, from where you want to place them to what type you want installed," says Copeland. "When we started first the demand was totally for home offices, now I would say only about 75 per cent are for home office use and the rest would be bought for lifestyle reasons, ie people wanting space for a hobby or wishing to provide a den for teenagers.

"More and more people are choosing to have toilets and showers fitted and its an option we recommend to people. You may be planning to use the Shomera as a home office only for the next 10 years, but having bathroom facilities gives you greater flexibility if you want to use it as a guest room in the future for example. If you can go that extra bit when having the Shomera installed, we recommend that you do so."

Garden office panel

By installing an office in his garden 3Com's country manager for Ireland, Ray O'Connor, reckons he has boosted his own productivity and added value to his home.

His decision to invest in a Shomera garden office was driven by the arrival of the first of his two children, when space previously available in his Rathfarnham home suddenly became unavailable for home office use.

"It would have been very difficult for me to work from home with interuptions from the children," he says. "Now I am home and away from home at the same time."

O'Connor works from his home office on average two days a week. "Typically when I have to go to meetings I work from home rather than having to commute to the 3Com office in Blanchardstown," he says, "But even when I am based in Blanchardstown, I'll use the Shomera too. Travelling from Blanchardstown during the rush hour can take over an hour. But if I leave the office at 4pm, I can be home in ten minutes and do my final hours work from home. It really has boosted my productivity."

O'Connor says that the garden office provides "a very pleasant working environment", even though the primary reason for choosing a Shomera was that it be fully functional.

"It's a nice place to work, particularly in the summer when the birds are singing," he says. "Sometimes, I'll take a five minute break and walk around the garden and it really clears my head."

From the point of view of comfort, O'Connor says the built-in heating system is more than adequate for his needs during the Winter. "The Shomera heats up in minutes," he says. "Because of the timber construction, the level of insulation is very good. If anything, sometimes it gets too hot and I have to open the windows."

Because the Shomera was installed at precisely the time when home-life was coming under increasing pressure, because of the arrival of his daughter Leah, it was essential that installing the Shomera was a painless experience.

"It went very smoothly," he says. "On day one they lay the foundations, day two they built the shell and installed the electrics and on the third day it was ready to use. All I had to do was feed in the connection for the electricity and my broadband.

"An estate agent has told us that the Shomera has added an extra €20,000 to the value of our home - which is much more than we paid for it. So all in all, its been a good investment."