For millions of us, homeworking is here to stay for a while longer at least and some anticipate that they will never return to the office. However, many have struggled to find a satisfactory spot in their home where they can get on with their work undisturbed.
So it’s not surprising that lots of homeowners have been eyeing up their garden as a potential new working environment.
Research by Direct Line’s home insurance arm found that since lockdown began almost 1 million homeworkers have splashed out on a shed or similar outbuilding to use as an office or workspace and a further 1.1 million are planning to do so in the next 12 months.
Companies specialising in shed offices (or “shoffices”) and garden rooms have reported a surge in inquiries and orders. That applies to the mass-market retailers, where the most basic summerhouses start at only a few hundred pounds, all the way up to the high-end players, whose often architecturally striking creations can cost tens of thousands of pounds.
The boom in demand means that some designs are out of stock or you may have to wait several months for a delivery.
So what’s on offer and how much do they cost?
The average “shed worker” spent just over £3,300 on their garden workspace, according to research from the digital bank Starling, carried out a few weeks before lockdown.
The average size of a garden workspace was 65 sq ft (6 sq metres), according to the survey.
There is a vast array of options depending on your budget and aesthetic taste.
Go online and it’s not hard to find small wooden summerhouses for under £500 but something that cheap is only really going to be usable in good weather.
Realistically, you will need to spend a few thousand pounds for something you can comfortably use all year.
At the specialist site Sheds.co.uk, insulated garden rooms and buildings start at £5,694 for a 3×3 metre structure, going up to £9,899 for a 6×4 metre one (these prices include delivery and installation). The walls, floor and roof are fully insulated and the windows are double-glazed.
At the log cabin specialist Summer House 24, offices start at about £2,400 but installation, insulation and roofing cover typically cost extra. For example, the 3.2×3.2 metre Nora B log cabin is priced at £2,430 but using its installation service costs an extra £850, while a floor and roof insulation kit is £570 and a roof shingle kit is £180. On its large Hansa log cabin offices costing £14,500, installation alone adds an extra £3,500 to the price.
John Lewis sells garden offices and studios made by Norfolk-based Crane Garden Buildings, including a 3×3 metre one costing £8,499, including installation and delivery. It is made in the UK from FSC-certified Scandinavian redwood, features floor-to-ceiling glass panels and is fully insulated, lined and double-glazed.
What is and isn’t included when you buy can vary hugely. Sometimes the shed will come without a roof covering or the wood will be untreated. Importantly, you will need a solid, level base for your building. Some shed firms will be able to sort you out with a concrete base but you may be charged £1,000, or much more. You may have a local builder who could do it for a lot less.
From budget to premium
If you’re handy when it comes to DIY and joinery, you may be able to create a garden workspace for a lot less cash. “A lot of DIYers will look at the cheaper options and do it themselves,” says William Letterese, a director at Sixty Stores, which owns Sheds.co.uk.
For example, you could buy a cheaper shed and insulate it for perhaps a few hundred pounds. You can buy insulation boards for walls and floors – well-known brands include Celotex, EcoTherm and Kingspan. There are lots of websites and blogs offering help and advice.
What about premium options?
How about the Escape Pod, a striking structure clad in cedar shingles and made of birch ply and European oak? The Gloucestershire-based firm Podmakers says that with its adaptable interior, heating (woodburner or underfloor), electrics and insulation, the Escape Pod has the potential to be used in lots of ways but “at the moment it’s really offices that people want … we’ve just put one in where there’s two people working”.
The starting price is £19,800 plus VAT (or £17,900 in kit form). They are delivered and installed using a forklift or crane, though if there are problems with access, the components can be carried through the house and assembled on site (with this option, installation costs £2,000).
Do I need planning permission?
Generally, no. Sheds and other outbuildings are considered to be permitted developments, not requiring planning permission, provided certain conditions are met. In England the main ones include: the building must be single storey with a maximum eaves height of 2.5 metres and a maximum overall height of 4 metres with a dual-pitched roof, or 3 metres for any other roof; it cannot be used as a separate home to live in; and it cannot include a veranda, balcony or raised platform higher than 300mm.
What about electricity and wifi?
Some firms offer a service where they will connect your garden building to the house’s electricity supply – but many don’t, so you may need to pay a professional electrician.
Some say you need to dig a trench so you can run an armoured power cable underground. Others say it’s OK to put the cable under some gravel or run it along the fence. If you know a friendly electrician, ask his or her advice.
There are various options for extending your wifi to your garden office. Probably the simplest and cheapest is a wifi booster, a smallish device you simply plug in and which amplifies your signal, although the shed probably needs to be no more than 30 metres away. You can get fairly decent wifi boosters from companies such as Netgear and TP-Link for £20-£40. Then there are so-called powerline adaptor kits, sometimes known as HomePlugs, which typically cost about the same.
Or you could run an ethernet cable from the house to the garden building (you could run it alongside your main power cable).
Will my garden office be covered under my home insurance?
Many buildings insurance policies extend cover to outbuildings as standard, which means you would be covered against weather damage, Moneysupermarket.com says. The contents will typically be covered by your home insurance but you need a good idea of what the items are worth, and to let your insurer know, it adds. Dig out the paperwork and if in doubt, contact your insurer(s).
Geared up: home office kit for all budgets
You may not have the cash or space for a separate home office, but there are ways to make a spare room or corner, into a work space.
• Buy second hand. For example, Recycled Business Furniture, based in High Wycombe, offers a basic package of a desk and a “quality” adjustable chair for £150 plus VAT, and an “executive package” of an electric desk and a Herman Miller chair for £475 plus VAT (this option was sold out at the time of writing). Or you can just buy a chair for £40 or £95, both with VAT on top.
• If you do end up buying new, websites such as Expert Reviews and TechRadar have detailed guides to the best office chairs for homeworking. Here are a few of their top picks:
£45 Ikea’s Torkel swivel chair. This month, Expert Reviews called it the best budget office chair.
About £50 Life Carver’s mesh middle back office chair. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.
£120 Argos’s Home Orion swivel chair. It has a faux leather finish and a high back.
£179 Ikea’s Markus swivel chair. It comes with a 10-year guarantee.
• TechRadar says the Furinno computer desk is, according to TechRadar, the “best budget (and space-saving) office desk” around, highlighting model 12095GYW, at about £107 and measuring 100cm wide by 86cm high by 40cm deep. If space is really at a premium, Argos sells a compact folding office desk for £40 that gets very good reviews. It is 86cm wide by 84cm high by 62cm deep, and folds flat.