While the predictions that by this stage in the 21 Century we'd all be tele-commuting haven't quite come to pass, and some companies such as Yahoo! are actively encouraging home-workers back to the office, there are still plenty of jobs filled by people who work mostly from their own home.
Whether you run your own business, freelance for others, or are employed but don't have an office desk, both the joys and irritations of working from home will be familiar. So-called 'experts' tell us that having a dedicated office in a room in the house is essential for home-workers. But what if you just don't have a room to spare? That was my predicament when I started freelancing three years ago. Fortunately, the solution was literally staring me in the face. From the desk where I worked in our chilly conservatory, I looked directly towards the end of the garden and the decrepit garage which we'd long vowed to demolish. I decided that now was the time to get rid of the garage and replace it with something I could use as an office.
After much research, I decided a wooden cabin was the answer. There were several reasons, including cost and ease of build. But most importantly, cabins, like sheds, don't need planning permission. They're covered by what's known as 'permitted development.' This isn't a free-for-all to allow you to build what you like – there are strict rules – but provided your structure falls within these rules, you can go ahead and build without troubling your local planning department.
The permitted development rules cover things like the area and height of the building. For example, you can't build anything more than four metres high, or 2.5 metres high if it's within a metre of a boundary. So the first step in building a garden office is to familiarise yourself with the current permitted development rules. I, for example, had to choose a flat-roof design because my office is right at the back of the garden and so could only be 2.5 metres high. A pitched roof which is 2.5 metres at its apex would both look ridiculous and mean not being able to stand up straight inside.
Permitted development rules also prohibit fixed plumbing, so no running water or toilet.
Once you've got a handle on what you can do, it's time to choose your building. I wanted one I could work in all year round, so knew it had to be insulated. After a few days Googling for companies which build garden cabins, I found one that seemed right. Run by structural engineers, the company promised lots of custom options, and the opportunity to ask lots of questions. After chatting to one of the engineers, I realised, for example that the double-skinned, insulated walls offered by other companies would become structurally unsound in the British climate and that insulating the floor and roof was a much better option, along with 45mm thick walls.
The other factor you'll need to consider is the foundation for your new building. I was building on a concrete base which had already housed a garage, so didn't have to worry about it. But if you're starting from scratch, you'll need to put foundations in place before ordering the building.
My cabin was delivered by truck and fork lift six weeks or so after ordering. It was built, by contractors hired by the manufacturer, in a day. It took another day for an electrician to run an armoured cable from the consumer unit in the house to the cabin and wire up lights and sockets.
I use Powerline adapters, which transmit data over power cables, to connect a wireless router in the office to my BT Home Hub and so have a wireless network in the office. With that, a coffee machine, and a laptop, I'm good to go.
I work in the cabin in all weathers, thanks to a 2kw electric heater, and am sitting in it now as I write this, looking out at the garden and thanking my lucky stars, again, that commuting is a thing of the past.