A backyard office shed provides the convenience of working at home with the ability to close up shop and walk 30 feet into the house, leaving the cares and worries of the workday behind. That concept prompted me to design and build the new headquarters of the Word House, a writing and editing business I run with my wife, Judy.
One Man’s Junk
I wrote a little about my project as it was underway for the 2015 Farmers’ Almanac in a story entitled “One Man’s Junk.’’ The article explains how DIY homeowners can repurpose building materials through visits to hundreds of Habitat For Humanity ReStores, and by searching ads on Craigslist and FreeCycle. A key goal for our project was to reuse as many building materials as possible —both to reduce construction costs and as a way to promote sustainability.
I started a few years ago, putting a pencil to graph paper, designing and redesigning a small building that served multiple purposes and added rather than detracted from our suburban landscape. The size, shape and look of the building changed as I thought about our needs and collected architectural elements.
What you see here is the result — a cozy, light-filled two-room modern building that opens up a window to the natural world outside. As I write this, dozens of birds are visiting my feeders and I can survey the entire backyard. Inside, we have a well-insulated workplace with all the technology connections required to run a small business.
The building is constructed on a 14×20-foot concrete slab (about the size of a one-car garage), with a 12×14-foot office space, an 8×8-foot storage room and a 6×8-foot covered porch. The building was permitted and inspected by local authorities; the city allows small businesses like ours to operate from an outbuilding. If you’re interested in a project like this, check with municipal officials to make sure it’s allowed and ask for construction guidelines.
Recycled Materials Used
Gathering materials took me across the state to several ReStores. Five matching insulated windows and doors were located in Racine, Wisconsin. Another large casement window was found in Milwaukee. The Appleton, Wisconsin store yielded a metal shed door and some hardware. More windows were purchased as construction surplus through a Craigslist ad, and “free’’ listings on that site turned up track lighting, a ceiling fan and other materials folks were discarding during remodeling projects.
A skilled and creative carpenter helps bring a project like this together. Local craftsman Jim Wall worked from my drawings and incorporated all of the gathered materials, skillfully framing in all the doors and windows. I did as much of the insulating, painting, electric and finish work as I could to keep a hand in the project and save money.
Where it was difficult to find recycled materials, I ordered low-cost, durable building materials that would make an attractive exterior that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. The roof is corrugated steel like you would find in barns. The siding is textured 4×8-foot grooved plywood, installed horizontally on the sides seen from the yard. The shed is stained rather than painted for easier long-term maintenance.
With winter coming on, we are experimenting with a small electric heater in hopes that the heavily insulated workspace with south-facing, sun-drenched windows will not require a lot of added power to stay warm.
As I sit in the shed and write this story for the Farmers’ Almanac, I take satisfaction that my daily commute has been reduced to just a few steps. I’m also happy I was able to – with the help of Habitat ReStores and folks in my community who believe in recycling –keep several bulky items out of the landfill.
To view additional photos, click to the next page.