Converting my shed to an office

Lockdown found me in need of an office. Could I turn my shed into a comfortable place to work?

The justification for this tale of folly is that my wife and I are home-working, me permanently and my wife for the next couple of months at least. We don’t have enough room in the house for a dedicated space. The closest we have is the conservatory, but for at least half the day it bakes you alive. What we do have is a shed.

Our shed is the standard sized timber-framed thing that you’ll find at the bottom of most British gardens. It’s about ten years old, but has been looked after. I reckoned that I could turn it into a useable office space without much fuss. An article in The Times says that these conversions are known as a ‘shoffice’ - an amalgamation of shed & office. I am never going to call it that.

Someone famous once said that the best place to start is the beginning. I trundled down to see what my starting point was, then lay down on the floor, curled myself into the fetal position and sobbed quietly.

Messy shed

Like any good shed, it’s rammed with junk - but a casual survey suggests that the structure is basically sound. The main faults are:

  • a minor leak on the roof
  • a small hole where a mouse has broken in
  • some water penetration on the walls where the shiplap has deterioriated

I can fix that. The game is on.

Step 1: Preparation

I figured that I have enough knowledge about the fundamentals of building construction to take on a project like this - because I live in a house, and how hard can it be? But I would need some sort of plan, if only to reassure other people that I knew what I was doing. The first step was to commission some detailed technical drawings of the structure and dimensions.

With that done, I needed to clear all the junk out. This was a real pain. I decided to dump it in a big pile in the garden. Meanwhile, a significant amount of building materials are piling up in our hallway, increasing the risk that I might have to live in the shed rather than work in it.

Step 1: Fix the roof

The old felt on the roof was brittle and porous. I replaced it with some brand-spanking-new long-life roofing felt. It would have been easier if I had bought the right amount of felt, saving me an additional trip to Wickes in the middle of a global pandemic, but the actual work was straight-forward, and I am at least 90% confident that it is water-tight.

Cost of materials: Approximately £60

Step 2: Add some windows

My shed didn’t have any windows. Sitting in the dark didn’t sound much fun, so I ordered two panes of UPVC glazing from a local glass factory. At this point I wasn’t sure how I was going to install the glass - so I put that little worry aside for another day.

The next day came and I started worrying about how I was going to install the glass. The basic plan I came up with was:

  • Build a timber frame on the inside to support the weight of the glass
  • Cut out two holes
  • Make external and internal framing to hold the glass in place

Cutting the holes in the shed was terrifying, because from that point on it’s no longer a good shed - it’s just a shit building with holes in it. Anyway, after much swearing, cutting and hammering I ended up with two framed holes that looked approximately like windows. In my humble but expert opinion, a good window has two desirable features:

  1. You can see out of it
  2. It doesn’t let the outside weather inside

I give myself full marks for the first one. The second one is more difficult. There is a technical term we use at work - ‘silicone-the-shit-out-of-it’ - which translates roughly to fixing something by applying lots and lots of silicone sealant. I installed the glass, framed it, applied lots of silicone and crossed my fingers.

Building the exterior frames

I was able to replace the rotten sections of cladding with bits removed for the windows - a stroke of good luck rather than good planning.

Cost for glass: £28
Cost for other materials: £20

Step 3: Insulation and Boarding

Sheds tend to be a bit cold in the winter, so I insulated the walls and ceiling with 20mm polystyrene sheets and then added a layer of thick polythene to keep moisture out. Polystyrene is awful to work with, but cheap and easy for a weakling like me to carry.

I wanted finished walls, so plasterboard is realistically the only option for the inside. I can’t skim so the plan is to board it, fill the gaps, slap some paint on and hope for the best.

This step was time-consuming. Because of the small space, each piece of insulation and plasterboard has to be individually cut to size. I asked a friend help me with the boarding - but he’s the annoying sort that insists that I will only learn if I do things myself, so I didn’t save as much time as much as I had hoped.

With the boards now installed, I filled the gaps with filler, left it to dry and sanded the joints down to create what I hoped (but wasn’t) a smooth finish. I also moved the small consumer unit to a better location and reinstalled the light. It’s now beginning to look less like a shed and more like a room. I feel like Tim Taylor.

Cost: approx £210 (less approx £100 of donated materials)

Step 4: Finishing off

I am relatively happy with myself again by the time I’ve finished painting, and the paint has taken to the plasterboard better than I expected. I built a desk and some storage out of CLS timber & plywood, laid down some laminate, installed some skirting, two double sockets, some blinds and called it a day.

Here’s how it looked on the last day:

There was a minor technical hitch when I realised that my WiFi doesn’t reach the end of the garden. Well, it does and it doesn’t. Download speeds were great, but upload non-existent. That wouldn’t have bothered me a year ago, but you need a decent amount of upload bandwidth for video calls. I tried Powerline adaptors. They worked, but only at 6mbps (probably because of the distance and the number of circuits). I wasn’t having that when I’ve got a 200mbps connection in the house, so I ran an ethernet cable in.

All done

We’ve had some bad weather over the past week, and no leaks. I’m calling it watertight and declaring mission accomplished.