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© Copyright 2008 Work-4 Projects Ltd.
The Home Office
Not just another room

By Jon Eakes

Recent profitability studies for computer-centred companies show up to a 40 per cent reduction in overall operating costs by perfecting mobile communications and integrating home offices into the corporate organizational framework. Some employees work totally out of their homes while others cut down on commuting by working one or two days a week at home. Costs are down and employee retention is up. With the cost of gas, this trend is exploding.
Up to now, we have considered any room in a home as a candidate for conversion to a home office, but it is time that builders and renovators start taking the special requirements of a home office more seriously. The office itself has special requirements that might not be met with a bedroom layout, the person in the office has environmental needs not typical of a residential space, and the interface between the work and the family is also a construction consideration.

If the office is to receive business visitors, this space should have its own exterior door. A quick fix is to put the office next to a side entrance with a small foyer full of doors: access to outdoors, toilet, office and house. The family always has access to the side door and the toilet without bothering the office; visitors have access to a toilet without bothering the family.

Before those walls get closed in, don't forget minimum soundproofing to isolate the office from the family as well as the family from the office (if someone wants to work late and not bother others). This may even mean weather-stripping the office door that opens onto that common foyer. In an extreme case, use baseboard heating and a small HRV just for the office to cut the office off of all the sound from the residential heating and ventilation ductwork.

An office can have heavy electrical demands so there should be a wealth of separate circuit outlets. One or two computers and screens should be on their own outlet. All those computer accessories require another outlet. The printer, copier, fax should have their own outlet. Most offices end up with a small TV set and maybe even a DVD player. Don't forget that the espresso machine also takes a good current draw. If you can set up clean wall- or baseboard-mounted surge protected buss bars in every work area, those who fight the rats' nest of wires will be delighted.
Provision for a separate telephone line or even two should be pre-wired into this room, with several locations for the telephone connection. Commercial telephone wiring, not residential wiring, should be used to permit commercial multi-line phone systems that simply do not work on residential wiring. Don't forget a couple of LAN outlets and cable runs, even if you are planning on a wireless network hub. It is cheap to wire it in during construction or renovation, but a real pain to cut it through later.

Just any old lighting will not work for an office; eye strain is an important factor in the environment. Place computer screens on the same wall as the incoming daylight, as this avoids annoying reflections on the screen. An overhead light should illuminate the space between the computer screen and the occupant, without reflecting on the screen or shining into the eyes. For reading, the light should come over the left shoulder of a right-handed person and the right shoulder for a left-handed person. Surprisingly, this reduces both eye strain and back strain as the light will not reflect off of a book into the eyes. When the light comes over the wrong shoulder, the back instinctively twists to an uncomfortable position to remove the reflection.

The only heating item to avoid in an office space, other than over heating, is floor radiant heat. Studies from as far back as 1950 have shown that when the feet are the warmest part of the body, the body shuts down and productivity goes way down. When you are the boss of your own productivity, falling asleep at your desk is not a good thing.

An extra residential room is not always a good candidate for a home office, but a well planned and executed home office space can easily be converted into residential space. In fact, it is uniquely suited as a noisy high-tech teenager's bedroom or an extremely quiet room for Grandma - and that can add resale value to the house.


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