Introduction: Back Yard Office

About: Just an average guy who has never built anything from scratch before this little backyard project. Being well over 50 didn't stop me and helped me overcome any self-doubts I may have had. I did have the occasi…

This Instructable is specifically for anyone who has doubts about their ability to build anything. At well over 50-something, I picked up a Ryobi starter kit which had a small saw and drill and a rough sketch of what I wanted to build on limited space in my backyard. With those and a limited budget, but a Habitat Re-Store nearby, I started my build. Seemed easy enough. One old timer said "nothing to it", you just take 1 board at a time - so get going.

This will not cover every step but the photos do show the progress and most of the relevant intermediate steps. Certainly not a solo effort as the pics show. I had the fantastic help of my 80yo mother who helped 'build' me. She would drive over 60 miles one way to help out with whatever we were doing (no tickets or accidents). This is as much a tribute to her as it is a how-to of what's possible with no skills and plenty of determination. I hope you enjoy and find it useful and inspirational.


I used recycled and reclaimed products whenever I could so there is no exact materials list. The few new items along with the Ryobi from Home Depot were: 5 foundation blocks, pressure-treated floor rims and joists, Styrofoam insulation, Ondura roofing panels, and lots and lots of deck screws. Nothing visible was 'new' and not a single nail.

From the Re-Store: everything else. Tongue and grove sub-flooring, original real oak laminate leftovers, yards of 100 year old oak flooring with the tongues ripped off for the exterior siding, reclaimed wood and glass door, 2 small awning windows, 1 large 48" casement window, 1 smaller 36" casement (both turned sideways), 4 maple panel closet doors for desk and storage, 2 solid oak cabinets from a Wright State University chemistry lab redo, and enough leftover ZIP panels and miscellaneous plywood sheathing. The rolls of tar paper and insulating rock-wool were generously donated by friends. All of the framing was done with true 2"x4" lumber from a deconstructed house in Dayton (there are plenty more).

Once built, Mom furnished a nice office chair and solar desk light from IKEA in Mason.

With that, let's get started!

Step 1: The Basics: Foundation & Flooring

The sketch shows a mammoth 96"x 80" plan for a total of 7,680 square inches (or an 8'x 6'8" footprint, 53 sq ft for the metric impaired like me) just massive!

Using true 2"x4" from the Re-Store adds over 25% to the more common graded lumber. Squaring by the Pythagorean Theory has it at 124.9" - nailed it, so to speak!

Stuffed the floor with 2 layers of solid foam. Sanding down the sub-floor before trimming to the rims got things nice and cleanly level.

My Helper without whom, this would not have been possible. Thanks again, Mom!

Step 2: Walls & Sheathing

One issue with working on such a small footprint was that every wall was larger than the floor. This required some additional juggling and of course, a little rain had to fall.

Once sheathed, the wrap went on, the windows went in and the old oak flooring had the tongues ripped off before it was added to the outside.

The first horizontal strip was the most critical as every other piece was based on this placement.

Note: the 1/2" gap allowed for a dramatic shadow through to the tar paper while offering a degree of protection.

Not one row was interrupted with any spliced seam, making for a nice monolithic look.

Step 3: Moving Inside: Electric, Drywall, & Desk/storage

With the office closed in, time for the rock wool which fit perfectly within the true 4" wall cavities. Easier than stuffing my Jimmy with 6 giant rolls from a friend who works at Duke Energy (and he's still employed). The sound deadening ability of the rock is amazing!

The office is a short 12' walking commute (4 steps) from the back porch. Short enough that I simply ran an extension cord to the outside connector, no trenching. Inside is fully wired with 2 GFCs above the cabinet and a regular outlet on each other wall, over wired.

If there was anything I would do differently, it would be to NOT use drywall. It was a hot, dusty and very slow process - I hate gypsum dust! Way too much work for such a small space. The extra thick walls required a special approach to the inside window trim. Solved by the use of bull-nosed corner strips for a soft round look.

Having committed to this type of wall under-layment, I went full boat after patching and sanding and more sanding then with tinted primer and matching top coat from Behr, good, better, best. It looked weird at first but the result was satisfying - mist green and sky blue.

Using the recycled closet doors horizontally for the desk and bookshelves saved time and money and looks nice to boot. The old laboratory file cabinets give tons of storage as they get another chance at usefulness.

Last step: Beautification!

Step 4: Beautification!

With all major construction done, time to paint and treat the outside against Ohio elements.

I choose to match the roof color for all the windows and a slightly clear stain for the oak flooring. Now, a new life as horizontal siding; but running vertical on the office rear. From the main 3 side views, it looks impossible - as planned. A flat roofed cube that deceives as the walls are inside the roof area which slopes from 96" at peak back to 80" - the same dimensions as the floor.

Looks a lot like the original sketch just 3 short months ago. Like the man said: "Just take it 1 board at a time".

Now, you can be the judge.

Bottom line, I hope you are inspired to give it a try no matter how much - or little - room you have.

Go ahead, Instruct yourself!

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