Back Yard Office

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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 occa...

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.

MATERIALS and Such

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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    35 Discussions

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    Build-Bot

    8 weeks ago

    This is a wonderful project! It is the type of thing that makes me want to get out and start building my own little office / area. Thank you so much for posting this amazing build!

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    Gardenclaire

    2 months ago

    Fantastic! Go you and Go Mum! (what is it with these 80-year old ladies? My Mum is just the same!)

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    DavidE341

    2 months ago

    Good first effort and I will encourage you to either get a magazine subscription to Fine Homebuilder or (probably better) a subscription to their web site so you can read previous articles so you can see what is truly "best industry practice" today as most of what is commonly built is just to local building codes. The saying in the building science world is "code-built houses are the cheapest houses builders are legally allowed to build". Also - the three worst enemies of construction are water, water, water.

    That being said I would have gone about this much differently (and have been thinking about doing something similar for some time). I would have done the framing in the same way, but used Huber Zipwall/tape/liquid sealant for the sheathing, under floor and top of ceiling joists to provide an exterior air barrier for all 6 surfaces (no need now for an interior barrier like is done with drywall and much easier to do properly). I would have then installed the rockwool insulation on the outside of the sheathing (including the floor and more on top of the ceiling than on the walls) to eliminate conduction through all the framing. I would then install vertical 1x3 stringers or "dimple mat" on the outside of the walls to provide a behind-the-cladding drain surface, and either vinyl siding or maybe the oak you used in a vertical board-and-batten design. With this method, you would not need to do any interior finishing other than staining or painting the frame members and interior side of the sheathing (if acceptable). I fear your exposed tar paper will not last very long and your oak siding will remain wet much longer without a drainage plain on the back. I would also use some form of exterior-swinging windows as you did (at least double-pane but preferably triple-pane) but only 10% of the square inches of the floor area and only facing south. I have reservations about using a casement window on edge as the mechanicals are not engineered for those loads and I would fear premature failure. I would also have incorporated roof overhangs of 24" on all sides to better protect the walls from weather, and would have integrated some sort of shading for the south-facing windows that allowed winter sun to enter but not summer sun.

    Again, good first effort. Consider it a learning exercise and start investigating/planning for version 2.0.

    9 replies
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    GaryNDaytonDavidE341

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks for your knowledgeable and well-informed reply, Dave!

    Wow,
    where were you when I could have benefited from your experience?!
    Things I never would have thought of, but some the things you mentioned
    are worth a comment. I will look into the mags listed and do more on
    Best Practices. On 2nd and 3rd and 4th thoughts, I would have done the
    whole thing differently - mainly using Rex Robert's "Your Engineered
    House" (not any newer versions with Charlie Wing, as he ruined most of
    Rex's ideas and included none of the sample plans - which was the whole
    point). I would have bunched the re-claimed sticks into 4x6 posts for
    each corner; planted those and put up the roof as to shelter all the
    subsequent work underneath. Sort of like the Amish barn raising
    approach, except I didn't have a bunch of young kids to scramble around
    up there! Then laid out the floor and last, simply 'hung' the walls so
    they extended past the floor. That would have given me all the floor
    area to work on (an impressive 53 sq ft). And, with much lighter walls,
    could have done as you suggest with just paint. Great suggestion! I
    agree with the windows as the 2 larger ones 'do snag a bit' as the
    cranks carry more than their share of the load. They are usually
    partially open all the time, it's not a big deal to give them a closing
    push from the outside. They are double-paned and at $10 and $8, priced
    right. The rear ones work perfectly as they were designed with center
    cranks, both free. The 4th window - the door - was $20 with hardware.

    The
    roof proved a challenge due to it's completely unorthodox design.
    Overhangs would have been nice as it is on the back side, but would have
    changed in a bad way, the clean design of the other 3 sides. To prevent
    any water intrusion, the Re-Store had a huge linoleum flooring sheet
    that I used to make a shower-type tray over the entire thing (some of
    which is visible) before the Ondura went down, essentially a double
    layer over the vinyl over the sheathing. So far NO leaks, no runs, but a
    few errors as your point out. I like the rain channels as you suggest
    for the walls, the gaps are so close, so far no damage to the tar paper
    and it air drys quickly (no warpage either with the oak being used
    outside) which maybe due to the fact that they aged well over 100 years
    in a previous life. I do re-treat the entire building every year with a
    fresh coat of preservative - relaxing and it keeps me close to what's
    happening.

    All in all, it's worked out fine during every season. I
    have a small space heater and fan which keeps things temperate no
    matter what weather. A huge maple tree provides the shade for the office
    which makes it a nice place to hang out. I've had as many as 5 other
    people inside and we've all enjoyed it - the acoustics are incredible.

    I'll
    use many of your suggestions on my next project, a true small house
    built with SIPs and a pier foundation. Thanks again for your
    encouragement! Gary

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    DavidE341GaryNDayton

    Reply 2 months ago

    Gary - If I were building a true small house, I'd strongly recommend you read up on Passive House concepts and recent Passive House builds. Given that, I'd go with an insulated slab-on-grade foundation (no drafty, damp basements or crawl spaces), conventional 2x4 framing (with the wall details as I previously mentioned) to keep material/assembly costs lower, raised-heel roof trusses (to allow for additional insulation over the outside wall areas as well as a vented attic area). Concentrate on air/vapor/thermal/weather protection boundaries - including best practice for handling drainage for window/door rough openings. No combustion appliances (including fireplaces or stoves) indoors; dedicated venting (to outside) for baths and stove top. As much insulation as you can afford (regardless of what is currently recommended by Energy Department). Stick to the 10%-of-floor-area gauge for the amount of summer-shaded window size you will need to balance between enough "daylighting" and evening heat loss. All (triple) glazing towards the south if it can be designed (no bedrooms requiring emergency egress on the north side). I would also "experiment" with installing attic baffle chutes all the way from the soffit vents to the high point (ridge if peaked; front if flat roof sloped up to south). I have a working theory that encapsulating the underside of the roof accelerates air flow and reduces radiation to the attic interior. I'd also provide outside access to the attic area vs. having some hatch or pull-down stairs in the interior. Lots of real good info readily available that has not yet become "common" building techniques.

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    GaryNDaytonDavidE341

    Reply 2 months ago

    Hi again Dave!

    You make it clear that I am way out my tech environment and have no grasp of anything to do with home building, (but am learning quickly). I may have misspoke/miswritten with the thought that I could do a ground-up build. Re-considering and doing some research, points me toward the use of one of many Amish builders in Ohio (JDM Structures for example as they are partners with Unibilt Homes, here in Dayton) for a weather proof shell which I would then upgrade everything under, over and within.

    Under, I like the idea of an insulated super-slab with PEX tubing to heat with radiant solar heated water/glycol as we've been heating water via sun for hundreds of years and have perfected it nearly to the point of boiling.

    Over: I have to research the raised heel and other options you mention. Packing the roof and walls with insulation to exceed Energy Dept ratings to come close to an R100. As we are all thermal machines, it would be great to have body heat supply most of the comfort, plus the benefits of 2 bodies generating some friction heat. Having a pre-built shell would allow a second, off-set wall to whatever finished width packed with batts running sideways with no thermal breaks.

    Within: Totally agree with NO combustion appliances. In the 1960s, the buzz was for all electric as the future with nuclear 'too cheap to meter', we know how that's worked out.... Mostly renewal electric is possible for such a small space. I've seen holographic fireplaces with realistic flames that produce heat and ambiance with none of the wood hassles of storing, cleaning, etc. Some some combination of solar hot water, battery backup and vertical axis wind generation could provide an all electric AC/DC house.

    I really like Light. the 10% seems kinda chincy. Each layer of glass reduces the view by about 10% so I'd like to limit the view loss. Operable, thick shutters can mitigate much of the night heat-loss while giving me the views I want. Rex pointed out that we often mistake "views" for "ventilation" as they are very different but often co-joined with poor results. Simple, fixed glass for windows, and operable openings for ventilation placed to encourage natural convection currents (as your roofing system suggests).

    As there will be only a couple rooms, but several areas within the shell, I'd opt for sleeping toward the cooler, northern side as I prefer to snuggle down with a cool facial breeze. Getting out of this thing in an emergency will not be an issue. For this I like the Commercial Code where every door is an egress opening outwards complete with bar hardware - I'm getting out in a hurry!

    I'll be tweaking these ideas moving forward using as many suggestions as you and the other Master Makers can offer. Thanks again for your advice and for following along with this newbie!

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    DavidE341GaryNDayton

    Reply 2 months ago

    I think you need to give yourself more credit - most homeowners today are almost completely ignorant of any strides in building science made in the last 10 years. Regarding windows - the 10% figure is one I've seen recommended by several solar/passive designers. It makes sense if you only put glazing on the south wall (east/west too problematic with overheating in shoulder months; north gives you some ambient light but no solar gain). It is a compromise in design between window heat loss penalty at night and need for daylighting (or a view if you have one). Get a good interior lighting design using lots of LED strip lighting (and maybe a ULED TV with an outdoor HD camera) and you will never need the windows you think you need. Just a hold-over design of trying to impress others with how many windows a house has (from the days when windows were REAL expensive and used by the Downton Abby crowd). It's why the real estate/builders still call the street-side of a house "the money side".

    Regarding ventilation - stick to fixed glass panels and mechanical ventilation (with at least MERV 13 filtration in both the ventilation unit and the heating/AC unit). Lower cost, better seal, no reliance on you needing to be present to manually "doing the right thing" (think sudden rain storm, changing weather front, etc.), less security issues, works way better than trying to rely on random wind patterns and thermosyphoning, cuts down on increased interior humidity, de-stratifies temperatures within the rooms, decreases indoor air quality issues. Also - plan for separate dehumidification system in addition to the heating/AC system for shoulder months.

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    GaryNDaytonDavidE341

    Reply 2 months ago

    That is a great watch. They are trying different things and most seem to be good ideas. Some very expensive answers for economical questions, but at least they are being considered. It's a large place with - what looks to be - several design approached: a more traditional farm house coupled to that dramatic winged roof optimized for solar power and sun water. Great for rain water collection! One thing they did get right, it is worth it to spend more now on systems that will pay for themselves over time, generating a net positive approach.

    I could be most content living in that addition with a simplified radiant heating system (minus the wood stove). A better option would be an electronic 3-D fireplace powered off the charged battery banks from the vertical axis wind turbine. The more the wind outside is frightful, the brighter and toaster it is inside! Sweet, sweet irony.

    Thanks for the link and your continuing support and encouragement!

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    GaryNDaytonDavidE341

    Reply 2 months ago

    Hi Dave, thanks again for the suggestions. I've already changed my thinking on foundations and roof as I follow your links around the build-web, it's going o be a better house when finished. So many things are a compromise! And so many things change what follows so that it is hard to keep a big picture in the right perspective. Jumping to the video link next, his use of a heated slab makes the most sense over piers and basements. Tinted and polished, makes a nice finished floor, even add tiles for solar moderation. Of course his place is HUGE and has (in my opinion) a terrible, way too complicated water/heat transfer system. Even together in the show, they had trouble describing how it worked. Not really solar with that electric demand water heater feeding the rest of the personal use and area heating needs. And, for ventilation, looks like they got that backwards with the windows along the top ridge under that overhang doing nothing, while the floor window/vents (all operable) tried to draft to the higher rear windows. Unless they are in the southern US. It made lots more work for Neal than necessary. He even slipped up by saying he had to make a tool to close those high windows. Fixed screens with covers that could be opened and forgotten most of the year. would save him that upper body workout - every time a sudden storm happens. But they look great! Sad a little that he put in a wood stove, not the most 'green' of choices.

    In these smaller builds, air quality is the first to suffer and as you point out is often overlooked. Keeping a comfort level without lots of mechanical assist is the one thing, I wouldn't want to compromise on. I was surprised that the project house did not have at least roof turbine. Near Chicago, whadtheycallit: The Windy City? He's paying to power fans - why? Here at 40 Lat, we get some mighty fine wind. Check out Xenia = a local town most famous for Wind as in tornadoes, lots and lots of big winds here. More later.....

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    Alaskan BevDavidE341

    Reply 2 months ago

    Not only does it appear that you have a great deal of experience and expertise, David, but you're also an excellent, very readable writer! Thanks for taking the time to contribute and share with the reading/building world!

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    CharlesN63

    2 months ago

    The three worst enemies of construction are water, wind and a weak foundation. As long as it's not a dwelling and you didn't blow by zoning laws or the local Code, I'm glad you did it and I'm sure you learned from doing it. I'm a retired Code official so I somewhjat agree with DavidE341, but as a temporary cute little retreat, i'm glad you did it. As for others who pooh poohed DavidE341, be careful, Codes are laws there for the safety of all.

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    GaryNDaytonCharlesN63

    Reply 2 months ago

    Probably not always in that order either. City Code cops seemed impressed as they got their $40 permit fee, and I got a packing tag for the door. Not a lot of regs for under 60sf. I did try and max out what I thought I could do with all that old stuff. The pine studs (aged like iron) couldn't be in used today builds as they are 'graded' - that code part makes little sense. Partially burying the foundation blocks kept the shed up enough for drainage and ventilation. It hasn't settled a fraction of an inch, course it is a massive load. I was a bit obsessed with the thought of keeping any water out, out and away. Originally, a skylight was 'planned' over the entry area. After all that work on the roof, I couldn't see cutting a hole in it (but had a nice, operable one from the RS). No skylight outside, instead the ceiling inside is painted Ohio Morning Blu... I think Dave's been pretty much right on with his comments as to codes, modern building techniques, use of re-newables, good common sense. I'm not a fan of such limited glazing, but it isn't part of code - just advice. If applied to this little shed, it'd give a window about 5sf which would be looking out a cave. Gone would be everything but the door and I'd have to panel some of that. As it applies to larger structures, it has to account for its natural environment. My window plan follows the sun with coffee in the morning and ends with the sun setting thru clear glass on me relaxed in my recliner. Xanado!

    Thanks again Charles for your encouragement and support!

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    dajanasa1

    2 months ago

    I have been a carpenter for 35+ years. Like some one else said "you've done good". Very nice structure. Suits it's purpose. Keep on doing. There will always be somebody to criticise. No criticism here. My first try didn't even come close.

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    GaryNDaytondajanasa1

    Reply 2 months ago

    Wow, Thank you for your experienced review! Function fits Form in this case. Absolutely, ' Keep on doing'! Great advice on this thread and I'm following up on all of them. After all, us old dogs got this way by learning old tricks. Thank you again!

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    Alaskan Bev

    2 months ago

    Beautiful job, and the photos are great! Thanks for the inspiration. This is infinitely better than the plastic outta-the-box jobbies! I love that your mom participated and added so much to the entire project. Good on ya, dude!

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    GaryNDaytonAlaskan Bev

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks from Ohio! True: getting started is the hardest part as in your 'Make'; but think of the great feeling when you finish. Also true. Just couldn't keep her away from those 148 miles of backroads 3 times a week. Proof, we ALL gotta stay active!

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    GaryNDaytonThummarwitshW

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you! I bet you say that to all the other sweet little offices.....