Last Updated: 08/27/2023
My experience so far, in my new home workspace
For a long time, I’ve wanted a workspace of my own. There was just no way around it - I work best in a controlled environment, with all my stuff in one place, and with minimal distractions.
The way I see it, working from home is here to stay. As it should be. I really think some jobs should always have the option to be offered remotely. It can save you a lot of time and transportation-related expenses. But, I think it’s high time to re-evaluate what exactly it means to “work from home”. For me, for a few years, that meant working out of the only place in the house with a free desk - the laundry room!
Needless to say, sharing “office” space with a washing machine and dryer is not the most pleasant of experiences. Especially when said machines are loudly chugging away. I found myself having to juggle doing laundry with online meeting times. My co-workers found a bit of joy in watching clothes tumble around in my background… It can be done, I’m proof of that. But if you have the option to rethink things a little bit, I’d highly recommend going for it.
For me, rethinking my home workspace meant taking it out of the house completely. I considered many possibilities, including renting an office, finding co-working space, turning a shipping container into an office, working out of an used construction trailer, or even turning a garden shed or RV into an office. But finally, a much better option presented itself.
The option I chose to go with was an outbuilding. Far more than a simple garden shed, this purpose-built space has been engineered specifically to enable me to work as productively and enjoyably as possible. I understand not everyone can pursue this option - perhaps due to a shortage of land, or funds, or zoning requirements, or just trouble finding the right people for the job. I completely recognize how fortunate I am to have been able to pull this off. But, maybe by sharing my experiences so far, I can give someone else the impetus to re-evaluate how they work from home. So they too can work more effectively - whatever that looks like for them.
I’ll probably make a more in-depth post about this whole process at some point. But basically, I ordered the cabin in early May. It was constructed and delivered (yes, delivered, it showed up on a flatbed) by early June. From then on, it was about a six-week process of finishing, well, everything. Because it was basically an empty shell when it arrived. The company I went with can do finished buildings as well, but my Dad convinced me that it would be worth finishing the building separately, in order to get exactly what I wanted and needed out of it.
So, now it’s late August, and I’ve been set up in here for about a month. Honestly I can barely remember the days of working from the laundry room - it’s night and day. So, here are some key takeaways from my first month working from this office cabin. Hope you find something useful in what I’m about to discuss!
The most important thing I wanted to get out of this space was a comfortable, climate-controlled environment. For the size of building I was going for (roughly 158 sq. feet on the inside) I figured a mini-split heat pump would be the ideal choice. Turns out, I was right.
The star of the show, a 9000 BTU Mitsubishi Hyper-Heating Inverter Heat Pump unit
Now, in my opinion (and the opinion of many HVAC installers) installing a heat pump in a house, and expecting it to work fine 100% of the year is a fallacy. At least here in Canada, or any place where the temperature is likely to drop below about -20 Celcius. Granted, heat pump technology has gotten a lot better in the last few years, and is continuing to improve. But I wanted to make sure I had a dedicated back-up, for the few days or weeks of the year when it gets really cold.
And by back-up, I didn’t mean a portable electric heater or two. Although that would’ve worked, it would have taken up precious floor space.
This baby is a 2000W baseboard heater from Ouellet
Since it’s still the summertime, I haven’t had to use the baseboard yet. I’ll make another post once I’ve experienced the worst winter can throw at me.
But so far, I’ve experienced the worst summer could throw at me. And my mini-split kept me very comfortable, at a nice 70-72F. Since the blower unit is mounted at the top of the wall, it doesn’t take up any of my precious floor space.
The installers did a great job, it's right smack-dab in the centre of the wall. And it's high enough I can walk under it. Yay floor space!
The mini-split is controlled with a nifty remote. It has a lot of features, including timers and schedules. But I’m satisfied with the basic “temperature up” and “temperature down” functions so far. It’s like a little portable thermostat.
You may have noticed the small cylinder in the bottom-right corner of the blower unit. That’s supposedly some kind of robotic “eye” - it slowly rotates to scan the room, presumably to detect areas of high or low temperature.
That’s the cool thing about this unit, and it’s why I’d strongly recommend going for a Mitsubishi or something similar - it’s super smart, but also super straightforward. No Wi-Fi monitoring, or mobile apps, or subscription services for me, thanks. I already paid the price of a decent used car for this, after all…
But I’d totally do it again. Sure, there are other options, especially for air conditioning, but this was the perfect fit for my needs. It’s honestly kind of soothing to listen to, as it modulates up and down. It’s hardly ever on full-blast, so it must be pretty efficient. But I am not exaggerating when I say this thing is whisper quiet, like gentle waves on a beach.
Matter of fact, feel free to take a listen for yourself. It doesn’t sound like much, and it’s really difficult to capture on a microphone (don’t mind the “wind” noise, it’s not even as loud as that in person), but I was able to sort of record the little up-down rhythm it does. In my opinion, it’s excellent white noise, and would be great in a bedroom.
Part of the main impetus for moving my workspace out here, was to eliminate as many distractions as possible. So the last thing I wanted was some noisy A/C unit blowing in my face. I’m pretty sensitive to annoying sounds, but I can easily drown out the sound of my mini-split blower. I barely even hear the unit outside, either - only a little, when it’s working really hard on a hot day.
Humble beginnings, but I've moved most of the important stuff in already
For the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty much set up here. I have a folding table set up for my 3D printer, NABU PC (got to make a post about that, someday), and other hardware project stuff.
My printer (a Prusa i3 MK3S+, soon to be MK3.9 once the upgrade parts arrive from Czechia) is probably going to have a permanent spot on the right of the table, but the left I could swap out depending on what else I’m doing. I could bring my Apple ][ clone (oh boy, another blog post about that one is probably incoming) or Dell Optiplex GX1 (running Windows 98SE), or some other piece of hardware there, like my PS3 or Wii U. And just have a rotating space for the other things I wouldn’t be able to comfortably fit in here all together.
The middle of the table can be set up for soldering, robot assembly, gadget repairs, or post-processing 3D prints. I have a bunch of tools in the totes underneath the table. So far, I was able to assemble a circuit board clock project on the table, so I think this layout is going to work for me.
I do most of my work from another table I’ve set up as a temporary desk. I’m still awaiting a custom-built white oak desk, which I think will really take this setup to the next level. I’m also likely going to get a cabinet or two to put on one or either side of the folding table. To hold books and other do-dads, of which I have many.
One major upgrade for me was getting a gas monitor arm. It takes up very little desk space compared to the stand my monitor came with, and lets me position it just the way I like it, while giving me easy access to the cables behind. I couldn’t do this in the laundry room, since the old desk I was working from wouldn’t support having something clamped to it.
You might also notice my webcam has a separate mount. It just doesn’t fit on the top of my monitor very well, so I got a separate arm for it, too. But my microphone is still using a small tripod table mount, because I really like it.
So yeah, my online meeting game is on point! Something I should mention, which I’m not entirely sure how to resolve, is that there is a minor echo inside the cabin. Maybe once I add some more furniture, it will be mitigated. Although there might be hardware or software solutions I could look into, to filter out the echo, too. But I’m no audiophile, and it’s still leagues above using a phone or laptop mic.
The corner beside the door, my mini "mudroom"
I think there’s also some room for improvement in this corner of the room, as well. I recently got a nice coatrack (from Kijiji) which keeps me from throwing my coats and hats on the floor.
I think that’s going to work really well. There’s a broom and a dustpan for cleaning the floor, behind it. Although most of the dirt that would get tracked in, gets stuck to the protective floor mat when I wipe my shoes on the way in. There’s also a little garbage can, so I don’t constantly have to go back to the house to throw things out. Beside it is a fun device, that I like to call my pager.
Basically, it’s a wireless doorbell unit. So if I’m needed in the house, I can get paged to come in (via a battery-less remote that sends out a little RF pulse). There are an astounding number - I think almost 40 different tunes in this thing (I prefer the one that sounds like an owl hooting). And it has a number of different volume levels, ranging from silent and just flashing the light, to very loud. I have it set somewhere in the middle.
Oh, and the three windows (other than the one in the door) have nice shades on them. They’re white on the outside, and a sort of light brown on the inside, which really complements the overall colour scheme of the building. They block the vast majority of light, and greatly cut down on glare. But they’re easy to pull up when I want to let a bit more natural light in.
On the wall next to the door, there is a temperature control knob for the baseboard heater. All analogue, dead simple, just the way I like it. Again, I’ve yet to have to use the baseboard, but it’s very nice to have. Next to the heater’s knob, there are some lightswitches. One turns the three interior LED light fixtures on/off, and it has a dimmer. And the other is a nifty timer switch, where I can turn on the outdoor lamp for 5, 10, 15, or 30 minutes. Because it’s nice to have it on when I’m heading inside at night, but to not have to leave it on all night.
That was an excellent recommendation from our electrician/handyman, who really pulled out all the stops to make this cabin as robust and purpose-built as possible.
On that note, I’ll briefly touch on the electrical and communications side of things. For one, there are outlets all over the place (including a GFCI outside). I haven’t had to use a powerbar yet, which is a very welcome change. There should be more than enough electrical service to the building to meet my needs, and future-proof it, for whatever this building ends up being used for throughout its life.
Along with power, we also ran RJ11 (phone line), RC6 (coax for TV), and CAT6A ethernet. Technically you’re not supposed to run ethernet that long outside, and yes I am paranoid, so I bought lightning arrestors for both sides of the cable. Fool me once if that isn’t enough, I guess. I was considering a fibre run, but in the end I’m satisfied with CAT6A, and I highly doubt I’ll live to regret it. If I do, live and learn - but fibre was going to be more expensive, more fragile and harder to install, and overall more complicated.
Arguably, CAT6A was still way overkill for my satellite internet, but I didn’t want to settle. Someday even satellite internet is going to improve (I might get Starlink this or next year, for instance, even though that wouldn’t be enough to max out this cable). And if I ever want to set up a NAS or other network-attached devices in the house, I want a speedy land-line connection to them, after all.
Speaking of a connection to the house, I ended up buying a MikroTik ax3 router from Latvia. Maybe it was overkill, too, but I like it. It took a while to set up, since it really is a DIY solution. I might end up making another blog post about that, too, it was quite the experience.
And in the cabin, I’m using a cheap WiFi router. I had to give it its own SSID (WiFi network name) separate from the one in the house, because I was having some weird issues. And I had to ensure that my MikroTik was broadcasting separately-named 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks. What an ordeal that was…
Whether I’ll ever use the coax or phone line is to be determined, but it was one of those opportunitistic things that you may as well take advantage of.
Ugh, right. That. Honestly, it’s not too bad. I’ve purposefully left myself enough space, so the cables don’t have to be too tidy. Definitely the same philosophy that got me to buy a large PC case, even if I could’ve gotten away with a slightly smaller one.
For things like my webcam cable, some power cables, and generally anything that’s too long or won’t be moved, I’ve tied up with velcro straps. That has worked pretty well so far. I have found myself fiddling quite a bit with USB devices, so I might look into putting a hub on my desk, once it shows up.
So far, I’ve gotten set up pretty well in this space. Every day it seems like I’m noticing a little thing to tweak or improve, so I’m making progress towards an increasingly ideal workspace.
It took a while, and wasn’t cheap, but I’m very satisfied with this setup so far. I’ll probably do a four- or six-month review next, once I’ve had a chance to see what it’s like here in the winter. Then I’ll share some more photos, tell more of the story of getting this place built, and give a cost breakdown and ROI analysis.
Hopefully this was an interesting tour of my new office, and maybe I’ve helped you start on your own road towards rethinking your workspace. Again, I don’t want to take this place for granted, but I have no regrets so far. As I’ve not-so-subtlely hinted at throughout this post, more is definitely on its way from me. So keep an eye out on our blog, if you want to stay up-to-date with my shenanigans, for whatever reason.
Until then, thanks for reading!