Room to improve in your garden
Garden rooms, offices or studios can be a handy and economically sound extension to your daily and working lives, writes John Cradden
If you have the necessary space in your backyard, building a proper garden room, office or studio has many things going for it.
They are more than just glorified sheds because you can fit them out with all the same kinds of services, insulation, fittings and finishes as you would find in your main home and they'll be habitable even during the winter months.
It's the essential versatility of such buildings that make them so appealing but also the physical separation from the home whether you use it as an office or a studio; a teenage hangout or a place to workout; a space for your utilities, brushes and brooms or even as a spare bedroom.
They can also be a cost-effective alternative to extending your home or doing an attic conversion, particularly if you choose one that's a reasonable size. In most cases, they don't require planning permission - you can build anything up to 25 square metres without it, but only as long as you don't reduce the remaining open space in your garden or yard to less than 25 square metres.
They generally take a matter of days or no more than two weeks to construct, which means they don't create anything like the upheaval or disruption that would come with building an extension.
As with anything construction-related, you are limited only by your budget but, if you are flexible about the core building material, you may be surprised at what you can get for your money. You could spend anything between €15k-30k on the upmarket 'designer' garden rooms or offices from the likes of Shomera, Gardenrooms, Ecospace and Ecohouse, many of which have been extensively featured in property sections and lifestyle magazines. These tend to be timber-framed and panelled, and therefore easier and quicker to construct.
"I find people have a budget in mind but are very open to learning about how their GardenRoom will best suit their lifestyle," said John Sherry of Gardenrooms.ie. "With flexible living very much a way of life now, we find that many people stretch to the largest garden room that they can afford, making it a multipurpose room to suit their family's needs."
Cheaper options include log cabins, such as those from firms like Loghouse.ie in Wicklow, Woodpecker Log Cabins in Galway or Beaver Log Cabins in Donegal, while there's always the concrete block-built option or something made out of steel, which you can get from firms like Steeltech Sheds or Adman Steel Sheds.
Unlike in the world of the Three Little Pigs, there is no natural hierarchy for the robustness of timber, steel or bricks, although some will say that timber buildings look much nicer and are much easier and cheaper to heat, making them a bit more eco-friendly.
Wicklow firm Barna Buildings does traditional concrete buildings as garden offices, which have a pebble-dash finish. While nowhere near as trendy as a Shomera-type garden room, a 3x4m construction can be built for just €4,000, although this doesn't include the windows and the concrete base or any fittings or finishes.
But proprietor Alan Kelly says he has also branched into a log cabin style product called Duraboard, a fibre cement product which is marketed as being a more durable and maintenance-free alternative to traditional log cabins. The bottom line is, do your research and choose your supplier well and whatever you build will stand for decades with a bit of care and maintenance.
However, if you're a dab hand with a hammer and with a bit of spare time on your hands, you could always build it yourself and possibly save money.
You could, of course, do it from scratch with the help of an ebook like the one published by Dominic Jones (visit Gardenofficeplans.com).
However, a kit seems like a much easier option and you don't have to look hard to find them online. Garden Rooms Ireland, for instance, offers kits with assembly instructions starting at €5,000 that comes with insulated panels, cedar cladding, aluminum clad doors, electrics and more.
"These kits don't come with a huge amount of flexibility but aren't that challenging to build to be honest," said Cormac Reynolds of Garden Rooms Ireland. "There's a need for a foundation and some people prefer to get help with the electrical system or plumbing if they're going to add some."
If a log cabin is more up your (garden) street, then there are kits for that, too, such as from Timber Kit Buildings in Cork.
Garden working and living: Top 3 options
1 Garden Rooms
These are the top of the range as far as garden rooms, offices or studios go. Timber-framed, panelled and cladded, they are sleek on the outside, plush on the inside, very well insulated and with all the trimmings. In other words, as far away from a shed as it is possible to get. They are available in a wide range of configurations, specifications and designs, including to ultra-eco ‘Passive House’ standard. Prices range from €19,200 (for 15 sq m) to €31,700 (25 sq m) for products from Gardenrooms.ie, while ECOS would charge between €900 and €1,200 per square metre for something very similar. A Shomera off-the-shelf MePad starts at about €13,000 rising to €18,000, and from €25,000-€40,000 for bespoke rooms. Available from Gardenrooms.ie, ECOS, Shomera and Ecohouse
2 Traditional Log Cabins
These are available as fully insulated cabins that can be lived in all year round. Loghouse makes its own windows and doors, which boast strong U-values. This ‘Kilkenny’ 4m x 3m model is currently on special offer at just €3,695 and comes with floor insulation and double glazed windows. Extras include roof insulation at €320 and a concrete foundation at €400. Available from: Loghouse.ie; see also Beaverlogcabins.ie or Woodpeckerlogcabins.com.
They may not look quite as sleek as Shomeras, but this ‘Duraboard’ building looks like a log cabin but is made from a woodgrain fibre cement wall that claims to be much more durable and maintenance free than traditional log cabins. The starting price for the most popular 4m x 3m metre configuration is just under €5,500, including the concrete base, PVC doors and double glazed windows. Insulation and other fittings are extra. Available from: www.irishlogcabins.ie