When the ‘home office’ moves to the backyard

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The move from office to home came suddenly and unexpectedly. One day we were all sitting in our offices with 4 or 5 other people discussing the agenda for the next meeting. Literally the next day we were on our couches with cats perched over our shoulders and dogs trying to drink from our coffee mugs as we searched for that file we needed on our remote desktops. Talk about a paradigm shift.

And it wasn’t just us. Our spouses or partners got sent home, too. And so did the kids. All of a sudden there were multiple people using the same space in our homes, trying to Gerry rig equipment, networks and wi-fi, at the same time trying to cope with the anxieties of a pandemic and procuring essentials like hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

She-Shed, He-Shed, We-Shed

Enter the increasing embrace of backyard office sheds. No, it doesn’t involve moving lawn mowers, old bikes, and broken croquet sets. It’s a prefabricated pop-up home office for your backyard.

Ranging in size from approximately 80 to 120 square feet, these structures are purposely intended to house a desk, an extra table, printer, a file cabinet, a bookcase, and even a couch and small refrigerator. All the comforts of your corner office in your backyard.

Do We Allow That?

As constituents come to terms with fact that the kitchen or dining room table just isn’t cutting it anymore, the next question for local governments is, “are we going to let them build an office space in their backyard?”

While a few states do require permits, for the most part at the state level permits for add-on dwellings under 200 square feet are not required. Understanding your state’s building codes is a good place to start. But regulation doesn’t end there.

Local governments generally have their own set of requirements and regulations. Local amendments to building codes is common and tend to be more restrictive. Ensuring that office sheds are constructed to state and local codes is an important part of the process, as is making sure those codes are keeping up with current trends.

What Does Our Code Say About Backyard Office Sheds?

Local governments should review existing ordinances to determine if they reflect the most current construction policies and standards of the community.

For instance, municipalities likely already have zoning laws that detail if and where sheds are allowed, but they might not apply specifically to office sheds in the backyard that will need electrical hookups, phone access, and possibly heat.

Additionally, existing zoning restrictions on accessory dwelling units include details like height and setbacks (i.e., how close you can build to a neighboring property boundary line). The question is, are they sufficient for a shed that will do more than just store tools and yard equipment?

Along with building construction standards, other parts of your code may need to be updated as well:

  • Noise
  • Peace and good order
  • Odors
  • Signage
  • Storage
  • Types of activities/uses

Updating Your Code

Would it be helpful to know how neighboring communities are handling this topic? General Code client communities can use the Multicode tool to locate and search across several codes at the same time to see what legislation other municipalities have adopted.

Once new or revised legislation has been adopted, we encourage our clients to submit code updates as soon as possible. This ensures that constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Clients can send legislation to [email protected].

Learn More about Zoning Codes

Sign up to attend “Essential Elements of Successful Zoning Codes” on December 9 – a special webinar in our “Emerging Resilient” series. In this session, we’ll explore proven organizational elements, content, and publishing techniques that have helped communities ensure that their zoning codes are accessed and clearly understood by users. Click here to register.

How Else Can We Help You?

Explore our blogs for more local government hot topics and zoning content.

If you have questions or want to learn more about how our services can help your community to be resilient, complete our Solution Inquiries form. We’re here to help!


Step By Step Illustrated Guide: Building A Backyard Office

5 Things to Consider Before Building a Shed

Sheds become popular option for remote work

The office is dead. Get yourself a backyard shed

Your New Home Office May Be in the Backyard (New York Times)

Work-From-Home Trend Leads To Increase In Backyard Sheds

Americans are buying, building, converting backyard sheds into home offices

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