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Old 10-09-2009, 01:53 PM   #1
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Advice on building a backyard studio/office?

As my three children grow, I am in desperate need of more space in my house. My wife and I both work from home and so we each take up a room: her studio (she's an artist) and my office. To free up these two rooms in the house, we want to build a separate building in our backyard that will be two floors: the top will be the studio, and the bottom will be an office. Each room will be about 15' x 15', maybe less.

Since we don't have the money to hire a professional to do this, and won't for some time, we want to do the building ourselves. I am pretty handy and have built things like bookcases and a 10' x 12' backyard shed (which is on railroad ties, not a foundation). Also, one of my brothers is a contractor and the other is a home handyman. Both are more than willing to help me, but they live a few states away, so they'll be able to come up for a day or two at a time now and then.

Can anyone provide any advice on where I can get good information on how to do this? Of course, my brothers know a lot about the building part, but I'm going to need to educate myself, particularly about local codes, etc. I've talked to my local building commissioner but didn't get a whole lot of information, other than how far buildings need to be set back from property line, etc. Any books that you would recommend with a listing of the process, checklists, etc.? I'm not building a home, so the "build your own home" Web sites that I've come across are only somewhat relevant. And I'm also not just building an uninsulated shed; so I need something that covers the middle ground--a heated, insulated, freestanding office/studio. Thanks in advance.


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Old 10-09-2009, 03:19 PM   #2
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Make sure whatever you build is in compliance with the local codes or if you do not have a code, to that code/standard or even the state code. It is best if you have a local code and can get grandfathered in when you build. The code approval will be worth $s when you go to sell.

The reason is to be able to get you money out of that asset when you go to sell. If it is not in compliance with the code when you sell, the buyer may not be able to use the value when he/she goes to apply for a loan.



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Old 10-09-2009, 03:19 PM   #3
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Be sure and consider your property tax assessment situation as you move forward with another structure on the property too!
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Old 10-10-2009, 09:13 AM   #4
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The project you want to undertake isn't really something where you open one book and the path is laid out for you in black and white. It will be a learning process. If it were that easy, everyone would do it.

And check with the zoning officer. Last thing you want is to be forced to rip it down because you never got zoning clearance. I know an extended family (parents, grown kids, and their kids) that built a beautiful monster house out in a rural area near me. They got permits, but never got zoning approval to convert each of the 3 floors into each family's separate space (separate kitchens). It went to court, took years, drove a few people off their rocker, ruined relationships, one family had to move out, and they had to rip out 2 beautiful kitchens.

If you're going to do this yourself, make friends with someone that knows the complete process cover to cover. That would be a legit contractor, an architect, or an engineer. 9 times out of 10, well meaning beginner DIY'ers get their bell rung by permits, zoning, or codes, so having a pro in your corner helps tremendously.
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Old 10-10-2009, 10:13 AM   #5
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One of the least costly way of doing this would be to get ready made plans. They have books of garage plans that you can use. They are available in one and two story structures. You can send away and get plans you can use in your local. Just confirm with both the company and your local building dept what you need.
There is a big difference between a shed and a dwelling that you live in. The advice to have someone who can guide you will keep you from making costly errors is good advice.
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Old 10-10-2009, 01:04 PM   #6
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15x15 seems pretty small. While going to the effort and expense I would suggest to think bigger if possible. IMHO.

The usage of a garage plan with conversion to livable space may be a good way to go. Lots of good plans available with 2nd floor spaces.

You might consider something with attic trusses to create the 2nd floor space.
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Old 10-10-2009, 04:21 PM   #7
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To make not as odd considering the width in comparison to the height you could make the second floor walls less than 8' and use scissor trusses in the studio. This could also give you a chance to have some operating skylights/vents in the studio.

A bigger footprint will not cost as much more as you probably think. A little more concrete (but still a small slab and just one pour) and some more plywood and roofing.

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Old 12-03-2011, 03:09 PM   #8
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I've been in the game 50 years and still learning. One admires your drive to learn, but can you afford to wait till you come across all the information you need to build your out-building?

Just from your post, I can picture a shoebox on edge, higher than it is wide or long. Hmmm!, don't forget some stairswill be needed.

Seriously, design is not simply drawing a pretty picture, all your functional needs should be taken into account. Depending on where you live, code requirements for one, can limit your choice of design. Is the reason you're going 2 storey small block size, or do you have a fantastic view? Either way, it's not a toy cubby house and will cost you more per sqft.

One major design problem I see, is structural strength. A 2 storey construction presents more surface area to prevailing winds, especially if it is tall in comparison to the base, so it MUST be designed by a Structural Engineer. Another is weather tightness, where simply things like wide eaves, verandahs etc., are not possible.

You have already been advised to seek professional help, by a professional inspector. To do otherwise in your circumstances would be folly.

Cheers! from Joe in Oz.
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Old 12-03-2011, 05:24 PM   #9
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I don't think you'll find many resources that specifically address how to build a small free-standing two-story studio. The how-to-build-a-house resources should be helpful though. I'm not sure where you live, and variables like terrain and weather do make a difference, but I can say that I successfully built a good many structures before I became a general contractor 25 years ago. If you're logical, good with your hands and have friends/relatives with specific building knowledge, you should be able to get the job done.

You will need to get all necessary permitting information from your local building department. They can tell you whether or not the structure is permissible, what the set-backs may be and any other such variations. A copy of the UBC or some other work with related information should help with the structural design. Beyond that, it's a matter of coming up with a project plan. Two simple rooms, closets if needed, a stairway -- draw a rough design. It's not rocket science.

Once you have the basic floor-plan done, then you can address each other aspect in succession. Will you pour a slab or footing? If a footing, what type of floor frame? Balloon or Western frame? Stacked roof or trusses? Siding or plaster? Roof covering? Of course HVAC and electrical. My point is that none of this is complicated, and much of it is personal preference. As you get into it, you'll have more specific questions, and that's where people on forums like this can really help.

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Old 12-03-2011, 06:03 PM   #10
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Just my personal opinion but I'd be looking more toward just what amount's to a two car garage and frame in the front with LVL's across the opening at the height of a garage door would go, but put in a reguler passage door or even a french door instead.
That way it would be cheaper to build, and if someone bought the house it would be really simple to convert it to a garage.
This way there's no floor space eaten up with strairs or the expence to build them.
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Old 12-03-2011, 07:46 PM   #11
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Man I would love to design that but the post is over two years old and he never responded again.

Oh well.

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Old 12-03-2011, 11:43 PM   #12
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Good pick up on the date of the post. Wouldn't have wasted my time if I was a little bit more attentive, and noted it was October 2009. However, the advice given could still be valuable to others thinking the same ideas.

Cheers from Oz.


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construction , office , outbuilding , studio

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