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20 seconds away from the office!, The Irish Garden, July 2005: Volume 14 No 6
A lot of homes need more space and if you don’t want the expense and hassle of building or moving, adding a garden room could be just the solution. Yvonne Gordon assesses the possibilities.

Once summer comes, many of us regard our garden as an extra room, for dining and entertaining outdoors. However if you’d like an extra room all year round – a sitting room, home-office, gym or playroom – what about putting it into the garden?

One of the benefits of garden rooms is that they allow you to add permanent extra living space to your home, without the disruption of moving house or building an extension. You can custom-design a structure which won’t take up too much space but which can have heat, electricity and plumbing, to be used whatever the season.

There are plenty of garden rooms on offer on the Irish market, all cleverly designed to blend in well with the urban garden. You choose where to put the doors and windows, so you needn’t be overlooked and you can position the room to take advantage of views, light and sun. In addition, garden rooms are easy to install and shouldn’t disrupt a mature garden - another advantage over an extension.

So how does it work? In planning terms, you can put a structure in your garden which measures up to 25 square metres, without planning permission, as long as it meets the exemption conditions. One condition is that it must be for a purpose ‘incidental to the enjoyment of the house’, so it cannot be for commercial or residential use. In most cases, planning permission will not be required, but suppliers will advise you and if you aren’t sure, check regulations with your local planning authority before going ahead.

Then it’s a matter of deciding what type of garden room you’d like. One of the best known suppliers of garden rooms in Ireland is Shomera, which has been around since 1998. The name comes from ‘seomra’, the Irish word for room, modified to include ‘home’ in the name.

Shomeras are designed in Ireland so will withstand the extremes of Irish weather - each one is insulated, with double-glazed windows and doors. You can either buy a standard Shomera or design a customised one. Once you’ve placed your order, the unit is made in Ireland and is ready to deliver a few weeks later.

Because most garden rooms are manufactured before they arrive at your property, they take just a few days to install and set up. Sean Copeland of Shomera says their policy is to be ‘in and out within two weeks’ – but they won’t need to be there every day of that.

Because the Shomera is designed to be permanent and not portable, it needs a foundation. Shomera insist on putting this in themselves, as a proper foundation is necessary to protect from ground frost and moisture in the future and to keep it stable.

Setting up the internal electrics - like sockets and phone points, is also part of the installation, however you’ll need to get an electrician to connect the electrics to the house. "Once Shomera is built, there are only three things left to do," says Sean. "Connect the electrics, provide a floor covering and paint the walls." Shomera can recommend an electrician or supply flooring.

Another Irish company, Woodcraft Homes, designs and makes log buildings for home-offices and garden retreats. The logs used are solid, can be round or square, and come in varying thickness, imported from Poland and America.

There are two designs, Terra, a traditional structure and Opus, a more contemporary design. Both have log walls, timber floors and ceilings and are fully insulated. Although the designs keep to a standard shape, each garden room is custom-designed to suit requirements and to get the best light in the room, says managing director Wayne Mundell.

The first step in the process is for Woodcraft’s designers to meet clients and find out what they are thinking of doing. On a site visit, they mark out the exact site and ask the client to stand in it.

Wayne says the main thing when designing a garden room is to really capture light and this can be done with a skylight. "In Ireland, because it’s so cloudy all the time, top light is healthier than reflected light from the walls," he says. "So a skylight gives a nice warm light on top of you - a healthy light."

Woodcraft has noticed a new interest in the outdoors. "People’s environment at home is changing so much," says Wayne. "In the past five years, people have been getting more interested in the outdoors. You see more barbecues and garden furniture in shops. We keep changing with the garden environment." To meet these changes, Woodcraft will be bringing out a new home-office range this summer.

So could you live in a garden room? You could, the quality is there, but there would be planning problems, says Sean Copeland. Many people use them as home offices although this might also fall under a planning grey area (you might need planning permission). There are lots of benefits of having a home office in the garden – no commute to work and easy access to the house if you need it. If you’re already working from home, there’s the psychological advantage of being able to ‘leave the house’ to go to work.

The trend for working from home is why John Sherry, of Gardenrooms.ie, set up business three years ago specialising in outdoor home offices, built with timber from re-planted forests across the Baltic region. They now do log cabin style garden rooms for everything from granny flats to extra bedrooms and therapy rooms. John says they now sell as many teen rooms as home offices.

He says that customers come to him because they badly need another room. They might have already had the attic converted or their attic would not suit a conversion and they’ve ruled out moving house because of stamp duty costs. "Most people that work from home seem to take over the kitchen table," says John. "This is a way to give the family back their home."

"A garden room can be around the same price as an attic conversion but you won’t go through all the mess and upheaval," he says. "You could say garden rooms are the new ‘attic conversion’." John offers the following tips to anyone thinking of putting in a garden room:

  • Do your research – find out what the different companies offer. How long the product will last depends on the quality of windows and doors, insulation and roof covering. Also, check what guarantees the company is offering.
  • Planning permission – make sure your garden room meets the exemption conditions.
  • If choosing a log cabin, make sure the company has expertise in the construction of log cabins.
  • Remember the garden room should be the same quality and finish as any room in your home - don’t accept anything less.

There are lots of benefits in having a garden room – but what about disadvantages? The garden room won’t be connected directly to the house, the disadvantage is that you have to go outdoors to get to it – a possible problem in bad weather.

Another disadvantage is that they are designed to be permanent so cannot be moved (although some can - Woodcraft says their structures measuring up to about 12 foot by 20 foot can be moved). However, you might not want to move it as it may add value to a house. "We’ve had a lot of people over the last five years who’ve decided to move on and want to take it but we say ‘leave it in, include it in the value of the house’," says Mundell. "People always want an extra room." So permanency may not be a disadvantage after all. Finally, some garden rooms require maintenance such as re-varnishing.

So how much will it cost? If you’re thinking of a garden room, it’s a good idea to look at some demonstration models. For example, Shomera’s show village in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath has six models on display. Woodcraft’s showroom at Kilcloon, Co Meath can be visited by appointment and the Gardenrooms.ie showroom is in Skerries, Co Dublin.

Prices for Shomeras start at €9,950. This includes foundation, installation and VAT, but not delivery - although they do deliver nationwide. Sean Copeland says that the average spend on a Shomera is between €19,000 and €25,000 and you can spend up to about €45,000. For a Woodcraft home office or garden retreat, prices start at about €16,000 and Gardenrooms.ie prices start at about €12,000.

Once you decide to go ahead, the next step is to get the company to come out and survey your site, to find out what you need and discuss design, size, location and planning exemptions. Most of the companies will do this visit for free. Once you have your new room installed, you might wonder how you ever lived without it.

© Yvonne Gordon 2005

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