Comfort while you work

Tips on putting together the perfect home office

From his personal domain on the top floor of his house, Jeff Svedahl can keep watch over all that goes on below — kids running amok, visitors coming and going — all while working full-time and running a rental property business from his home office.

The home office has long served as a time- and money-saving solution for folks whose jobs permit them to work from home. And with more and more companies giving the green light to telecommuting to trim spending, some contractors say they’ve had a rise in requests to build home offices.

If done correctly, an office balances motivation and tranquility. If not, it can be a hotbed of distraction, or worse, isolation.

Most importantly, a home office must be pleasant, says Jeff Grosscup, owner of Home Remodeling and Repair.

“If it’s in a dungeon it’s going to feel that way,” he said. “If you’re going to be spending some time in there, you’ve got to make it nice.”

All things considered

A seemingly small thing like proper lighting can make an office feel like an executive suite, Grosscup said. Natural lighting is the best way to go, he said, and can be achieved through adding large windows or even a full glass door.

A private door to the outside, closed or French-style, can allow more professional at-home interactions with clients or co-workers, Dan Jozefow, owner of Sunrise Design and Construction, said.

Since anyone with a home office will undoubtedly have a lot of paperwork floating around, cabinetry is another important consideration. Custom, built-in cabinetry, although more expensive than simple desks and filing cabinets, can enhance the room. In his office, Svedahl said his built-in bookcases, desk and cabinets not only look nice, they add a great deal of space.

Cost is an important consideration when choosing flooring, but not the only one. Although carpet is the least-expensive option, it has limitations — like being vulnerable to moisture in a basement, Grosscup said. Ceramic tile or bamboo floors, although desirable in many cases, would be a bit more expensive, he said.

Some contractors recommend having a dedicated phone line for the office to protect private calls from interfering with business calls.

The first decision to make before starting a home-office project is where to put it, which is almost always dictated by the layout of the existing residence. Jozefow said most of the offices he’s seen have been on the second floor, replacing an unused bedroom. The second most popular spot, he said, is on the first floor, replacing an unused den or dining room.

The least desirable spot for an office is in the basement, Jozefow said, noting with a chuckle that his own office is in his basement. If you must resort to it, he said, add a window to let in light and create a more inviting space.

Scott Anderson, owner of SJ Anderson Construction, said the basement is the most common spot he sees people put their offices. He recommends adding an egress window for light, making sure there’s a good heat source and proper drainage on the outside of the home to protect the room from moisture. The grade must slope away from the house and a drain tile system in the foundation of the home is desirable and can be added at a reasonable cost, he said.

Although most people don’t think about it in the summer, heating a basement can be extremely difficult in the winter, when the basement is always 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house, Grosscup said. Electric in-floor heating is a cost-effective way to heat a basement office because it allows isolated heating of a single room.

Penny pinching

The best way to save money when putting in a home office: do it yourself.

There are a lot of elements to consider when remodeling a room — framing windows, electrical wiring, drywall, heating and painting — but if homeowners have the skills to do a portion of it themself, they’ll save money, Grosscup said. If they’re unsure of how to put it all together, they could hire a consultant to discuss the project beforehand. However, a contractor would probably get the job done much more quickly than the average Joe, he added.

“With a homeowner who is unfamiliar with things, they can spin their wheels quite a bit and it might take a lot longer to get the job done,” he said.

Anyone who plans on DIYing should get advice from a professional, Anderson said. A professional should always do mechanical work, like electricity and heating, he added.

Another way to save money on a home office is to redesign an existing room instead of adding a new room, Jozefow said. Buying office furniture rather than building custom cabinetry into the walls is another way to save money, he added. If the existing flooring in the room will suffice, the homeowner could also save money by leaving it unchanged.

In fact, the base cost of adding a home office could be zero. “It could cost nothing; it could mean putting a high-speed Internet cable in the office,” Grosscup said. To remodel an existing room, one would probably spend from $3,000 to $10,000 on custom-built shelving, proper wiring, flooring and furniture, Anderson said. An addition could run from $20,000 to $80,000. “It just depends on what level and how big the addition is,” he said. Depending on where it’s located and the quality of the work, a home office could add 60 to 90 percent of the money you put into it to your home’s value.

When all is said and done

For Svedahl, the convenience of not having to leave the house to do accounting or paperwork is the greatest luxury of the home office. And while hearing his family downstairs can be a bit distracting, he said it’s no worse than any other office.

Jozefow said having a home office provides many people a greater feeling of peace in their day to day lives.

“There’s something about getting us out of the rat race that the home office provides,” he said. And all the time saved on transportation, “can become creative time for your family and your work.”

Reach Tara Bannow at [email protected] or 436-4363.

Tax considerations

Some home offices are tax-deductible. Lee Roehl, owner of ROR Tax Professionals, talks about the circumstances in which an office would or would not qualify:

— It must be 100 percent business, no exceptions — not a guest room, den or sewing room. “It can’t be part office and you keep your summer clothes in the closet,” Roehl says.

— The office must be used in the production of income. “You can’t have an office at work and an office at home and just choose to use the office at home,” Roehl says. Often, it’s a good idea to have a letter from the employer as proof that they do not provide office space.

— Tax deduction is based on the amount of space the office uses as a percentage of square footage of the house. Supplies, computer and furniture may also be deducted, but are dealt with separately.

— Business mileage is deductible. If you qualify to have a home office, your commuter mileage is tax deductible, Roehl said. Whether it’s meeting clients, going to and from the airport for business travel or going to the store to buy office supplies — it’s covered, he said. “Sometimes the biggest advantage to an office in the home is how you can deduct your car expenses,” he says.

— For the self-employed, the deduction comes off of their income. This is a huge advantage, as it saves taxes in several ways: federal, state and social security taxes, Roehl says. Employees, however, must itemize deductions, which are limited to 2 percent of their income. “That’s why it’s such a big advantage for self-employed people over employees,” he says.

— Make sure you’re doing it right. Home offices are one of the IRS’s favorite audit items, Roehl warned, so track every nickel you spend on the house: repair, maintenance, lawn service, utilities and insurance.