Working in Peace With an Off-Grid Office Shed

Finding a good work space at home isn’t a trivial task, especially when you’ve got a wife and kid. A lot of us use a spare bedroom, basement, or garage as a space to work on our hobbies (or jobs). But, the lack of true separation from the home can make getting real work done difficult. For many of us, we need to have the mental distance between our living space and our working space in order to actually get stuff done.

This is the problem [Syonyk] had — he needed a quiet place to work that was separated from the rest of his house. To accomplish this, he used a Tuff Shed and set it up to run off-grid. The reason for going off-grid wasn’t purely environmental, it was actually more practical than trying to run power lines from the house. Because of the geology where he lives, burying power lines wasn’t financially feasible.

So, he poured a foundation, brought in a pre-assembled shed (a demo unit at a big discount), and got to work outfitting it for use as on office. The first step (and arguably a very important one), was to heavily insulate it. And, we do mean “heavily” — he used 3.5″ of rock wool (5.5″ on the ceiling) in addition to 2″ of foam board.

The insulation was essential, as the entire office is powered by solar panels (with a battery bank); keeping cooling and heating energy use down was paramount. Even with 2kW of panels, heating and cooling are still a huge portion of the energy usage, and he needed power to spare for his computer and other electronics. With the shed so well insulated, [Syonyk] has been able to keep the temperature inside at about 70ºF while the outside temperature is above 100ºF.

The rest of the build was straightforward, with sensible plywood walls and a desk taking up most of the space to hold his multiple computers. Of course, for the Hackaday crowd, a space like this would be best used for efficient hacking.

31 thoughts on “Working in Peace With an Off-Grid Office Shed

  1. Be still, my beating heart… newfound parent that had to give up the office space for baby. Would do it again in a heartbeat, but this type of setup would make it extremely easy for me to work from home more. I’d still run a hardline for network access though.

    1. Ubiquiti make some fairly affordable point to point wireless dishes that can do something like 16kms.

      Theyre only worth around 150aud each and back when I last used a pair of N ones I was getting speeds of around 60mbits. That’s more than most internet connections we have available here (aus) by a long shot and it’d be a lot less work than running cable.

    2. Also keep in mind, that fiberoptics cables for home use has become cheap. You do have to bay SFP transceivers(20€ each for 1.25MBps) version and have routers with SFP port but does protect your equipement from lightning.
      Or use mikrotik 5GHz SXT antennas($90 each) which can get 200MBps bandwidth at 300m distance(~1000ft)

  2. 3.5″ inches of rockwool counts as heavily insulated? That’s the bare minimum to count as somewhat energy efficient, although the 2″ foam board helps.

    When you get to 9-10″ inches for walls and 12-15″ for the ceiling it starts to head in the direction of heavily insulated.

    I guess it’s all based on what you think is normal, but if something has less than 3.5″ of insulation it’s bad no matter what.

    1. From the guy who did ALL the hard work, and did it right, at that–
      “How well does it work? Nicely! I can keep it around 70F inside the office when it’s about 102F and sunny out. I consider that entirely reasonable.”
      Experts are everywhere…

      1. Oh, I’m not knocking the effort. I just don’t think 3.5″ rockwool + 2″ foam counts as “heavily insulated”.

        The insulation depth used is just above recommended levels for new houses in most places.

          1. To belabor the point true for a shed that’s heavily insulated, but the building isn’t being used as a shed. For an off grid work space environment the building is lightly insulated. Perhaps more investment in insulation could mean less investment needed in power production. Then again over head grid power distribution could have been a better choice. 12 one way, a dozen some other way.

  3. For those of you who think there’s not enough information here, you need to click on the hyperlink
    Tuff Shed and set it up to run off-grid
    in the article. There’s a wealth of interesting and complete material there, starting from when the shed was purchased through to its completion.
    Observation/question: off-grid operation is used here due to inability to trench. Couldn’t an overhead feed from the house have been installed for the same price, or less, than the $6K-$7K which the solar system cost (I know it can be where I live)? For that matter, was the cost of an additional meter and service entrance (feed) from the power company considered (more expensive, but was it factored in)?
    All-in-all, a very good article and an extremely well-done project. Kudos all around!

    1. I know where I live I can put up as many sheds as I want. However if I decide I need power in them I need to get both the city and county involved to have inspections done. Now I know that they will not raise to the level of the 6-7K for the solar system, but hey why not?

    2. On occasion a person might do a run of heavy gauge UF 3-conductor with a plug on one end and a socket box on the other as a temporary power solution – since it’s just a big extension cord in a lot of people’s eyes there isn’t a lot of permitting involved; done all the time on construction sites. YMMV as far as the safety/legality of it all (and distance to the nearest power wasn’t given), but for a structure that’s not running 24/7 (fridge etc.) it’s worth thinking about.

      1. Mount a mast to the shed, and a mast to the building where line power is available. Rural sites have done it that way for decades when reliable direct burial conductors weren’t affordable when compared to today’s costs.

  4. Great article. Well done. I’m curious how long batteries last on a full charge after the sun goes down? can you run all electronics during the day at peak sun? How much would you gain using a heliostat – sun chasing barn door solar cell?

  5. I have two solar powered sheds now. Both are far enough away from the house that running power to them from the house was not an option. Lucky for me that they are both in wooded areas and I live in NY so heating is more important that cooling most of the year. To that end I have mid sized vent free propane heaters in them that I run off 20 pound BBQ tanks with BBQ regulators. One of the sheds has a 400W inverter and the other one pretty much just exists to run a couple of retrofitted stadium lights. These are old fixtures that has gigantic 750W incandescent lamps in them. With a little help from my plasma cutter the fixtures have been retrofitted to hold 105W (~500W incandescent equivalent) CFL lamps. They run off of a little inverter board I scarfed out of a Harbor Freight 5 way jump pack that I found roadside (dead battery and it looked like someone backed over it). It is a brainlessly simple setup. One 15W panel and a commercial battery tender (actual brand name) module, and an old garden tractor battery that again, I got roadside. I also have a couple “free” HF DVM’s to monitor the charge current and battery terminal voltage. A weeks worth of sun gives me one night’s worth of bright light. Oh, I retrofitted an old Direct TV dish mount into the solar cell mount. I removed the disk and bolted on a piece of plywood and than put molding around the outside of it so it looks nice and the panel sits in the “frame”.

    1. My kind of guy…
      ‘Harbor Freight’ (HF) is another way of saying ‘Hacker’s Fantasia’.
      I wonder what it would take for the gurus here at HackADay to come up with an on-going series of contests for the best, cheapest hack using Harbor Freight (mainly free) thingies (you DON’T have to say their name, HaD).
      Here’s a tip, all you hackers: the free VOMs and the VERY bright LED lamps they have as promos, continually, are some of the best units you can get…and free!

  6. easy.. internal frame for installation with proper passive-vents and thermostat so AC doesn’t cause mold or waste too much power. Deep cycle grid or shielded grid line..

    Probably a <$4,000 project if even $2,000.

  7. For different reasons, I’ve been off grid and doing tech here since around 1979 (solar was a lot more expensive then, and I had less). Depending on where you live (I’m in SW VA) – yes indeed, building permits and utility costs if you’re not legally a “residence” are out of this world. My solar system has paid for itself many times over since then (while growing large enough to not only run my now 4 building campus, but charge my Chevy Volt as needed – I don’t commute, just beer runs etc).

    Heavily insulated is indeed relative. The “storage building” (a hacker would get why mine is 1024 sq ft) I had built is only 2×4’s on the bottom floor, 2×6 on the top, stuffed with rock wool. But..since I did the finishing up, there is only one hole to let in electricity, zero air leaks, and it’s amazingly easy to heat and cool in my mountain location, requiring less then 1/4 the total BTU of say, my 10’x40′ mobile home I use for storage and various other operations..

    Where I live is very rural and the person to government ratio is so huge they pretty much leave us to ourselves. It took them 6 or 7 years to even figure out I’d built this campus on what was (and taxed as still) bare land. The tax savings alone paid for it all compared to even a modest “legal” dwelling.

    Yes, I built a drainfield (not legal, but actually a bit better than code).
    Yes, I collect and purify rain water (not too hard, we get plenty and it’s through mountain air).
    Yes, I do the battery thing – lead acid, no other viable choice just yet.

    Some of what I do here in the shop is shown on my youtube channel (Doug Coulter) or my web presence, http://www.coultersmithing.com/forums

    Not pimping this other than to show that yes indeed, this is possible and works pretty well – at least if you’re fine with living in “nowhere”, which I am. I’m not into this stuff for being super-green (which actually didn’t exist when I began) but for freedom. Someone had to go first (or nearly) so “why not me” was kind of the attitude.

    I did bury various wiring (I have some dirt above the rocks) to the point that now it’s hard to do any more without hitting something else I forgot unless I use a metal detector…it’s unreal how long plain old CAT5 has lasted underground (yes, I have more than one, and now a CAT6 designed for burial too, but even the very first one is still good).

    1. I’m rural still no county level building codes and zoning; although the larger cities can nix some plan with 3 miles of the city limits, but that’s rarely invoked. The government to population ratio is small, but I once walked out to see the tax appraiser and her helper measuring a single car garage under construction. She said to let them know when it was fished. I was building it on skids where it was easily transportable not subject to taxes, silly lady. At first I had some overhead lines from the meter pole, but everything is buried now. In the event I do this again I’d bury CAT5 to ever where I run power and I’d also run tubing for compress air. At the time we didn’t have affordable dial up internet.

  8. I hope to do something similar but on a tandem axle trailer. I do not foresee a need to go off grid, unless I want to be prepared for a power outage so I could live inside it. Where I live I would need a way to keep the batteries at full charge or warm.

  9. A bit off topic maybe but for a possible source of free insulation material you might want to chat with your local grocery store’s produce manager. Why you may wonder? Grapes! Many grapes are now shipped in custom Styrofoam boxes that are simply tossed out on a daily basis. My store gos through 6-20 cases a day depending, and each case trims down to just under 2 feet by 1 1/2 feet by around +- 3/4 -1 inch. (Varies somewhat from farm to farm as they do not all use the same suppliers) Mind you I have not used it as such, yet. Mostly use it for melting down into cheap plastic cases & sheets with acetone. And storing away glass ware until the baby is old enough to leave things be in several years lol

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