Our Tiny House Inspired Backyard Office

by Louise Norris

I’ve been reading your blog for some time now, and love all the photos of tiny spaces. We have an average-size house and two little boys, but we also work from home and my husband spends much of his day on the phone with clients. He needed a quiet place to work, and we found inspiration from your site. Last winter, we purchased a Tuff Shed and had it installed in the corner of our backyard. It cost us about $3000 for the shed, and then we spent about $1000 more to equip it with solar power, add a porch, and finish the inside. Tuff Sheds don’t come with interior finishing in mind, so we had to add lots of nailers in order to be able to anchor the walls and ceiling properly. But once that was done, we were able to put in sheetrock, wood flooring, and all the finishing touches that make it feel like a regular room.

We added the porch and roofed it to match the shed, and then we painted the entire thing to match our house. My husband ordered all of the components of the solar setup and put the whole thing together himself. We built a wooden box in the corner of the room to house the marine battery he uses to store electricity and the various other parts of the solar power setup. We insulated the walls and ceiling, but in order to make the room comfortable in the summer, he built a little swamp cooler using a bucket and a desk fan (which doesn’t use much electricity). In the winter, he uses a brooder light to keep his desk area warm. The 120 Watt solar panel provides enough electricity to power the fan or brooder light, his laptop, the phone charger, and a couple of lights.

The office is 10 ft x 12 ft (which means in our town we didn’t need a permit to put it in), and the porch adds about 48 more square feet. It’s a perfect office that allows Jay to work from home, but in a quiet, professional environment. It’s much more convenient and less expensive than having to rent space in an office building, and we thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating our little backyard office.

Cheers, and thanks for the inspiration!

Louise Norris

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et - November 8, 2011 Reply

snow + sagging porch = not good idea

Eric - November 8, 2011 Reply

Let me be the first to comment positively. AWESOME!

Love it. Love the solar power and of course the swamp cooler idea is fantastic!

I am looking to build my own backyard office here soon and these are some great ideas.

Thanks and congratulations!!


The Good Luck Duck - November 8, 2011 Reply

The whole thing came in at $4000? That’s great. I admire the swamp cooler design, too.


Adam - November 8, 2011 Reply

What is the fan thing?

Eugene - November 8, 2011 Reply

Wonderful space! I have never seen a fan set up like that. Thank you for sharing!

Cathy Johnson (Kate) - November 8, 2011 Reply

It’s terrific, Louise, very clever! Mine’s more of a workspace/studio than a living space too, and I’ve found it perfect for my needs. You and your husband will LOVE it!

Carol - November 8, 2011 Reply

I second that! I am assuming the pail and fan are the swamp cooler, but what exactly is that? I have never heard of that.

freespirit - November 8, 2011 Reply

Thank you for sharing. I’m curious about how the solar panels can take care of computer use. I would love to use them, but am not sure if I could afford to get enough to power full-time use of my laptop or not. How many watts are your solar panels and how many batteries do you use?

Kirsten - November 8, 2011 Reply

That is a great adaptation and wonderful to have a professional room so close, but still separate for an office.

ThomasV - November 9, 2011 Reply

Is it safe to have the batteries inside the living space? Even though they’re in an enclosed box, I’d still think you’d have issues with battery outgassing.

Melissa - November 9, 2011 Reply

Louise, can you please put down the details of how the swamp cooler was built? There seem to be a lot of us who would like to replicate this crafty little gadget!

Jay and Louise Norris - November 9, 2011 Reply

Thanks for the great questions…
For those asking about the swamp cooler, I took a picture down into the bucket of the humidifier wick:
It cools amazingly well in the dry air of Colorado, and only 60 watts on the fans high setting. The fan blows air into the bucket and evaporates the water in the wick blowing nice cool air out of the yogurt container in the side of the bucket. I keep the windows open so it doesn’t get too humid in there.

For the question about the battery offgassing hydrogen: The battery is encased in a big sealed tupperware bin that is vented to the outside by two vents, a top and bottom. I’ll take pictures of that setup and add them to the facebook album here later today:

Specs on the power: The solar panel is a 120 watt, 12 volt, 7 amp ($206.01 on ebay + $40 shipping). The battery is a 210 amp hour 12 volt marine battery with a 400-Watt 12-Volt DC to 120-Volt AC inverter ($26.55 on amazon). The power controller is 10Amp 150W ($34.95 on amazon).

For powering the office equipment: I got a “Kill A Watt” to monitor the power use. The laptop varies between 30 and 50 watts, when I charge the phone it takes ~30 watts and that’s about it for the power I use on a nice day. In the summer, the fan in the swamp cooler is 60watts on high and I never have problems with enough sun. In the winter, I use a 200 watt brooder lamp and am looking into an electric blanket as an efficient heat source. Let me know if you have other ideas. Sunlight is harder to come by in the winter and, depending on how sunny it’s been, I get between 1-5 hours of use with the brooder lamp out there. I use 14 watt cfl bulbs.

I may get another battery and solar panel after this winter.

The porch structure is supported by 4x4s 2ft deep in concrete and framed with 2×6 and 2×4. It won’t have any problems holding even the heaviest snow or people.

cj - November 9, 2011 Reply

Swamp coolers are wonderfully efficient. It is standard in most high desert homes’ built in as a large unit on the roof. I had never seen the ‘mini’ version…great idea. Makes me wonder if it could even be used in conjunction with dehumidifier.

freespirit - November 9, 2011 Reply

Hi Jay and Louise,

Thank you for sharing the info on your solar power set-up. That is helpful. So, it does seem doable to get enough solar power for say 8 hours of laptop work with a printer and light a day with your setup.

I would expect an electric heater would take up all your electricity in the winter. Plus days are shorter, so you get less charge and where I am at least more cloudy days in the winter.

I have this solid fuel heater book marked for my tiny house plans.


It might be worth the price. You can get something much less expensive if you use a vented propane heater as well. People around here use them for ice-fishing houses all the time. I would just make sure it is vented for good air quality.

Heather - November 10, 2011 Reply

This is really lovely but I do agree that the porch looks like it is sagging and probably needs another support in the middle as the 12 or 10 foot span is probably too long. Thanks for sharing your nice office.

matt - November 11, 2011 Reply

i also agree about the porch roof sagging. it most likely doesn’t need any more vertical structural members, but it does need diagonal bracing from the posts to the roof.

that aside, really cool little space.

Moontreeranch - November 12, 2011 Reply

I built an 8 by 12 shed a few years ago…stick built for about $1500…if I had wanted to build it as a “living” space the added bit for insulation, drywall windows and a exterior door. Would not have added too much. Last year I ran a power feed from my house to it. One 15 amp circuit for lights and to charge the weed whacker, small tool use etc.

The is a picture of it at the bottom of this blog post.


Enoch Sears (@BusinessofArch) - February 4, 2012 Reply

Jay and Louise- Awesome example of creative use of space. I love it!

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