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The Basics of Small or Home Office Design

Part 1: Infrastructure Comes First In Office Design

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Setting up a small or home office isn't just a matter of lugging office equipment into a room and plugging it in. Because your home office space is first and foremost a working space, the most important element of your home office design is the infrastructure.

Commercial office facilities were originally designed to be office spaces; they have adequate power, lighting and ventilation for office work spaces built into their design. This will probably not be the case with your house or other building that you've decided to use as a small or home office.

I would advise anyone who was about to set up a small or home office to locate their office in the site that has the best power, lighting and ventilation for office use. Let's look at each of these home office design elements and examine the infrastructure needs for home office use.

1) Power - Commercial buildings designed for office use generally have a better quality electrical supply than residences and other non-commercial buildings. And setting up a small or home office means that you will be greatly increasing your power use in that location. For instance, even a small laser printer will consume 300 to 400 watts of electricity when it's running, and larger laser printers will consume much more.

Now think of the other office equipment you're about to install in your home office. Suppose you have a PC, a monitor, a laser printer, a fax machine, a scanner and a phone. Will the circuitry in your chosen home office location be up to the job?

Step one of home office design is assessing your power needs. Add up the wattage of your office equipment (and related office design features such as lighting). You may be able to cut down on your power needs by "combining" some of your office equipment needs. For example, instead of having a separate printer, fax, copier and scanner, you could have one multifunction machine that performed all these functions.

Before you even spare a passing thought to the aesthetics of your home office design, plug in all your equipment and try to use it, as you would on a normal working day. If you experience electrical danger signs, such as breakers popping or lights dimming when various pieces of equipment are operating, have an electrician check your circuitry and see if any simple rewiring can be done. In my experience, houses, especially older houses, are often wired very eccentrically and need an electrical "cleanup" or updating.

2) Lighting - Chances are extremely high that the existing lighting in the proposed location of your small or home office is inadequate for work space needs. Few residences have rows of fluorescent lights installed, for example, as commercial office spaces do. While you don't need to go that far, you do need to incorporate strong overhead lighting in your home office design - and in many cases, that means purchasing and installing new or additional light fixtures. Various types of track lighting are easy to find and relatively easy to install.

When choosing the lighting for your home office, assess your needs first by sitting in your proposed work space and determining how much illumination you need to work efficiently and where the light should be placed. An office with inadequate lighting is not only useless but can lead to all kinds of health problems from headaches through neck and shoulder pain.Remember, though, that adding lighting will increase your office's power loads. Once again, you'll need to be sure your existing circuitry can handle the increased electrical load.

3) Ventilation - Many people overlook the importance of ventilation in office design, but you and your office equipment both need it. First, the more office equipment you have operating, the more heat will be generated - and excessive heat can damage office equipment such as PCs. Secondly, if your small or home office space isn't adequately ventilated, working there can be extremely uncomfortable for you. This is a particularly common problem when people choose small spaces for their home offices, such as ex-bedrooms. The room becomes a "hot box" and almost impossible to work in.

Consider the ventilation aspect of your office design carefully when you're choosing the spot for your small or home office. Is the room large enough for you and your equipment to work in comfortably? Consider cooling options such as purchasing a small air-conditioning unit or fans of an adequate size to cool the room. Commercial office spaces usually have air-conditioning systems installed to protect both the equipment and people's health.

Now that you've examined the basic infrastructure of your small or home office design, it's time to give some thought to the utility and safety aspects of your work space. Click to continue on to page 2.

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