Home Shop Pros and Cons

Cabinetmakers describe what it's like to have your shop next to (or underneath) your house. April 13, 2012

For the past 6 years I have been renting warehouse space for my shop. I moved into my current warehouse in June and it is approximately 3200 SF, which is twice the size I had. I pay $1600 a month, which will be going up to the normal rate of $2000 a month next year. (Yeah, a $400 increase - long story. It's part of a deal me and the landlord made when I moved in.)

I bought a house last year that has a decent sized backyard where I could easily fit a shop at least 1200-1400 SF, leaving space around it. Advantage I have is that the house is on a main road and thousands of cars go by daily. Problem is neighbors are too close. I'm seriously thinking of building my shop at home and doing some extreme soundproofing. I could also convert the garage into my office.

What do you think? I'm just trying to save more than $20K a year in rent that is going into someone else's pocket. And I can't afford to buy a warehouse because prices and down payments are really high.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
Working on your own property is great, but I think you will outgrow the space quickly. Also, living in town will cause too many problems (like spraying finishes - you don't want the EPA on your butt!). This is why I built a house and shop out in the country. I have plenty of room to expand. I just added another 900 sq ft a few years ago. I may even add on again sometime.

From contributor O:
Terrible idea. Neighbors will complain exactly when you can't afford it. Drop a dime on you and you're screwed. Just the increased vehicle traffic of a business will trigger complaints. Besides finishing fumes, shop dust carries more than you might think, coating neighbor's Mercedes.

From contributor N:

I built a house last year with a 1600 sq ft walkout basement (dedicated shop space). In the country, no problem, but probably the biggest issue is finishing - smells pretty strong outside. Not a problem for me, but next door neighbors might not be so thrilled. Single man shop. I have a couple acres here and have a spot cleared for a 2600 shop out back when I grow, but not sure I want my big shop on the property now, especially when I have hired hands. Love the large basement shop though, and plan on staying a one man shop for a while. Customers are not really a problem - rarely do they come to shop - maybe one in five drop in.

From contributor K:
Do you do your own finishing? The first thing you need to do is check with your zoning board. Then proceed accordingly. The neighbors may not have much say in the matter if it's zoned commercial. I have very close neighbors, I run a CNC router and a large dust collector most of the daytime hours and I've never had a complaint in 12 years. If it fits for you, then do it.

From contributor D:
In '08 I built my shop behind my house. Got sick of paying rent and the inner city issues. Built almost 4000 sq ft. There are great benefits and some downfalls. One is that everyone I know stops by for a fast fix or to bullshit. They think since you're at home you're not at work. One of my favorites is I walk down the gavel road and I'm at work. Same and I'm home. It's easy to work late or weekends if you need to make a deadline. I'm set off the road so no one can see or hear us. Though it's not zoned for it, the inspector just said no signs or vans with signs, which I'm fine with. Also I was lucky because all my friends are in the trades, so I called in a lot of favors and barters. I was scared when I started to build it because that was the start of the recession around here. But today I'm so glad I used a lot of cash and a very small loan. And it's all mine, not the landlord's. Don't be cheap. Planning and talk to a real electrician, not a handyman, to design the system. Build with the notion of expanding. You may not, but if you need to add anything, you'll be happy.

From contributor L:
I had a home shop when I started a long time ago. It was in an old area of town, definitely not upscale. I knew my neighbors and helped them when needed. Everyone knew I worked there. I eventually needed more space, help, and 3 phase to replace the converter. It would be a real bummer to get all set up and then have the zoning board come down on you. Your current neighbors might be fine with it, but the next ones?

From contributor F:
I ditto all the other thoughts. I'm out in the country and my dad is the only neighbor within seeing distance (about 200 feet away) and he can smell the fumes on days when we spray. The fumes would be the biggest concern in my opinion.

I bought the property from my dad and built my 3200 square foot shop, and no, it's not enough room. I will be considering adding on another 800 feet next year.

When we moved into the new shop, I had a mobile home on the property that we lived in with plans to build a house, and I did all the computer work in the house. I found myself always feeling like I had to be at the computer working on designs. Since then I bought the home next door, so now when I go home I'm actually away from work, which is good. There is a tendency to work too much when your work is at your home.

From contributor J:
There is also the opposite problem of what contributor F says. When my shop was 50 feet from the door, my daughter was 6 months old. There was a lot of cool stuff going on in the house or yard the next three years. It made it hard to even get to the shop sometimes, or you'd get distracted to come play and the next thing you know you lost a couple hours. It's a double edged sword. You either work too much or not enough when the shop is right there.

From contributor E:
Contributor J, if you were at work in a different location you would have missed all of those moments you'll never be able to replace. Believe me, I missed more of them than I'd like to talk about.

To the original questioner: If you can make the logistics of a home shop work, there is nothing better. I am not in a residential area, so I have no one to bother with noise or fumes. Nothing can replace going out the door and taking a few steps to work. If you bored are in the evening, go get a few things done in the shop. If you have a few things to get done at the house, you're right there.

To me, there are no drawbacks if you can work past the other issues. I've had it both ways and I would never have another shop away from the house.

From contributor N:
I as well would have it no other way as a single man shop, with close proximity to shop (it's in my basement). To me the pluses easily outweigh the negatives. After all, aren't our families why we are working in the first place?

My little kids even come and help out sometimes - say on the edgebander. Still, if and when I build a big shop and hire help, I am not sure I want the guys that close to the house.

From contributor H:
My shop is 20' from the house. It's worked out great for over 25 years. I'm zoned for it and only have one neighbor about 600' away. Since we don't have issues with traffic or signs on the road, nobody really cares that we are here.

When the kids were in school I was always here to pick them up at the bus stop down our road 1 mile away. Biggest problem is lack of space, as the county won't let us add on to the building, but we are zoned for it with a special use permit.

One problem I have had is that when customers stop by they assume I'm saving all this money by working from home, so somehow they get a discount. If I had a shop in town with a real showroom, I could close a few more sales and get more money for our products. Also some people don't mind the nice drive in the country to see us, but others just won't drive out - they say "You're out in the middle of nowhere." Also delivery trucks are an issue. Last week the UPS truck came up and ran over our dog right in front of me and the shop. Having a shop with kids and dogs is great, but there are real hazards to having a commercial work environment at your home.

Also the time and money you save not driving to work every day is hours and money you can spend with or on your kids. Big pluses but your business will have limits on growth.

From contributor S:
Move to the country. Ideally to an area where they don't have zoning laws. As to fumes: Would it not make sense to have a painting booth with activated charcoal filters to collect the volatiles?

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor I:
I had a 3500 square foot shop in a factory building in IL, then a home basement/garage shop in the woods in MD, and now a 2100 square foot shop on the first floor of commercial building in IN, with our 2100 square foot home above. It's a traditional live-above-the-shop arrangement in a small town. Before buying and renovating the 180-yr old brick building I received a ruling from the zoning office and town council. I voluntarily restrict the noisiest work to off hours (planing), rely on high quality dust collection, and use only non-solvent finishes. So far the neighbors are happy, as is my wife, and I love the convenience. Also, I get the benefit of a street front shop window so I do not need to advertise. No complaints after 18 months here. That said, I probably would go back to a separate building if I had small children at home.