Pros and Cons of a Basement Workshop

Woodworkers share experiences with home-based woodshops. March 12, 2006

I have started a furniture making business in the Toronto area and will be needing a larger shop soon. I am trying to keep my overhead down by keeping my shop at home. I will be buying a new house soon, so obviously, this will be a huge factor when looking. I am hoping someone might have some insight as to how effective a basement shop can be without disrupting the rest of the household. Any advice would be welcome.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor F:
We all know it's been done, but I would stay away from a basement shop if at all possible. As you know you have problems with noise and dust pollution, fire hazard, restrictions on size of the project, getting tools in and out and not to mention insurance restrictions. A stand alone shop will be well worth the cost or effort.

From contributor B:
I have a basement shop and I do custom cabinets and doors (entry doors and passage doors). It is very effective. Probably the best advice I can offer is to have a good dust collection system and 10' ceilings as this has worked well for me.

From contributor V:
I think a basement shop would work as well as any. My biggest concern would getting things in and out of the shop. The only way I could work in that setup would be if I had a 5 foot wide minimum sloped ramp up to street level. I would try and minimize carrying things up and down a stairway as much as I could.

From contributor R:
Buy property with a detached garage or build one. Dust collectors only collect the chips. They re-circulate the dust. The best dust control in a shop is to pick the chips up at the source and exhaust any dust bearing air to the outside.

From contributor G:
A good dust collector will most definitely not re-circulate dust. A good baghouse or after-filter will easily filter the air. If you exhaust outdoors you need make-up air which can be a problem in the winter.

From contributor B:
I feel that basement shops are not the best scenario. Obviously they can work, but there are some issues beyond dust collection that must be considered. Finishing and noise immediately come to mind as two of these. Even if spraying is avoided or done with proper exhaust, drying finish can still have strong odors that can invade the living space. And machine noises, no matter how well insulated the floor above might be, will still be heard upstairs.

From contributor P:
The good thing about having the shop out of the house is that you can have a client over and keep them away from your private life. I would go for the garage or out building. I have a 2500 square foot shop in another location and if I have to do it again I would have one on my property and rent it from myself.

A 1500 square foot shop is all one guy needs for furniture making. In furniture making you either have to grow to 3 or more guys or just stay by yourself. I have 3 guys now and I am looking at either going back by myself or expanding larger. These three guys work great but it just seems like a lot of work meeting overhead and not much return. If you do a basement shop or a shop detached make sure you can have one there as some zoning codes do not allow it.

From contributor Y:
I have been working out of a basement shop for the past few years. The advice on dust collection is great. I built a small shed beside my house for the dust collection and ran ducts through a window to the shed, including a return to makeup for the air loss.

- Temperature is comfortable - usually just slightly cooler than the rest of the house.
- Shop is just downstairs and convenient to bathrooms, kitchen, everything else.
- If the weather is bad, you don't have to go outside.

- Noise - wife gets irritated.
- Dust - even if you're really neat dust is going to make its way into the rest of the house.
- Carrying things in and out of the shop is a hassle.
- Since it is part of the house, it tends to get "borrowed" for other stuff, such as your wife putting stuff there.
- Low ceilings - I didn't think about this until it became a real problem.
- Humidity - controlling it in a basement can be difficult.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
It is critical in any shop, but especially one in a basement, that the RH be controlled to a level typical of the environment where the furniture will be used. Invest in a small humidity sensor. If it gets too humid, use a dehumidifier or increase the heat. It is probably a poor idea to turn off the heat at night or on weekends, as that increases the RH. High RH is a major cause of manufacturing defects. The target RH is 35% RH.

From contributor I:
No one mentioned insurance or zoning. I run a small part-time business in my basement shop. The insurance knows about it, the city does not. It is illegal to operate a manufacturing business in your home in my city. The insurance knows about it because the home insurance policy would be void if a fire started from a commercial venture. It is now properly written and I also have a business policy. I ran a full time business for 8 years in an old warehouse space. Some customers gave me a lot more respect when they visited. They considered my shop to be a professional operation, and many consider a home shop to be a hobbyist operation and are wary of quality.

From contributor S:

When I worked in the back yard, many people that found me thought I was the golden goose. They thought I didn't pay taxes, insurance, etc; had no overhead, and worked for nothing. They expected everything for nothing. Some were quite up front - rude - about it, even suggesting that since I was operating as I was, I was obviously naive, and able to be taken advantage of. If I hadn't heard from them for a while, when they called, they would ask if I was still in business.

When I moved to commercial lease space, these "good people" vanished like flies - it was obvious that now my prices would increase, and I was maybe no longer naive. Truth is, prices decreased due to better equipment and higher productivity. Professional credibility doesn't exist for basement or garage shops - despite your quality. The limitations placed upon you by the market at large are too strong to easily overcome since you also have other things to do (make, sell, market, track, design, etc).

From contributor W:
I am a chair maker in a one man business so I do not have the need for a huge shop. 500 square feet is plenty (except when I have to store more than 300 board feet of lumber). When looking for a house I specified a 2 car garage with detached house. For 7 years now it is serving me well. Make sure you can get your pieces out easily, lumber delivery is easy and commercial pick up and delivery is convenient. With it out of the house noise, dust, odors, and distractions are minimized.