To the Mac-cave!

Build the per­fect re­treat for work, rest and play

Mac Format - - FRONT PAGE - Words: Gary Mar­shall Im­ages: Joe Branston

Ba­bies might not ap­pear all that big, but they take up a sur­pris­ing amount of room – and in the run-up to the birth of my baby son, my wife made it clear that the room our son would be tak­ing was the room where my Mac and I lived. Once Adam was out of his Moses bas­ket, me and my Mac would have to mo­sey on out of there.

Ba­bies aren’t the only rea­son for mov­ing your Mac, of course. You might be down­siz­ing, go­ing free­lance, or your bet­ter half might just be fed up with you plonk­ing away in Garage­Band when they’re try­ing to watch Game of Thrones. What­ever the rea­son, the re­sult’s the same: you sud­denly need to find a new place to perch.

That’s great if you live in a man­sion with stacks of spare rooms. It’s not so great if your home is al­ready more cramped than an 8GB iPhone.

So what do you do when there’s no room for you and your Mac? The an­swer’s sim­ple. Get yourself a Mac cave!

Caves of all kinds

A Mac cave can be any­thing. Some people con­vert their garage into an of­fice; oth­ers move into the loft; and some oth­ers build full-on ex­ten­sions. Each op­tion gives you some­where warm and se­cure that’s also likely to add value to your house, but they also can cost a great deal of money and in­volve months of noise and mess to set up – as­sum­ing you have the time and money to get them done in the first place.

I had nei­ther. Hur­rah, then, for Per­mit­ted De­vel­op­ment Rights.

Per­mit­ted De­vel­op­ment Rights en­able you to add an out­build­ing such as a sum­mer­house, shed or gar­den of­fice with­out hav­ing to get plan­ning per­mis­sion or a build­ing war­rant. You get all the ben­e­fits of ex­tra space with­out the ex­pense or bu­reau­cracy.

As you might ex­pect, there are lim­its, of course: you can’t go ahead and build a life-size replica of The Shard or the Mil­len­nium Fal­con in your back gar­den. To qual­ify un­der Per­mit­ted De­vel­op­ment Rights your build­ing in ques­tion has to be sin­gle storey with­out bal­conies, ve­ran­das or raised plat­forms, and it can’t be higher than four me­tres if it has a dou­ble pitched roof or three me­tres if it doesn’t. If the build­ing is within two me­tres of a boundary it can’t be higher than 2.5 me­tres, and it should be at the rear of the house: as you can imag­ine, the rules are much more strict about the front of your house than the back.

The rules ap­ply to houses – not flats or maisonettes – and if the build­ing is listed, in a con­ser­va­tion area or pro­tected in some other way, then there are other re­stric­tions, too. You’ll find full de­tails at plan­ning­por­ per­mis­sion/com­mon­pro­jects/out­build­ings for Eng­land and Wales, if you’re in Scot­land head to scot­­source/0038/00388268.pdf, or to if you’re plan­ning a Mac cave in North­ern Ire­land.

Check your cave’s cov­ered

Be­fore you start shop­ping for sheds or talk­ing to ar­chi­tects, it’s im­por­tant to look into in­sur­ance – and if you’re go­ing to be work­ing from your Mac cave, you’ll need to look into busi­ness rates and tax as well.

In many cases your ex­ist­ing home in­sur­ance pol­icy will cover you for home work­ing pro­vided that the work is cler­i­cal and that you don’t re­ceive vis­i­tors. But don’t just au­to­mat­i­cally as­sume you’re cov­ered: you should check with the in­surer that the out­build­ing is in­cluded in your pol­icy and find out whether they have spe­cific se­cu­rity re­quire­ments or if there are

lower per-item lim­its that might mean a stolen Mac, for ex­am­ple, won’t be fully cov­ered.

If you’ll be us­ing your Mac cave for work, you shouldn’t need to pay busi­ness rates if there’s no sig­nif­i­cant ‘commercial ac­tiv­ity’, which typ­i­cally means a steady stream of vis­i­tors, vis­i­ble busi­ness sig­nage and/or dis­rup­tion to your neigh­bours. If you will be re­ceiv­ing vis­i­tors then you’ll need to con­sider get­ting Pub­lic Li­a­bil­ity In­sur­ance in case one of them, say, trips and sues you.

If you’re self-em­ployed and have an ac­coun­tant, have a chat with him or her, too: you might be able to off­set some of your costs against tax, and if you’re VAT reg­is­tered you might be able to re­claim the VAT on the costs of your build­ing as well.

Choos­ing a Mac cave

When it comes to gar­den build­ings, the choice is end­less. A quick visit to shed­work­ un­cov­ers ev­ery­thing from cheap and cheer­ful DIY projects to the kind of rooms you’d ex­pect to see on Grand De­signs, and there are stacks of gar­den build­ing com­pa­nies of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from sim­ple shiplap sheds to all-singing, all-dancing eco-friendly palaces. The range is stag­ger­ing, from Do­minic Jones’ One Grand De­sign (check out one­grand­de­ – an of­fice he reck­ons you can build for less than £2,500 – to con­verted ship­ping con­tain­ers, fairy­tale sum­m­mer­houses and ar­chi­tect-de­signed ex­trav­a­gan­zas that cost more than £20,000.

It’s pos­si­ble to pick up a ba­sic shed or sum­mer­house for few hun­dred pounds, but that’s al­most cer­tainly a false econ­omy. If the build­ing has win­dows they’re likely to be sin­gleglazed and per­spex, the walls will be made of the thinnest wood and the hard­ware – hinges and so on – will be flimsy: as a re­sult you’ll be freez­ing in the win­ter, boil­ing in the sum­mer and you’ll live in con­stant fear of fall­ing foul of bur­glars. You can up­grade all of those things yourself, of course, but do­ing so can eas­ily wipe out any of the sav­ings you were des­per­ately try­ing to make.

Buy­ing a build­ing that’s in­su­lated and dou­bleglazed is prob­a­bly a bet­ter idea, but it comes with an in­evitable price hike. There are dif­fer­ent grades of in­su­la­tion too, and a build­ing with thick in­su­la­tion and su­per-ef­fi­cient dou­ble glaz­ing will cost more than one with ba­sic alu­minium bub­ble in­su­la­tion and thin dou­ble glaz­ing. There’s a trade-off here: bet­ter in­su­la­tion costs more, but costs less to heat and cool. For build­ings of the sort of size I wanted – about 8 feet by 10 feet – the rate was around £5,000 for ones with ba­sic in­su­la­tion and £7,000-plus for more toasty ones.

Shop­ping around is cru­cial here. There are huge price dif­fer­ences be­tween ap­par­ently iden­ti­cal build­ings from dif­fer­ent sup­pli­ers, and hid­den costs can be huge: where some firms charge fairly rea­son­able de­liv­ery charges, oth­ers ap­pear to be send­ing the goods by taxi.

Cut your cave costs

Shop­ping around isn’t the only way to cut costs. If you’re will­ing to in­stall a pre-fab­ri­cated build­ing yourself – some­thing that’s typ­i­cally a two-per­son job that takes a day or two – that can save you a packet, and it’s much cheaper to paint it yourself than get it painted by the man­u­fac­turer. Don’t for­get about op­por­tu­nity costs, though. Any time you spend do­ing things – dig­ging trenches, paint­ing walls, fit­ting se­cu­rity bars – is time you can’t spend on do­ing your job (if you’re work­ing free­lance or are self-em­ployed, for ex­am­ple), so think care­fully about what jobs you want to take on yourself. There’s no point sav­ing a few bob on trades­men if do­ing so means turn­ing down well­paid work.

If you’re not too both­ered about get­ting some­thing fac­tory-fresh, ex-demon­stra­tion build­ings of­ten come with steep dis­counts: the build­ing I ended up get­ting was £3,500 in­clud­ing de­liv­ery and in­stal­la­tion, a sav­ing of more than £2,000 on the new price.

It’s im­por­tant to re­alise that un­less you pay the build­ing sup­plier to do it you’ll also need to budget for elec­tri­cal work, net­work ca­ble, paint, floor­ing, blinds, lights, fur­ni­ture and se­cu­rity.

Once you’ve worked those costs out, take the fi­nal fig­ure and dou­ble it, be­cause there’s bound to be some­thing you’ve for­got­ten about or an un­ex­pected de­vel­op­ment that’ll in­volve spend­ing more cash.

Dig­ging out your Mac cave

Be­fore your build­ing can be built, it needs to have a place to sit. You’ll need a flat sur­face – slabs are usu­ally fine pro­vided they’re level, or you can make a foun­da­tion us­ing con­crete and/or wooden beams – and you’ll need to ar­range for an elec­tri­cal sup­ply. You’ll prob­a­bly also need to run Eth­er­net cabling un­less your Wi-Fi sig­nal is in­cred­i­bly strong. Your cord­less phone and door­bell prob­a­bly won’t have suf­fi­cient range ei­ther, so you might want to run ca­bles for your phone and/or door­bell or buy sys­tems with longer wire­less range.

In most cases you’ll want to bury your cabling to pre­vent ac­ci­den­tal dam­age or sab­o­tage, so you’ll need to dig a deep trench, run the ca­bles and put ev­ery­thing back again be­fore the build­ing can be in­stalled. Once it’s up you can Got a screw loose? Gary at­taches his Kens­ing­ton

SafeS­tand to his desk. then fin­ish off the job by fit­ting plugs, net­works and other sock­ets.

The build­ing reg­u­la­tions are very strict about elec­tri­cal safety: you must use ar­moured ca­ble for the power sup­ply, if it’s un­der­ground it needs to be buried safely and with warn­ings for fu­ture res­i­dents, and it needs to be cer­ti­fied by a qual­i­fied elec­tri­cian.

I’m rubbish at DIY, so I dug the holes and left ev­ery­thing else to my friendly neigh­bour­hood elec­tri­cian. He charged £400 for two days’ work. That fig­ure in­cluded all the cabling, hard­ware and fin­ish­ing but not my Eth­er­net ca­ble or se­cu­rity light, which I or­dered on­line be­cause they were cheaper.

If like me you’re on a tight budget, there are a num­ber of ways to cut cor­ners here. Ex­pen­sive ar­moured ca­ble isn’t needed for any wiring that’s in­side your house, so my elec­tri­cian only used it for the stretch be­tween the back of my house and the home of­fice, and I didn’t bother get­ting a light­ing cir­cuit fit­ted. Don’t skimp on net­work ca­ble, though: in fact, run twice as much as you need: so, for ex­am­ple, in­stead of run­ning one 25m length of Eth­er­net, run two. That way if one fails you can sim­ply swap to the other one with­out hav­ing to dig down and re­place the ex­ist­ing cabling.

Cave paint­ing

Once you’ve got power and in­ter­net, it’s time to dec­o­rate. I went for straight­for­ward paints in­side – mag­no­lia might not be ex­cit­ing, but it’s re­ally cheap – and spent a lit­tle bit more on paint and wood pre­server for the out­side, since that’s the bit

The house that Gary built: the build­ing Gary bought cost him £3,500. He’s de­lighted with it!

In­side, Gary can work with the

re­as­sur­ance know­ing he has his own se­cure work­ing space.

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