Setting up office from a building site

Well actually, it's been a case of a building site taking over my office. As a freelancer, I have the luxury of being able to work from home, but for the last four months, our home was being renovated.

We've completely remodelled the kitchen and bathroom, added a new bedroom downstairs and added a new level upstairs with bedroom, ensuite and office — essentially the whole back half of the house was demolished and rebuilt. We were without water or electricity for nearly the whole build and had to move out to a neighbour's house around the corner. Being able to live so close to home was a blessing in so many ways — being out of your own home is disruptive enough but travel arrangements to work, school and daycare remained unchanged. There's also the financial aspect with the next best option we found to be an on-site van in a caravan park for $700/week 20 minutes away from home.

The neighbour's house did have unlimited broadband and I did spent a lot of hours working from there, but it wasn't ideal for full-time work: I couldn't easily set up my second monitor or my PC and my own particular workflow involves serving sites in development from my laptop via DynDNS which requires my IP address to be added to a setting, and the router running the network I'm on to be able to forward ports. I didn't really feel like I could move in and say: Oh and by the way, I need to fiddle with your modem.

So I actually ended up working from another neighbour's house, the one behind us, from which I could access my own network via wifi from the room closest to our house. Yes, we do have good neighbours (and it's amazing how many comments just like that we got).

The routine

We have two dogs, a labrador and a border collie (you can see them on the 404 page) and they've never been to a kennel or lived anywhere for an extended time without us so we never really considered keeping them anywhere other than at the house while it was being renovated. They're easy-going enough and don't worry about having strangers around but they fret a bit if they're left on their own and bark a bit and get destructive around the yard so we didn't want to leave them alone at the house at night after all the builders had gone for the day.

So I would actually sleep at the house every night, using a torch to find my way in where I could turn on a lamp plugged into the powerboard that was plugged into an extension cord that ran out to the temporary metre box in the back yard.

An average day would involve:

  • getting up about 6am and taking the dogs for a walk
  • go around to the neighbour's house where the rest of the family were for breakfast
  • take our eldest to school at 8:30am (he's in his first year)
  • go back to the second neighbour's house to work
  • pick up my son from school again at 3pm
  • work until 5pm when the rest of the family would get home
  • take the dogs for their afternoon walk
  • go back to the first neighbour's house for the evening — dinner, kids' bath/bedtime etc.
  • go back to our house to sleep

That routine changed a little bit for the last couple of weeks of the renovations, but that was how it worked for the majority of the time. We were staying in a granny flat under the neighbour's house so we had our own space which was great but at times it did feel a bit cramped especially when you had a three- and four-year-old getting up to crazy kid antics while you're trying to make dinner. There was also a few occasions, as I was walking out of the neighbour's at ~11pm to walk back to our house, that I wished I could just stay put. But for the most part, being out of home, and living by an unusual routine wasn't as stressful as I thought it might've been. (There was stress, but that's a story for another time.)

The build

Our renovation was relatively painless from a building point of view. There were no hidden surprises that forced us to mortgage a child to cover the extra expense. We did go over the originally quoted price, sure, but the over amount fell within the standard 10% and we'd already budgetted for it.

We had a good builder who communicated with us well and regularly, and the team of tradies he had working for him were a good bunch who did good solid work. The same can't be said of all the subbies who did different parts of the job though. But then if everything had gone completely smoothly, we wouldn't have any funny stories to tell.

Like the subbie who came to replace a broken window, without actually bringing the replacement glass with him. He didn't waste his time entirely while he was on site though; he did remove the broken glass — by just shoving it out from the second storey so that it smashed on the ground below and then left it there for someone else to clean up.

Or the chain-smoking plasterer, who was in his 70s, who apart from being a bit sloppy at his job, flicked a cigarette butt into the skip and set it on fire. He had to get a few buckets of water to put it out.

Or the guy who installed our mirrors who broke one of them getting it out of his truck. And then had the same thing happen on his second attempt. (Do you reckon glaziers live their whole lives with bad luck?)


The result

We're pretty happy with the way things have turned out. There's a few minor little things that still need attention that we'll have to get back to the builder about, and we're still finishing off painting the interior (doing inside ourselves and the downstairs storey outside; will need a professional to do the second storey), and we can't put carpets in upstairs (all polished floors downstairs) or blinds or curtains until the painting's finished. Which means that I have to use a sheet tacked over the window next to my desk at the moment.

But they're just minor annoyances that are easy to put up with. The kids are loving being back in their own place with all their toys and plenty of room to run around in, and we're liking the fact they have plenty of room to run around in that's not necessarily right on top of us. ;) All the extra space is great too and seems to make the place seem much tidier (because we're able to put stuff away that would normally have been left out or stored more visibly) although the house does seem a bit more echoey than before.

Of course, with any talk of renovations, there has to be the obligatory before and after shots:

The kitchen — before. Demolition had already started (didn't get around to getting a good pre-demolition photo of it).
The kitchen — after. All shiny and new and existing wooden floors which were sanded back and polished came up a treat.