11 essential questions to ask when choosing your garden room
A garden room is a significant purchase to make but it’s one that can transform your home. Whether you want a garden office to free yourself up from commuting and expensive commercial rents, or a garden room to simply chill out and relax in or to provide much needed space for a hobby, it’s a great investment. And one that adds value to your property too.
But there are many different types of garden rooms and offices available on the market. That inevitably means there’s an awful lot of variation in quality and price. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? It’s important that once you’ve decided you’d like to buy a garden room, you spend time understanding the differences between what’s on offer. You also need to know exactly what you are getting for your money. So here are eleven essential questions you should ask before you go ahead and make your purchase.
1. Will my garden room need planning permission and will it be compliant with building regulations?
If you’re the property or land owner you’re ultimately responsible for complying with the relevant planning rules so make sure you know where you stand before you buy. In most cases, outbuildings are generally considered to be permitted development under the Class E guidelines and don’t need planning permission. That is, however, subject to certain limits and conditions.
The rules to be particularly aware of are:
- The building must be no higher than 2.5m from the bottom of the building to the top of the roof.
- You must not take up more than 50% of your garden area with your garden room and any other buildings that are already constructed.
- Your garden room must not be used as living or sleeping accommodation
Building regulations will not usually apply (other than Part P for electrical installations) unless you intend to use your garden room as sleeping accommodation. In terms of its location, a garden room which is under 15m² in internal floor area can be installed close to any rear boundary but if it’s between 15m² and 30m² it needs to be at least a metre away from any such boundary
Rubicon manufactures its garden rooms to automatically meet the 2.5m height planning restriction. While we are not obliged to, we also work to Parts A, E and P of the building regulations as we believe it enhances structural integrity. If you’d like more information on this subject, please do visit our dedicated planning permission and building regulations page.
2. Will I be able to use the garden room all year round?
If you are investing in a garden room or garden office it’s wise to find out if it is one you can use all year round. There are all kinds of buildings sold as ‘garden rooms’ which often turn out to be not much more than fancy-looking sheds and certainly not spaces that can be comfortably used all year round! So, in particular, check what level of insulation is on offer.
Some companies offer just 25mm of insulation, but this is not sufficient for all year round usage. To understand the levels of insulation, it’s useful to have a quick overview of what’s known as the ‘U-value’ which is the measurement of how effective a material is at insulating. It’s the amount of heat lost per square metre of a building component like a wall, roof, floor or window. The lower the U-value is, the better the material is at insulation.
Rubicon’s garden rooms are insulated to the same levels required for a modern home, enabling you to be confident that you can use your room or office all year round. Even with such extensive insulation, you will still need to factor in heating for the winter months as you would in your house. Double check if a dedicated heater is included in the cost of your so you don’t have to factor in more expense further down the line. Our standard wall-mounted electric heaters are included in the price and provide plenty of warmth at a very economic running cost due to the extensive insulation of our garden buildings. We also offer the option to fit an air conditioning unit if required.
3. How well ventilated is the garden room?
With all this discussion around insulation and keeping the heat in, it’s easy to overlook how important it is to have a well-ventilated building too! It’s less of an issue when you can fling the doors open and let the fresh air in on a sunny spring day. But what about the times when you need to keep them shut? You need to be confident that the air quality is good and your garden room isn’t going to be affected by condensation. It’s important to protect the health of everyone using the room and it’s important to protect the contents of your room too. That’s why you must have a 'breathing' structure to allow any natural internal moisture and condensation to escape easily.
Rubicon ensures the risks from condensation are kept to a minimum due to the construction methods and materials we use in our garden rooms. We use a breather membrane that allows natural moisture to escape out of the room. Its like a Gortex coat which prevents rain and damp from entering but allows the internal areas to ventilate the moist air to the outside. We also incorporate vented cavity construction, a vapour control layer, trickle vents and a cross-ventilated roof for effective air circulation.
4. How structurally sound is the garden room and will it stand up to the weather?
Take the time to understand the differences in the construction of any garden room you are contemplating buying, because there can be a lot of variation in the methods and materials used and the overall quality of the build - its very often what you can't see that matters..!
A modular construction can lead to a lower manufacturing cost and increased speed of assembly on site but there’s no flexibility in design or construction requirements. It can also look and feel a bit like a caravan both inside and out.
On the other hand, traditional timber frame construction is a highly popular method due to its design flexibility, suitability for varying climates and high energy efficiency. This construction method has been used for hundreds of years and is well proven for longevity.
As well as the quality of the frame, remember to ask about the other components being used like the under boarding and external sheathing. Ideally, take a look at some examples of the garden offices and garden rooms to get an idea of the quality of them. A good company should be happy to accommodate this, whether it is by visiting their commercial showroom or viewing recently completed projects.
Rubicon are always delighted to welcome people to make an appointment to visit our factory showroom and see the types of garden rooms and garden office we manufacture. They’re constructed from 20yr treated timbers to meet British Standard BS5589:1998, giving an expected life span in excess of 30 years. Our wall frames are built in factory-controlled conditions, from a minimum of 96mm x 47mm C24 and C16 structural grade regulated timber, while our roof and floor use the superior strength C24 grade of timber where required. This ensures the quality and precision of each component while reducing on-site build time thanks to the ‘kit’ format of assembly.
To prevent structural panels from deforming, and even potentially collapsing under wind-load, the external walls are sheathed in a high-quality exterior-rated, wood composite board or plywood behind the exterior cladding. All garden rooms are boarded underneath with 9mm ply or OSB3 boarding to protect against vermin attack and to prevent vermin gaining access to the insulating foam panels under the base.
5. How stable will the foundations be?
We know it sounds a pretty dull thing to factor in to your thought process – but have you given any thought to what your new garden room or office will be sitting on? Surface ground levels can move over time as a result of the weather, and that can affect the stability of the building. While there can be considerable variation in how structurally sound the actual garden room is due to the materials used, there can also be a great deal of difference in the methods used to create the foundations for the building.
Some companies use a recycled plastic pad/grid system which is simply placed on the ground and filled with loose stone. It’s a very quick and cheap way to provide a foundation – but its long term stability is questionable, and really only recommended for the lightweight shed-type structures that are being placed on what needs to be very firm ground.
At the other end of the scale, you could have a concrete base put in. But the downside is that it can be very messy and disruptive to your home environment. It requires considerable ground excavation with mechanical diggers. It’s not the most environmentally friendly option either, as every tonne of processed cement releases a tonne of carbon into the atmosphere.
One effective compromise, and one which Rubicon uses when installing its garden rooms and offices, is to install concrete pile foundations by boring holes around the perimeter of the base to a depth of 500-750mm. These holes are filled with a solid concrete mix to hold the steel bars and base plates which are then bolted to the timber floor. This uses only around 5% of the concrete employed in the slab construction method mentioned previously, but provides an extremely firm footing for your garden room.
6. How secure is a garden room?
You should rightly expect your garden room or garden office to be every bit as secure as your home. After all, you may well have some high value items in there and you need to rely on the fact that they will be stored safely when you are not using it. Check that the doors and windows to be installed include high quality opening and locking mechanisms. Our products comply with the Secured By Design designation which provides extra security features to all our UPVC doors. Make sure units are of the same durable quality you would want for your home. At the same time, check they are of sufficient quality to cope with whatever the weather throws at them, maintaining a comfortable environment with minimum heat loss in winter and low heat gain in summer.
Rubicon’s garden rooms include windows and doors that fully meet the latest multipoint locking system security requirements as required by insurance companies. The premium quality double glazed units offer the highest U-values available for such units and are also fitted with Pilkington's 'K' Glass, which is specially coated to reflect heat back into the room, further increasing comfort and reducing heat loss.
7. How much external maintenance will I need to do to keep my garden room looking good?
That depends a lot on your choice of cladding. Most suppliers offer a timber cladding for the exterior, usually in either cedar or redwood. It can look great initially, and depending on the type of timber used, can offer a long lifespan (30+ years) but it will need looking after as it can fade over time if left untreated and looks very 'shed' like. So you will need to do regular staining to keep the timber colours fresh.
A highly popular alternative is wood fibre composite which needs virtually no maintenance at all (apart from an occasional soapy wash to remove bird droppings perhaps along with a brush down to get rid of any cobwebs!). It is not uPVC and does not look false or plastic in any way. It has the feel and appearance of traditional wood combined with the long lifespan of a modern high-tech material. Its unique formula provides lightweight yet durable cladding that will not rot and it is an excellent insulator.
A further option is a rendered exterior, often specified to match an existing finish on the customers' house. This material never needs painting as it is 'through coloured' rather than just a surface finish. Its available in a wide range of colours and is virtually maintenance free apart from an annual fungal wash.
Rubicon offers all of the above cladding options. The choice really depends on your preferences and environment where the garden room or garden office will be based.
8. What will the garden room look like inside?
Obviously this will be dictated to some extent by what you want to use your garden room or home office for. But be careful – don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by looking at all of the fabulously finished interiors some brochures might feature and assume they’re automatically included in the price.
Unfortunately some suppliers will use what are, in our opinion, sub-standard finishes. They might be quick to install and comparatively cheap but will give a poor quality appearance and that will affect the whole feel of your garden office or room. These often comprise of coloured 'caravan' style wall panel systems which have ugly 'joint' strips along the walls and ceilings which are very unsightly.
Sometimes, those suppliers might offer a more professional plastered finish (as seen in their brochures) but that could come at a considerable premium on top of the original price so make sure you are clear about what you are getting to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
All our garden rooms and garden offices are dry-lined and plaster skimmed and effectively finished to the same high quality standard you would expect in a new build house.
They come with a comprehensive package of electrical equipment as standard too. That includes ceiling spotlights, plenty of double sockets, all in chrome; twin exterior lights, a 2.4Kw electric heater with timer and thermostat, an exterior waterproof socket for your lawnmower and a mains RCD consumer unit. There are then other options available on top of that. Skirtings and architraves are also included, and if you wish, you have a whole host of other features to choose from including interior dividing walls, doors and even shower-rooms and toilets.
9. How well protected am I by the guarantees on offer?
When you invest in a garden room or garden office, you want to be confident that it will be built to the highest possible standards. But what happens if there is an issue with any aspect of it? It’s important that you have the reassurance of knowing your garden room is extensively guaranteed; it’s a significant purchase and it’s vital you check out what level of guarantee comes as standard. Every company will offer something but the quality and comprehensiveness of the reassurance they offer is an important part of the decision-making process.
We think it’s fair to assume the more confidence a company has in its workmanship and quality of product, the longer the terms will be. That’s why Rubicon offers its customers extensive structural guarantees. Our garden rooms and garden offices are built to last. We’re extremely confident in the build quality and high grade specifications we offer which is why we’re able to provide such extensive guarantees that include:
- A 20 year structural guarantee (the NHBC new house guarantee is only 10 years!)
- A 20 year roof membrane guarantee against leakage
- A 10 year cladding guarantee against rot of any exterior composite cladding
- Plus a 12 month guarantee on fixtures and fittings like heaters, lights and handles.
We are members of the Trading Standards 'Buy With Confidence' scheme which gives you the reassurance that our guarantees have been audited and are financially sustainable.
10. How reliable is this company – and what kind of service can I expect?
The last thing you need is to be buying a garden room from a company that is not going to offer excellent customer service. You need a company that not only sells a great product that will last but one that turns up when it says it will and who you are comfortable having working for you.
It’s advisable to find out how long companies have been in business for and take the time to read case studies and testimonials to give you an idea of what they are like. Look out for membership of third party accreditation schemes too, where companies are independently vetted – as previously mentioned, Rubicon is approved by Trading Standards under their ‘Buy With Confidence’ scheme.
We also recognise that while the internet can be a great help for our customers it could run the risk of leaving them feeling isolated if they were unable to contact us easily. So we make a point of ensuring we are really easy to get hold of with both a landline number and email. We’re very friendly and easy to deal with too! For added reassurance, all our staff are Disclosure and Barring Service checked.
11. How long will my garden room or office take to construct?
Don’t forget to ask about build time but remember, quickest is not necessarily an indicator of the best quality structure. Some garden room providers may state they will only take a day or two but that could simply be because they are effectively erecting a better quality shed or 'Caravan' type structure, rather than a substantial structure that is built to last.
Rubicon garden rooms usually take around 8 to 10 days to build (weather and specification dependent). If this seems a long time, remember that once it’s up we’d expect it to last in excess of 30 years! Effectively, we’re building you a mini house and we believe it’s really important to take the time to do an exceptional job of it.
Get in touch with us
Remember that many companies will offer what seems to be a very good price for a garden room. But it is so important that you understand what you are getting for your money. Compare quality of products and do some research to unearth all the hidden extra costs before you commit to buy. Don’t feel awkward about asking lots of questions. Any good garden room supplier will be very happy to answer them all and give you as much helpful information as they can.
If you have any questions about our garden rooms or offices, please do call us on 01244 455666. Even better – come and see us at our factory showroom near Chester (by prior appointment)!
We primarily operate across the Chester, Cheshire, Mold, Buckley, Wrexham, Rossett, Wirral, Deeside, Flintshire, Denbighshire, North Wales, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Conway, Manchester, Stockport, Altrincham, Macclesfield, Lancashire, Liverpool, St Helens, Warrington, Birkenhead, West Kirby, Ellesmere Port, North West, Prestbury, Crewe, Nantwich, Preston, Malpas, Frodsham, Helsby, Heswall, Shrewsbury, Whitchurch, and Shropshire areas, but welcome enquiries from other areas within 70 miles of our Deeside base.