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How to build a modular home office

kyle_r | Posted in General Questions on

My wife and I will now be working from home permanently. With no spare bedrooms, I am turning to our basement for office space. It is currently unfinished, but dry, well insulated, and heated. The space is 30’ x 40’ free-spanning. Because I am not sure we will be staying in this home long term I do not want to invest the time into finishing it myself or the expense to pay someone else to finish it. So my idea…

I’m considering building two 8’ long x 8’ wide x 7’ 6” high “office pods.” I would frame a 2×4 16” on center floor with 3/4” subfloor. 2×4 24” on center walls and ceiling. I would finish the interior walls with some pre-finished paneling.The goal would be to reduce sound transmission to the point where we can both have uninterrupted conference calls with our pods a few feet away from each other.

My question is what is the best/most economical way to do this. Some thoughts were to hang drywall on the inside and outside of the studs for mass, but avoid mudding and taping by using pre-finished panels. Should I try and make it air tight, but then ventilate through something like a tamarack grill? Insulate the stud walls with rock wool for additional sound proofing? Use exterior doors? Is it worth building a floor, or should I just let it sit on the slab? I have some old Pella windows I could install for natural light?

I’m open to all suggestions or telling me just to finish the basement…Thanks!

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  1. jonny_h | | #1

    Without getting into structural details of building modular office pods, here's a few thoughts:

    -Check for radon and address that first if it's an issue -- it'll usually be highest concentration in the basement, and if you're going to be sitting down there for 8 hours a day, you'll want to make sure the radon concentration isn't too high.

    -On the same air quality front, I'd strongly recommend some form of forced ventilation, unless you like feeling sleepy and operating at sub-optimal efficiency for the latter half of every day. In an 8' cube without intentional ventilation (not just a grille, but something with a fan moving air in and out) your CO2 concentration will get pretty high pretty fast.

    -For soundproofing, look into techniques people use to make home music studios and such. Some common ones are double-stud walls with mineral wool between (to reduce direct coupling from inside to out), multiple layers of drywall glued together with certain types of glue, and sound isolation systems involving special metal clips with rubber dampers holding the drywall to the studs.

  2. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #2

    I would build regular 2x4 walls with "Safe'n'Sound" mineral wool in them, except for the shared wall between "pods" -- I'd build a staggered studwall here (use 2x6 top and bottom plates, but 2x4 studs with every other stud aligned with the opposite edge of the top/bottom plates). Use 5/8" drywall throughout. BE SURE TO CAP THE PODS -- if you have no ceiling, sound will "hop the wall" and short circuit all your sound proofing efforts in the wall. Try to avoid any penetrations of that staggered stud wall too (electrical boxes, etc.). The staggered studs decouple the two sides of the wall, and greatly improve the sound blocking ability of the wall. You want to put Safe'n'Sound mineral wool in here too, and I would align it all with one side of the wall (press it against the same side of the wall in each stud bay).

    I would probably mud and tape, but build your pods so that you can use full size sheets of drywall to minimize finishing. If you want a 12' wall, use two 12' sheets hung sideways. Sideways is often easier to hang anyway compared to the usual DIY'er vertical method.

    Be sure to plan your electrical to align with your desks. I'd put network connections in there too, and plan for a few more than you need. Commerically, I use "2D+V" as a basic spec -- two data and one "voice" ("voice" used to mean an analog phone line, but now it's just another data drop that is color coded for use with a phone -- the wiring is the same now). I always tell my customers "always install at least one more drop than you think you need", since the work is in the installation, the extra materials cost is minimal.

    BTW, use good doors with a good frame. These are a common place for sound to leak. Heavy, solid doors are best for sound blocking, along with a tight-fitting frame.

    One last thing: if you're going to be spending all day in these basement rooms, don't let them look like dungeon cells. Paint them, and use good high CRI lights. You'll thank yourself for that later. Poor lighting in a dingy/dark room will make you feel crummy, sometimes without your even realizing why.


  3. ethan_TFGStudio | | #3

    Sounds will move much like heat, so insulation and reducing "bridging" will be critical.

  4. Mark_Nagel | | #4

    Any chance that SIPs could be a solution? First thing that popped into my mind, though I don't have them as any preferred building solution.

  5. Expert Member
    Akos | | #5

    I while back I remember one of the box stores carrying these (or at least something similar):

    Much more expensive than drywall+studs but could be worth it for this.

    Most basements are too quiet, a white noise generator or a continuous fan makes a big difference in perceived noise.

    Even though there are no views, getting a door with some glass in it will make the space feel much less cramped. A budget prehung full glass exterior door with proper door seals does a much better job of sealing for sound than a solid slab door.

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