Pandemic launches boom in backyard offices, say B.C. builders

·3 min read
Backyard officers can be built with baseboard heating and WiFi. (Submitted/Brian Borsato - image credit)
Backyard officers can be built with baseboard heating and WiFi. (Submitted/Brian Borsato - image credit)

The future of work might not be at the office, or even at the kitchen table — it could be in the backyard.

Some B.C. builders say the demand for backyard officers has skyrocketed since the pandemic began, with homeowners looking for a little extra space and privacy while working from home.

Brian Borsato, president of Surrey-based Maas Designs, a First Nations-owned company that builds housing for Indigenous communities, says backyard offices have been wildly popular.

"It's astronomical," he said. "The interest has been unbelievable. Everybody wants them."

Borsato's company started building the offices earlier in the pandemic, when First Nations closed to visitors and income dried up. They started building the offices and it quickly caught on.

They're typically around 100 square feet, Borsato said, with windows and enough space for a TV, desk and chair.

The company builds them for clients who have the money and space to fix a situation many of us find ourselves in: huddled in our kitchens or living rooms on Zoom meetings all day, trying not to disturb other family members.

Borsato recently built a backyard office for a woman who needed that extra space to focus on work and not have to move her setup when the kids came home.

"Now she can come in and close the door and do all the video conferencing that she needs to do without being interrupted or interrupting anybody else," he said.

A backyard office can be turned into a workshop or workout room if people return to work after the pandemic, builders say.
A backyard office can be turned into a workshop or workout room if people return to work after the pandemic, builders say.

Cole Kiez, a sales manager at CoreVal Homes in Port Moody, says backyard offices weren't part of their business before the pandemic. Now, it's their best seller and they've built 36 of them.

Building a backyard office generally doesn't require a building permit as long as it's less than 108 square feet — but that clients should do some research to fully understand what each municipality will allow under their specific zoning.

According to the City of Vancouver, contractors and businesses must ensure they consider the city's land use and permitting requirements for all new buildings. Some homeowners may choose to forgo the approval process on the advice of a contractor, the city said in an email, but liability ultimately falls on the owners to ensure work is permitted.

They don't run cheap — Kiez says they can cost up to $25,000, depending on the size and features. They can be built with baseboard heaters and WiFi.

Even once the pandemic is over, if people return to the office, the space can be used in other ways, he said.

"It has a bit of a different feel and that's what people really like about it. It's part of the home, but also a little bit separate," Kiez said.

"For people working from home right now, it's a backyard office. If they do end up going back to work, [it] could be an art studio, a workout room, really just extra space."