When I first looked at adding square footage to my tiny building/home thing, what seemed obvious was to enclose the back balcony make it my computing room. I've felt that an ideal computing space would be one that blurred the inside with the outside. It would allow me to be closer to the outside while still being on the computer, though perhaps risking some property damage1. I just wanted to feel less trapped but still do what I do and love a majority of the day. Here's my experiences.
TL;DR Check the end of the article to see the final result and lessons learned
The plans call this enclosed area the interior balcony, mainly because these units were meant to be stacked.
Enclosing the space
I wanted to enclose the space but I also wanted to see and leave out of it, and easily! That left me with a few options2, but ultimately I went with a polycarbonate security door for its space efficiency and being mostly weather tight. I looked hard for a local manufacturer3 but I only found 2 in the US and both wanted more than $15,000. I ended up going with a Chinese manufacturer named Guangzhou Advanced Construction Materials Co Ltd after a large amount of help from their sales team (thanks to Rita) and an Alibaba livestream with the manufacturer4. I ended up paying $1,600 and the shipment began5.
Installing the door was challenging. The door has a roller shaft that sits on two large metal brackets that I welded onto the beams of the tiny home6.
The actual polycarbonate door roll is then lifted onto the roller shaft. The holes on the door roll fit onto bolt studs welded onto the shaft and use a nut to secure.
Thanks to my friend Sully for helping me lift, for I am smol
Finally there's the trim work. The shaft is covered by a piece of folded aluminum. Tracks are installed on the side walls to contain the polycarbonate door roll in place. Then I had to seal all the gaps and wire the electrical. It all fit and works, therefore I am pleased :3
After finalizing all the work
Use as my computing room
After I got the door finished, I set up my computer just behind it. I really wanted to work as close as I could to nature. It's been ~9 months now and the door has stood up well to rain and snow. But, I have learned a lot about this type of setup.
My computer setup
- The room was just not isolated enough from the outside. On one hand, what a surprise... x3, on another hand, I've worked next to open windows many times before and this just wasn't the same. It leaked too much heat in the winter and traps too much heat in the summer. The wind is soothing to listen to but the door rattles and makes annoying metal clanging. External smells, like burnt leaves, get in too easily. No screen also meant bugs get in when I open it. Without the curtains the sun was waaay to bright on some days.
- Rainy days were very nice and snowy days were pretty, it did bring me closer to what I wanted!
- I need more space. Being able to stretch out, lay on the floor, think, whiteboard, mess with devices, etc is key to a lack of physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion.
- Trying to make my desk setup as thin and stowable as possible turned out to be an anti-goal. If I had a little more space, a solid, small, sit/stand desk would perform better. One with some sort of couch nearby.
After 6 months I gave in and moved my computer farther inside the tiny home behind the french doors where it is more sealed. External factors disrupt me less and I'm more focused and less anxious. And I can still open the double doors when I want the outside.
It's right under my closet but it is the perfect space for it.
For the future, I think I know where I can next apply my energy related to this concept7. But for now, I have an empty room I don't know what to do with it. Maybe it'll get a couch and be a chill room, or just more storage? I'm not sure yet.
: My computer did get wet once, but it was actually from me not properly routing the downspout during a big rain. Luckily it mostly pooled on the top of my rack and didn't permanently damage any electronics.
: Honestly I found quite a few potential options
- Transparent vinyl rollup doors. They sell ones for car washes and warehouses, but there are also smaller ones for enclosed decks. The real cheap ones use a mechanism called a "roman shade" where multiple ropes loop around the bottom of the roll and lift it. I felt this would not be weather tight enough.
- Glass (common, expensive) or polycarbonate (rarer, in the US at least) garage doors. After researching, a garage door wouldn't work because there is not enough depth for the vertical height of the door.
- Polycarbonate security doors. These roll up onto a roller or into a patented® spiral® track® if you're one particular manufacturer.
: I can't remember all the manufacturers but
- One US manufacturer (Rytec doors) wanted ~$25,000
- Another US manufacturer wanted ~$15,000
- One Chinese manufacturer (Starking Shutters) wanted ~$1,500 (around the same price)
- And the one I went with (Guangzhou Advanced Construction Materials Co Ltd) wanted $1,600, $800 for the door itself and $800 for shipping (DDP incoterms)
The Chinese doors were rated for many less cycles but it was also within my price range. They also offered DDP incoterms which greatly helped me from having to figure out logistics, even though it still ended up being a nightmare5
: I had no idea Alibaba supported livestreaming of all things, and while it was really weird and awkward, it helped me feel comfortable that the seller was legit. It was hard to feel comfortable dealing with such a large and pricey overseas shipment with a country I have no contact with and don't speak the language but it really helped.
: The manufacturer handed it off to a China-side logistics company (FS Namucuo). I had such a hard time with them. Navigating their site is painful and required a different browser, getting someone on the phone let alone trying to communicate due to language, receiving emails from random gmail addresses (that they said I never responded to even though I did). It ended up my shipment got into the hands of XPO logistics and I setup a dropoff time. But holy hell was it a lot of anxiety until I finally learned that XPO was handling the US-side of the transaction. I had no information to go off of except some. No bill of lading, no container ID. Only the name of the arriving ship and an ID specific to FS Namucuo. I'm just glad it's over.
: I learned to stick weld for this project x3
: Learning from this, I feel like if I did this again I would need:
- Double paned glass doors. Fully sealing (with rubber/silicone gasket). With a removable screen. Perhaps with special glazing to keep the sun out like the old office building I used to work in
- Climate control for the room that can be turned off separately from the rest of the house (ideally via some sort of dumb vent/door system so no control system needed)
- A larger space with smooth floors for mobility, so I can setup my test devices, a small couch, a carpet to lay on
- An solid, semi-movable desk (like the old one I had). Moving is too much of a pain due to how many wired connections I have to the desktop
- A blinder of some sort between the desk and the door, but not curtains. I would like to step away from the desk and easily be "away" from the computer and closer to outside.
- More distance between the door and my computer.
- Pairing the computer with more portable type display (like a ASUS ZenScreen) would be an interesting area to research more that I didn't get to try.
- More work into the portable computing setup might be more interesting than further optimizing this idea. A van I can dock to my house with another set of monitors in it? Who knows...
If I didn't live in my tiny home I think it might be a good space for it, but as of now I just don't have enough space. Any sort of out building or insulated garage not facing a cul-de-sac I think would be perfect for this I think though.