Garden rooms have quickly become one of the most popular home improvements in the UK. But what exactly is a garden room? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what they are and what sets them apart from other outdoor structures like sheds and summerhouses.
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What is a garden room?
A garden room is an insulated building in your garden intended to add living space to your home and designed for year-round use.
Borrowing techniques and materials from modern housebuilding, garden rooms typically feature thick insulation, heating, and double glazing. It’s common for them to have a flat roof design, large windows and doors, and wooden cladding.
Timber framing is the construction method of choice for many suppliers although alternatives such as steel framing, SIPs, and prefab / modular buildings are on the rise. For more details on how they’re built, check out our guide to construction.
Garden rooms are usually detached standalone buildings although a small number of companies will offer a version that acts more like an extension.
Bear in mind that quality can vary substantially from one supplier to the next. At the low end of the market you’ll self-assembly kits that are little more than a glorified summerhouse. Our readers tend to skew more towards modular and bespoke builds. A good quality garden room is built to last and requires little to no maintnenace. Be sure to get more than one quote and check the specification carefully when comparing.
What are garden rooms used for?
As versatile living space away from the distractions of home, there’s no shortage of possibilities for how a garden room can be used.
Leisure and Entertaining
Here are just some of the popular ways we’ve heard of people using garden rooms:
- Garden bar or pub
- Home cinema
- Guest Bedroom
- Garden gym or fitness studio
- Kitchen / dining room
- Pool or games room
- Art studio
- Kids playroom / teenagers den
Even as normality resumes, work from home doesn’t look like it’ll be going away any time soon. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then that garden offices are driving much of the growth in this space.
Homebuyers now cite garden offices as one of the most desirable garden features in a property.
As a big proponent of “Deep Work” myself, a garden office ticks all of the right boxes. A dedicated space for work; a routine (the mini-commute across the garden); an environment free of distractions. The garden office is the ideal space for focus.
They’re not the only way a garden room can be used for work though. Various businesses can operate from a garden room including bakeries, childminding, photography studios, hairdresses, and much more.
It’s crucial to be aware that you’ll need planning permission if you’re going to operate a business from your garden room. You may also need building regulations approval too.
A granny annexe can be a practical and fulfilling way to care for a vulnerable or elderly relative.
They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be adapted to meet the needs of the occupant. Some granny annexes have their own kitchen and bathroom, while others may just have a bedroom and living area.
Granny annexes are more complex than a traditional garden room so make sure you speak with an experienced supplier.
Pros and cons of a garden room
So, you need more space and you’re wondering if a garden room is the right choice for you. Here we’ll look at some of the pros and cons of a garden room over other alternatives.
- Quick to install – a prefabricated garden room can be installed in less than two days while even a bespoke build can be completed in around two weeks.
- Distraction-free – a comfortable environment away from the main home means an escape from the distractions of day-to-day life.
- Usually doesn’t require planning permission – most are built under permitted development rules and don’t require planning permission.
- Usually exempt from building regulations – while the exact requirements will vary from region to region, most are exempt from building regs.
- Cheaper than an extension or loft-conversion – they’re often meaningfully lower cost than a traditional brick-built extension or loft conversion.
- Low ceilings – in order to meet permitted development requirements, the total height of the building is capped at 2.5m. The average internal ceiling height of a garden room is 2.1m / 7ft.
- Loss of garden space – as the name implies, they belong in the garden. The biggest concern we hear from readers is the loss of garden space, especially in newer properties where there isn’t much to begin with.
- Disconnected from the house – okay, we know this was previously touted as a pro and usually it is. British weather makes some of us less enthusiastic about the disconnect though.
For more information on the various rules and regulations, see our full guide to planning permission.
What is the difference between a garden room and a shed or summerhouse?
Yes, we’ve heard the term “posh shed” before. The picture it paints, however, is quite misleading. Indeed, a garden room shares far more in common with a traditional home extension than a shed or summerhouse.
Here’s the key difference: a garden room provides purpose built living space for use throughout the year; a shed is primarily intended for storage; and a summerhouse as the name implies is seasonal.
The techniques and materials used to build a garden room are very different to what you’ll find in a shed. The base, walls, and roof of a garden room are comprised of multiple layers including a strong frame and thick insulation. This creates a comfortable, weather-tight, draft free environment to be enjoyed in any season.
By contrast, sheds and summerhouses are rarely insulated. They’re often cheaply made, flimsy, and prone to damp. Retrofitting insulation may well help to manage temperature but it won’t overcome the nature of a low quality structure.
If all you need is some extra storage space, a shed is a great choice. On the other hand, if you want a space you can enjoy whatever the weather, a shed or summerhouse isn’t suitable.
What is the difference between a garden room and a conservatory?
Conservatories were at one time known as garden rooms, but the advent of the modern insulated room changed all of that.
A conservatory is a type of fully-glazed extension with walls made of at least 50% glass. It’s becoming more common to see different roofing options but traditionally a conservatory has a glass roof.
Plants thrive in conservatories; people, less so. The greenhouse effect leads to overheating in summer and all that glass makes it hard to retain heat in winter.
While conservatories have only grown in popularity since the 1980s, the rise of the modern garden room is challenging their dominance.
The History of Garden Rooms
When did garden rooms and office buildings become fashionable? Using them as extra living space started in the 20th century and has really taken off since highly insulated small buildings have routinely become available. Artists, potters and writers have often worked in outbuildings and stables but this environment was often cold and inhospitable.
Garden rooms for separate leisure activities grew out of the British love of gardening in the 19th and 20th century. The potting shed developed into a husband’s hideaway and the green house made way for conservatories and orangeries.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, small buildings were used as ice houses for keeping food cold and also as separate rooms for smoking – a fashion that has come round for the second time.
Generally you’ll find that most garden rooms are designed to fall under permitted development rules and don’t require planning permission. Although there are exceptions, and how you intend to use the building is important. For example, a garden room might be within the size limits of permitted development but used for business purposes. Read our guide to planning permission for a full explanation.
Yes, it’s certainly possible to build your own garden room. With that said, it’s not a beginner DIY project so make sure you have some experience under your belt first. For those brave enough to tackle a self-build, Ali Dymock’s YouTube series is a great starting point.
While you can sleep in a garden room, stricter rules apply. Bedrooms require planning permission and the project will need to comply with building regulations.
Yes, a garden room can have a bathroom. As with bedrooms, building regulations will apply (to a limited extent) and planning permission may also be required. See our guide to plumbing for more details.