Are You Better Off Building or Buying Home Office Equipment?

computer desk

If you don’t already have a home office, chances are you’ll build one in the next few years. The nature of work is changing. Freelance and contract opportunities abound, while full-time work is becoming scarcer by the day. This means more time working from the home computer.

Home offices can get quite expensive. Just think of all the supplies you’ll need just to get started:

  • A dedicated computer (this goes especially if you have kids, unless you can get them each laptops)
  • A desk
  • Shelving and storage
  • Filing apparatus
  • Tables and stands for accessories, such as your printer

Those items are just the start. As you build a home office you’ll see what accoutrements your own office needs. All of this costs considerable money, especially if you’re starting fresh. Yet the nature of freelance and contract work can be volatile at first.

Today we ask the question: is it more cost-efficient and effective to build your office furniture, or to bargain hunt for it?

Computer

If you need a new computer for your home office, you’ll see many options on the market. Unless you have plenty of cash set aside for personal expenses, chances are you won’t be buying a new iMac or MacBook Pro. Those will cost you at least $1,500, and more if you want the machine to last far into the future (and for that kind of money they’d better last). You’ll need to find a PC that is well-priced for the power it provides.

In the recent past it might have been cheaper to employ a tech-savvy friend to build you a machine. Many PC retailers marked up their prices like crazy, leaving an opportunity for techies to buy and assemble individual components on the cheap. That worked for a while, but many retailers, particularly those based solely on the internet, got in on this market inefficiency. Now you can buy a desktop PC from a site like Newegg on the cheap. But make sure to keep that tech-savvy buddy on standby; with many of these machines you’ll need to make upgrades, such as RAM, to keep them up-to-date.

Verdict: Buy

Desk

How hard could it be to build a desk? you might ask. It’s a reasonable question. After all, what goes into a desk? Four legs and a surface. You can probably find an easy schematic and have your desk built in a weekend. Yet that overlooks the many complexities of a desk. For instance, do you want a standing desk or a standard sitting desk? How deep do you want to make the surface? Perhaps most importantly: how are you going to handle storage?

A desk might look simple, but it is a complex piece of furniture that serves many purposes. Unless you’re already handy and have worked with wood, you might find that building one is a bit more complex than schematics indicate. Imagine yourself encountering an issue where one of your two-by-fours is a bit too short. How would you deal with that?

At the same time, you can find dozens of varieties of home computer desks that can fit any need you might have. Need a long surface, so as to handle multiple monitors>? You’ll find that just about anywhere. Prefer a deeper desk, so you have everything in front of you? You’ll find that. What you’ll also find are desks with storage drawers, which are very difficult to assemble by hand. So while you can build a desk on the cheap, you’ll get much more use out of one you buy.

Verdict: Buy

Shelving and storage

You probably don’t realize the value of shelving until you don’t have it. That was my experience moving from a traditional office to a home-based one. There was no shelving in the study, and suddenly I realized just how much stuff I stored on shelves in my old office. That was a quick call to action.

Shelving includes not just wall shelves, but book shelves as well. Thankfully, both are extremely simple designs that you can build even with rudimentary woodworking skills. You might need a consult, and you’ll probably spend a weekend or two sanding and finishing the wood, but in the end you’ll save untold dollars. Just follow some bookshelf schematics and you’ll almost certainly build something near in quality to, if not better than, the shelves you’ll find at Staples and Ikea.

Verdict: Build

Filing cabinets

As mentioned above, building drawers can be complex, and perhaps not advisable for a novice woodworker. At the same time, those bulky metal filing cabinets can be expensive and difficult to transport. Think you can fit one in the trunk or back seat of your economy car? Think again, says this former retail worker who has tried to fit boxes of every shape into small cars, mostly unsuccessfully.

If you must buy, I strongly advise wood. They’re much more pleasant to look at, and will probably last you longer. Filing cabinets are prone to dings and dents. While wood can warp, especially in humid climates, you can mitigate that by having a climate-controlled office (which is pretty nice in its own regard). As with the shelving, find a good schematic and keep a woodworking friend on call in case you have any questions and/or screw up.

Verdict: Build

Tables and stands

By this point you get the gist of this exercise. If it is simple in nature, you can go ahead and build. A desk, which requires a flat surface, multiple points of support, and a storage apparatus built-in, constitutes a somewhat complex project. A simple table, though, with just a surface and supports, is a much easier project. You can probably build a printer table with a few planks of wood and a few hours on a weekend afternoon.

At the same time, tables to support printers and other accessories also represent a prime opportunity for more storage. If that’s the case, then you’re probably better off going to a discount store and buying a table with a drawer in it. So on our final item, we have a draw.

Verdict: Build or buy, depending on your needs

Article written by

Joe Pawlikowski writes, edits, and consults for several technology blogs across the web. He keeps a personal blog at JoePawl.com.

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