I Built a Garden Room from Scrap: A Case Study

Faced with a need for a potting shed for the vegetable plot in his garden and a demand for a summerhouse from his wife, David Enstone* looked for a way of achieving it as cheaply and as ecologically aware as possible.

“As we’re tenants, there’s little point in ploughing lots of money into home improvements.

“The landlords say that we can do whatever we want, but it’s just sunk money as far as we’re concerned, so cheap or free was the way to go,” David said. “I wanted the project to be as green as possible as well, both in terms of materials and heating and lighting it,” he added.

Stable Materials

Having already revamped the kitchen with discarded units found through ‘freecycle’ David started looking for garden sheds that he could convert. But then a friend bought a house that had a large wooden stable in the garden which they wanted to get rid of.

“It was about three metres by four, with a concrete floor and concrete walls for the bottom sections, but as a source of raw materials it was perfect,” David explained. “We spent a cold January Saturday morning dismantling it and hired a van to transport the wood home.”

As the stable was over two and a half metres high at the apex it was decided to discard the concrete lower sections of the walls and just put up the top two-thirds of the structure. The place where the stable was to go was already laid to concrete as the house had previously had carpentry workshops at the rear.

Palatable Flooring

Pallets discarded by a local chocolate gift factory were treated and screwed together to make the new floor. The more damaged pallets were broken up and the wood used to fill the gaps in the upper surface. Because the summer house was to be heated, leftover loft insulation from a house renovation up the road was pushed into the gap between the upper and lower planks of the pallets.

The original stable door was re-positioned to allow access to the left hand third of the stable which was to form the potting shed section. At the moment it doesn’t have a window but David is sure that one will turn up soon. On the other side French doors (from ‘freecycle’, where else?) open out to face the afternoon sun on the right hand two-thirds that form the summer house section. Decking made from pallet wood will be a project for the spring.

Solar Heating from Scrap

“The piece de resistance, as far as I’m concerned, is the heating”, says David. Two scrap radiators from the neighbour’s renovation were painted black and mounted on the roof in insulated glass-topped boxes. The boxes were made from the glass and wood from a rotten wood-framed greenhouse they took down. Water heated by the sun is pumped down to two more scrap radiators that have been slid into the gaps in the pallet floor. Further insulation in the summer house section is provided by carpet tiles left over from David’s wife’s office renovation.

“The pump is from the windscreen washers of an old car and is powered, along with the lighting, by two car batteries charged by a solar panel,” David explained, “all of it sourced from one trip to a breakers yard. We took the headlights and spot lamps off the car as well, they’re mounted in the ceiling, so they look like ordinary downlighters.”

Follow on Projects

There’s more work to be done. David is researching making insulation from shredded paper (but he’s not sure how to make it fire-proof) and when that’s worked out he’ll insulate and board the internal walls of the summerhouse section and decorate. The windscreen pump is a bit too noisy, so he’s looking out for an alternative or ways of soundproofing it. But so far he’s happy with the results.

“It’s dirt cheap, we spent £70 on the van hire and £30 at the breakers yard,” he said, “but it stopped being about the money. The challenge of spending less has turned into a challenge to re-use as much as possible. Everything apart from the electric solar panels was destined for the dump, absolutely everything is scrap.”

“But because we took time and care over it, it doesn’t look like a ramshackle affair” he said, “I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”

* name has been changed