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Here is some advice that may be helpful as you decide how to set up your home office:

Electrical Concerns
Organization & Storage

Electrical Concerns: Count up all the equipment, devices, lights, and small appliances you may have in your office. Are there sufficient electrical outlets? If not, you may need to have additional outlets installed. Wiring a new outlet to an existing outlet can overload a circuit the same as adding extension cords and power strips. Fire can occur when too many devices are running on the same circuit. You may need a qualified electrician to install additional outlets that are wired back to the breaker panel. The electrician should also verify that all outlets are properly grounded. Devices with 3-prong grounded plugs should be plugged into a 3-prong grounded outlet. In addition, you should protect your equipment with good quality surge protector power bars. Some are made with plugs widely spaced for AC power bricks.

You may want to also purchase a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) unit to protect data and equipment during power failures. A UPS provides battery backup for a sufficient period to save data and shut down equipment. In the Northwest, this may be particularly important for those living in rural areas prone to power failure during winter storms. In some parts of the country, the heavy use of air conditioners in summer can cause brownouts.

Don't take chances with electricity. If you are in any doubt about what to do or what is safe, consult a qualified electrician.

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Furniture: Look at your space and work out where everything will fit, taking into consideration windows and light and the location of outlets and heating registers. You may want to use graph paper to work on floor plans before you buy or move furniture around.

Usually the desk is the item that takes up the most space. Can you use a work station or do you need a desk? Think about how much work surface you need on both sides of the keyboard, and make sure the surface is deep enough to accommodate your keyboard and monitor. Do you need desk drawers or will shelves do? Or, will a table work fine as a desk?

Of all the home-office furniture and equipment you may purchase, the one decision requiring the most care is the office chair. Most workers spend more time sitting in their office chair than they do in their bed. So put at least the same care into finding a good chair that you would into finding a good mattress. Find a chair that is comfortable, adjustable in multiple ways, and that provides the proper back support.

Office furniture can be costly. If money is an issue, you may want to look for a used office furniture store in your community.

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Organization & Storage: Home offices are often small and require some attention to keep things organized. If multiple people use your office, you may need separate baskets, bins, in-boxes, or other storage devices for each user.

Your home office should have its own basic office supplies, like glue sticks, scissors, paper clips, etc. and they should not leave the office. It's frustrating, and a waste of time, to have to search the house when you need a pair of scissors.

Shelves come in all styles and you don't have to buy them from an office supply store. They can also come from kitchen supply stores and even hardware and industrial supply stores. Shelving can be mounted to walls above desks for extra storage. Store heavy items on lower shelves and light-weight items on higher shelves. Put things you need most often within easy reach.

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Lighting: There are two types of lighting: "ambient" is the light around you, including both natural light and overhead light; "task lighting" is usually from desk lamps or floor lamps. Both sources need to be sufficient and appropriate. If the overhead light in your office is insufficient or produces glare, you may need to replace the bulb or the fixture. For bulbs, consider natural spectrum fluorescents, particularly if the room doesn't get much outside light. If you replace the fixture, try to find one that casts the light against the ceiling or has a diffuser. Avoid fixtures that cast shadows on your monitor. For task lighting, look for lamps that can be directed, so you can illuminate your desk surface without producing glare on your computer monitor. Be aware that halogen lights produce a lot of heat, which can be a problem in the summer months if you don't have air conditioning in your office.

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In the Toolkit

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On the Web

UPS on Wikipedia

Office Ergonomics: Safe Computing

Office Ergonomics: OSHA

Ergonomic Lighting

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This page was last updated on June 5, 2009