Crowded House

Can your house handle the additional demands made by a business?
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the June 1996 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Bill scott discovered one critical fact every homebased entrepreneur should know-it may not be a good idea to turn on your microwave oven in the kitchen while a computer is operating in your office.

Scott uncovered this little gem when he moved his advertising design firm into his winter home in Marathon Key, , last year.

"We found out we couldn't use the microwave or other kitchen appliances at the same time as the computer because they were on the same circuit," explains Scott, who has four computers, two printers, a color scanner, a modem and a fax machine in his . His solution was to rewire the entire house, replace the old fuse box with a circuit breaker, and run two circuits into the office exclusively for his computers.

As Scott learned the hard way, when high-tech office takes up residence in your home, it's not always smooth sailing. Have you considered whether or not your home and its infrastructure can safely handle the extra physical burden your business equipment adds?

"It all depends on what you do; what the scale of the home office is," explains architect Denise A. Hall. Adding equipment may require an entirely different set-up-possibly including electrical rewiring. In the standard home office-such as a converted bedroom or spare room-you should be able to use the existing outlets. "But if you are going to put a copy machine, computer, fax and coffee maker all on the same outlet, it's not going to work," cautions Hall.

architect Marsha Berger goes one step further. "Most outlets are duplex," she says. "If it's not a grounded outlet [one with a hole for a third prong], you'd better get an electrician in to ground it. I don't advocate using an adapter because you're short-circuiting a safety feature."

To find out if your home office can take the heat, Hall suggests these steps: Examine all the equipment you plan to put in the home office to determine the individual power requirements. Then count the number of outlets in the room you'll be using.

How do you determine whether they can handle the load? Not by plugging everything in and waiting to see if the fuse blows. Instead, Hall recommends making a list of what equipment will go into the office, then calling an electrician to come in for an hour and determine the maximum capacity of your available outlets.

"You can put your computer on a regular outlet, but it might be a good idea to have a dedicated line so it doesn't overload the circuits," suggests Hall, adding that this line also gives you a little extra protection if there is a power surge in the neighborhood. But in most cases, depending on the age and condition of the wiring, there is no need to have a room rewired.

Hot Air

In addition to the electrical load, adding electronic brings up heating, ventilation, air conditioning and security concerns.

Ventilation needs are based on the room's size, the number of people in it and the amount of machinery, says Hall. As those things change, heating and ventilation must be adjusted to your personal preferences.

"You want to keep air moving all the time-bring in fresh air and let out the stale air," advises Hall. "Sometimes that's as simple as a ceiling fan or an open window." In other cases, it might require a room air conditioner. The basic rule of thumb for ventilation: Whatever it takes to maintain your own comfort level will also be enough to regulate the temperature of computers and other electronics.

Safe And Sound

Security is a multifaceted concern, says Sandra Jones, whose Chardon, Ohio, firm, Sandra Jones & Co., specializes in electronic security consulting. "The first thing you've got to do is check with your insurance company to see if [your homeowner's policy] covers your computer system and office," explains Jones, former president of the Security Industry Association.

Next, take precautions to protect your hardware and software. In addition to the cost of replacing lost or damaged , also consider "the cost of downtime should anything happen to the information or electronics you have," adds Jones.

Aside from insurance, Jones recommends some simple steps you can take to ensure your valuable work is not lost if the computer crashes or is stolen.

1. Do a full-system backup every evening and store your backup tapes or disks off the premises if possible. If not, purchase a fireproof box for these items (this is a good place for other valuable information as well).

2. Establish a rule that your office is off limits to children.

3. If too many people come and go freely in your home, it might be smart to put a lock on your office door or even install a security system with code-only access.

4. Maintaining or adding a smoke detector is another inexpensive way to protect your investment in business equipment.

Jones suggests other common-sense security measures, such as not advertising or bragging about how much equipment you have in your and not placing computers near windows where they can be seen by thieves or exposed to rain and cold. Also make sure the area around your home is clean and well-lit to further deter burglars.

"You can also take your security system one step further," says Jones. "Often, homebased businesses are in a bedroom or basement, and when people come to the front door you've got to stop working to go answer." An intercom system enables you to find out who's at the door without leaving your office. Offering both safety and convenience, these systems can connect with an existing doorbell and cost as little as $50, says Jones. Connecting a camera to the intercom system is an additional, relatively inexpensive, option to consider.

Once you have dealt with these immediate needs, all that's left is a periodic review of your systems as you grow. As you add equipment, inventory and employees, you'll need more and different measures.

Home Team Advantage

Homebased entrepreneurs now have another place to go for information and resources, thanks to the Home-Based/Micro Business National Design Team, created by the Cooperative State Research Education & Extension Service.

Established in 1994, the team consists of 12 experts from around the country who work directly with homebased and microentrepreneurs. The team has recently developed a Web page that provides information on programs, conferences, seminars, workshops and other activities for homebased and microentrepreneurs, as well as the educators and professionals working with them.

"For instance, our home page provides a direct link to the IRS so people can pull down IRS publications and forms," explains Beth Duncan, who co-chairs the National Design Team. "We are also linked to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which allows entrepreneurs to get information on patents, trademarks and copyrighting."

In addition, Duncan says the home page contains a listing of

Cooperative Extension professionals in 38 states who specialize in assisting homebased and micro-

businesses. A 300-page resource directory created by the team, which features proven program materials developed to help homebased business owners, will be added shortly.

The National Design Team is also developing a curriculum to help extension educators direct homebased and microbusiness owners.

For more information, visit the National Design Team's home page at


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