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Crowded House

Can your house handle the additional demands made by a business?

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, Florida, 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 home office. 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 equipment 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 New York City 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.

Pittsburgh 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 equipment 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.

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