Monday, March 3, 2014

Building a DIY walking desk with a $200 treadmill

Two years ago I decided to get up off my butt and stand at attention while working. But while my DIY standing desk helped my posture and attention span a bit, it didn't make up for the fact that as someone who works from home, there's a lot of inactivity in my routine. It's just that now I was spending time inactively standing around instead of sitting.

This year I decided to take the first steps toward getting more exercise into my daily routine: I picked up a cheap treadmill and converted my standing desk into a walking desk.

When I put together my standing desk, I didn't want to spend a lot of money on specialized hardware. So I bought an Ikea tabletop and some extendable legs for less than $200.

A good treadmill desk can be even more expensive than a walking desk. Some of the highest-rated models sell for nearly $1500 at Amazon, and just the treadmill alone can cost $800 or more.

So I decided to save some money and go the DIY route again. I picked up a Confidence Power Plus Motorized Treadmill, removed the handlebars, detached the control console, and slid the device under my desk -- which I raised a bit with the help of a sawed-up 2x4.

The Confidence treadmill sells for about $200, but I picked up an open-box model on eBay for a bit less.

The treadmill's not exactly the best one you can buy, but it's pretty decent for the price. More importantly, it's easy to modify for use as part of a walking desk. The slowest speed for this treadmill is 0.6 miles per hour, and the top speed is 6.4 miles per hour. While that might not be great for running, it gives me plenty of options for walking while working.

My biggest complaint is probably that the treadmill stops every 30 minutes, no matter how fast you're going. This is probably a safety measure, but it'd be nice if there were a way to disable it. Since there isn't... and since I doubt I'd walk all day during an 8-10 hour workday anyway, it's just something I've started getting used to. I can walk for a half hour at a time, take a standing break for a while, and then walk some more.

In practice, during the week or so that I've been using the desk, I often find myself walking for just 10-15 minutes at a time and then taking a break anyway. Some activities, such as reading, are easy enough to do while walking at 1.7 to 2.1 miles per hour. Sometimes I can even do some writing while walking. But sometimes when I really need to concentrate on writing or editing photos, it's a good time to take a break so that walking doesn't affect my fine motor skills.

Here's how I converted my cheap treadmill into the foundation for a cheap walking desk.

First, I needed to detached the console from the handlebars by using a small Phillips screwdriver to remove 4 screws. That's simple enough -- but the wire that connects the console to the base of the treadmill is routed through one of the metal bars. So if you want to prop up the console on your desk you'll need to free that wire.

One step involves removing the handlebars from the sidebars. The other involves opening up the console and unplugging the power cable so you can pull it through the metal sidebars. Theoretically you could remove the sidebars altogether, but then the plastic front of the treadmill will be resting directly on the ground.

Everything will probably be a bit more sturdy if you remove the handlebars but keep the sidebars so that you can use the metal base to lift the front of the treadmill a bit.

Anyway, in order to remove the handlebars, slide the plastic/foam grips up the sides a bit until you find screws that you can remove on each side. Then pull off the handlebars.

Now back to the console. Open it up by removing the remaining screws and you'll be presented with the back of a green circuit board. In order to free the power cord you'll need to remove 9 screws holding the board in place so you can get to its other side.

Once you've done that, just pull the power cable from its connector on the bottom right side (it's probably a good idea to do all of this while the treadmill is turned off and unplugged from the wall).

There's also a small piece of plastic holding the power cable to the back cover of the console. You can remove just one of these screws to wiggle the power cable through here.

Then you can go to the front of the treadmill and pull the power cable through until it's free. Now you've got a 5 or 6 foot cable that you can use to position the console on your desktop.

Before you put the console back together, there's one more modification you might want to make. The speaker on this treadmill beeps every time you turn it on or hit a button to adjust the speed or change the view from speed to time, distance, or estimated calories burned.

Some folks have opened the case and completely disabled the speaker by taking a soldering iron or knife to the circuit board. I took a subtler approach and just muffled it a bit using a piece of electrical tape.

The reason I didn't want to disable the speaker altogether is that it beeps once a few seconds before you hit the 30 minute mark and the treadmill belt automatically stops spinning. If you're distracted, this beep is your only warning that the treadmill is about to stop, so it's nice not to be taken completely by surprise.

The electrical tape muffles the sound and lowers the volume just a bit.

Finally, I put all the screws back in place, slid the treadmill under my desk, put the console up on the tabletop, and covered the exposed sidebars with packing tape so they wouldn't scratch the floor at the points where they used to meet the handlebars.

There's just one problem -- the top of the treadmill is about 4-5 inches above the ground. I extended the legs on my desk as far as they could go, but when I stood up on the treadmill, I still found myself leaning down onto my desk to type.

I thought about buying some furniture raisers. Then I remembered we had some spare lumber in the basement. So I went and chopped a piece of 2x4 into 4 pieces. I would have sanded down the sides, but I couldn't find any sandpaper, and I was too impatient to wait until I had a chance to buy some, so I taped up the rough sides with duct tape and slid a block of wood under each leg of the desk.

The duct tape actually looks kind of nice... in a DIY chic kind of way.

All told, I've now got a pretty functional walking desk thanks to a $200 treadmill and my existing standing desk (which I spent about $200 on a few years ago).

The result? Even though I only left the house a few days last week, I managed to walk more than 38 miles over the past 7 days, averaging well over 10,000 steps per day.


Thomas Watson said...

What great information about standing desks. I didn't know there were so many benefits to a standing desk at work. I think it would be such a good thing to try.

Jackie Saunders said...

Did everything you described but could not get the plug free from its housing on the back of the board. Any suggestions?

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