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All About Sheds

The shed has evolved to be an adjunct, not only to the home but to the homeowner, with impressive functionality to facilitate all kinds of activities.

Sheds Tria Giovan

Time was, the backyard shed served simply as a storage unit for such rugged gear as garden tools, mowers, ladders, and maybe some sports equipment—skis, bikes, and the like. If it was a bit of an eyesore, well, it was just a shed. Now, largely due to our growing desire to blur the line between indoor and outdoor living, these small structures are a pretty big deal. The shed has evolved to be an adjunct, not only to the home but to the homeowner, with impressive functionality to facilitate all kinds of activities: carpentry workshop, fitness studio, second kitchen, pool cabana, media room, whatever supports your passions.

Today’s boast-worthy outbuildings come in a selection of sizes and styles, with improved construction material options that mean greater comfort and safety for you while protecting the stuff you keep within. And looks? Design details and interior décor can combine for a shed that’s cute, or rustic, or classic—any style that strikes your fancy. All of which can add up, potentially making the addition of this home-not-very-far-away-from-home a pricey proposition. What’s more, you can’t just plunk a little building down on your property—restrictions generally apply. So let’s shed some light on the trendy topic!

Outbuilding Basics

Before you can trick out a shed that will allow you to pursue your interests—and make you the envy of the neighborhood—think about the key factors of size and material.

Size: Shed sizes run the gamut from about a very modest 4-by-6-foot utility/storage unit to upwards of 14by 32 feet. To determine your perfect footprint, consider how you intend to use the space and what you expect to keep in it. If your goal is a wood shop, for instance, you’ll need room for tools and supplies, work surfaces, and the ability to move around with ease. (Check websites of various shed manufacturers for charts and/or calculators that will help you figure out the size that suits your needs.)

Note that a shed’s height is also important. While most shed walls run about 7 to 8 feet high, a gambrel (barn-style) roof, with two sloping sides, offers more space for shelving or loft storage than a gable (A-frame) roof. Finally, keep in mind the size of your property; an outbuilding should be in scale with the yard and main house.

Materials: Sheds are constructed from various materials, each with pros and cons.

  • Metal, the most economical choice, is durable and rot-resistant, but can be prone to rust and leaks. Bare bones and generally not customizable, they’re fine for storage but won’t be winning any beauty contests.
  • Plastic (resin or vinyl) sheds resist rot, rust, and insect damage but also aren’t particularly attractive or customizable.
  • Wood, a pricier choice, is strong, beautiful, and customizable. Though durable, wood (particularly untreated pine or fir) isn’t impervious to rot and insect infestation, so opt for decay-resistant lumber, such as cedar or redwood.
  • Engineered wood, made from pressurized wood strands or fibers, plus waxes and resins, is a durable, customizable material with a natural wood look. It’s low-maintenance, rot-, and insect-resistant, and it stands up to heat, moisture, and impact damage.
  • Fiber-cement, composed of sand, cement, and cellulose fibers, is the new kid on the block. It comes in durable sheets of siding that are moisture-, fire-, rot-, and insect-resistant, but it’s vulnerable to impact damage (e.g., an errant baseball) and is challenging to work with.

Rules and Regulations

It’s your yard, but authorities may dictate what you put on it, so visit your local building department, plans in hand, to apply for a building permit (or have your contractor do so if you hire one). A small shed may not need a permit, but anything larger than 10 by 12 feet very well may. Restrictions may apply depending on usage (if you’ll be running a business from your shed, say), and if you’re wiring it for electricity, you’ll certainly need to pull a permit.

Local building codes also have rules for a shed’s foundation. While it may be OK to set a small structure on concrete blocks, larger sheds require poured concrete footings dug down to the frost line.

The site of your shed may also need to pass muster, in terms of its proximity to fences, trees, property lines, and other buildings. Beyond what local codes may mandate, it’s wise to consider location carefully. Never install a shed at the bottom of a grade where water collects, and be sure to leave at least three feet of open space on all sides. Also, situate your shed conveniently close to the house or garage or you may be reluctant to go out and use it.

DIY or Hire a Pro?

The size of your budget and the level of your skill set will determine how you answer this question. If a pre-fab no-frills storage shed will fit the bill, head to a home improvement center where galvanized metal sheds start at under $300 and plastic models can be had for about $100 to $200 more. For anything grander, there are three ways to go about getting it built. You can buy materials and a set of plans and build it from scratch, put it together from a ready-to-assemble (RTA) kit, or hire a contractor who specializes in sheds.

Building a wood shed from scratch is a budget-friendly option (mail order plans cost about $30, and you can also find free ones online). But the project will call for considerable carpentry chops as well as an array of hand tools and such power tools as a miter saw, cordless drill or impact driver, and an electric sander.

RTA kits, which come with preassembled panels, precut parts, and pre-hung doors, run about $1,000. The companies that make the kits offer a variety of styles and sizes to choose from, and you could probably complete the project in a weekend.

A shed contractor will charge upwards of $2,000 for a 10-by-X10-foot wood structure, but because this option offers unlimited design flexibility you ought to be able to get exactly what you want.

So, what do you want? Certain accessories will greatly enhance the functionality and appearance of your shed and encourage years of use. Consider:

  • A ramp, helpful for moving vehicles like a mower or motorcycle in and out
  • Enlarged doorways, necessary for wide tractors and riding mowers
  • Built-in shelving and/or cabinets for tools and supplies
  • A workbench, essential for a potting shed or wood shop
  • Ventilation from a gable or ridge vents
  • An extra window and/or a skylight to brighten the interior
  • Shutters, window boxes, railings—even a pint-sized porch or a cupola with weather vane—to add charm and character