Top 10 DIY Shed-Building Tips
If you’ve got clutter clogging up your garage—and who doesn’t—then perhaps it’s time to build an outdoor storage shed. A separate outbuilding is the only practical solution for storing lawnmowers, lumber, bicycles, gardening tools, ladders, and all the other stuff we cram into the garage or pile up outside.
The simplest way to build a shed, especially if you’re a novice do-it-yourselfer, is to buy a set of building plans. Mail-order shed plans are available from several online sources, and typically include scaled drawings of the building, construction details, and a materials list, which shows the size and quantity of the lumber and hardware needed. (Keep in mind that most towns require you to apply for a building permit before starting construction. Call your local building department for more information.)
Over the past several years, I’ve written three different shed-building books, each specifically designed for DIY backyard builders. So, not surprisingly, I get asked shed-building questions all the time from friends, relatives, and people who’ve purchased my books. However, there’s a lot to consider prior to construction. Here, are ten shed-building tips that can help guide you through each step of the construction process. Happy building!
1 Site selection—Picking the right spot on which to build the shed is critically important. The ideal building site should be relatively level, dry, and easily accessible. Never build in a low-lying area that collects water. The area around the shed will remain soggy, but more importantly excess moisture can rot wood, rust hinges, blister paint, and promote the growth of mold and mildew.
And, if possible, build the shed relatively close to the house or at least along a paved pathway. That way, you—and especially your children—will be more likely to return items to the shed.
2 Befriend the building inspector—Don’t be intimidated by the building inspector. He or she can be an invaluable resource when building your shed. First, the inspector will review your plans, visit the proposed site, answer any questions, and make suggestions that can save you time and money. The inspector will also recommend the best building techniques, materials and site. And most importantly the inspector will ensure that everything is built to code, so you’ll avoid having to correct any violations.
3 Create a sound foundation—The key to a rock-solid, long-lasting foundation is to use the proper materials. For an on-grade foundation, use solid-concrete blocks or pressure-treated wood timbers (A.K.A: skids) set directly on the ground. Don’t use hollow-core wall blocks; they’ll eventually crack and crumble under the weight of the shed. And for a skid foundation, choose pressure-treated lumber that’s specifically designated for ground-contact use.
Larger sheds, those over 200 square feet, usually require permanent foundations that extend down to the frost line. Dig down to the proper depth and then pour concrete piers or bury pressure-treated posts. Check with the building department for specific code requirements and the frost-line depth in your area.
4 Build a rot-proof floor—Use pressure-treated lumber when building the shed’s floor frame, which includes the mudsill, floor joists and perimeter band joists. Untreated construction lumber may cost less, but in time it’ll rot leaving you with an extremely difficult, expensive repair.
For the shed’s floor, use ¾-inch-thick exterior-grade plywood. If you’d like a little more rigidity, install ¾-in. tongue-and-groove plywood. It costs more than standard plywood, but the edges of the sheets lock together creating a very solid floor. And if you live in an area with excessively high moisture, consider using pressure-treated plywood; it’s much more weather-resistant than exterior-grade plywood. Regardless of the grade plywood you use, fasten it down with 2-inch-long galvanized decking screws, which are rust-resistant and hold much better than nails do.
5 Promote good air circulation—Excessive moisture can rot wood framing, delaminate plywood floors, warp doors, corrode hinges, and breed mold and mildew. To avoid these problems, build the shed at least 6 in. above the ground. That way, fresh air can circulate under the shed, reducing the chances of moisture-related trouble.
6 Build roof trusses—Framing a roof in the traditional manner—with individual rafters, ridge board and collar ties—can be quite challenging for novice DIYers. An easier approach is to build roof trusses on the floor deck, and then raise each truss into position after the walls have been erected. A roof truss is simply a prefabricated assembly of two rafters fastened to a collar tie or ceiling joist. The truss parts are usually held together with plywood gusset plates, which are glued and screwed across the joints. Trusses are typically spaced 16 inches on center, and positioned directly above a wall stud.
7 Let the sunshine in—It’s smart to leave at least 3 ft. of open space around all four sides of the shed. If you build too close to trees, shrubs, or fences, sunlight and wind will be blocked out and the shed will remain damp. Don’t forget, excessive moisture causes trouble, and mold and mildew hate direct sunlight. Plus, having that extra clearance space makes it much easier to paint or repair the shed.
8 Use windows wisely—Since most storage sheds don’t have electricity, it’s important to install windows to brighten up the interior. Otherwise you’ll have to use a flashlight every time you enter the shed—day or night. However, don’t make the mistake of using too many windows. For each window you install, you sacrifice some wall space that could be used to hang tools, mount shelves or attach a perforated pegboard.
For an average-size shed, the optimum window layout includes two windows on the front façade, and one window on one end wall. That leaves the rear wall and one end wall windowless. If possible, install windows on the south- and east-facing walls to admit the most sunlight. And if you’d like to let in lots of sunlight, but limit the number of windows, consider installing skylights.
9 Proper door placement—A single pair of swinging doors is sufficient for small- to medium-size sheds. However, larger sheds, say those bigger than 10 x 12 feet, are best served by two pairs of doors. You can install one pair on the front façade, and the other on an end wall, or install one pair of doors on each end wall. Either way, having two entrances makes it much easier to reach items that might otherwise be inaccessible.
10 Don’t do it yourself—There are certain aspects of shed building that are simply too time-consuming and exhausting to do yourself. For example, hire a landscaping contractor to clear rocks, trees, and thick underbrush. Bring in an excavator to level an uneven building site or to dig postholes. Hire a mason to mix and pour concrete footings and slabs. And if you decide to electrify the shed, hire a licensed electrician.