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Renovating an old garden shed into a food store

Updated on May 25, 2016
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My aims with DIY projects around the home are looking for innovative space saving ideas and saving costs on materials by recycling.

Using kitchen units for more efficient storage

Converted food storage shed
Converted food storage shed

The benefits of using an old shed for bulk buying to save money on your food

We save £400 ($600) a year by buying food in bulk when it’s on offer (genuine offers) and storing them in our garden shed e.g. buying several crates of tins of baked beans when a supermarket slashes price to half price for a week.

This article gives an overview of how we revamped an old shed to create a modern storage system (using kitchen units) to make food storage more efficient, and easier to manage e.g. cycling, stock taking (so we don’t over stock on particular items), pushing new stock to the back and older stock brought to the front; and just as important, doubling the storage capacity. I also demonstrate in this article how we saved money on this DIY project by recycling and upcycling building materials e.g. doors, windows and tiles.

From humble beginnings to a cost effective way to shop

We’ve been bulk buying food and storing it in our shed since I designed and built a purpose built double shed in 1998. One part of the shed is my workshop and the other section (with its own entrance) is a storage shed (with freezer) for my wife. Initially I put an old cupboard (which a friend gave us) and some shelving in my wife’s shed so that when she did the shopping she could store a few surplus items that she bought because they were on offer.

However, these days shopping has got a lot easier in the UK, with free online shopping (food delivered directly to your door from the supermarket), and web comparison sites which (with the press of a few buttons) allow you to compare prices between different supermarkets for any product; and spot the bargains. Consequently, in recent years, our old food store had become too cumbersome to manage for efficient storage of food supplies; hence the need to radically upgrade it to what is effectively a mini kitchen (minus the kitchen sink) at the end of the garden.

The Project Objectives

Using my Project Management skills, and the three corner stones to any good ‘Project’ (Time, Cost and Quality) at the beginning of the ‘planning stage’ I set myself a number of goals and objectives.

  1. The ‘Cost’ should be kept to below the savings we make on bulk storage of bargain priced foods over a five year period e.g. budget set at £2,000 ($3,000).
  2. The ‘Quality’ should focus on ‘durability’ of the build and materials used, so that the new build will last for years to come and not fall to bits within just a few years through wear and tear; and focus on ‘functionality’ and ‘efficiency’ e.g. ease of use, to make stock taking and storage easy and convenient.
  3. The ‘Time’ to compete the DIY ‘Project’ within one month to minimise on disruption and inconvenience e.g. for the duration of the build (renovations) the surplus food normally stored in the shed would have to be stacked in our dining room and the two freezers we have in the shed placed outside in the garden, with tarpaulin over them to protect them from the elements (weather).
  4. Finally, but just as important, a crucial aim of the ‘Project’ would be to increase the storage capacity by at least 50%, allowing us greater capacity to store bargain priced food and save even more money; so that overtime, the cost of the ‘Renovations’ would eventually be recouped; not that money is our prime concern (being British), the prime concern to us is to just make storing the food easier and more efficient (any eventual financial return on the costs of the is just a bonus).

The importance of good planning

Spending quality time in the Planning Stage for any DIY project like this is critical to better ensure a successful outcome. Skimp or rush the planning or get it wrong and the whole Project could end up a disaster or at the very least not meet you expectations. Without proper planning the things that can go wrong is the Project ends up too costly, takes too long or the end results are disappointing e.g. poor quality build and or materials, and or not be fit for purpose.

In the planning stage ‘risks’ should be taken into account; hence the importance of understanding good ‘Risk Management’ to help you identify the likelihood and potential severity of risks and take provisions to mitigate against those risks should they occur.

Other elements of good planning include getting the design right, doing proper research e.g. costs and availability of materials, and thorough preparation. All this takes time, and in my case it was 12 months from concept to start of build.

It was while standing in the shed looking at how cumbersome it was trying to stack surplus bargain priced food into an old cupboard not designed for food storage, and the stacks of food crammed together on inadequate shelving, that I had the conception to renovate the whole shed and transform it into a proper food storage area; suitable for our needs.

Scale Drawings of proposed Food Store

Plan view of proposed food storage shed drawn to scale
Plan view of proposed food storage shed drawn to scale
Side Elevation view of proposed food storage shed drawn to scale
Side Elevation view of proposed food storage shed drawn to scale

From Concept to Preparation

Early one spring, the first thing I did when I had the concept was (while having a cup of coffee to help me think) to visualise in my minds-eye what was needed; that vision was a mini-kitchen with proper kitchen units and worktop but less the kitchen sink.

The next step was to take accurate measurements and draw a rough sketch of how the kitchen units and worktop would fit into the shed. Having renovated our kitchen a few years earlier, and fitting the kitchen units and worktop myself, I had a pretty good concept from experience of how to install kitchen units and worktops and some of the problems you might face in fitting them. I knew for example that you fit the wall units before the base units and the role ‘fillers’ play in getting a perfect fit. A filler is a piece of matching wood panel to fill the gaps so that the overall width of all the cabinets is the same as the width of the wall; fillers are also used in corners so that a door or drawer is far enough away from the adjoining cabinet (at right angle to it) so that the door or drawer isn’t prevented from opening by an obstructing door/drawer handle.

Early in the summer, I gave my rough sketches and accurate measurements to a friend, who uses Google SketchUp, and from that he was able to very quickly draw a detailed sketch to scale; which then formed the bases of researching, sourcing and costing the kitchen cabinets and other materials I would need.

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Turning a Vision into Reality

After my friend drew up scaled drawings from my rough sketches I spent the rest of the summer (as a low priority) researching kitchen units and other items, such as the double depth wine rack that I visualised, and sourcing materials.

For quality and durability I specifically wanted the kitchen unit carcases constructed with the thicker 18mm ContiBoard (veneered chipboard) panelling rather than the usual 15mm sold in many DIY stores; albeit as its only for use in a garden shed and not a proper kitchen I wasn’t too fused about what the doors would look like, as long as they were functional.

As regards the double depth wine rack, I make my own wines, usually from surplus fruits picked from our garden in the autumn; although my favourite homemade wine is tea wine fortified with a little vodka to make it a dessert rather than table wine. While searching for something else, I’d previously seen a sturdy wooden and metal double depth wine rack on Amazon, so my research and sourcing the wine rack would focus on finding one within a narrowly specified size range to neatly fit the available space. My specific interest in a double depth wine rack being the obvious one of the space saving advantages e.g. doubling the storage capacity for full and empty wine bottles in a given space; an important consideration for my project as I make my own wines.

Having done all the research and sourcing, the next phase was to actually place the order for the kitchen units and anything else I needed for the project e.g. the wine rack. As it would require working in an unheated shed, and a certain amount of working outside during the renovations I decided that early spring would be an ideal starting time e.g. late March, when in southern England the weather starts to get a little warmer, albeit with the British weather you can never guarantee it will be dry. So as we wouldn’t need anything until early March we decided to wait and buy the kitchen units in the January Sale; and by doing so we got a big enough discount on the kitchen units to cover the cost of the worktops.

As everything was delivered by early March on time, we were ready to start on the Renovations on the revamped food store at the end of the month, as planned in my project plan.

Recycling and upcycling salvaged windows and doors

Recycling materials and goods in any DIY project is a great cost saver; and can be a real bonus where it adds value to the project which might not otherwise be achieved because of costs and or availability of resources.

When I gutted the shed, although I scrapped the old furniture and some of the shelving because it was only ContiBoard (veneered chipboard), much of which was only 15mm depth, I did salvage the rest of the wood, and the timber; in the event that I might be able to re-use some of it in the Renovations.

Also, a few years previously a friend gave us a pair of doors from a modern ContiBoard wardrobe, which I shoved to the back of my shed (the workshop) in the event that someday I might find a use for them. These doors, I thought would be ideal for a broom cupboard which I planned to build in the corner of the food store room.

The biggest windfall for my DIY Renovation Project was a selection of aluminium framed double glazed windows, with teak (hardwood) surrounds wooden frames. This came about because just after we placed the order for the kitchen units we decided it was time to replace our old double glazing on the house with modern, more efficient units. The old windows were ok but with being aluminium fames (which is a good conductor of heat) there was an element of heat loss around the frames during the winter months which sometimes generated a noticeable draft in the window area; and with being encased in a wooden frame (albeit hardwood) there was a requirement to climb ladders once every five years to slap a bit of preservative on to help preserve the wood.

The modern units we got are great, certainly a lot more efficient at keeping the heat in, and no more cool areas within the window area; and as a bonus, are maintenance free. The only reason we opted to change the windows at this time is because we found a small local window installation company (Caddy Windows Ltd, Bristol) that charges just material and labour, so no extortionate prices that are common with the large window installation companies.

As part of the contract, I specifically asked if they could take care in removing the old windows (rather than just ripping them out) and if so, to leave them with me rather than the usual practicing of carting them away. The company did a marvellous job at removing the old windows, and only damaged one wooden frame because it was just too stubborn in coming out.

Although in my original plan I hadn’t intended to replace the windows in the shed, it was a welcome additional part of the plan because the old windows were just single pane plate glass in pressure treated softwood frames. Whereas recycling the old windows from the house, for installation in the sheds, meant I would end up with the sheds having double glazed windows that would open (which would help to keep the sheds a little warmer in the winter and could be useful during the summer for ventilation; and replacing softwood window frames to hardwood (teak) has the added advantage of requiring less maintenance to prevent wood rot.

Of course, using the old windows from the house to upgrade the shed windows raises the question of how well they’d fit, especially as the sheds are brick built (breeze blocks) so the openings can’t easily be changed. But as luck would have it, as will be apparent later in this article, the replacement windows were a pretty good fit; two of them so perfect in size that they could have been ‘made to measure’.

Another stroke of luck was a week before I was due to start the Renovation Project our next door neighbour dumped an old uPVC double glazed door in their front garden with the intention of disposing of it in a skip. I asked them kindly if I could have it, so I got a nice new (second hand) double glazed door to also fit on the shed. And as it turned out, that was a perfect fit too.

Scheduling tasks to help keep you on track

My initial brief was to complete the project within a month, to minimise disruption. Prior to starting the DIY Renovation project I drew up a schedule of tasks to gauge how long the project might take, to help keep me on schedule and to ensure the sequencing of tasks was efficient and logical e.g. no point in trying to fit the kitchen base units until the floor tiles are laid, or tile the back wall until the worktops were fitted.

The schedule I drew up indicted the project would take three week, well within my initial target of a month; giving me plenty of tolerance to complete the Project on ‘Time’, given any unforeseen problems (risks). Those looking at the task list below may think that I could have done a lot of the tasks a lot quicker and competed the Project even sooner e.g. in two weeks; and that may be the case, but the biggest mistake people make when scheduling tasks is not giving themselves enough time to complete the Project (contingency).

Whereas by being generous (realistic) with the timings, as long as I completed the project within the month then I was more than happy to have achieved each day’s task on time. The big advantage being that rather than be under pressure (where you’re most likely to make mistakes) I was able to pace myself (with plenty of coffee breaks) and do each task properly, and to a high standard, at a leisurely, and enjoyable pace.

Using a Task List for Scheduling

DAY
TASK
Day 1
Remove food, fixtures & fittings and freezers from shed. And refill freezers on patio.
Day 2
Remove old door and fit new double glazed door.
Day 3
Remove old main windows and add brickwork
Day 4
Fit new main aluminium window
Day 5
Make new side window frame, Remove old side window, fit new window and cement.
Day 6
Make good both windows
Day 7
Wood stain window and door frames
Day 8
Sealant around windows, paint white stone paint, fit lock and cable clips, prepare for tiling.
Day 9
Lay floor Tiles
Day 10
Lay remaining floor Tiles
Day 11
Grout floor tiles and fit corner wall unit
Day 12
Install fitted kitchen wall units
Day 13
Install fitted kitchen base units
Day 14
Install worktops
Day 15
Build bespoke broom cupboard
Day 16
Build bespoke broom cupboard
Day 17
Wall Tile, back of work surfaces
Day 18
Grout worktop tiles, add final shelf and do final finishing touches
Day 19
Tidy and reorganise food store, and wine rack, and bring small freezer back in
Day 20
Bring large freezer, and all food and drinks back into food store
This is the Task List I drew up to keep me on track in renovating our shed to an efficient Food Storage area.

Old Storage shelving and cupboard prior to renovations

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The old cupboard and shelving by the freezers near the windowThe old cupboard we previously used for food storageSimple shelving we previously used for storing soft drinks, wine and beer.Additional shelving by the door we previously used for non food items.The two freezers under the windows, facing east and north so little direct sun to cause any undue problems in the summer.
The old cupboard and shelving by the freezers near the window
The old cupboard and shelving by the freezers near the window
The old cupboard we previously used for food storage
The old cupboard we previously used for food storage
Simple shelving we previously used for storing soft drinks, wine and beer.
Simple shelving we previously used for storing soft drinks, wine and beer.
Additional shelving by the door we previously used for non food items.
Additional shelving by the door we previously used for non food items.
The two freezers under the windows, facing east and north so little direct sun to cause any undue problems in the summer.
The two freezers under the windows, facing east and north so little direct sun to cause any undue problems in the summer.

Gutting the shed in preparation for the Renovations

The first task of the renovations, on day one, was to empty the old cupboard and all the shelves of food and drink, moving them to the house (our dining room) for temporary storage; and then emptying the two freezers so that they could be moved to outside, re-stocked, and covered in tarpaulin for protection from the weather. Then, in order to keep the freezers operational, laying an exterior cable extension to the freezers and plugging them back into the mains. Then it was just a case of ripping everything else out of the shed (gutting it) so that it was just an empty shell; a blank canvas.

A Blank Canvas

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The floor after the shed had been guttedThe walls after the shed had been gutted
The floor after the shed had been gutted
The floor after the shed had been gutted
The walls after the shed had been gutted
The walls after the shed had been gutted

Modifying the Door Frame

Accommodating the Door locking mechanism
Accommodating the Door locking mechanism

Recycled Door a Perfect Fit

I spent the next week removing the old door and windows and fitting the new (recycled) ones. First to replace was the door. Having removed the old door the replacement door happened to be a perfect fit, so I didn’t need to remove and rebuild the old door frame, or use an angle grinder to enlarge the opening. As it was an uPVC door designed to fit into an uPVC frame the only alterations I had to make was to cut a series of notches out of the wooden door frame and face them with thin strips of metal to create recesses to accommodate the locking mechanism; as shown in the attached photo.

Recycled windows and doors a good fit

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Recycled window and uPVC door fitted in shedA fit of a recycled window, with only minor alterations to the opening
Recycled window and uPVC door fitted in shed
Recycled window and uPVC door fitted in shed
A fit of a recycled window, with only minor alterations to the opening
A fit of a recycled window, with only minor alterations to the opening

Just minor alterations around window openings for a good fit of recycled windows

In replacing the windows, again, the small window next to the door was a perfect fit, although the replacement main window on the other wall was smaller, and to fit it I had to add a row of bricks to the bottom and several bricks stood on end up one side; to bind the side bricks to the existing wall I used wall ties, and then left it a day for the cement to set. While replacing the windows in the food store shed I took the opportunity to also replace the windows in my adjoining shed; my workshop. Again, having taken out the glass pane from my workshop window, our old bathroom window was a perfect fit, and the replacement for the main window in my workshop was the same width, but not quite as high; so again I just made up the difference with a row of house bricks.

The attached before and after photos demonstrates how they fitted, and the way the replacement windows transformed the sheds.

Original Windows and Doors

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The original wooden door and side windowThe original wooden windows
The original wooden door and side window
The original wooden door and side window
The original wooden windows
The original wooden windows

The Recycled Windows and door

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View of the recycled uPVC door and double glazed aluminium window Shed after windows and door are replacedExternal view of the shed after fitting the recycled windows
View of the recycled uPVC door and double glazed aluminium window
View of the recycled uPVC door and double glazed aluminium window
Shed after windows and door are replaced
Shed after windows and door are replaced
External view of the shed after fitting the recycled windows
External view of the shed after fitting the recycled windows

Fitting the window hinge

Using sturdy wood screws through predrilled holes in the aluminium to securely anchor the hinge into the wooden frame
Using sturdy wood screws through predrilled holes in the aluminium to securely anchor the hinge into the wooden frame

Reassembling the windows and fitting the Hinges for window openings

When the old windows were removed from our house the window insulation company couldn’t just take them straight out, they had to be carefully dismantled back to the wooden frame. The workers firstly removed the rubber seals for the glass and removed the glass units in order to unscrew the aluminium frames from the wooden frames; and then unscrewed the wooden frames from the brick window surround. In order to remove the opening windows they had to break the rivet fittings holding the hinge mechanism in place.

When I reassembled the windows to refit the hinges back into the window opening I used a 4mm metal drill bit to make holes in the aluminium frame where the hinges were originally riveted, so that I could screw the hinges firmly through the aluminium frame directly into the wooden frame. In use, as there will be a lot of lateral tension on the hinges, to ensure the new screws can take the strain I used large 2 inch screws; as can be seen in the attached photo.

Laying the Floor Tiles

Once the windows and door were fitted and the wooden surrounds wood stained with Sikkens exterior wood stain I spent the next couple of days laying the new floor tiles over the original concrete slabs. Although not strictly essential for the project in that it is only a shed, apart from looking more aesthetically pleasing, the one big advantage of having a tiles floor is that it will be a lot easier to keep clean. The tiles we used we picked up as an end of line product at a bargain price from our local DIY store, so it didn’t cost much to lay the new floor. In fact the tile adhesive cost more than the tiles did. Shown here are the before and after photos.

The floor before and after laying the tiles

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The new floor tiles laid over the old concrete slabsThe original concrete slabs before the new tiles are laid
The new floor tiles laid over the old concrete slabs
The new floor tiles laid over the old concrete slabs
The original concrete slabs before the new tiles are laid
The original concrete slabs before the new tiles are laid

How to fit kitchen units

Fitting the base units to the wall

Once all the units are screwed to each other firmly screw all the units to the back wall
Once all the units are screwed to each other firmly screw all the units to the back wall

Assembling and fitting the Kitchen Units

Once the floor tiles were laid and grouted, the fun part begins; fitting the kitchen units and worktops.

When fitting kitchen units, it is imperative you start with the wall units and that you fit the corner unit first. When fitting kitchen units, the walls are rarely straight and level, the corners are not likely to be square and there is no guarantee the floor will be level; especially in order houses and as in this case a brick built shed. Unlike America, in the UK almost all homes are brick built; Timber frame houses in Britain are still uncommon.

Therefore a use of a spirit level is critical, and as each wall unit is fixed in place level it off and line it up with the previous unit, holding it in place with a couple of clamps while you screw the two units together through the side panels. When it comes to assembling the base units it would be prudent to line all the units up with each other and screw them together before pushing them back into their final position against the wall and fixing them to the wall permanently; especially if the wall and or floor is not straight or level. However, if you fit all the base units together, before manoeuvring them into their final position against the wall (and readjusting the leg heights), you will need help positioning them because the support legs are only plastic and easily break if you push them around too much. Once in place the base units are simply screwed to the wall using the metal brackets which came with the units for that purpose; the design of the units which I bought included access holes through the back panels specifically to fix to the walls; which when done are plugged with the metal caps supplied, see photo.

Once all the wall units are fitted in place on the wall (but not before) you can then fit all the doors and door handles, and likewise with the base units. To ensue all the handles were uniformly positioned in the most convenient place I first got my wife to hand hold a handle against one of the kitchen wall units (so that it was comfortable for her) and to do likewise for the base units. I marked the positions on the doors and from that made a template e.g. cut out a piece of scrap wood with the two holes for the handles pre-drilled in the right place, so that when I placed the bottom and side edge of the wood flush against a door edges, and clamped the wood to the door, I just needed to drill through the pre-drilled holes straight into the doors. When using such a template you need to be mindful of whether it’s a left or right hand opening door so that you always get the template the appropriate way round so all the holes are consistently the same distance from the edge.

Fitting the Worktops

In fitting the worktops, as I wanted to keep open space under the worktops on one side of the shed for other storage e.g. garden chairs, a couple of cat boxes and a stand for my beer barrel (for when I make beer), I supported the worktop on that side with self supports at the back and on the sides e.g. long pieces of sturdy wooden battens firmly screwed to the wall. All the other worktops were securely fixed to the base with suitable screws from underneath.

Because the corner walls in the shed are not perfectly square, before fitting one of the worktops in its position I had to trim a thin strip off the back edge, from just under half an inch tapering down to almost nothing. In order to get an accurate guide on where to trim the back edge I used the traditional method of pushing the worktop against the wall and marking a pencil line using a pencil and a small block of wood, as demonstrated in the photos.

Adjusting the worktops to fit the wall

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As the corner was not square, a slither needed to be marked out and trimmed from the back of one of the worktopsHaving marked out where to cut a jigsaw is used to trim the back of the workop
As the corner was not square, a slither needed to be marked out and trimmed from the back of one of the worktops
As the corner was not square, a slither needed to be marked out and trimmed from the back of one of the worktops
Having marked out where to cut a jigsaw is used to trim the back of the workop
Having marked out where to cut a jigsaw is used to trim the back of the workop

Designing and constructing a built in Broom Cupboard

With the kitchen units and worktops in place the next task was another fun, and creative, part of the project; designing and constructing a built in broom cupboard in the corner of the shed, next to the external door.

For this phase of the operation I’d visualised using a pair of wardrobe doors which a friend gave me years ago and which I’d kept at the back of my workshop in the eventuality that I might find a use for them. Up until this point I didn’t know how well they would fit, or even whether they would fit, in that the priority had been on getting the kitchen units fitted properly. I’d left three feet space for a broom cupboard on the bases that provided the spare doors I had weren’t too big I could make a wooden door frame to size, to fit within the opening and to fit the doors snugly.

As it turned out the wardrobe doors were an exact fit, so all I had to do was just make a base and top open shelf and screw the doors in place; and for completeness, I drilled a series of holes at an angle in a piece of timber and glued and screwed six inch long pieces of half inch dowel into the holes to create a rack for brooms and other similar items, as shown in the attached photos.

Making a built in Broom Cupboard

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The space into which the cupboard will fitRecycled doors fitted in placeSimple rack for brushes made from a piece of timber and strong dowel.
The space into which the cupboard will fit
The space into which the cupboard will fit
Recycled doors fitted in place
Recycled doors fitted in place
Simple rack for brushes made from a piece of timber and strong dowel.
Simple rack for brushes made from a piece of timber and strong dowel.

Renovation of food shed complete

Kitchen units fully stocked in the renovated food storage shed
Kitchen units fully stocked in the renovated food storage shed

Rapping up the project and reviewing how it met my original objectives

Having completed the broom cupboard and all other construction work in this Renovation project tiling the wall at the back of the worktops was the only other major task outstanding. Then it was just a case of doing a final tidy-up and getting everything back into the food store shed, including all the food and drinks, and the freezers.

Like the floor the wall tiling doesn’t add to the functionality of the shed, it just improves the aesthetics and makes it easier to keep clean. Because it’s not a kitchen but just a shed there was no need for me to go out and spend money on buying tiles; over the years, after each tiling project in the house I’d always keep any spare tiles just in case I might find a future use for them. In digging out my collection of old tiles from my workshop I found I had enough to tile the whole shed (above all the worktops), and I had enough tile adhesive and grout to finish the job; so by recycling the old tiles, the tiling didn’t cost me a penny (scent).

Part of my initial brief was to increase storage capacity by at least 50%, and to complete this DIY project to a high Quality within less than one month on a budget not exceeding £2,000 In the end the project exceeded my expectations on Quality because I was able to recycle the old double glazed windows from our house, and because I was given an old uPVC double glazed door from our neighbour; the project was completed within three weeks and because I was able to recycle and upcycle a lot of the materials In the build the final cost was less than £1,500 ($2,000).

And by adding the wall units, which provides additional storage on top them (mainly for my wine and beer making equipment) the final storage capacity is double of what it was originally.

So all in all I’m more than pleased with the final results.

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