What You Need to Know About DIY Shed Building and Design
You've Decided to Do-It-Yourself and Make Your Own Shed—Now What?
I consider myself a wood shed plans expert, having built dozens of wood sheds. And the two most important things I consider when buying DIY shed plans are: space planning and shed location.
At this point in the process, I don't get distracted thinking about matching home colors, character, or building styles. I don't waste my time on free plans, store-bought sheds, or readymade, mail order kit solutions. Been there, done that.
Plus, free means lack of user feedback, and you get absolutely no customer support. Store-bought and readymade mail order sheds are flimsy, profit-driven solutions that I've always had to tear apart and modify too much to get the storage space to work or to match the character and style of the home.
So instead, I advocate starting out on the right path with a set of the best shed plans you can find and do it yourself. Why? Because it matters. You'll be creating something that lasts—something to be proud of.
Read on to learn how I get professional results every time and how you can too.
Professional Shed Plans Are Essential for Success
Before a hammer hits a nail: plan, plan, and plan some more.
All too often, people visit local home centers to get shed ideas. They go inside the prebuilt sheds in the parking lot and decide their own storage needs right then and there. Even worse, they'll grab a few brochures and use those ideas to find a shed design online without doing any proper space planning.
I've lost track of how many calls I've gotten from people asking me for help, after they've built and forgotten to add space for this and that . . . when it's too late. Unfortunately, I often have to reply, "Sorry, there is no way to easily fix things." There's no reset button.
Visualize Your Storage Space and What Will Go in It
It's not enough to buy a shed plan just because it'll look good in your backyard. It must be functional and meet all your present and future needs. Take plenty of time evaluating and make a list.
My advice is to simply put all the things you'll be storing in the shed outside in the yard and arrange them the way they would be hung, shelved, parked, or stored overhead in the rafters.
Arrange things that will take up floor space, such as: a workbench, tools, wheelbarrows, mowers, walkway, door swing, etc.—creating an imagined square or rectangular shed floor area. Then, stake out the corners of the imagined shed floor to get the overall dimensions.
Note: When you're finalizing your space planning and overall shed dimensions, stick to even numbers (for example: 8' x 10', 10' x 10', 10' x 12', 12' x 12', 12' x 16', etc). Even dimensions will help to eliminate wasted building materials.
Shed Location Might Be the Most Important Step
Now that you have a good idea of how many square feet you'll need, grab a comfortable lawn chair and a cool beverage, pick a shady location in the backyard, and relax for a bit. Don't take this advice lightly, as you're going to be choosing the best location to build your backyard wood shed.
Here's a few tips about how to choose the best spot:
- Choose a location that's mostly level and has good water drainage. The spot should also work well with the surrounding landscape.
- Avoid low-lying areas that collect water, because excess moisture may cause premature wood rot, make your hinges rust, and promote mold and mildew growth.
- If you're planning to add area lights, plumbing, a security system, or a dehumidifier inside the shed, you'll want to build close to the house or where utilities are nearby.
Plan Extra Space for Growth
Be sure to allow a little extra space for growth. It's only natural that the longer you own your home, the more you'll have to store.
DIY Building Does Not Necessarily Mean "Do All of It by Yourself"
As the old saying goes, "Many hands make light work."
If you're always in a hurry and terrible with commitments, I might suggest you rent a storage space or continue parking your $40,000 cars in the driveway and save your garage space for unused furniture, bicycles, unpacked boxes, garden rakes, and lawn mowers. Because the biggest enemy of DIY projects is not the lack of carpentry skills or ability to follow directions, but a lack of planning and failure to schedule the time it takes to get the job done. But, there's still hope.
Consider Getting Some Outside Help
My advice is that you don't do-it-all-yourself. Novices and professionals alike can benefit from each other in DIY projects.
You might have the shed location leveled by a landscaper; get a referral to outsource the shed's foundation to a building subcontractor; you can even have the roof's trusses made by a local truss company and the shingles installed by a handyman or roofer.
Building a shed can be a lot of work. But the process can be made more enjoyable if you include a few pros or have a few eager friends to contribute a helping hand. Work smarter, not harder. Turning off the DIY at times should keep you moving forward.
Before You Build, Become Friends With the Local Building Inspector
It's important not to underestimate how intimidating the whole permitting process can be. And if I'm being honest here, I've never been comfortable dealing with the city and all their codes—seems like they're always moving the line on me.
But, I always make it a point to be friendly with the Building Inspector. They're there to help and can be a fountain of information when it comes to building your wood shed.
During the review and permitting process, the inspector will most likely visit your home to approve the location and put the final stamp of approval on your plans. Make this time count. Ask plenty of questions and you'll avoid having to correct any code violations.
Be Careful When Working With Subcontractors
If they tell you that their work doesn't need a permit, you should check with the inspector to be sure.
Can I Use My Shed Plans to Get a Permit?
If you need a building permit to build a wood shed, you'll need to submit detailed plans to the local building department to show what you intend to build. If you're not sure how to draw your own plans and don't want to pay to have an architect do it for you, professional wood shed plans can be submitted for the permit.
You will, however, need to follow the approved plans and details without making changes.
Also, a basic site plan that shows the outline of your property, house, and proposed shed location will need to be submitted, along with the plans. Be sure to indicate all existing structures (pool, fences, retaining walls, etc.) on the site plan.
Forms are usually available for completing the site plans. Two sets of plans are typically required for the approval process.
Confirm That Any Changes Are Covered by Your Existing Permits
A common oversight occurs when a DIY shed builder—with a current permit—makes changes to the building without a new permit.
3 Key Steps to Choosing the Perfect Shed Design
High-quality wood shed plans will not only show you how to build, but they'll also tell you what tools and materials are right for the job. From creating a firm foundation to installing the doors and windows, you'll be taught everything you need to know.
There's quite a variety of premium plans online, but my go-to place is My Shed Plans Elite. Once you become a member, you'll be able to look through each design, analyze the pros and cons, and choose the one that best fits your needs.
There's a lot to choose from in the member's area, so I came up with three key steps to help me decide:
Step #1: What's the primary use for the shed?
In most cases, storage space is the reason for a shed, so do a little space planning. A smaller, 4' x 8' lean-to style can provide sufficient space for hand tools and a push mower, but larger items (like a riding mower, RV, or boat) may require more space. I strongly recommend the largest shed size that you can afford.
Maybe you need a place to keep firewood for the fireplace you're planning to build next year? Don't forget to plan for the future and keep in mind that city building permits will be required for anything built over 100 sq. ft.
Step #2: Is the shed used for everyday (or nighttime) activities?
If so, make sure you have a style with options that give you good interior access (and walkways)—and if used at night: adequate lighting.
Windows provide plenty of sunlight. But if you need lighting or interior power, build as close to the source of utilities as possible.
Step #3: How important is the style and appearance of the shed next to your home?
Remember that anything you build will either add or detract from your property's appearance and may impact your property value. Metal and vinyl materials may be easier to maintain, but they're the least expensive options and tend to look cheap. Natural wood and prefinished wood products will add character and value, but they're typically more expensive to buy and maintain.
Once you've thought through the primary use, design, and overall appearance of your shed, you'll want to take your time deciding on the shed's foundation. It can be a temporary solution, like timber framed skids or a pier foundation. But if you're going big, a permanent concrete slab may be your only choice.
Shed Designs: The Shed or Pent Roof
The classic look of the single sloping pent roof, reminds me of the old west, with roof angles that slope downward from front to rear (or side to side, in this example).
Should you live up north and get a lot of snow, increase the pitch (how steep the slope is) so heavy snow buildup slides off easier. That said, this type of shed is most suited for fast storage solutions or when your location is narrow.
Shed Designs: The Lean-To Roof
Usually built against another structure, lean-to sheds are the most cost effective and easiest sheds to build. With only three sides and a single pitch roof, this shed design is good if you're short on land and need to stay close to a building, garden wall, or fence.
The slope will be governed by what you select for roofing material, local code or planning restraints, and limitations created by the strength and span of your roofing timbers.
Shed Designs: The Gable Roof
Besides working well with most climates, the "A" shape of a gable roof will give you an abundance of space within the roof rafters and will look good next to any style of home you might have.
Gable roofs will generally be built with both sides equal in length, sloping down from a single roof ridge. The angle the roof will vary from about 20–70° in pitch. The steep roof design allows snow and tree leaves to slide off the surface with ease.
Shed Designs: The Barn or Gambrel Roof
While the roof may appear to be too difficult for a novice DIY builder, don't be discouraged. A good set of plans will make building a gambrel shed easier than you might imagine. If a back-home, country barn look is what you desire, then this is it!
With a single peak and each side having two angles, a gambrel shed roof resembles the Liberty Bell. To be truly authentic, gambrel roof rafters are all the same length, and the angles for each of the rafters is 22.5° at the joint.
Shed Designs: The Saltbox Roof
Similar to a gable style roof, a saltbox roof has a peak and two sides. The difference is that the sides are not equal in size and length—one side is very short and steep and the other is long and flat. The main upside of this roof is that it can hold up against heavy winds and snow.
What I've always liked about the saltbox, is that I can keep the overall shed height low while still using a set of double or sliding doors.
What Sort of Base or Foundation Is Best for Building a Shed?
Here are some of the benefits of using pier foundations, especially for large and heavy sheds:
- They're a lot cheaper than a concrete slab and can be purchased ready to use.
- They are simple to use, so specialized knowledge is not required.
- There's only a small amount of excavation required before you begin to build.
- A pier foundation helps to safeguard your shed from ground moisture.
What I like is that when I'm building on a sloped site, the piers can be easily adjusted or cut to the proper height for leveling the foundation. And as an added bonus, the piers can be removed and moved along with the shed.
Smart Shed Building Tips
Here are some additional assorted tips to help you on your DIY journey:
- Always check with the local Register of Deeds office for any deed or plat restrictions during your planning and prior to shed construction. Most Building Inspection Departments will not have this information.
- Store your building materials inside your garage or under a tarp—not openly exposed to the weather.
- When in contact with the ground, wood must be pressure-treated or naturally resistant to decay. Treat all cut ends with an "end-cut" solution.
- Not all lumber labeled as "pressure-treated" is rated for permanent contact with the ground.
- Fasteners, hangers, nails, etc. must be hot-dipped galvanized, stainless steel, or as required for the specified wood preservative used.
- If you've built your shed on a raised platform, install wire hardware cloth between the ground and the bottom of your shed to keep out small critters. This will also allow air to circulate freely beneath the building.
- If you value the contents of your shed, build it with safety and security in mind. Always install strong locks and heavy-duty latches.
- Add a ramp to your shed plans for stumble-free/drive-up access.
- Have a regular maintenance plan to ensure screws, doors, windows, and parts are kept tight and weatherproof.
- Snow load ratings will vary by geographical location. If you get heavy or wet snowfall, it's advisable to sweep the snow off the shed roof.
Get Building: Step-by-Step Pier Foundation and FloorClick thumbnail to view full-size
Get Building: Step-by-Step Shed Wall FramingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Get Building: Step-by-Step Shed Roof FramingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Get Building: Step-by-Step Shed SidingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Get Building: Step-by-Step Finishing UpClick thumbnail to view full-size
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.