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How to build a storage shed

Q: I've seen several garden storage sheds, and now have decided to build one for my wife as a surprise. I want to make sure this garden shed is the correct size and not cramped. What are some components a garden storage shed must have? Several months from now, my wife is going to be gone for two weeks visiting one of our kids. Do you think I can build this shed start to finish in that amount of time?

A: Garden and storage sheds are one of my favorite projects. It's very rewarding to build wooden garden sheds, as you use about 80 percent of the skills you need to know when building a house from start to finish.

If you can enlist the help of a friend for a few days, and if the garden shed you decide to build is not too large or complicated, you can do this job start to finish in two weeks. The weather will need to cooperate, and you will need to be on top of your game each day. You should have all the materials and tools you'll need on-site hours after your wife leaves for the airport.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you can build the shed. Check with your local zoning officials to see if outdoor buildings are allowed and if you need a building permit. If you need a permit, you'll need plans for the shed. If you live in an association of any type, you may have private restrictions that limit outdoor sheds, their size, location and design. Be sure to investigate that as well.

The way to determine the size of the shed is to take all the things that will be stored in it and place these on your lawn in the manner in which you'll see them in the shed. Then plan for enough space for some cabinets and a countertop for potting and such. I would expect the countertop to be at least 5 feet long, if not longer. Make sure there is plenty of open space in front of the cabinets so your wife doesn't trip over things in the shed. My guess is that you'll quickly determine you need a shed that's at least 10 feet by 12 feet. You'll never regret having a shed that's too big.

If you want to really impress your wife, try to get from her the style of shed she may want. Definitely don't guess and hope you're right.

Natural light is really important inside sheds. If possible, try to plan for a window centered on the countertop where your wife will stand and work. One or two skylights in the roof will brighten the space and make for a cheery interior, even on overcast days.

If you're not a skilled mason, I'd recommend that you construct a wooden garden shed. This means building a deck frame close to the ground and covering the joists with treated plywood. This takes away all the worry of rotting wood as water vapor coming from the soil or water that gets on the floor from rain or wet implements will not harm treated lumber.

Give serious consideration to a narrow overhead door instead of swinging doors. The overhead door is easier to install, and many are very handsome. I have a lightweight metal door that's only 6 feet wide and 7 feet high in my wife's Queen Anne Victorian garden shed. It took only two hours to install, and it's wide enough for my riding mower to get in and out with no issues.

Be sure to plan for storage shelves for pots, hand tools, supplies and any other things that will be stored in this shed. These shelves can be built with plywood and framing lumber in just a few hours.

Tim Carter is a licensed contractor. To view previous columns or tap into his archive of information and sources of building materials, go to You can write to Tim Carter at P.O. Box 36352, Cincinnati, OH 45236-0352.


Practice first

Before you think about building a garden shed, study up on what you don't know how to do. If roof framing is a weakness, practice cutting rafters and making a small roof now. Try building a doghouse. If you don't have a dog, build a doghouse for a neighbor or to donate on behalf of a local pet shelter. Building a doghouse that's a scale model of your shed is the best way to practice for the big event.

The doghouse will test nearly every skill you'll have to master, including applying shingles. I'll warn you now: Building a medium-sized doghouse in this manner will result in a structure that may weigh more than 100 pounds. Be sure you have help when you move it.

How to build a storage shed 07/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 4:30am]
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