DEAR TIM: I need to know how to build a shed. As I looked for leaf-raking tools in the debris field formally known as my garage, I realized I need a storage shed. I went out and looked at different outdoor storage sheds at dealers and home centers, but I want to build my own. Are wood sheds the way to go? Brian F., Lancaster, PA
DEAR BRIAN: It is going to be very difficult in this short column to teach you how to build a shed. There are hundreds of individual steps involved and some of the most important are in simply planning your storage shed. For example, you may want to talk with your wife and build both a combination storage shed and garden shed at the same time. I did this two years ago, and it has turned out to be a huge success with my wife.
Framing the walls of a shed require minimal carpentry skills. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter
The first place to start the how-to-build-a-shed process is with your local government officials. You need to see how your zoning laws deal with sheds as well as your local building codes. For example, where I live the building department is not concerned with sheds that are under a certain square footage. You may discover you do not need a building permit.
Once you have learned you can build the shed in compliance with all laws, then make a decision if the shed will have a wood floor or a concrete slab. I have built sheds both ways, and feel one with a wood floor works well if you build it using the right materials. If you want your storage shed to be problem-free for years, you need to make sure it has a great foundation that will not move. I prefer working with wood because it is affordable and easy to cut, move and erect.
Structures built in climates where the ground freezes must be protected from frost heave. When soil freezes, the water in the soil expands. This can lift the soil dramatically causing all sorts of structural stresses for those structures built without frost-protected foundations.
A frost-protected foundation can be full-length poured concrete footers that extend below the level that frost penetrates or round concrete pads that support treated-lumber posts. I like using the wood-post method as it resembles building a traditional wood deck. For a simple outdoor shed, you may only have to dig four 16-inch diameter holes for the entire foundation.
The wood-floor system should be made with treated lumber that will resist wood rot and any attack by wood-destroying insects. I also use treated-lumber plywood for the floor of my storage sheds. This way any water that drips from tractors, tools or other things will not cause any damage to the shed flooring structure.
When you frame your shed walls, use ordinary framing lumber but always use a treated lumber bottom plate. In case water does get into the shed, this treated lumber bottom wall plate helps resist wood rot. Be sure to use plywood or oriented strand board at all of the corners of the shed. This makes the walls very strong so they resist racking forces caused by roof load and wind.
You can buy prefabricated roof trusses for the roof structure, but cutting simple roof rafters is not that hard. If your budget is tight, you will probably discover that framing the roof without trusses is the better alternative. You will simply have to learn how to cut simple rafters.
Be sure you cover the exterior walls and roof with overlapping asphalt felt paper before you apply siding or shingles. The felt paper will prevent any wood rot in case a leak develops over time.
When you decide on doors to get into and out of your storage shed, give a hard look at smaller overhead garage doors. Everyone who see the six-foot-wide metal overhead garage door in my garden shed marvels at it. It provides ample room to get my garden tractor in and out, is lightweight and easy to open and close and it is attractive. It only took me 90 minutes to install this gorgeous overhead shed door.
Many of the actual tasks that you will do to build the shed can be done alone. You will probably need help lifting some of the longer walls that are framed on the floor. It is dangerous to try to lift and secure the walls by yourself, although it is possible to do. You may want some help as you apply sheathing to the roof rafters or trusses.
Be sure to take your time to get the floor of the shed perfectly square and level. If you take the extra time to do this, it will pay off in spades as you frame the walls and install the roof. Out-of-square foundations or floors will cause you fits through the entire building process.