Q&A / 

Garden Storage Sheds

DEAR TIM: 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 mission-critical components you feel a garden storage shed should have? My wife is going to be gone for two weeks in several months visiting one of our kids. Do you think I can build this shed start to finish in that amount of time? Glenn B., White Plains, NY

DEAR GLENN: As crazy as this sounds, garden and storage sheds are one of my favorite projects. If I had to choose my building career path over again, I might have just concentrated on deluxe storage sheds. It’s very rewarding building wooden garden sheds, as you are exposed to about 80 percent of the skill sets 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 the garden shed you decide to build is not too large or complicated, I feel 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. All materials and tools will need to be onsite hours after your wife leaves for the airport.

This  Queen Anne Victorian garden storage shed was built to match the owners house. The soffit material is real stained bead board! PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This Queen Anne Victorian garden storage shed was built to match the owners house. The soffit material is real stained bead board! PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

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 garden-shed plans. 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 neatly 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. There are any number of books that have all different sheds in them to generate ideas. Have her give you clues as to exactly what she wants. Don’t guess and hope you’re right.

Natural light is really important inside sheds. If at all possible, try to plan for a window centered on the countertop where your wife will stand and work. Imagine how happy she’ll be inside the shed gazing through the window to her garden while working on new plants or restoring existing ones. 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 suggest 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 it, and it’s wide enough for my riding mower to get in and out with no issues.

Be sure you 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.

You’ll be on a tight schedule trying to build this garden shed in two weeks. But that’s no excuse not to have the floor square. Taking the extra few minutes to do this will save you hours as you build the walls and frame the roof. If you’re shed is a square or a rectangle in shape, it’s square when the parallel walls are the same length and the diagonal measurements from corner to corner both ways are equal.

Now is the time to 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 dog house for a neighbor or to donate for some local pet shelter. Building a dog house that’s a scale model of your shed is actually the best way to practice for the big event!

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

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