Q&A / 

Outdoor Storage Sheds

DEAR TIM: Outdoor storage sheds are popular in my neighborhood. Since I can barely squeeze my cars into my garage, I now need a storage shed in my yard. How do I develop shed plans for this project? Should I just purchase a prefabricated storage shed? The gardener in me wants a garden shed as well. I don't know how to build a shed, but I have all the free time in the world. Do you think I can tackle this project with minimal errors? Marybeth B., Louisville, KY

DEAR MARYBETH: Years ago extra stuff swallowed one-half of my garage. Then not too long after that, I lost my other indoor parking space to a growing list of mowers, mulchers, tractors, bikes, etc. Two years ago, my wife finally said to me, "We need a shed. Build one that matches our house." I had my marching orders from She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and three months later I had a deluxe storage shed in my backyard. As long as you have some helping hands at critical stages of the construction process, I feel you can do the same.

This Victorian outdoor storage shed was built over a period of weeks. It matches the primary home on the lot exactly in design and color, and adds tremendous overall value to the property. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

This Victorian outdoor storage shed was built over a period of weeks. It matches the primary home on the lot exactly in design and color, and adds tremendous overall value to the property. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Free shed plans can be found on the Internet, but I feel you should probably develop your own shed plans. It is very easy to get the overall size of the shed by taking all of the things out of your garage that will be stored in the shed. Organize these things on your lawn in the shape of a rectangle or square.

Place enough space around each item so you can easily get to it without having to pull several things out of the way. Use stakes and string to create an outline around all of the things, and this overall dimension becomes the footprint of your shed. I'd be willing to wager that your dimensions approach or exceed 16 feet by 14 feet.

This basic method of planning, in my opinion, uncovers a problem with far too many sheds: they are too small. You may look at an assembled shed kit at a retail store and think it is huge. But once you put your things in it, you quickly discover it is too small. To get things out that you need, you have to move several things outdoors to make a pathway. That misery can be avoided. My neighbor has to do this several times a week. My shed is large enough so that I don't have to move anything to get to each wheelbarrow, mower or mulcher.

My shed does double duty. One-third of it is a garden shed for my wife. It has shelving for all of her pots and supplies, and a clever drop-down potting bench that tilts down from a side wall like a Murphy bed.

If you can build a deck, you have the skills to complete an outdoor storage shed. Use treated lumber for the posts that support the shed floor joists, and treated plywood for the shed flooring. Wet tools and machines will not rot these critical structural members.

Framing the exterior shed walls is very easy. The key is to make sure the walls are square, plumb and level. I prefer to apply plywood or oriented-strand board on the exterior of the walls for strength, but this material makes any wall over 10 feet long fairly heavy to lift into position. You will probably need help when you tilt up your shed walls.

The roof framing may be an obstacle. The good news is that any decent lumber yard can order small trusses for you if you don't want to explore the wonderful things you can do with a simple framing square. Roof framing is not hard to learn, and since you have time, practice cutting some simple rafters before you start to actually build the shed. There are many great books available that show you how to cut simple roof rafters.

Check out the sweet skylight and the clever attic storage just to the right of the skylight. This shed would win a prize if there was an Ultimate Outdoor Shed Contest! PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Check out the sweet skylight and the clever attic storage just to the right of the skylight. This shed would win a prize if there was an Ultimate Outdoor Shed Contest! PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Be sure to include a small overhead garage door in your outdoor storage shed as well as one or two skylights. Many people do not realize you can get miniature garage doors that are just 6 feet wide. This is the perfect size to get a lawn tractor in and out of a shed. Skylights brighten up an otherwise dark space. There are many affordable skylights. Consider getting ones that open to allow hot air to escape in summer months.

You can build an outdoor storage shed on a concrete slab if your lot is nearly level. But most lots are not level, and this is why adopting a deck-on-wood-posts design appeals to those who have built more than one shed. The other issue with concrete slabs is they must be protected from frost heave in areas that are subject to cold weather. A storage shed built on posts may only need six or eight piers dug into the soil.

If you build a roof that has an 8 / 12 pitch or greater, you will get added attic space above the floor of the shed. You will get maximum space if you frame the roof yourself. To get a decent amount of space using prefabricated trusses, you will have to specify that you want storage trusses when you place the order with the lumber yard.

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One Response to Outdoor Storage Sheds

  1. Tim,

    I am putting together plans for building a shed and I want to include an attic like yours pictured above. I will be cutting the rafters myself for a gable roof.

    My questions is:
    When do you sheath the attic floor?

    I see two ways to do it
    1. Put ceiling joists in, then sheathing for the floor, then rafters with birds mouths sitting on the ceiling floor -or-
    2. Put ceiling joists in, then rafters with birds mouths sitting on wall top plates, then sheathing on attic floor.

    To me it looks like 1. would have flooring all the way to the edges, but also create a taller building - and be easy to sheath. The attic flooring for method 2. would have to stop at the juncture of the ceiling joists and the rafters and be challenging to maneuver the sheathing into place.

    What's the right way to do this? And how would you do this in a house where you're making the attic livable space? Thanks.

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