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Home > Our ultimate guide to a garden shed

Our ultimate guide to a garden shed

Sep 14, 2020 | Garden

Before you choose a new shed, it is important to think carefully about what you want to use it for, and where best to put it.  Our guide will consider the design, materials, and maintenance issues of an outbuilding, and give you insight on design and what to ask your Shed builder to design.

Which design should I choose for my space?

Form should follow function, so the first step is to consider what you need the shed for and make sure the design you choose has enough space for everything. Logistics is important too – aspects such as head room, door width, and whether you want a wood floor or a window.  Sheds can also be multi-functional, for example, a shed with large windows can act as a cold frame in which you can start seeds off.

It is worth investing in a bespoke shed, particularly if your dimensions are different to standard flatpack designs.  There are an array of designers and builders who can craft something that fits the garden, reflects your preferred shape and finish, and is robust.


Which material should I consider?

Treated wooden sheds are widely available and are generally the cheapest option. If you are looking for minimal maintenance and longevity, then sheds made from composite materials [such as a mix of wood, reusable polypropylene and weatherproof resin, are all good options.

There are many types of timber cladding, from vertically fixed, untreated UK larch at the lower end of the price range, up to painted European, pressure-treated pine and western red cedar tongue and groove.  Durability of all the options is high especially if they are treated biannually with a suitable preservative or oil.  Often the decision on cladding is aesthetic and so the choice is a personal taste.

Where should I put the shed?

Any garden design or shed installer should be able to guide your decision on where to locate your shed.  Think about ease of access and how frequently the shed will be used.  There is no point squeezing it into a tight corner if you cannot open the door properly, or if you will have to struggle to take heavy or awkward-shaped items in and out.  Nothing puts you off using an item more than having to move things in order to find it.  Equally, having to cross a wet or boggy lawn to get to the shed can be a major disincentive.  

Think about access for maintenance.  Ideally it is nice to be able to get to all sides, but in a small garden its usually not possible.  At least allow some air circulation and the ability to put an arm around the back.

How is the ground prepared?

It is best to ask for the shed to be placed on a reinforced concrete base laid over a sub-base.  Depths for these vary depending on the soil, the weather and the size of the shed.  Generally, depths of 75mm to 300mm are often quoted in the trade.  The top surface of concrete is best to be 1cm to 2cm above the level of the ground, so the shed doesn’t come into contact with the soil.  A shed laid on a bed correct-depth concrete will not sink or shift, and the concrete will prevent animals such as foxes making a den underneath.

For very small sheds, a compacted MOT base may be sufficient on its own.  However, it is best to take professional advice whom will take into consideration all local conditions.

Concrete is not the only option thought.  Gardens rooms and sheds can be designed on timber bases, damp-proofed and anchored to the ground with screws; a much more sustainable method for the environment.

Paving slabs set into sharp sand are another option, or eco-base type products (recycled plastic).  In all cases there should be a sub-layer of compacted hardcore and ballast. Whatever you choose, your installed to consider rainwater run-off and the base of the shed not rotting due to standing in something damp.

How long will it take to put up a shed?

Some off-the-peg flatpack sheds can be put up in around an hour.  While a bespoke shed that is built for you onsite, can take a one-three days.  The installation on most sheds by professional installers could take two-three hours, up to a day depending on the environment.

What are my storage options?

A bespoke shed can be built to carry great weight, whereas building shelves into a lightweight flatpack shed is not recommended if you are planning to store anything heavy on them.  A common solution is to use floor standing shelving systems instead. Side storage that is partitioned off from the main section could be another alternative for bikes as an example.  Bin and log storage are other added extras.

Storage options can include bespoke shelving, large plastic containers, work table, and hooks and hangers.  Many things can be stored in a shed, but bear in mind that things will get damp due to condensation in the cold, and they are likely to get lived on by insects, spiders and possibly rodents.  Use storage materials that will not suffer in the damp, so avoid cardboard boxes.

What if I want to add power and lighting?

This should be straightforward and done by a qualified electrician.  However be aware that getting power to your shed might be an expensive exercise if there is not already a supply nearby.  An electrician should drill a small entry hole of around 12mm through the cladding.  Once inside they can route cables along the structural members and install charging points for e-bikes, alarms, security lights, motion sensor lights and so on. 

Electricity outside can be very dangerous if not installed correctly.  Cables need to be armoured and buried to protect them from mowers and shovels.  Connections and plugs need to be designed for outside usage (including where they are brought out of the house), and safety features, such as circuit breakers are a good idea.

Can I attach a water butt?

The installation of gutters and drainpipes are possible to take the rainwater off the shed directly to the ground.  You do not want water dripping off the roof edge and running into the cladding on the walls, rotting the shed, especially at the base.  Water butts can be fitted directly onto the rainwater pipe.  

A water butt has many advantages, firstly you can use the collected rainwater on the garden, saving on the water bill.  Secondly, having the rain collected from the roof will reduce the risk of run-off causing local pooling and saturation of the soil.  It is a good idea, providing any overflowing rainwater that doesn’t go into the butt can find its way to a soakaway, a French drain (a trench filled with gravel or rock or containing a perforated pipe that redirects surface or groundwater) or equivalent.

Is it easy to add a green roof?

Green roofs are relatively easy to add, and there are a number of skilled professionals on the market.  They can made a shed look better, provide more biodiversity in the garden, and slow water drainage into the soil.  One very important consideration thought, is to make sure your shed roof is strong enough to carry the weight of a green roof.  Plants and wet soil are heavy, and even a sedum roof (the lightest and simplest green roof) can weigh 80kg per square metre.

Many would advise against putting a green roof on top of a flimsy flatpack shed. If you want a green roof, commission a bespoke building – the extra strength required can then be built into the carcassing of the walls, and steels can be used in the roof.

How do I protect and maintain my shed?

Most wooden sheds will come with some form of protection on them, but the products used vary in the amount and length of protection they provide.  If your shed has been constructed with good, solid, relatively thick protected timber, it should go for years without any real maintenance or protection, providing it can dry out after a rainstorm.

Many timbers used to make sheds are simply ‘dipped’ which just coats the outside of the timber.  Sun and rain fairly quickly degrade this, so the wood is at risk of rotting.  Such sheds will need to be re-treated with a suitable product at regular intervals, depending on exposure.

Other sheds are made from wood that is pressure-treated.  This means that preserving product is driven into the wood, so it is protected all the way through.  Such wood is very resistant to rot (provided it can dry out and is not covered with soil) and can last many years.

Metal and composite sheds require much less maintenance, although it is worth checking how effectively a metal shed is protected from water and rust.

Timber classing requires a bi-annual check, and a wood preservative or wood oil can improve long-term durability.  Many experts recommend a clear product, because the coloured or tinted versions can look patchy or faded in places quite quickly.  On cedar sheds, the preference would be wood oil.

Beyond this, be sure to check gutters for leaves and debris, and clear anything piling up around the base of the shed.  The classing must be kept free to breathe.  Locks and hinges may require oiling periodically and a green roof requires some watering in dry spells and a bit of light wedding as and when wind blown weeds self-seed.

Need help with your shed planning? Are you considering a shed in the future?  Was this advise helpful?

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