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Plan the installation of a storage shed

The most important step in building a backyard shed takes place before you ever swing a hammer. You need to select an appropriate building site on your property and make sure your project complies with local bylaws, zoning ordinances, and building codes. We'll show you what to consider, and how to work with your local building department to streamline the permitting process.

Understand the needs

Ask yourself the following questions to identify your needs.
  • How will you use your shed? Storage, workspace, or something else?
  • Do you need a building permit?
  • How will moisture, soil, slope, fencing, trees, property lines, or other elements on your lot affect the location of the shed?
  • Is appearance important? Do you want your shed to match the architecture of your house or be a garden centrepiece?
  • Does your neighbourhood homeowners association have rules governing the placement, dimensions, or aesthetics of a shed?

Shed design

Depending on your space, budget, and carpentry skills, a backyard shed can range from a simple structure to a durable building with features that rival home construction.

Selecting a site

First and foremost, it's important to locate your shed where you'll need it most. Consider these other factors:
  • Property lines: Review a current survey. It should list all boundaries, structures, fence lines, encroachments, and easements. Walk your property and compare what you see with what's listed on the survey. You don't want to make the mistake of building a shed that straddles a property line, sits within a drainage or utility easement, or violates local property setback requirements.
  • Obstacles: Will trees, hedges, wires, a septic bed, rocks, water, or other obstacles interfere with construction, clearance, or access? Consider how the landscape and surrounding foliage may change throughout the year and over time.
  • Utilities: Call local authorities to identify utility lines near your building site.
  • Grade and soil: Ideally, you want a level site with good drainage and firm soil. Building your shed on a grade or at the bottom of a hill can lead to moisture problems, including mould and mildew on items stored inside. If your site slopes steeply (more than 12" from one side to the other), or drainage is an issue, you'll need an appropriate foundation.
  • Aesthetics: How would the shed look from a neighbour's vantage point? If you belong to a neighbourhood homeowners association, are their rules governing the placement, dimensions, or aesthetics of a shed?
  • Other considerations: Proximity to water, electricity, or propane; natural light; ventilation; the ability to deliver construction materials to the site; and space for a ramp if you're planning to store a lawn mower or other rolling equipment.

Building Permits

A building permit gives you legal permission to start your project. Without one, you may face fines and have to stop construction or remove your shed.
  • Do I need a permit? Only your local building office can say for sure. Each municipality has its own codes and zoning ordinances, so check before you make decisions on the size, location, and style of your shed.
  • How do I apply for a permit? Expect to submit a building plan that includes dimension and elevation drawings as well as the location of your building site on your property.

Shed Sizes

What's the best size of shed? Think about what you'll be using the shed for and what you'll put inside:
  • I need storage: Stake out an area and gather up all the items you might keep in your shed. Think about how each item should be stored: on the floor, shelves, wall hooks, hung from rafters, etc. Will everything fit? Will you?
  • I need a place to work: If your shed will be a workspace—a potting shed, workshop, studio, pool shed, etc.—you'll need room for storage and for you to move around or work. Be prepared for compromises: for example, windows, skylights, or roof ventilation may add comfort but take away space for storage.

Pro's advice

Reduce construction waste by sticking with conventional measurements: 8' x 10', 10' x 16', etc.

Shed foundations

Whether you buy a pre-fab kit or build from an original plan, your backyard storage shed needs a solid, square foundation. The good news is you don't need advanced skills, special tools, or lots of money to build one, just the patience to plan properly and do the job right. Read our article on how to Design and build a foundation for your storage shed for all the steps involved.
There are two basic types of foundations for a small to medium-sized shed:
  • On-grade foundation: An on-grade foundation sits on top of the ground. It can be as simple and economical as a frame of pressure-treated timbers or concrete pavers and works well on level, sturdy soil.
  • Permanent foundation: This is a series of concrete piers that extend below the frost line topped by a frame of pressure-treated timbers. This type of foundation may be more work to build, but it's permanent and ideal for parts of Canada where frost heave is an issue.
A third type of foundation, a concrete slab, is a flat, concrete pad poured directly onto the ground. It works well for larger structures on level sites but may shift when the ground freezes in the winter. If you're considering a slab foundation, talk to a concrete contractor about building techniques and materials that are less susceptible to freeze/thaw cycles.

Pre-cut or pre-assembled

Most wooden backyard sheds are sold as kits, where the shed arrives in pieces that you can put together with minimal building experience or special tools. Kits come in two different formats:
  • Pre-cut: A pre-cut kit includes all the materials you need, cut to length and ready to assemble. Roof trusses may be pre-assembled, saving you the effort.
  • Pre-assembled: Major structural components such as walls, trusses, and the floor are built and framed for you and arrive on site ready to put together. Windows and doors are framed so they go in easily. Pre-assembled shed kits are designed for construction in a couple of days, but still require careful site preparation and an appropriate foundation. Also, because the pieces are heavy, most people need at least one a helper on site.

Pro's advice

Good to know: Shed kits typically do not include roofing shingles, paint, stain, or foundation materials, and many list the floor as optional.

Build from an original plan

If a ready-made shed or kit won't do, you can buy construction plans that you can follow and modify to meet your specific needs. When you work from an original plan, the biggest challenge is calculating the cost to purchase materials and the time to complete your project. That's why your plan should contain as much detail as possible, including:
  • Material list
  • Materials cut list
  • Dimensions and elevation drawing
  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Detail drawings
  • Mechanical drawing
If you are interested in building a shed from a plan, read our article on how to build a backyard shed.
If the task seems too daunting, do not hesitate to get help from qualified professionals.

Pro's advice

Depending on the size and scope of your project, your local building office may require engineering details not typically found in an architectural drawing. If you're planning a large structure, make sure your drawings are sufficient for a permit application.

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