Need a New Garden Shed? Read This Professional Advice First
A solid shed can provide storage, become a focal point, incentivise gardening and more. Here’s how to get it right
Professional advice from: Peter Reader of Peter Reader Landscapes; Aaron Priestman of Brighton Bike Sheds; Jim Gabriel of Inside Out Oxford (which builds bespoke garden rooms that can incorporate shed functions)
This article is from our Most Popular stories file
Form should follow function, say our experts, 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.
“Think about logistics, too – aspects such as head room, door width, and whether you want a wood floor or a window,” Peter Reader says. “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’s worth investing in a bespoke shed, particularly if your dimensions are different to standard flatpack designs. “A good designer and builder of bespoke outbuildings will work with you to craft something that fits the garden, reflects your preferred shape and finish and is robust,” Jim Gabriel says.
“Treated wooden sheds are widely available and are generally the cheapest option,” Peter says. “However, if security is a concern, consider metal options, which can be securely locked and often come with methods of securely fixing them to the ground.
“If you’re looking for minimal maintenance and longevity,” he continues, “then sheds made from composite materials [such as a mix of wood, reusable polypropylene and weatherproof resin] are a good option.”
Aaron Priestman offers six types of timber cladding on his sheds, which are primarily designed for bicycle storage, 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,” Aaron says, “especially if they’re treated biannually with a suitable preservative or oil. Often, the decision on cladding is aesthetic, so the choice is personal taste.”
A good garden designer or shed installer will 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,” Peter says. “There’s no point squeezing it into a tight corner if you can’t open the door properly or if you’ll 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 boggy lawn to get to the shed can be a major disincentive.
“Also think about access for maintenance,” he continues. “Ideally, it’s nice to be able to get to all sides for this, but, in a small garden, it’s usually not possible, so at least allow for some air circulation and the ability to put an arm around the back.”
Need help with your outdoor space? Read reviews of garden designers in your area.
It’s best to ask for the shed to be placed on a reinforced concrete base laid over an MOT type 1 sub-base (a compacted aggregate), Peter recommends. “Depths for these vary depending on the soil you have, the weather [in your area] and the size of the shed,” he says. “Generally, depths of 75mm to 300mm are quoted.
“It’s best to have the top surface of the concrete 1cm to 2cm above the level of the ground, so the shed doesn’t come into contact with the soil,” he continues. “A shed laid on a bed of 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,” he adds. “It’s best to take advice from the supplier of the shed, bearing in mind your local conditions.”
Paving slabs set into sharp sand are another option, according to Aaron, “or eco-base type products [ie those made from recycled plastic]. In all cases, there should be a sub-layer of compacted hardcore and ballast,” he says.
Whatever you choose, Jim adds, your installer needs to “consider rainwater run-off and the base of the shed not rotting due to standing in something damp”.
“Some off-the-peg flatpack sheds can be put up in under an hour,” Jim says, “while a bespoke shed that’s built for you on site can take a few days.”
“The installation of our sheds takes two to three hours for our installers,” Aaron adds.
To see more from any of the designers whose photos are featured in this article, click on the image, then on Learn More if you’re in the app, and follow the links to the professional’s profile.
“A bespoke shed can be built to carry great weight, whereas building shelves into a lightweight flatpack shed is not recommended if you’re planning to store anything heavy on them,” Jim says. A common solution is to use floorstanding shelving systems instead.
“We offer side storage that’s partitioned off from the main bike section,” Aaron says. “We also offer bin and log storage as added extras.”
Storage options can include bespoke shelving, large plastic containers, work tables, and hooks and hangers. “Many things can be stored in a shed,” Peter says, “but bear in mind that things will get damp due to condensation in the cold, and they’re likely to get lived in or on by insects, spiders and possibly rodents. Use storage materials that will not suffer in the damp, so avoid cardboard boxes, for example.”
This should be straightforward and done by a qualified electrician, “but be aware that getting power to your shed might be an expensive exercise if there isn’t already a supply nearby,” Jim says.
“An electrician should drill a small entry hole of around 12mm through the cladding,” Aaron says. “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,” Peter says. “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’re brought out of the house), and safety features such as circuit breakers are a good idea.”
Find an electrician in your area on Houzz.
“We can install gutters and drainpipes to take the rainwater off the shed directly to the ground,” Aaron says. “You don’t 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,” Peter says. “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 water pooling and saturation of the soil.”
Jim agrees. “It’s a good idea, provided 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.”
You might also enjoy How to Make Your Garden Building Eco-friendly.
“Green roofs are relatively easy to add, and there are a number of skilled fitters on the market,” Peter says. “They can make a shed look better, provide more biodiversity in the garden, and slow water drainage into the soil.
“One very important consideration, though, is to make sure your shed roof is strong enough to carry the weight of a green roof,” he says. “Plants and wet soil are heavy, and even a sedum roof (the lightest and simplest green roof) can weigh 80kg per square metre.”
Jim advises 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,” he says.
You might also enjoy A Beginner’s Guide to Green Roofs.
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 on for years without any real maintenance or protection, providing it can dry out after a rainstorm,” Jim says.
“Many timbers used to make sheds are simply ‘dipped’, which just coats the outside of the timber,” Peter says. “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’s pressure-treated,” Peter continues. “This means the preserving product is driven into the wood, so it’s protected all the way through. Such wood is very resistant to rot (provided it can dry out and is not covered in soil) and can last many years.
“Metal and composite sheds require much less maintenance,” he adds, “although it’s worth checking how effectively a metal shed is protected from water and rust.”
“Beyond this, be sure to check gutters for leaves and debris, and clear anything piling up around the base of the shed. The cladding must be kept free to breathe,” he says. “Locks and hinges may require oiling periodically and a green roof requires some watering in dry spells and a bit of light weeding as and when wind-blown weeds self-seed.”
Are you planning to have a new garden shed installed? Was this advice helpful? Share your thoughts in the Comments.