Finding the Right Shed for Your Backyard

Lawn mowers, yard tools, bicycles and leftover paint. These are all things you probably don’t want to store in your house. And, chances are, you have better ideas about how to utilize any excess garage space.

The solution for many homeowners is a backyard shed.

A backyard shed can serve many purposes — from simple storage shed to a secondary dwelling that could serve as a work studio or even a guest room. Done right, a well-sealed, attractive structure could add significant value to your home.

The first consideration is your immediate needs — because you don’t want to just guess at how large of a shed you need. A simple way to access size is to set out the things you’d like to store in your yard. Consider the things that will probably have to take up floor space, such as a lawn mower, bicycle and workbench.

Once you have an idea of how much floor space you need, itemize all the other things you’d like to store — perhaps six to 12 storage boxes, a leaf blower, gardening tools and some chemicals, such as leftover paint, plant food and anything else that would be safer to store outside of your home.

Once you have a solid vision of what would go into the shed on day 1, give yourself some breathing space — if your budget can afford it. Chances are, you’ll acquire more things in the future and that extra space will come in handy. Or, perhaps one day you’ll utilize your shed as a work space and want enough room for a chair, table and filing cabinets or storage shelves.

While you probably don’t want to cover too much of your backyard real estate, the shed can serve a variety of purposes that make it a valuable amenity. Some homeowners even build a pergola (freestanding structure with an open or slatted roof) or ramada (closed roof) off their sheds or garages to create a secondary gathering area to hang out in.

Examples: From the Basic to the Extraordinary

A backyard shed provides a lot of utility value, especially if wired with electricity and equipped with excellent ventilation or air-conditioning. And a shed also provides a new canvass to beautify, perhaps a bit more creatively than an entire home, with paint, plants and outdoor art.

Although you can find dozens of high-quality shed designs and blueprints, many homeowners don’t have the time or lack the construction skills to put together a quality shed that will stand the test of time, with the adaptability to serve many purposes over its lifetime.

But a quality contractor will be able to access your needs if you can give them as many guidelines as possible. (See the City of Austin’s guide to selecting a contractor.)

To get started, consider the basics.

Do you want a simple storage space and nothing more? Consider an attractive small unit, like this. It’s sturdy enough to be a fixture that adds value to your home, yet it is small enough for a modest budget. A tight-fitting door, tasteful paint job (or nature look) and a few plants can make your storage space an attractive element of the backyard landscape while providing just enough space to stow away your gear.

Spending a little extra on long-lasting, quality wood — as seen here — is another way to boost the value of your shed without building more than you need.

Are you a green thumb who wants plenty of space for all those garden gadgets and supplies? Consider a shed that is a centerpiece of your gardening. You won’t have to walk far for your tools, and you’ve turned a relatively simple shed into a nice backdrop for your handiwork. Add a little porch, as seen here, and you’ll have a great space to sit back and admire how well you’ve encouraged nature to present its beauty.

For those who essentially want a second home in their backyard — or just a nice escape, maybe even a “mancave” — consider a contractor with habitable building experience. The sky — or actually City of Austin building codes — are the limit for what you can do. And Austin is poised this spring to change its laws on requirements for secondary dwellings — often called granny flats. Here’s a nice example of blending storage in a garage-like space and studio space in a small dwelling.

Safety, Insurance and Maintenance

When planning a location for your shed, consider its proximity to your home and the areas the shed serves, such as a garden.

Next, make sure you and your contractor or building team understand where water tends to gather and how to properly level the structure. While some homeowners opt for a residential-style concrete slab, elevated floors tend to be most common because it can reduce expense and provide some protection from flooding, insects and root systems.

It’s also worth discussing the pros and cons of different building materials. Wood may require a new coat of stain or paint every few years, while metal may be more prone to dents from falling branches and debris from lawn mowers.

Finally, a high-quality shed may add more value to your home. But, depending on the size and location, it may also have implications for your homeowners insurance. Consider calling your insurance agent to discuss how the type of shed you choose may be covered in the event of an accident or extreme weather.

Most large sheds will require a building permit, typically handled by a contractor. To check if your proposed shed requires a permit, call the city’s Permit Center at 512-978-4000.