10 Considerations When Buying Outdoor Storage Sheds

Green shed set in a garden with plants, wall, and fence.
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If you're looking to buy a new outdoor storage shed, there are a number of factors to consider before making your purchase. Obvious factors include the size and cost, and maybe the color or style, but you don't want to stop there. A storage shed can be a pretty big investment, and you'll be looking at it—and relying on it—for the next 15 or 20 years. Asking a few more questions at the outset will help you make the best choice for the long run.

1. Price vs. Quality

Don't let the price of a new shed your sole determining factor. Some shoppers, once drawn to the cheapest price, immediately put blinders on and ignore alternatives. Outdoor storage sheds with higher-quality materials and solid construction last longer and look better than the cheapest options. Paying just a few hundred dollars more for an outbuilding is usually a smart investment. If budget is a primary consideration (it so often is), focus on simple, well-built sheds made with basic materials rather than those with fancy details or premium materials.

2. Design Considerations

Outdoor structures are not merely for storing things away. In addition to its usefulness, the appearance of an outdoor storage shed affects the overall appearance of your property. Ideally, the unit you choose complements the style of your home. For example, if you have a country-style house, your shed should have a rustic design, perhaps with board and batten siding. If your house’s style is more formal, select an outdoor storage shed with formal features to match. Or, you might want to match specific features of your house, such as an arched window or door, carrying the same theme over to your outbuilding.

3. Blending Into the Landscape

Think about how you might integrate your outbuilding into the surrounding landscape. Plants can help outdoor storage sheds blend into a yard, rather than sticking out like sore thumbs.You can establish garden beds around a shed and plant them with annuals or perennials. If the shed has wood siding, you can install trellises up against the walls to grow vine plants.

4. Wall and Siding Materials

There are three main materials options for storage sheds: wood, metal, and plastic. Wood sheds typically have stud-framed walls, much like a house or garage, that are covered with plywood siding. Upscale wood sheds may have plywood sheathing over the studs with traditional lap siding over the plywood. Wood sheds also have wood roof frames and standard roofing materials, such as asphalt shingles.

Metal sheds typically have a simple metal framework covered in a skin of factory-painted or vinyl-coated metal for both the walls and roof. Plastic sheds often are vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) or another type of plastic. Their color is inherent to the material so there's no paint or coating to worry about. Both plastic and metal sheds come in kits designed for DIY assembly.

A wood shed needs about as much maintenance (repainting, repairing damaged or rotted parts, refastening loose parts) as a house. Metal and plastic sheds do not need to be painted and require very little maintenance. However, metal shed materials will corrode if their paint or protective coating is scratched or damaged, and metal doors and other parts wear over time. Plastic sheds generally need the least maintenance of all.

5. Zoning Laws and HOA Rules

Before buying a shed or even settling on a shed size, call your city office to learn about zoning law restrictions for sheds. In many areas, sheds up to a certain size—typically 120 square feet—are allowed by zoning laws without prior approval, but restrictions on shed placement are common. For example, you may be required to keep your shed 3 feet from your property line. The overall height of a shed is another zoning issue. Similar restrictions may be imposed by a homeowners association as well. Always check first. You don't want to buy and install an expensive shed only to learn that you're breaking a law.

6. Foundation and Flooring

Some sheds include a floor; others do not. Wood sheds typically have standard framed floors with plywood flooring. With most metal and some plastic sheds, flooring is sold separately from the shed structure and you can opt for the manufacturer's floor system or build your own. In any case, a floor can add $100 or more to the total cost of the shed.

Regardless of the floor type, it's best to install a shed on a foundation that keeps the shed off of soil or wet ground. This may be pressure-treated wood timbers or concrete blocks, or simply a bed of compacted gravel. An elevated or well-draining foundation will go a long way to help prevent rot or corrosion of shed materials.

7. Installation: DIY or Pro?

If you’d prefer that most of the work be done for you, then just select a shed from your local home improvement store and ask that it be delivered and assembled by the pros. But those who are handy may wish to save some money and order an outdoor storage building kit that comes with assembly instructions. Building wood sheds requires carpentry skills and tools. Metal and plastic sheds are designed for easy assembly and can be built by two average homeowners in a about a day.

8. Access

Make sure the entry to the unit is wide enough to accommodate your largest piece of equipment, such as a gas snowblower or a lawn tractor. And once it's inside, there should be plenty of room to spare. Many outdoor storage buildings that are at least 8 feet by 10 feet come with double doors, which usually eliminates this concern. If your shed will sit off the ground, will you need a ramp or steps to get into the shed? Consider access with heavy equipment as well as everyday foot traffic.

9. Decorative Details

Small touches can make a difference. Some outdoor storage buildings come with French doors or cupolas. You can also add your own touches, like window boxes, shutters, or weathervanes. Remember that you’ll have to look at this outdoor storage building every day of your life for the foreseeable future. A few decorative details could make the difference between eyesore and eye-catching.

10. Additional Storage

If the clutter on your property says one unit isn’t enough, but your wallet disagrees, you can supplement your main shed with a less expensive, smaller model. There are three main types of such units: Corner sheds are made to fit precisely into a corner and run about 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep. Vertical sheds are along the lines of 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide by 3 feet deep), while horizontal sheds are more like 3 feet tall by 5 feet wide by 4 feet deep); either may be just the handy outdoor storage building to fill your need for additional space.

Another option is to opt for a slightly larger shed with a storage loft so that you won't need a secondary unit. If you need a place for firewood but don't want to give up interior space for storing it, you can build a lean-to shelter attached to the outside of one of the shed walls.