Choosing a garden shed

With sensible selection and siting, even the most humble shed can enhance a gardens appearance, as well as fulfilling the practical need for storage.

Existing building, a well-sited and thoughtfully designed storage shed is an asset to any garden.

Considering new structures

Purpose If the shed is intended only for storing tools, it can be small, unheated and windowless. For working or keeping plants in, you need windows and ventilation. For storing fruits and vegetables, insulation and ventilation are required. (Some kit sheds are divided into a store and workshop, with doors and windows and an adjustable separating wall.) Style Dark or neutral colours, simple materials and clean lines are safest. White or pale buildings draw attention to themselves and, unless immaculate, look grubby.

If money allows, consider a ‘period piece’ – a second-hand brick, pitched-roof shed with ornamental ridge tiles in a Victorian garden, for example; or a wooden shed topped by a weathervane in a country setting.

Most sheds are rectangular or square in plan, though three-cornered styles are available. Most have ridged (apex) or pent roofs.

Some garden structures, such as arches and pergolas, are built for their beauty and for supporting climbing plants; others, such as summer houses and gazebos, make a garden more enjoyable for relaxation, as well as being ornamental. Such structures often form the focal point of many a dream garden. Though few peo-ple dream of garden sheds, they are still vital for storing tools, the lawnmower, rubber boots, garden furniture, flowerpots, potting composts and garden chemicals.

Materials depend on taste, budget, availability and surroundings. Kit sheds are made in various combinations of timber, pre-coated aluminium, plastic-coated or galvanised steel and fibreglass. Purpose-built buildings can also be made of brick, stone or even flint. In rural gardens, black-painted corrugated metal is an in-offensive and cheap material in keeping with the countryside. Size depends on the size of your garden and budget, and the in-tended position of the structure, as well as the intended use. A shed 1.8×1.5m (6x5ft) has room for storage shelves and a work surface, but not for a permanent work bench. For a workshop, check that there is adequate headroom, too.

Location depends on the size and layout of your garden. In small gardens, options are limited. Try not to create ‘dead’ space – nar-row, useless passages between the shed and a wall, for example. If you intend to enlarge the shed at a later date (some kits are sold as add-on modules), be sure that there is enough space to do this. Level, firm ground, well away from tree roots, is essential. Choose a light, airy position, especially if you intend to work or keep plants in it. Sheds cast a shadow up to five times their height in winter, less in summer, so try not to overshadow a patio, for example. On the positive side, a well-sited shed can create shelter and privacy, block an eyesore or close a wind tunnel.

In large gardens, utility buildings are usually out of sight of the house. In average plots, however, sheds are often put at the end of the garden, which makes them a dominant focal point seen from the house. But a shed tucked against the house is less obtrusive, benefits from the shelter and, if it is south- or west-facing, from the warmth of the sun. Lean-to structures are also cheaper than freestanding ones.

Avoid siting a shed where it could annoy neighbours, and make sure that there is, or will be, a hard surface leading to the door. Planning permission may be needed, depending on the shed’s location, size, the height and shape of its roof and whether you live in a listed building or conservation area.

Security is important if valuable equipment or garden chemicals are stored. The building must have a lock and be childproof.

Kit-form buildings

There are dozens of kit-form sheds available, so visit a large garden centre where samples are on display and send for catalogues. Compare prices carefully, as some include locks, glass and so on, while in others these are optional extras. Some suppliers will assemble a kit shed for an extra charge.

Materials

Most sheds are made of timber cladding fixed to a timber frame. The timber is usually softwood -larch, redwood, whitewood or Western red cedar – which is less expensive than hardwood, such as oak, sweet chestnut or iroko, but shorter-lived.

All but the cedar need treating with a wood preservative. The cedar will weather to a silvery grey; treat it with a special cedar preservative in order to retain the reddish tone.

Cladding is usually of horizontal, overlapping weatherboarding – sometimes rustic – or of interlocked tongueand-groove boarding. Overlapping tends to be cheaper, but is less windproof, and the slats may warp, split or slip. Exterior-grade plywood sheets are sometimes used as cladding.

Doors, windows, ventilation

Some manufacturers of large sheds offer a choice of door positions, but ridged sheds usually have the door at one end. Most shed doors are ledged and braced, and hung on two or three ‘T’ hinges. (Sliding doors are fine on aluminium sheds but can warp and jam on wooden ones.) Widths range from 75-100cm (2Vi-3ft).

Windows, especially ‘wrapround’ ones, make for a pleasant work space. They can, however, create heat problems in summer, although in winter a south- or west-facing window helps counteract cold and damp. Heat loss in winter is another potential problem, though the windows can be lined with polythene sheets.

At least one window should open; manufacturers offer various combinations of fixed and opening windows. Top-hinged windows have an advantage over sliding ones – they can be left open in the rain for ventilation. Glass or translucent PVC roof panels can be optional extras. Windowless sheds can be ventilated by louvres or holes drilled in the floor or just under the roof space.

Foundation and floors

On firm, level ground a shed can rest on paving slabs or brick bearers, but on soft ground (or for a large shed), you will need a solid slab foundation of concrete over hardcore, with the bearers and floor resting on top.

Mini-sheds

Mini-toolsheds for rakes, spades, hoses and small hand tools can be built on the principle of a tall, narrow broom cupboard against an external wall. Alternatively, a low, long, deep storage unit – rather like an old-fashioned sideboard -built against a house wall provides a work surface, seating and storage. Waterproofing and security are as important with mini-tool-sheds as large ones, especially if chemicals are stored.

Existing buildings You may have an old shed or outhouse in your garden, suitable for immediate use or conversion. A survey will reveal whether or not structural support, waterproofing or insulation is needed. If the estimated conversion costs are high and the structure lacks character, it may be better to start afresh.

More manageable alterations might include knocking a window into a windowless shed – to make working in it more pleasant and to allow you to overwinter nearly hardy plants and start seeds off in spring. You may also decide to lay on a power and water supply to provide heat, light and the means to brew an occasional cup of tea.

For a basically sound building, possible cosmetic improvements might include a fresh coat of paint or rendering to conceal unsightly material or patches. An alternative or additional option is to fix wires or trelliswork to the wall and grow climbers.

More costly treatment includes using brick or stone which matches existing hard surfaces to make a visual link between the converted building and the rest of the garden. Extending a brick wall could hide an unattractive shed; stone paving could ‘flow’ from the garden into the newly-created work space, giving a sense of continuity.

A final point to bear in mind when choosing a garden shed is that some small kit sheds can be taken apart and moved to a more suitable position if the original siting was wrong or your garden layout has changed.

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