Building a shed is a great way to create extra space for a multitude of purposes. Plus, they can be built on almost any type of ground, provided you prepare site for shed properly. If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help!
Start by checking your local regulations and building code governing sheds, and any HOA covenants if applicable. Call or click to check for underground utilities or services, evaluate your property and choose a site, and check soil type and quality. Clear any brush and ground cover and stake the corners. Choose the type of foundation best suited for the lay of the land, shed type, purpose, and your skill set.
In this guide, we’ll explain why shed site preparation is important and all the steps involved in preparing the site before building. We’ll discuss if the ground needs to be level, if the shed can sit directly on dirt or gravel, and how much shed site prep can cost. We’ll also identify how to find a shed site prep contractor near you. Our aim is to provide you with a complete guide to preparing a site for your shed.
- Why Site Preparation for Shed Installation Is Important?
- Can You Put a Shed Directly on Dirt or Grass?
- Do You Need to Level the Ground for a Shed?
- How to Prepare the Ground Before Building or Installing a Shed
- Should You Put Gravel Under Shed?
- Shed Site Prep Cost
- How to Find Shed Site Preparation Contractors Near Me?
Why Site Preparation for Shed Installation Is Important?
Whether building a man cave, She-shed, guest cabin, play space for the kids, office, or just a place to store yard and garden tools, you want to choose and prepare the site with care. The type and size of the shed can affect the location and site prep, but in most situations, the location is the key. Look at your land and determine where you want it and how accessible it needs to be.
Consider the lay of the land, does your yard sit level or slope this way or that? Does water pool or are there underground utilities or a septic bed somewhere? Do you need to call or click before you dig?
Are there any local building code or HOA restrictions or requirements to consider? Do you want the shed near the house or far away, will it have utility hookups or not? You haven’t even gotten started, and you’ve got a headache!
Take a deep breath and relax; we’re here to help! If the site you’ve picked is wet or damp, or the ground uneven, sloped, or rocky, that just means you may need to do some extra work. Alternatively, plan for a raised foundation to lift the shed above the moisture or uneven ground. Ground prep needn’t be costly or backbreaking, but it is important as it sets everything up for the foundation and the shed.
You don’t want your shed on damp ground and rotting out or tilting as it settles over time. Nor do you want to have to move it or tear it down due to HOA or code violations, or because it restricts access to underground utilities.
Site prep isn’t just the physical work. It’s also the legwork to check that the site you’ve chosen, shed design, and usage meet local building codes, HOA requirements, and won’t interfere with anything underground.
The type of shed, usage, and lay of the land tie together as part of the planning and site prep. The loads the shed may exert on the ground can affect the choice of foundation, as does the lay of the land.
Will the site work for an on-grade foundation or a permanent one? An on-grade foundation is easy to remove if you no longer need the shed, whereas a permanent foundation takes much more work to build and to later remove.
Careful planning and preparation of the site are essential for both on-grade and raised foundations. Whether a gravel pad, footings with walls, slab-on-grade, deck blocks, posts, piers, screw piles, or skids, site preparation is vital to the leveling and stability of the shed.
Shed site prep is about planning and getting the ground ready for the shed, as well as complying with Code or HOA requirements.
Can You Put a Shed Directly on Dirt or Grass?
Placing your shed directly on the dirt or grass can cause a number of problems. Ground moisture and runoff can cause mold, mildew, and rot. The ground can settle under the weight of the shed making it difficult to open or close doors or windows too.
Preparing the site so the shed doesn’t sit directly on the grass or dirt and allowing airflow underneath, helps prevent moisture damage. Laying a moisture barrier is also a good deterrent too.
Some plastic sheds can sit directly on the ground, but since most lawns aren’t perfectly level or smooth, some groundwork is often needed. It should be noted that dampness can still seep in and damage metal, cardboard, and other organic materials stored inside.
Some manufacturers and retailers do state their products can sit directly on the dirt or grass. However, it’s better to do some site prep first to create a level base that includes a moisture barrier.
Do You Need to Level the Ground for a Shed?
The type of shed and foundation determine if the ground needs to be level before building. It is, though, advisable to have a level surface upon which to build but that doesn’t mean having to level the ground. Posts, piers, deck blocks, and other foundation types are commonly used to create a level surface upon which to build.
A plastic, metal, or wooden shed that requires a patio stone or concrete floor, however, does require the ground to be reasonably level. A shed built on skids or raised 6 or more inches above the ground may be easier to build if the ground is somewhat level underneath too. Sheds can also be built on sloped or rough uneven ground without the ground being smoothed or leveled.
How to Prepare the Ground Before Building or Installing a Shed
Preparing to build or install a shed begins with planning and site preparation. The size and type of shed determine how much preparation is required. A prefab shed may require more clearing and preparation than one that is built on-site since delivery and placement also need to be considered. Using the following steps will help prepare a site for a shed and will get your build off to a solid start.
1. Consult Local Regulations and Building Codes
A good place to start your build is to check local building codes and HOA requirements. The code will identify restrictions and what sizes need a building permit, while HOA covenants can be very restrictive. It is the owner’s responsibility to obtain a permit if one is required, and to get HOA approval if necessary.
Building codes commonly address the size of the shed, its purpose, whether electricity or other utilities are permissible, and the placement. They often also cover anchoring in areas of severe weather, attachment to other buildings, foundation type, and even the distance from trees, fences, property lines, pools, and other objects.
HOA covenants often restrict the size and height, location, landscaping, fences, lattice, and windows. They also commonly restrict paint, siding, shingle color choices, and other aesthetic requirements too. Some even require a permanent foundation so the shed stays when you move.
Building codes and HOA requirements vary from location to location, so it’s best to check before you begin.
2. Choose the Type of Shed Foundation
The type of foundation may be determined by the local building code or HOA covenants. A site evaluation, shed size, type, and purpose may narrow down foundation options quickly too. The important thing to remember is that the foundation type needs to create a safe, stable, solid, and level surface or platform upon which to build or platform for your shed.
The foundation supports the shed and its contents and transfers the weight to the ground while protecting it from groundwater and runoff. The type of foundation needs to provide a solid level base. So, even if the ground is spongy, wet, has soil or drainage issues, slopes one way or another, or is rocky or uneven, the base needs to be solid and level. Some foundation types require a building permit, so if you need a permit, get one.
Popular shed foundations for level or near-level ground include a gravel pad in a timber frame, concrete pavers, concrete slab, and plastic grid or foundation. Common elevated foundations or those for uneven ground are concrete blocks, deck blocks, skids, kits from a manufacturer, concrete piers and beams, post and beam, and screw piles. There are numerous others or combinations of two or more types.
3. Site Evaluation
The purpose of the shed and its size needs to be considered in the site evaluation, as does the topography and access. Drainage, soil type, and utilities, along with prevailing winds and orientation to the sun are also factors to consider. You may also want to place the shed in a specific location based on purpose, land usage, and/or aesthetics.
Determine one or two locations where you’d like or need the shed to go. Check code and HOA requirements, drainage, and soil quality and type. Determine if there are underground utilities or obstructions, and identify access routes to shed doors.
The sun and wind exposure can cool or warm the shed, or bury it in the snow. Orientation to wind and sun can also affect roof slope design, and window and door placement.
Access to the front and back of the house may be desirable. However, you may want it placed, so it is invisible from the front of the property and unobtrusive to the back. If you want electrical power in the shed, that is another consideration.
A small shed may be easier to place and ‘hide’ than a larger one, but may not suit the purpose. Once you’ve decided on a site or two, it’s time to make sure it is doable for creating a level base.
4. Call or Click Before You Dig
Gas, water, telephone, cable, and sewer lines can all be underground and need to be accessible for maintenance and repair, so there are typically clearances required for access. To ensure there are no underground utilities that may interfere with where you want your shed (or even to plant a tree), contact your local utilities. There’s usually a phone number or email address available online or at the bottom of your utility bill.
In most situations, you’ll get a response within 3 or 5 business days providing you with a date someone will be out to locate and identify lines. Unfortunately, this can range from 2 to 4 weeks depending on the time of year and your location, which can delay your build.
Some utilities are marked on property drawings or at property lines, especially if there is a right-of-way, however, most aren’t. It’s always better to call or click before you dig, otherwise you may not be able to.
5. Check Soil
Good drainage and firm soil are especially important for larger sheds or those containing heavy contents. Runoff, poor drainage, and subsurface water, combined with slope and soil quality can cause support structures or floors to rot.
The shed may settle and tip or sink, making doors or windows difficult to open or close. Soil quality and content, as well as depth, also affect structural stability. Soil issues usually don’t prohibit shed foundation construction, they just add to the ease or complexity of making a level base for the shed.
Soft clay soils can hold moisture and offer limited support and can freeze and expand, damaging foundations. Expansive clay can expand with moisture and then shrink when dry. Expansion can damage or move foundational supports while shrinkage can cause excessive settling.
Granular or mixed sandy soils have good drainage and load-bearing ability. Pure sand drains well but is also susceptible to erosion. Limestone ledges or granite, whether solid or fractured, can also cause building problems.
6. Plan and Mark the Site
Once you’ve decided where you’d like the shed, drive stakes to mark the corners. Consider adding 2 or 3 feet to each dimension to identify the space around the perimeter for clearing and building purposes. Remove brush, trees, roots, grass, other organic material, and debris from the area to make site evaluation and work easier.
Identifying the location with stakes also identifies where to check for underground utilities and to determine soil quality and slope. It also makes it easier to determine the type of shed foundation needed. Remember to consider shed orientation, door access, and sun and wind exposure when marking the site.
7. Level and Compact Ground
Once the site has been staked and cleared, underground utilities identified, permits acquired (if necessary), and soil quality ascertained, it’s time to review the foundation type. Level or almost level ground is ideal for on or near-ground sheds, while irregular or steep ground often requires a foundation that provides a raised level base.
Many contractors and DIYers will remove grass and other organic material prior to leveling the ground. They also often build a level frame of pressure-treated timber around the site. The frame provides a level reference and can be used to hold or frame a gravel pad, pavers, concrete pad, or other low-level foundation.
When preparing an area for a pad, ensure the ground is free of organic material, and compact any loose soil. Also, compact sand or gravel as it is spread. A manual or power compacter can be rented and makes for a more solid base.
If the ground is too steep for a low-level foundation, determine the type of foundation best suited to the location and your skill set, unless relying on professionals. Post and beam, pillars, deck blocks or pads, or other materials that can be used and upon which to build and support a level platform can be used. The ground doesn’t need to be level or compacted but should be free of organic material if possible.
Should You Put Gravel Under Shed?
Sheds that will be placed on or near the ground should have a gravel base under them. The gravel helps provide a level base, offers good drainage, and protects the shed base from moisture. It is recommended that the gravel be 4 to 6 inches thick and extend 12 to 36 inches beyond the perimeter of the shed.
The extra gravel area offers protection from roof runoff and provides drier storage along the shed’s exterior walls. Many professionals often place garden cloth under the gravel to prevent vegetation growth too.
Gravel is also used to provide drainage and a level base for poured concrete pads. The use of gravel or sand under pavers is common practice for the same reasons too. If using deck blocks, solid or hollow concrete blocks, or even posts and beams or piles, spreading garden cloth and gravel is helpful too.
Put them in place once the supports or posts are up and leveled, and before the shed is built. They provide drainage, prevent ground cover growth, discourage animals, and provide a clean dry location under the shed for additional storage.
Shed Site Prep Cost
Shed site prep costs vary greatly depending on the type of foundation required and the size of the shed. The purpose or how the shed will be used, how level the ground is, who is doing the work, and where you live also need to be considered.
Plus, permits, setbacks, easements, site access, and footprint size can affect the cost too. The footprint is the shed size plus additional space around the perimeter, so it may or may not add to the cost.
A DIYer placing and leveling a wooden frame, removing the grass or other vegetation within it, laying down ground cloth, and spreading gravel is one of the least expensive options. Clearing ground cover, setting, and leveling 4 to 8 deck blocks or concrete blocks and no gravel is less expensive, though. However, using cedar posts you cut yourself or large stones dry stacked is even less expensive. Hiring the pros will significantly add to the cost.
Preparing a level site can cost between $0 a square foot for a home-sourced base, $5 for a DIY gravel base, and $9 for a concrete and gravel base. Hiring others to do the work typically doubles the costs, so $10 a square foot for gravel and $18 a square foot for a concrete base.
Preparing an elevated base for uneven ground will usually range around the same values per square foot. Footings and retaining walls, depending on materials and type of fill, will typically be more expensive.
How to Find Shed Site Preparation Contractors Near Me?
There are numerous ways to find a site prep contractor in your area. Word of mouth, asking at a local shed supplier or lumber yard, the internet, neighbors who have sheds, local information boards, Craig’s List, and even the old yellow pages.
Most stores that manufacture or sell sheds often have a number of contractors who do prep work that you can contact too. However, always ask for and check references.
A backyard shed has many purposes and is a great investment, however, like all structures, it requires a well-prepared level base or foundation. Preparing a site for a shed, whether DIY or a contractor job, involves some simple steps before the shed is delivered or built. No matter who is doing the work, it is the property owner’s responsibility to check for local restrictions, building code requirements, HOA covenants, and underground utilities or services.
Once you know of any restrictions or requirements and if there’s anything underground to avoid, choose a site for the shed. Clear the building site of any brush or ground cover, and check for drainage issues and the soil quality for strength.
Stake the location, choose the type of foundation best suited for the lay of the land, shed size, purpose, and your skill set if doing the job yourself. Once you have a level base, you’re ready for your shed. Hopefully, our guide has been helpful in your shed site planning and preparation.