When my wife asked me to build a garden shed, I thought, “How hard can it be?” But it turned out to be a lot more involved than I thought.
The truth is there’s a lot more to consider when putting a building in your backyard. Like the terrain. Or how far to place it from your property line.
There’s a lot that goes into it, but I hope my story makes the process easier for you.
1. How Are You Planning To Use Your Shed?
A lot of people try to find any old open spot on their property to place their backyard shed. I was no different.
If I put it in the far corner of my backyard, as I first wanted to do, then I’d be pretty mad at myself today.
Luckily, my wife pointed out that I’d have to trek all the way to the back of the house to get my snow blower in the winter.
Now, instead of wading through giant snowdrifts, I walk a few feet to my driveway. It makes clearing the pavement so much easier.
If you’re planning to use your shed as a workshop, keep in mind the need for electricity. Don’t position your accessory building in an area inaccessible to your home’s electricity supply. Otherwise, you’ll need to run a separate line.
Building a shed for office space for yourself is nice. However, remember that you’ll probably want quiet. Don’t build your shed too close to anything that could annoy you, like your outdoor HVAC unit.
If you’re building a shed to store your motorcycle, then make sure you leave enough room for a ramp. It could quickly become annoying to load and unload your bike.
Also, you might want to position it close to the driveway. If you don’t, you may find that your yard suffers damage from moving the bike back and forth across your lawn.
2. Laws and Conventions – Acknowledge Limitations
Do you need a permit?
I was planning to buy a prefab shed from my local hardware store. I didn’t think there was any reason for me to look into permits.
I’m lucky the guy at the hardware store brought it up. I called my city before I bought the building and asked about what I needed.
It turns out, I only needed a permit if I planned to place it on a permanent foundation. They told me it’s not the same everywhere, so make sure to call your city first.
If you don’t get a permit when you need one, they can make you take it down or charge you fines. It’s a mess.
What are your setbacks?
I was unfamiliar with the term “setbacks” when I first started my journey. While on the phone with the city, they made sure to tell me about them, though.
They might have sensed I was new to this.
Anyway, setbacks are all about how far you can build something near your property lines. So, what are the requirements for you shed placement from property lines?
For me, my shed needed to be ten feet from the rear of my property and fifteen from the sides.
So, I couldn’t put my shed too far from my driveway, in this instance, which was fine. It worked out better to have it closer to the house anyway.
Make sure you check with your city first, is all I’m saying. You can find setback distances suggested by the building department online sometimes, as well. You don’t want to have to move it after you build it, right?
How far does a shed have to be from the fence?
Actually, it depends a lot on how tall your shed is going to be. The taller it is, the more distance you have to place it from the fence.
Call your city for the exact measurements, but I got away with fifteen centimeters.
Minimum distance to other buildings
This is also called “building separation.” If you’re asking yourself, “Can I put a shed right next to my house?” then read on.
There are restrictions placed on how close you can build a structure to another on your property. According to the International Zoning Code, which I learned about from a forum, it’s ten feet. This also depends on the fire resistance of the exterior walls, though.
It’s better safe than sorry, so make sure to ask your city about this one, too.
Maximum rear yard coverage allowed
If you’re only building a small garden shed, as I did, then this most likely doesn’t apply to you.
But if you’re looking for a good-sized accessory building to use as an office, listen up. There are limits on gross square footage of any building placed in your backyard.
You’re going to want to make sure to run your plans by the city to make sure you’re blueprints are within the law. In my city, the limit was 120 square feet.
I was well under that, so I didn’t run into problems. But that’s not to say you won’t.
Does your neighborhood homeowners association have rules?
My neighborhood does not have a Homeowners Association, but some of my friends do. Their primary purpose is to maintain or raise property value.
In some cases, an association board may feel that accessory buildings lower the value. When this happened, they may prohibit you from erecting a shed.
In fact, if you go against the restriction and build it anyway, they may even try to sue you.
Regardless of whether or not you have an HOA, it’s still nice to think of your neighbors when building a shed. Try not to block your neighbor’s view when building an accessory building. Communicate with them to make sure the location won’t inconvenience them.
3. Assess Your Terrain
What Kind of Soil
If the soil is loose, like sand, that is going to shift around a lot unless its compacted. If it isn’t properly compacted, your foundation and the accessory building will shift with the sand.
This could affect your shed’s levelness or even cause it to collapse.
Clay is a great soil type to build your accessory building atop. Just make sure it’s level before you build.
Also, remember that clay doesn’t allow moisture to drain well. Make sure that if you’re building on clay, it isn’t in a low-lying area of your property where water might collect.
Rocky soil can be difficult to smooth out and create an even base for your shed. If this is the case, you can build a base off of the ground for the building.
You will need to dig holes for posts, and then build the platform upon the posts. Sometimes, you can still manage to compact and level the soil despite the rocks.
Trees, Their Roots, and Low Branches
If you’ve got massive tree roots in your yard, it’s best to find a place clear of them to build a shed. This is because the tree roots will grow over time and may dislodge your accessory building.
Even if a sapling is growing nearby, remember that it won’t stay that size forever. And, as it grows, so will its root system.
Take care when placing your shed beneath low hanging branches, as well. In storms, they may fall or otherwise damage your shed.
Are there places in your yard that gather a large pool of water? There are in mine.
When I chose to build my shed, I made sure to build it in a place away from the puddles in my yard.
The reason I did that is because, if I placed it somewhere where the drainage was bad, I knew it would get rot. Wood and water aren’t the best of friends, after all.
Keep this in mind when you’re choosing the best location for your backyard shed. If you aren’t sure where the poor drainage spots are, take a walk around after rain.
Or, use a hose and see where the water seems to collect. A pretty safe bet is to avoid anywhere at the bottom of a hill or low-lying area.
Light and Heat
Keeping your shed out of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day is a smart move. Especially if you’re using it as a workshop.
A friend of mine has a shed on his property that he can almost never use for most of the day in the summer.
If the people who built it had placed it a little further to the right, a tree would have provided shade in the summer. But they didn’t think about that.
Slopes, Hills, and Unlevel Ground
This ties in with the soil type I talked about before. Placing the building on any kind of uneven ground is a recipe for disaster.
Why? Because gravity and nature are a lot stronger than your accessory building. At some point, a mixture of erosion and the building’s own weight is going to topple it.
Place it on even ground where it has a strong center of gravity.
Find out where your septic access is and make sure not to build your shed over it. It may seem obvious, but it would surprise you how many people fail to consider this.
They usually realize when it’s too late when they need access to their septic.
“Call before you dig,” is sound advice. Contact your local utilities to make sure the place you’re about to excavate for your shed is safe.
Space for a Ramp
If you’re planning to build a garden shed, take accessibility into account. Imagine loading and unloading your lawn mower from the building.
Do you need a ramp? I did. So, make sure the area you choose leaves enough room for a ramp leading into the building.
It’ll save you some headache and frustration later.
4. What’s the Size of the Shed?
How will the size of the shed affect its location?
I’ve already talked about the guidelines that go along with building height. Depending on height, proximity to property lines change.
But there are other things you might consider, such as its placement to windows. Will it block the view from the kitchen? You know, that view your wife loves.
How about natural light? Is it going to eclipse the morning sun at the breakfast nook? If you’re like me, you like to drink your coffee and read the newspaper in the warm sunshine.
Do you have enough space?
The city might allow you to build an accessory building with a 120 square foot base, but should you? How much room will that leave you with in the backyard?
If you like to play catch with your kids or you pull out the above ground pull every year, you might want to consider this.
Delivery, If You Decide To Buy a Kit or Build Yourself
Most home improvement and hardware stores are happy to assist you in your project. In a lot of cases, they’ll deliver the kit or construction materials right to your property for you.
If you order a prefabricated shed, the Department of Transportation may not allow it to be delivered. This is because of strict regulations when it comes to size limits of the transported item. Make sure to check first, before you buy.
No matter what you choose, as long as it’s a tasteful shed, it may add to your home’s property value. An accessory building with a clear usage is something potential homeowners will appreciate.
So, that’s what I learned from building a shed in my backyard. Now I know to check for permits, for setback requirements, and to make sure I’m not bound by an agreement with an HOA in the future.
I liked sharing what I learned with you today. I hope that it helps your project go smoother.
Did you enjoy this tutorial? If this helped you, or if you have questions, please comment below to let us know!
Eugene has been a DIY enthusiast for most of his life and loves being creative while inspiring creativity in others. He is passionately interested in home improvement, renovation and woodworking. A little more about me.