Hao
Hi, I am Hao (👋): a coder, a woodworker, a blogger, and a father.
Build a backyard shed from scratch
October 24, 2023

The Backstory

When we moved into the house we are currently living two years ago, there was a large vacant land on the side of the house. The shape is abnormal – it’s a triangle. That area was used as a swimming pool until the previous owner decided to sell the house and paid a ton of money to fill the pool, leaving a completely bare soil with nothing growing on. After a rainy winter in the San Francisco Bay area, however, it turns into a mini jungle – vegetarians grow everywhere, mostly Cluster mallow, an edible Chinese weed. We decided to do something to stop it from growing into a real jungle.

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The idea was to remove and control the plants, to build a shed which can hold all my power tools, and to build a small garden around it. I don’t want to build a typical farmhouse-style shed; instead, I prefer the aesthetic appeal of the modern lean-to shed as I don’t want to build a shed-shed, but a shed that can be converted into a small office or a gym, which adds value to the house when we sell it in a few years.

After watching a few YouTube videos on “How to build a shed,” I decided to apply my own instance. There was no hard budget limit, but there was a decent shed on sale at Costco, which had a price tag of around $2,500, and I didn’t want to spend more than that, excluding my hourly rate.

After a few hours researching across Pinterest and playing with Sketchup, I drew some rough designs of the shed:

Shed design

It was an 8x8 shed, with 2 feet added to the facade to create a small porch and some accents. It was inspired by Autonomous work pod. Unlike the regular lean-to shed, there is no overhang on the building. It adds the risk of water intrusion and the complexity of structural implementation, in exchange for a minimal look, but I think it’s worth the trade-off.

After returning from a 3-week vacation in China, I started the building. If you have a 2-year-old like I do, you know how impossible this job looks – during weekdays, I need to work, and during weekends, I need to spend all my time with him. There is just so little time I have to spend on the building job. Fortunately, there was not a single drop of rainwater during the entire summer and fall, which seemed like a dream world in the construction world.

Foundation

It is hard to believe that there are more than 13 options for a shed foundation. The most popular choice would be to build a concrete slab. Prepare the ground, lay out a rectangle shape of lumber on it, and pour the concrete, then it’s done. Despite its straightforward nature, I didn’t like this idea. First of all, it’s not a one-man job. As a starter, I deeply doubted if I am capable of mixing 50 plus bags of concrete. Surely, I can order mixed concrete on trucks, but it adds so much complexity and uncertainties, such as late delivery. Remember, I have an energetic 2-year-old? As a parent, I need flexibility. I can also hire some concrete guys to do the work for me, but that means over-budget. Also, I recently watched a video from YouTube explaining how the concrete industry is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. Last but not least, a concrete slab makes the 8x8 small shed a permanent structure, which I dislike very much – who likes permanent stuff?

I also skipped some other popular options such as a gravel pad (too difficult), skids (look unreliable), etc. As a final decision, I chose to use deck blocks, mostly because I already had 8 of them, and they are cheap and sturdy (around $9 each block).

I used 12 blocks, hoping to distribute the weight as evenly as possible. After all, it’s only an 8x8 footprint, using more than 12 blocks sounds like overkill to me. I didn’t do any math to support myself, but the Autonomous pod only uses 6 blocks and it’s larger than my design. I think it will be fine. The lumber is pressure treated 2x6x8, and I added tape on the top side to extend its longevity.

Digging 12 holes and making them level is one of the most challenging tasks for this job. The ground is not even, so each hole is different in depth. Not to mention that this is a 2-dimensional measurement, making it more difficult to level. Plus, this summer is one of the warmest in history, so I could only work in the morning. But, eventually, it’s all done.

Foundation design and actual

The block decks were placed in the holes, and the surroundings were filled with leftover white gravel. Technically, they are decorative garden stones, so it was a bit of a waste. Also, I had to move some maple trees I planted a year ago and replan some gardening irrigation pipes. The entire foundation job took me nearly a month to complete.

Framing

All framing used in this project is 2x4. The bottom plates are pressure-treated, and the rest are normal lumber. Since it’s a lean-to shed, it has a shorter wall and a taller wall. For the shorter wall, the height is 7’, and the taller ones are 9’. The 2’ difference makes it look good and provides enough angle for the roof for drainage.

Framing design and actual

There is no overhang, but I still plan to add fascia boards to both the short and tall walls so that it has a closed roof. Also, the water doesn’t have to flow down along the wall and cause potential water intrusion. Needless to say, waterproofing work will be essential in every step after framing.

The completed frame, to my surprise, was very rocky. I read online that this is normal and that it will be much better after the siding is installed.

Siding/Roofing

I came across a huge debate on whether I should use OSB boards as a base wall and then add siding on top of it. Again, it seemed to be overkill for a small shed. But I then realized that I had made too many compromises. As the wise man said, too many compromises make things dull. With that in mind, I made another compromise. I decided to add the siding directly on the building paper, which is actually printed in the T-11 siding’s installation manual.

Collage maker

The siding installation process was very challenging. It’s big and heavy. It’s hardly a one-person job, but since I have few friends, I had to do it myself. I think this is the point where things start to go wrong. As mentioned earlier, the framing is rocky, so when I installed the heavy sidings, it was nearly impossible for me to make sure the walls were squared. I tried some techniques, such as using a temporary block as a second hand. After all the sweat, this is all I could do. The taller wall is okay, but the shorter wall is not perfectly square. Now when I am writing this post, I think I should have redone the siding to make sure the walls are square, which could save me lots of trouble in the following steps.

The roofing installation was my biggest concern before I started the building. But it turned out to be a relatively easy process. It’s just the harsh sun that I needed to stand.

Exterior walls/windows/final touch

It’s almost done! Just some final touches.

The following are the final look. The entire project took me four months from the end of May to the end of the summer in 2023. I am pretty happy with the result, although many say it’s a bit small for a shed.

I started to use this shed as my wood workshop and moved all my tools from the garage to it, saving lots of space, and I don’t have to worry about the noise.

Collage maker (1)