Everything You Need to Know About Storage Sheds and Permits

smartly finished garden storage shed

Storage sheds come in many different styles, shapes, and sizes. Whether you're building one yourself, buying it pre-fab, or hiring someone to build or install it, there are a lot of options to suit any budget or skillset.

Your location and the type of shed you want to build are the main factors that determine whether you need a building permit, but there are many other nuances.

This article will go over what you need to consider before buying a shed and whether you need a permit.

Types of Sheds

If you're building a shed yourself, you can customize it to be the shed of your dreams, making it whatever shape, size, or style you want. Make a list of all the uses your shed must provide to help you decide what type of shed you should build.

Some people merely need a place to store a lawnmower and some garden tools, or patio cushions. The need for a shed gets bigger when a home doesn't come with a garage. Sheds can take the place of garages, and may be large enough to fit all of your seasonal items, but they generally aren't used for storing cars.

Big box hardware stores and independent retailers will have a lot of choices when it comes to prefabricated sheds, especially for different budgets. Walk around a few different stores to see what they sell, and at what price. Often, their best-sellers will be on display either in front of the store, or somewhere inside.

The most popular shed styles are:

Gable or A-Frame

The A-frame shed is the most popular style because the design is simple, yet effective. The pointed roof allows for a little extra head space, and makes it look like a mini-house. This makes it affordable, easy to design, and low maintenance.

Barn or Gambrel

The gambrel style shed is a gable and hip roof in one. Each side has two slopes; one shallow, and one steep. This allows for even more headspace, and gives it a classic barn aesthetic.

Slanted Roof

Also called a "lean-to" or sloped roof, these are often designed so that the taller part of the roof line is attached to another building, allowing for an integrated design where rain and snow can easily fall away. They can be stand-alone, as well, and have a modern look to them.

Horizontal Sheds

This type of shed is going to be more wide than tall, and may only be used for storing tools, garbage, or seasonal items without needing the extra space for someone to walk inside. They come in different sizes, but are mainly 3-feet tall by 5-feet wide.

Vertical Sheds

Similar to the horizontal shed, these are mainly used for storage and utility but will be taller than they are wide. Great for tools with long handles, and for accessing items without bending over. Standard measurements are 5-feet tall by 3-feet wide.

wood shed

Shed Materials

Sheds are made of various materials but the most popular are resin, vinyl, metal, and wood. Resin and vinyl are both hard plastics that you'll generally find on prefabricated sheds. They are durable enough to withstand various weather, and easy to assemble, but vinyl will last longer than resin.

Metal sheds are also durable, low-maintenance structures, but may be the least aesthetically pleasing. They tend to be no frills, and slightly more difficult to construct or fix.

Wood sheds will be the strongest and easiest to customize, especially if you want to add windows or sections along the way. They can be painted, stained, or made out of weather-resistant wood species like cedar or pressure-treated lumber.

Storage Shed Permits

Before you build or purchase a shed, check your local zoning bylaw to see what restrictions there are on shed sizes. States will have rules about total square footage allowed, but every municipality will have its own code regarding building permits, site restrictions, and other nuanced details.

For example, if you live in Las Vegas, you need a permit for any shed over 200-square feet, but if you live in California, most counties require a permit for any shed over 120-square feet. That's a big difference in allowance.

Individual counties will have even more specific rules regarding overall measurements, and while permit restrictions will differ from one area to another, they're all based on the International Building Code (IBC).

Your HOA may have rules regarding sheds, as well. If you want to add anything to the shed, like electrical or plumbing, or if there is a certain intended use outside of general storage (for business or as a living space), this may also constitute a permit.

Building a Shed vs Buying One

There are a few different methods to having a shed built or installed. A convenient option is to buy a shed prefabricated from a big box store or retailer, and pay them to install it, as well. With delivery costs, this is the most expensive option because you are buying the product, and paying for the labor.

The second option is to buy a shed and install it yourself. You can save a lot of money on labor, as installation costs vary between $60-100 per square foot. For simple resin sheds that would only take a few hours to assemble, a contractor or handyperson may give you a cheaper flat rate of around $300-500.

Customized work will always cost more, depending on the style you want, as well as overall square footage, unless your design is simple. An a-frame or basic rectangular storage shed built from raw materials may be the most economical choice for hiring someone to build it.

Shed kits are the most DIY-friendly option for homeowners since you don't need the number of tools you would for a custom job, nor the experience. Two people will a little bit of DIY knowledge could put together a small resin, metal, or wood shed in a weekend.

It's your responsibility to do any due diligence before construction happens, even if you've hired someone to do the work. If a contractor says they'll take care of permits or that they know the bylaw, remember it's your home and your money. A quick call or stop-in to chat with a local building official is worth the time.

Storage Shed FAQ

large shed under construction

What is the biggest shed you can build without a permit?

Each state and municipality will have its own restrictions on how large a shed can be before you need a permit. Always check with your local ordinance before buying or building a shed to see what will require a building permit, as well as any other site restrictions.

What size shed is 120 square feet?

A 10-foot x 12-foot shed equals 120 square feet. To get total square footage, multiply the height and the width. For example, if a shed is 8-feet tall and 10-feet wide, multiply 8x10, which gives you a total of 80 square feet.

How far does a shed need to be from property lines?

Restrictions on where you can build your shed include distance from property lines, including from the front, rear, and side property lines. Rules will vary by city or county, so check with your local building department.

What is the biggest shed you can have?

Your local building department will be able to answer all of your questions regarding size limitations and restrictions on the shed you'd like to build. Even with a permit, there still may be rules against how big you can build your shed.

Is it cheaper to build a shed or buy one?

Generally speaking, it's cheaper to build a shed yourself than buy one if you are constructing a simple structure out of wood. For any customized work, paying a contractor will cost more than buying a shed kit from a hardware store and assembling it yourself.

How close to a fence can you build a shed?

There are restrictions on where you can build your shed and how close it can be to property lines and fences. Rules will vary by city or county, so check with your local building department.

What is considered a large shed?

Large sheds are generally 10-ft x 10-ft or bigger. Large shed kits and prefab sheds come in various sizes, but the most popular are 8-ft x 12-ft, 10-ft x 12-ft, 12-ft x 16-ft,12-ft x 20-ft, and 12-ft x 28-ft. Large sheds can also be custom-built to whatever size you want, as long as it's built to code.

What is the difference between a shed and a storage building?

Sheds and storage buildings serve the same purpose, but differ in size and construction. Sheds are often much smaller than storage buildings, since they are meant for storing seasonal items for single residences. Storage buildings are larger and meant for commercial storage use or for large operations like farms.

How much should a 12x16 shed cost?

On average, a 12-ft x 16-ft shed will cost between $2000-8000. The overall price will depend on many factors, including materials, design, and who is doing the building. Labor costs for building sheds start around $50/hour and make up a large amount of the total cost including materials.

What size shed is most cost effective?

A 10-ft x12-ft shed is the most cost-effective shed in terms of the amount of space you get for the cost of materials. Since lumber comes in ten and twelve feet lengths, you have little cutting to do, and less waste. 8-ft x10-ft is another cost-effective shed size. Small sheds will be the cheapest sheds you can buy pre-built.

Do I need a concrete slab for a storage shed?

A concrete slab will provide the best foundation for any shed, but it's especially recommended for larger sheds that will house vehicles or heavy equipment. If you are building or installing a small or medium-size shed, a level surface with a plywood or gravel foundation is all you need.

Do storage sheds need vents?

Storage sheds must have vents built in to allow proper airflow to prevent mold, moisture build-up, and fumes. It's recommended that there are two vents near the roof and two at ground level every 50 square feet.

How much value does a storage shed add to a house?

A small or medium-sized shed will not increase the value of your home, but it can add to the overall curb appeal. A large shed adds value to a small home since it increases storage opportunities, especially if it can be used as extra living space.

What is the life expectancy of a storage shed?

The life expectancy of sheds depends on the materials used and the quality of craftsmanship. In general, wood sheds should last 20-25 years, metal should last 20-25 years, vinyl sheds can last 25-30 years, and resin sheds will only last 5-7 years.

How do I choose a shed?

The type of shed you should choose depends on what you want to store inside it. If you have lots of bikes and other sports equipment, plus lawn and yard tools you may need a medium-to-large size shed. Smaller storage sheds will suffice if you merely need to store patio cushions and a few seasonal items.

What size shed do I need?

Generally speaking, larger sheds suit larger yards, but it depends on what you need to store. If you have a riding lawnmower, consider how much space it will take up, especially if you want to store other items. 12-ft x 16-ft sheds will be good for big backyards, whereas 8-ft x 10-ft sheds suit medium-sized yards.

Will a lawnmower fit in a shed?

Small, compact riding lawnmowers can fit inside a 6-ft x 8-ft shed, but just because you can get them in easily doesn't mean they will come out easily.

Give yourself enough space when considering storing any size lawnmower, including a walk-behind mower. You want to be able to put the mower in and take it back out without moving other objects around each time.

Choosing a shed doesn't have to be complicated. If you want a large shed, call your city ordinance to see what the restrictions are. For smaller and medium-sized sheds, you still want to make sure there are set far enough away from property lines as per code.

One quick call or search on your city's website can be all you need to start building the shed of your dreams—or at least a good place to store your garbage bins.