Sheds are incredibly handy for storing everything from power tools to canoe paddles but having a falling apart old shed can be miserable. We had an old failing metal shed that desperately needed replacing and we needed to do whatever we could on a slim budget to make a newer, cleaner and much more modern design. Much of what we did here is unique to our situation but I'm hoping you can take our philosophies and general guidelines in mind when building your own outbuilding. Our total budget for this project was under $200 and we also added a Super Simple Solar Lighting setup which was around $75. Obviously your experience will vary depending on your resources and what you can salvage and recycle.
Step 1: Sourcing Materials and Design
This is the single most important step in the process and will determine ultimately what your shed will look like and how it will function.
The most important thing to remember when using recycled materials is to be safe. Much older lumber is painted with lead based paint and can be toxic and pressure treated wood also has some nasty stuff in it. Reused metal can have some sharp edges and recycled wood can have hidden nails so its always important to be super diligent when using reclaimed materials.
The second most important step is the be flexible with your design, be creative with what you have at hand and learn to work with what materials you are able to source. If you are buying lumber off the shelf than it comes in standard lengths and your building designs become predictable. With found materials you will be working with random sizes and you need to do your best to use your materials wisely and creatively. For example our shed is an odd size because we were able to salvage some random sized wood. We combined the Sourcing Materials and Design steps here because the materials that we sourced literally dictated the size and shape of our building.
Our third great tip is to be your own best recycler. We didn't just tear down our old crappy metal shed and throw it away, we were able to recycle much of the floor joists and metal siding and rethink it into the new design. We used paint, plywood, corrugated metal and even tyvek house wrap all left over from other projects.
Our fourth great tip is the find the materials you need in a wide variety of ways. We are blessed to have some fantastic used house parts stores in our area like Second Use Seattle, but we were able to source our materials in a many ways. Be patient and take your time finding what you need. Craigslist is an excellent resource as well as just finding stuff on the side of the road. Some of our wood was even found washed up on the beach. Be thoughtful, creative and resourceful and you will be rewarded with great materials and ultimately a great design.
Step 2: Tools
We have a lot of tools at our disposal and we used everything from a nail gun to a compound miter saw to speed this process. However most of this could be done with just a handful of tools and I would encourage keeping it simple.
Circular Saw with a carpenter's square
power drill with various bits
Step 3: Where We Didn't Recycle
There are many areas where we have demonstrated the use of recycled and frugal use of materials but one area we don't skimp on is hardware. Hardware is what holds this whole thing together and it's important to use the right piece and grade for the right job. You can do your wallet a favor and stock up on the hardware like basic nails and screws that you will be using for many different projects.
The good news is that at the end of this project you should have an awesome new shed that will be a great place to store all of your extra hardware and tools for use on your future recycled projects!
Don't forget to check out our Super Simple Solar Lighting where you can learn to add a basic but durable solar lighting setup to this shed for about $75.
Step 4: Foundation
Foundations are important but try to remember that this is just a shed. Many people will dig foundation holes below the frost line and pour concrete footers reinforced with rebar. We however had a pile of pier blocks that were dying to be used for something like this. The disadvantage of just building on top of pier blocks is that they are susceptible to sinking in wet weather and frost heaves. The advantage is that they are easy to fix (just put a car jack under a sagging corner and place in some shims) and the shed can even be easily moved if need be. You can even use four pieces of recycled cement for this purpose, we have done this in the past with great results. It is important to keep the shed up off the ground.
We were able to salvage much of the Pressure Treated lumber from our old shed by cutting off the rotten ends and saving the middle parts of the boards. Make sure you get your framing square and level on your pier blocks.
We then built our decking from some recycled 100 year old barn wood. Since this section won't be exposed to the weather you have a lot of choices on what you can salvage.
Step 5: Framing
We went crazy at this point and purchased a load of 2x3's and a few 2x4's to frame out the walls. 2x3's are plenty structurally sound for building shed walls in our climate and they offer the bonus of giving a few more inches of space on an interior and are usually cheaper than 2x4's. Since our shed is shorter than the standard 8' boards we used the extra pieces cut at 45 degrees to reinforce the corners. Normally this wouldn't be structurally necessary as the exterior plywood gives lateral stability. But since we were using very random sized recycled plywood I thought this would help add stability.
We found a door at a recycling center and framed that in at this time since door openings are often tricky to work with and made a slight tilt to our roof for shedding water. Our climate is mild and snow is rare so you would probably want more of a tilt in other climates. We also tilted ours to the south since we would later be adding a solar setup.
Sheds are rarely very tall, our framing is 7 feet at the highest point. This will help keep your design more accessibly sized AND keep down any excessive use of materials. There are many great instructables that can help you through basic framing, I liked the framing section in How to build a garage from the ground up by jmengel if you need to learn basic framing design.
I actually framed this out by myself but this is one of those jobs that would be a lot easier with a friend to help hold things. You should be regularly measuring between corners to make sure everything is square and this is also much easier with two people.
Remember to keep your design MODERN with basic shapes and lack of adornment. This will not only give you good clean lines but keep your project simple and easy to work with. The battle cry of modernism is "Form follows function" which was originally expressed by Frank Lloyd Wright's early mentor Louis Sullivan, meaning that the result of design should derive directly from its purpose.
Step 6: Sheathing
try to remember that you are your own best source for recycled plywood. there is often times leftover plywood from other projects or plywood that can be salvaged from other demo. Since this will be covered with siding it does not have to be perfect. Our sheathing had plenty of nail holes and flaws. We ended up using heavier plywood on the roof and thinner stuff on the sides.
We wrapped the shed in some leftover tyvek house wrap that was excess from another project, but tar paper is generally cheaper and more readily available. Remember to start from the bottom and overlap to help shed rain.
Step 7: Roofing
You really can't mess around with roofing in the rainy Pacific Northwest so this was another place we spent some money on whole sheets of corrugated metal which we double overlapped at the seams, good hardware and pressure treated lumber for the trim. We also built a six inch eave around the roof which will help keep rain off the rest of the structure.
We used tar paper underlayment below this with a lot of overlap to help protect from leaks and everything is secured with exterior grade hardware. The screws that penetrate the roof also have rubber washers that seal out moisture.
We knew that we wanted to add a solar setup later so we pitched the roof to the south knowing that this would give the best sun exposure.
Step 8: Siding
Siding is not only important because it keeps weather out, but it's the part that everyone sees so it's key to do a thoughtful job. In typical recycle fashion we didn't have enough of one kind of siding material for the whole shed so we pieced it together kind of like a Mondrian painting in corresponding shapes. We were also able to salvage some siding from our old shed into our new design.
One thing that we needed to spend some money on here was exterior grade flashing and especially "Z" flashing which helped us piece together the various parts in a way that kept moisture away from the building.
Just remember to think MODERN recycled thoughts at this point since this is what most people will see. Use simplicity and clarity in your forms and eliminate unnecessary details. The result of design should derive directly from its purpose and this will probably be reflected in 90 degree angles and a visual emphasis on horizontal and vertical lines.
Step 9: Painting
You may need to do some exterior painting like we did. Mismatched paint can be found for cheap at hardware stores and many recycle centers sell recycled acrylic paint. Hopefully you won't need much and you can even mix some leftover paint together to make your own custom color. If you find a paint color that is close to what you want, paint stores will often add tint for a low cost to get it closer to what you need.
Step 10: Entrance Step
You may need a landing or stairs to be able to comfortably enter your shed. Small pieces of decking and Pressure Treated wood that are suitable for ground contact are often left over from people building decks. We found a large batch of odd sized composite decking that was left over from a professional deck builder. Check online for what is available in your area, there is always someone somewhere that is tearing out an old deck that has odds and ends that they need to get rid of. As always be careful when cutting recycled wood and watch for hidden nails.
Step 11: A Note on Windows
It's important to have at least one window for lighting but don't get frustrated by the cost. Windows of all shapes and sizes can be found at recycle centers or you can even just do what we did and inset a sheet of clear Polycarbonate multi-wall siding. This was a cost effective solution that gives us plenty of light but is still private and break resistant. Usually used in greenhouses this durable and translucent material offers some privacy and a lot of light.
Step 12: Conclusion
We love our new shed, not only because its durable and functional. But because we were able to integrate part of the old shed into the design it comes with an instant family history. The worn metal and cedar siding make it look more like a well cared for mid-century relic rather than some typical off the shelf storage shed found at big box stores.
We hope that we have inspired you to try your own recycled design, please share with us if you were able to integrate recycled materials into your concept. If you like these ideas but find the modern look not to your taste, don't worry, we are developing a tutorial on vintage shed building as well and don't forget to check out our Super Basic Solar Lighting tutorial if you want to add some lighting.