Choosing an Outdoor Shed for Your Garden

Choosing an outdoor shed - an important decision for the green gardener!

wooden shed

If you are looking for a garden shed, you will want it to be as eco-friendly as possible.

So what do you need to look for? Which is the most eco-friendly material - wood or metal or even plastic? Which designs are best for a long lasting shed? Are there any other considerations?

This page takes a look at the options when choosing an outdoor shed, with a green eye out for the best shed choices.

Picture thanks to Kris at shedsdirect.

A garden shed is an asset in any garden bigger than a postage stamp. You can not only store your tool but keep your garden furniture and garden toys out of harm's way during the winter.  

You also can store plant pots and unused greenhouse accessories and keep them in good condition until needed. You may even be able to use it for potting up seedlings or for storage of some plants over winter.

If you are ambitious you can even have a "hobby shed" away from the kids or the spouse, somewhere to brew wine, invent stuff - or just read a good book.

The possibilities are endless and good outdoor shed can be almost like a second home where you can take a well earned break from the chores and the humdrum parts of running a home. Large sheds and cabins usually do not require planning permission and they can even be a good alternative to building an extension.

An outdoor shed green guide

The type of outdoor shed you opt for will be influenced by what you want it for and where it is going in the garden. You doubtless want to look for durability. A long-lasting shed is obviously greener because of the lower manufacturing and transport inputs over time.

You will also want something which bio-degrades or can be recycled effectively without leaving a landfill legacy for future generations.

Before you even think of what shed to buy, think carefully about where you will site your shed. Here are some of the main things to bear in mind when selecting a good outdoor shed:

  • Wooden sheds are always susceptible to rot if they are in contact with damp soil or foliage so it makes sense to site them somewhere with an open aspect. Don't put an outdoor shed where a hedge or bank continually presses against it, or where land slippage may occur. Overgrown trees and plants can also wreak havoc with woodwork as they are a source of moisture. Make sure your new shed is able to stay free from such channels for damp and rot.
  • Make sure that you will be able to access all sides for maintenance, if possible.
  • Metal sheds can be at risk in a windy spot, as can any shed, so think about how your shed will be sheltered from the worst blasts of storms and gales.
  • Think about the base that you put your shed on. A waterproof membrane laid below slabs will help stop damp from creeping upwards into woodwork.
  • A good quality, large outdoor shed can add value to your home as well as providing extra space, so it's worth buying as big as you can afford or have space for without compromising on quality.

Metal sheds

Metal sheds are often made from zinc plated steel. Many are coated with vinyl to enhance their appearance and protect them. They are generally maintenance free. If you are interested in buying a metal shed make sure that it has a good solid base and ground anchors. Some metal sheds can be less than good in high winds so check out how the side panels attach to the base and to the roof.

There is a fair selection of plastic and metal sheds at Amazon but I could not say how durable they are. Some have received good reviews from customers.

Whatever you opt for, make sure that you are satisfied with the quality. Longevity is a key quality when it comes to sustainability - and buying stuff that ends up in landfill after a few short years benefits nobody - apart from the manufacturer - and even that's debatable!

Seaside downside

Sheds containing aluminium can't be used too close to the sea as salt water will cause corrosion.

It may not be safe to store chemicals or combustible materials in them. They can become very hot to the touch in hot weather, though not generally hot enough to cause burns. Aluminium sheds (or aluminumsheds, if you are in Canada or the US) are likely to suffer from condensation on the inside which can be enough to be a nuisance in damper countries such as the UK.

Some of the better metal sheds are guaranteed for 25 years or more. The main advantage of a metal shed is its longevity. If you are interested in metal sheds it is not cost effective to cut corners and compromise on quality; buy the very best you can afford.

Most metals, including aluminium and steel, can be recycled almost indefinitely so these products need not end up in landfill at the end of their useful life.

Plastic outdoor sheds

Plastic sheds are often available in relatively small sizes, typically for storing garden tools and accessories. Although they look sturdy the jury is out on how durable they will prove to be. Most plastic products degrade after a few years of sunshine and weather, even though they are UV stabilised -probably not the best choice for an eco-friendly shed. Interestingly they seem to be finding a fan base amongst people who want to store their recyclable materials!

There are some larger plastic outdoor sheds. These have metal frames and supports to make them stable. They are maintenance free and are typically guaranteed for around 15 years. In terms of building life and use of raw materials (non-renewable) this is not so very long, although many will doubtless be around for longer.

Plastic sheds are generally made from PVC, which can be recycled several times successfully. The UK Government did an analysis of PVC and wooden windows. The cost to the consumer of the wood over a lifetime of use as compared to the PVC, was higher. However the environmental costs of the PVC were higher than those of the wood, mainly because of energy consumed in production and disposal.

Here's one from Amazon under the rubric "lifetime storage shed":

Lifetime 6405 8-by-10-Foot Outdoor Storage Shed with Window, Skylights, and Shelving

It has had excellent reviews and the floor is made from high-density polyethylene. Whether it really might last a lifetime I could not possibly say. Certainly a well-maintained wooden shed will serve for many years, even generations.

On the other hand, a neglected wooden shed will only last for a few seasons before deterioration sets in, thanks to all the micro-organisms and flora and fauna that likely abound nearby!

Home building your outdoor shed

If you want a outdoor shed just to store a few tools, perhaps a home-built wooden shed would suit your needs and be cheaper and more durable than a plastic shed. Here are some good book choices for building your own shed - or even constructing kit sheds.

Books on building your own shed

If you want good blueprints for making your own shed, Black & Decker Complete Guide to Contemporary Sheds has a lot to offer, including 12 complete plans for different types of shed and basic info on how to construct from scratch.

If your ambitions run to something fancier, then Sheds: The Do-It-Yourself Guide for Backyard Builders is a good option. It has all kinds of custom building options and will probably suit the more experienced woodworker.

Building a Shed: Siting and Planning a Shed, Building Shed Foundations, Adding Custom Details (Build Like a Pro Series) has lots of professional tips and is a very thorough introduction to shed building skills. If you want just one book, this is probably the best one to go for.

Wooden sheds

A wooden shed from sustainable forestry is probably the obvious choice for the environmentally conscious shopper.

However, you also need to be aware of the chemicals used to preserve it. Most outdoor wood products are "tanalised". This means that they are pressure-treated with chemicals to help preserve them. Some of the chemicals involved are less than ideal.

This is a big subject. The main pesticide used to preserve timbers for use in construction was, until recently, CCA (chromated copper arsenate). It has now been restricted by most western countries for home use because of the arsenic and chromium content. The alternatives are generally copper-based products such as alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) and copper azole which is marketed as Tanalith in Europe and Wolmanized in the US.

In Australia and New Zealand ways of using linseed oil (a traditional plant based preservative) are being explored. In the Netherlands a new process using acetic anhydride which comes from vinegar is becoming commercially viable. Both these methods have very low impact on the environment and are safe.

If you do buy a wooden shed, have a look at eco-friendly maintenance alternatives. Earth and Reed in Suffolk, UK, produce their own water-based preservative for outdoor timber. Eco-B also produce a safe, environmentally friendly product.

If you choose a wooden outdoor shed, make sure that the wood used is from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved wood. The symbol is usually displayed prominently. This means that the wood was harvested from sustainable and well-managed sources and is "managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations". It is a world-wide organisation.

Wooden sheds made of cedar will last far longer than ones made from pine or other softwoods, all other things being equal.

Also it's worth looking to see if any firms close to you make and sell good garden sheds. This should ensure that the carbon footprint of your purchase is lower than otherwise, especially if the wood is from a relatively local forest.


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