The Backyard Shed

When I was a kid my grandfather built a tool shed at his camp. I thought that was the coolest thing. Someone in my gene pool could decide to put up a building, by himself, and do it. It was big, clean, orderly and pleasing to the eye. And it held a ton of stuff. Tires, rakes, shovels, oars, boat cushions, bicycles, charcoal grill and tool chests. Woe unto he or she who didn’t put the tools back where they belonged.

Because of this early exposure, I am biased in favor of custom built sheds. Pre-fab storage sheds tend to be over-priced, too small, poorly made of cheap materials and ugly. On a rainy summer afternoon no one wants to string a hammock out and relax with a beer inside some gloomy chip board and sheet metal packing crate. Much better to build your own or hire someone to help you do it.

This is a good time of year to plan a shed. With the leaves off it’s easier to see how it will blend into a property layout. Note how the sun hits the yard as daylight increases to figure out where you want the windows and which side the door will open on, preferably not into the prevailing winds. Fall storms will drive rain into a door facing southeast. By paying attention to the sun you can also avoid having to move the whole damn thing when you realize it’s sitting on the best place for raised garden beds. Don’t ask me how I know that.

A few months before the building season is time enough to find recycled windows and doors, cabinets and fastenings. Great building materials are burned up or hauled to the dump all the time in this town. For a greener, cost effective approach keep an eye on Craigslist and Freecycle and definitely check with Jason Donig and the crew at AK ReUse. Now in its 3rd year, AK ReUse is SE Alaska’s only salvage building supply yard. They’re located at Shaune Drive near Alaskan Brewing Company. Right now they’re on winter hours. If you’re looking for something particular, or want to donate construction materials, you can contact them at

Shed plans are free online and easily adaptable. Framing doors and windows, for example, is pretty much the same process no matter what size they are. Instead of building frames then ordering windows and doors to fit the openings, you can get recycled windows and doors first then build the frames to fit them. At this time of year business is slower at the lumber stores and our local ones are good about helping calculate materials. When the time comes they’ll deliver it.

Even with buying all new wood, fastenings and shingles, building a custom 10’ x 12’ shed costs about the same amount as renting a comparable storage unit for a year: Around $1,600 to $1,800. That might seem like a lot but look at it this way: Americans will shell out an estimated $31 billion dollars on self storage in 2016. That equals the GDP of Bolivia. Build a shed and after a year it’s money in your pocket.

Juneau typically gets a couple weeks of good weather in early spring. With a chosen spot cleared and leveled you can spread out a pad of D1 compacting gravel and tamp it down with a hand tool in a few hours. Place your concrete blocks that the shed skids will rest on and off you go. If the floor plan is under 120 square feet, and it’s not heated or wired for electricity, you don’t need a building permit from the city. A shed can sit closer to the property line than a house. Codes vary according to shed height and where the property’s located. The Juneau Permit Center is at 586-0770. They know all that stuff.

With home made shelves, and rafter storage, a good shed is a clown car. An impossible amount of stuff goes in and out of it all the time. When we did a remodel we just carried the living room: couches, chairs, dining room table, lamps—the whole enchilada—50 steps out to the shed. When it was done, it was 50 steps back in. Year round our goods are where we need them when we want them. We don’t have to drive somewhere to get at the tires, rakes, shovels, oars, boat cushions, bicycles, charcoal grill, tool chests or whatever.

Depending on how it’s built the shed might be turned into a kid’s room, meditation room, exercise room or craft room. Two local women, one in Douglas, the other out the road, each began backyard sheds. Both sheds morphed into sheet rocked, heated, lovely living spaces. One is an office. The other has indoor plumbing and is a tiny house. They affirm their builder’s relationship with their property. In a sense, the backyard shed is like giving flowers on Valentine’s Day. It improves the domestic harmony and gives back more than the effort of doing it.

a 10 X 12 shed is like a clown car for all it can hold.