Living in a Shed: Everything You Need to Know

by Tessa Hobart | LAST UPDATED July 9, 2021

living in a shed
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There are plenty of reasons why living in a garden shed is a horrible idea. There isn’t enough room to move your elbow, let alone get comfortable, you don’t have any facilities like a bathroom or a kitchen, and you’re going to have to sleep on the rakes and make a pillow out of the hose if you want to get any shut-eye.

Luckily, the sort of shed that we’re going to be talking about isn’t your average garden shed, but rather a tiny house with just enough utilities and comforts for a single person to be able to live quite comfortably.

Standard Sheds

The standard 2x2 type of storage shed is obviously out of the question for you to live in, but we’ll leave the exact dimensions for a section that appears a bit further down in the article. The important point is that you’ll have to choose between either remodeling an already existing shed, buying a new prefab shed, or making your own DIY shed home

There are plenty of good prefab sheds that you can find which will provide you with quite a bit of space, as well as a sturdy frame, and sheds are much easier to build than something like a log cabin, so you should be able to put up a few walls and some insulation without much issue.

However, we’d recommend not trying to remodel an already existing shed that you have and simply buy a new one. If you need to remodel a shed, then that means that you either need to replace the inside because it’s unsuitable as a living space as it is, or you simply don’t have enough room and need to expand.

Either of those scenarios will require you to take apart and replace every component of the shed, so it essentially just turns into a DIY shed home project. For these reasons, we’d recommend that you either go for the prefab or the DIY options straight from the start and save yourself quite a bit of time.

Dimensions

Different types of sheds come in different shapes and sizes. As we mentioned before, the most basic kind is designed only to hold a few garden tools, so they come in at 2-3 meters in terms of both length and width. This doesn’t leave much room for even a bed, so we’d recommend going for something along the lines of 6 meters in length and the same in width.

The most important aspect of building or extending a shed is the building regulations that you have to adhere to when it comes to the actual construction.

Legal Issues

living in a shed legal issues

Using a shed as a living space is strictly prohibited. The reason behind this is that most sheds are classified as a class 10 building, which is a class that’s deemed inhabitable in the realms of the law. However, there are specific ways to circumvent these regulations.

Not a Tiny House

The laws and regulations surrounding tiny houses are nebulous at best and non-existent at worst. The tiny house movement has been lobbying to lessen certain restrictions that refuse to classify small homes as actual livable housing, but the progress is very slow. This is mainly because certain states refuse to classify a building as a house unless it has nothing short of a football field for a living room and a fully decked-out home office.

Since a shed isn’t even classified as a tiny house or a mobile home, the restrictions and regulations are much more severe. At best, this means that you’ll have a hard time getting insurance for your living space, and at worst, you won’t even be able to build it.

Building Regulations

First of all, most states have zoning laws and building codes that dictate what dimensions a house can be before it can qualify as even a tiny home. Each state has its own rules, but most agree that any backyard shed can’t qualify as the main house on a property.

However, if the shed is just an outbuilding on the property and there’s another main building present, then there shouldn’t be an issue as long as the larger house meets all of the zoning laws. If you don’t own any real estate of your own, you can simply use this loophole and use or rent out a shed on the property of your parents (if they have a house at least).

Keep in mind that you’re still going to need certain building permits even to construct a shed, so make sure that all of your documents are in order before you even start hammering in the first nail.

Classification

If you’ve obtained a permit for a shed, you need to adhere to that class of building restrictions. The exact dimensions will vary from state to state, so you’re going to need to check with your local building board or the contractors that you might have hired.

For an example of what these sort of restrictions look like, the UK classifies a shed as a building that can have a total volume of no more than 15 sq ft, can’t have a balcony, veranda, or platform attached to it, and can’t be any higher than 3 meters unless it has a double-sided roof in which case the allowed height is to 4 meters.

While the US has different restrictions in different states, you still aren’t allowed to build a shed that’s more than one floor, you aren’t allowed to have an awning, a platform, or anything that would classify as a front porch attached to it, and you can’t have it be connected to the main house.

Utility Lines

You can’t just put a bed in a storage building and call it a new home. Even though a tiny house shed isn’t strictly defined, the most important aspect of any guest house or liveable small space that’s detached from the main house is access to utilities like electricity, running water, and a sewage line or septic tank.

The last point can either be replaced with something like a composting toilet or discarded entirely since most regulations will simply require you to have a toilet somewhere on the property, so as long as you have one in the main house, then you’re set to go.

As for electricity and running water, you’ll need to at the very least have one functioning sink and lights on the inside of your shed home.

Safety

Sheds aren’t exactly known for their ability to withstand the elements. How many times have you watched the news after a storm, and someone has said, “My shed just flew away when a gust of wind hit it”? Not many, but that’s because we might be slightly exaggerating, but if you have your own shed, then you know that harsh weather doesn’t bode well for them.

The most basic requirement that you need to cover to alleviate safety concerns is insulating the shed. The best way to do that is to place sturdy walls on the outside, then insulate the inside, and place drywall over the insulation. Of course, you’ll still need heating in the cold months, but this one layer of protection will be very noticeable.

You’ll also need to ensure that the foundation itself is reliable and that the shed is bolted onto it well enough so that it’s structurally sound in the event of stronger winds. Aside from that, you’ll also be asked to fulfill a few other regulations, though they differ from state to state, same as the building regulations, so you’ll need to consult an expert on the matter.

Advantages of Living in a Shed

A shed in nature

We’ve covered all of the difficulties that come with trying to make a home out of a simple shed, so the question at the end of the day is whether or not it’s worth going to all of the trouble for such a small home.

Well, believe it or not, living in a shed has quite a few perks, the most notable among which is the low cost of living. Of course, the smaller the home, the lower the bills at the end of the month, and you can hardly get any smaller than a shed.

The next perk is the landlords. As we mentioned before, you can’t have a shed be the sole building on a property, so you’re going to have to occupy a yard that already has a house on it, which is more than likely going to be your parent’s yard. This means that you’ll likely be able to get away with just paying for your monthly utilities or a certain trivial rent amount that you’ve agreed upon.

Finally, you also have virtually no cleaning or maintenance costs. Living in a one-room house means that you’ll be able to clean it from floor to ceiling in about 15 minutes and that any repair or home improvement fees are going to be so trivial that you won’t even need to pay all that much to have the whole roof replaced, for instance, if anything happens to it.

Livable Sheds

Aside from the utilities that we mentioned, the only other thing that you really need to make a home out of a shed is a bed, a table, and a few chairs. Again, we'll leave the bed and the mattress choice up to you, but we’d recommend going for a small foldable table and chairs. This way, you can either sit down or eat inside or take your meals in the yard.

You’re also going to need to get some plates, tableware, and a small wardrobe for your clothes. The one thing that you’re going to need to keep in mind is that you’re either going to need to take your baths in the main house bathroom, or you’re going to need to get yourself an outdoor shower.

Aside from that, we’d recommend keeping the clutter to a bare minimum since you don’t have much room to spare. However, having fewer useless items is actually not a bad thing, and it really makes you realize just how few important items you actually need in your home.

The Cost

A shed in nature - living in a shed

A lot of tiny house homeowners say that you can manage to make a small home with just under $10,000. If this number sounds preposterous to you, that’s only because it is. Adhering to all of the building regulations, paying for the necessary contractors, and connecting all of the utility lines will easily cost a minimum of $20 - $30,000 for even the smallest house.

That being said, you aren’t building a house but rather a shed. This means that you can save money by building it yourself, you don’t need to adhere to such strict regulations due to the loophole that we mentioned, and all you really need to do is hire contractors in order to hook you up to the city utility lines.

When you put all of this together, you get a liveable home that can truly cost you as little as $10,000 to build, or even less.

Conclusion

You won’t be making houses out of tool sheds any time soon, nor will you be able to go off-grid or make any outdoor living if the only building on your property is a shed. But, if that’s what you’re interested in, then you might look into our articles on van life or living off-grid.

However, living in a shed has its own perks, so if you’re young or don’t have all that much money saved up, then you might be interested in getting yourself a shed.

Tessa Hobart
Tessa Hobart moved into her first tiny home (a trailer in her uncle's backyard) when she was 19. Without giving away her age, she now has many years of tiny home experience and is currently designing an A-Frame as a second off grid home. She lives with her husband and enjoys card games and mountain biking.

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