How to Build a Shed and Playhouse

I wanted to build a shed for myself and a playhouse for my kids, but I didn't want two small buildings in my backyard, so I decided to combine them.

When the kids have outgrown the playhouse (which I'm afraid will be sooner than I'd like), I can remove the divider wall and have twice as much shed space. Or maybe I'll leave the wall in place and use the playhouse as my personal hideout (or doghouse, depending on who you ask in my family).

Building a shed from scratch takes more time than assembling a kit, but it allows you to practice basic construction techniques and try out design ideas and materials you haven't used before. Furthermore, you can choose better materials and end up with a much higher-quality structure for less money than you would spend on a comparable kit. The cost for the materials to build my shed, including the base, was just over $2,200.

My favorite projects are the ones I design and build from scratch - making something just the way I want it. I don't know whether I'll ever get to design and build my own home, but I did experience the satisfaction of custom building on a smaller scale with this combination shed and playhouse.

Designing this shed
While designing the shed, I kept the style simple and chose a single-slope roof that would be easy to build and would complement my ranch-style house. A divider wall and separate doors make the shed a dual-purpose, two-room structure. Although the tallest wall is typically the front of a single-slope-roof shed, I rotated the design 90 degrees and made one of the sloped walls the front, an approach that worked perfectly with the adult- and kid-size doors.

I didn't want the shed to look isolated or to stand out as an obviously new feature in my backyard. The easiest way to make something look like it's been part of the landscape for a long time is to surround it with large mature plants, but that wasn't in my budget. So I looked within the most established areas of my backyard landscape for a suitable location. I cleared a site that was flanked by an evergreen and a large stand of lilacs. The mass and maturity of the evergreen and lilacs give the shed a grown-in feel. I then filled in around the rest of the shed with rocks, smaller plants and shrubs.

In addition, a few of the shed's features help it blend into the landscape. First, the sloped roof matches the slope of the backyard. Second, the dark body color is a couple of shades darker than my house trim color, and it blends with the surrounding foliage colors. The brown-stained trim ties in with the woody parts of the trees and shrubs. For a final integrating touch, I pushed an existing boulder close enough to the shed that I had to build the front edge of the deck landing around it.

The footprint of the shed was dictated by the limited space available. I didn't want it to be any taller than necessary, but I also didn't want to crouch inside it. I chose to make the short side wall 6 ft. tall; then, using a 3:12 roof pitch (the minimum recommended for the roofing material I had chosen), I calculated the height of the remaining walls. (See Web Extras for complete framing plans.) Note: Before you start designing, check with your city inspections department for construction and setback requirements.

Click here to download the construction plans as a pdf

Building the shed base
The foundation is relatively easy to build because small sheds typically aren't required to have footings. The base should be level and feature some type of solid perimeter that the walls can be anchored to. If you are building on level ground, you could construct a low deck, pour a concrete slab or simply build a timber frame for the perimeter and fill the interior area with pavers or compacted gravel. I think a low deck is the easiest approach to a sloped site, so that's what I built.

The deck is supported by a row of solid concrete blocks under the front and back rim joists. Each block rests on a 6-in.-deep bed of compacted gravel. The ground slopes down roughly 8 in. from the back of the shed, so I dug the holes for the back blocks roughly 8 in. deeper than the holes for the front blocks. Then I adjusted the depth of the gravel until all of the blocks were level.

The rectangular deck, framed with 2x8s, supports the shed. I also framed a small landing that is attached to the main deck and supported by a couple of additional concrete blocks. For the interior floor I used pressure-treated plywood, which is easy to clean and will keep most unwelcome intruders, such as insects and small animals, out of the playhouse. The landing is clad with cedar deck boards.

Framing the shed walls and roof
You can cut a lot of corners when you're framing a building that is considered a temporary structure. The manufacturers of shed kits include only the minimum amount of materials necessary, and that makes sense from a retail-sales standpoint. But the little bit of money I'd save by leaving out a few pieces of framing and using smaller-dimension materials isn't worth the time it would take me to determine which pieces to leave out — and the structural strength I'd sacrifice. I'd rather stick with standard framing practices, especially for a structure that my kids will be playing in.

It's often easiest to frame the walls on the deck and then raise them into place. But I was building around a lot of established plants, so rather than risk destroying the landscaping, I built the walls on sawhorses set up in another part of the yard. I framed the sides and back wall with 2x4 studs spaced 16-in. OC. Both side walls also feature a top plate that extends 18 in. beyond the front wall. This extra length supports the fly rafter and roof overhang on the front of the shed.

Building the front wall wasn't as easy because it contained the rough-opening framing for three windows and two doors. I added vertical framing members at 48 in. OC where the siding panel seams would be located.

Rather than raise the walls and fight gravity, I attached the siding, cut out the window and door openings and painted the siding before I raised the walls. I used SmartSide panels, which serve as both the sheathing and siding.

You'll need a helper to raise the walls. Secure each wall to the deck framing and the adjoining walls. Check each wall to be sure that it is plumb and square to the adjoining wall.

The roof is framed with rafters that rest on the side walls. A bird's-mouth notch is cut in each rafter where it rests on the side walls. Attach the rafters to the top of the side-wall top plates, and attach blocking between rafters.

Installing the metal shed roof
Any roof material that is used on a house can be used on a shed. I chose metal panels because they have a commercial appearance that works with the shed's style. I was also interested in learning more about this product, which has become increasingly popular in residential structures. It only took an afternoon for me to install the roof.

Exposed-fastener metal roofing is relatively simple to install , but figuring out all of the seals, screws and flashing components you need can be a little confusing. Most home centers sell this type of roofing and should be able to help you determine what you need.

The panels and flashing components are made from 24- to 30-gauge steel. The panels are typically 3 ft. wide and are bundled and shipped in stacks that are very heavy and awkward to handle, so it's worth the money to have them delivered to your house. Once you remove the strapping, a single panel can be lifted into place by two people. Most metal roof systems include instructions on how to handle and install the components.

Installing the shed's metal roof taught me a hard lesson about the importance of positioning the panels so that the rake (angled roof edge) flashings connect correctly. Unless your roof exactly matches the width of the panels, you obviously have to trim the excess. What wasn't so obvious to me was that the rake or gable flashing is designed to contact and fasten to a specific section of the roof panel (either on a ridge or on a flat section between the ridges. If you simply attach the roof panels and cut the overhanging excess off of the last panel, the rake flashing may not fit correctly. In that case, you'll either have to order a different piece of flashing (which can take a couple of weeks to arrive) or do what I did: remove all of the screws, shift the panels a couple of inches and trim the opposite overhanging edge so that both rake flashings fit (not a fun process).

To avoid this mistake, lay the panels out on the ground, check how the flashing is designed to fit and then determine how much to trim off. You might be able to cut the excess off of one panel, or you might have to split the difference and cut some off of both rake-edge panels.

Building the shed windows and doors
With the roof in place, I moved on to the windows and doors. I installed a prehung out-swing steel door in the large opening. Because the deck boards on the landing are 1/4 in. thicker than the plywood, I installed the door on top of a piece of the siding material, which raised it enough that it could swing freely over the deck boards. (I accounted for this during framing by making the rough opening 1/4 in. taller.)

For the playhouse, I made a small custom hollow-core door using a piece of siding panel for the exterior face, 1x4s for the core frame and a piece of interior paneling for the interior face. I was careful to position the exterior face so that the grooves aligned with the grooves on the shed siding.

Next, I built the eight window frames out of 1x cedar and pine. To speed up construction, I designed the shed so that seven of the windows were the same size. I stained all of the window frames before installation. I installed screens in the windows that are most protected by the roof overhangs and acrylic panels in the other frames.

The window, door and corner trim is made from 1x3 and 1x2 cedar. All of the trim pieces intersect with simple butt joints. To make finishing easier, stain all of the trim before attaching it to the shed.

Finishing touches
The divider wall inside the shed isn't structural; it simply separates the two spaces. I framed it with 2x4s and attached 1/4-in. paneling to the playhouse side. I used the same paneling on the rest of the playhouse walls. I also built a couple of 2 x 4-ft. platforms for the kids to sit on and under. (Rather than do too much inside, I wanted to let the kids decorate it as they like.) On the shed side, I left the studs exposed and simply installed a few hangers for garden tools.

You can choose to build the same shed that I built. However, I encourage you to use the information only as a starting point. Modify the plans to suit your needs, or create a new design that's perfect for your yard. Don't be afraid to add a few custom features that you enjoy. This is your opportunity to build a structure exactly the way you want it. Maybe one day you'll get to build the home of your dreams, but in the meantime, have fun building your dream shed.