Rosie on the House: Backyard storage sheds can provide nice touch

0 Comments | Dec 09, 2014 |  Newsworthy

If your garage is totally filled up and you’d like more storage space, you’ve probably wondered now and then about adding some storage in your backyard. In other words, you’d like to build a shed where you can stash shovels and brooms and maybe some bigger bulkier tools or equipment. Or maybe you have a yen for something more exciting — a storage unit that can double as an office or a wood-working shop.

Obviously, this could get complicated. How big can a shed be, especially if you have a small backyard? What will it cost? Can you do this project without upsetting the neighbors? Then there’s the local bureaucracy to think about; by that, we mean your city or county planning department or even a homeowner’s association if you have one. There could be some paperwork and permits involved.

Well, there is a lot of good news on this subject. A backyard shed can be relatively inexpensive to build and easier than you think to get approved. The marketplace offers lots of moderate cost options, and you don’t have to spend too much time getting through the approval process.

But there are rules and regulations. What we found out from various jurisdictions and shed companies is the smaller the better if you want to keep down costs and red tape. To start with, what you are planning is a “detached accessory structure” that will have to be limited in size and height and must be a certain number of feet away from the house, the fences and lot line. Generally, sheds can only be in a backyard or in a side yard — never in the front yard.

Tom Wandrie, deputy director of plan review for Phoenix, says that if a garden shed measures less than 200 square feet in size, it does not need an actual building permit, but it still needs to meet certain city code requirements about setbacks from any walls. So, a plan for a shed would have to be reviewed and approved by the planning department.

However, it’s possible that what you might want to do will not meet the requirements of your homeowners association, he notes.

“But we do not enforce local CC and Rs (covenants, conditions or restrictions) for homeowners associations. If some problem like that comes up, it would have to be decided in the courts,” Wandrie said.

In other words, if Phoenix says your plan looks fine but your HOA is upset, then you could be explaining the situation to a judge if your neighbors get angry enough.

In rural areas, rules can be less restrictive. For example, a one-story detached tool or storage shed in Yavapai County only needs a building permit when the structure is more than 400 square feet in area.

But the city of Scottsdale has requirements about sheds that are similar to those in Phoenix, and so does the city of Tucson. If a shed is less than 200 square feet in area, it does not need a building permit but does need a zoning compliance permit that costs about $50, according to Clayton Trevillyan, planning permit specialist with the city of Tucson.

“You can sketch out a plan yourself of what your shed will look like, but it needs to be accurate and done to scale,” he said.

And, of course, you can only get these compliance permits for structures that will serve as storage sheds or playhouses.

What that last rule means is that if you’re interested in turning that storage shed into an office or tool shop or an extra bedroom with electricity and air conditioning, then you have more issues to face. To expand the project in that way, you need to meet permit requirements for electrical and mechanical work.

Trevillyan said that there could be many homeowners who have built sheds without necessary approvals, but eventually the city finds out when someone files a complaint or a homeowner needs an approval for some other backyard project.

At that point, if you are caught in this kind of situation, then you would probably have to get a permit that could cost you twice as much as you would have paid if you’d gotten one to begin with. Going ahead without the proper approvals might even slow down the sale of your home some day.

Once you decide to add a garden shed or a backyard studio, however, your options are unlimited. You can design and build one of these units yourself; you can hire someone locally to do the work; you can buy a kit or hire a shed company to do the job for you. You’re going to find a wealth of choices on the Internet and in local hardware stores.

One of the nation’s biggest seller of sheds, Tuff Shed in Denver, has showrooms throughout the West for their products, including several in Arizona. Tuff Shed sends out installers who can put a shed together on your lot in three or four hours, according to Phillip Worth, vice president of marketing for the company. Sheds and small outbuildings are growing in popularity, he said, because Americans seem to have more and more stuff to store and are running out of space.

How simple can they be? Small sizes are popular. For example, an 8-by-10 or 10-by-12 shed does not even require a concrete slab. It is built on a galvanized steel floor with joists that are 6 inches off the ground.

For a simple tool shed, Worth recommends building a 120-square-foot unit in order to avoid more stringent building requirements of local cities. Prices vary depending on the design but one that size can generally be built for under $2,700.

Shed companies know the steps you have to take, depending on the local climate in order to ensure that your shed can withstand heat and storms. You can have your shed built with insulated walls.

In some cases, his company has even gone to HOA meetings in order to convince association boards that the unit to be built will fit into the look of a community. Your shed can actually be a mini-version of your house with stucco walls and a tile roof.

Next week, we’ll talk about quick fixes and improvements that you can make in your house before the holidays arrive.

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