Feature, V1I2

A Brief History of Sheds

How times have changed for homeowners and shed builders.

A shed in Salem, Massachusetts from Historic Sheds

The fact of the matter is, since the nomads first settled into villages, people have accumulated stuff and, as a result, have needed a place to put that stuff. Thus was born the storage shed.

Lancaster Barns, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based supplier of Amish crafted storage sheds, shares on its website an article on the history of sheds that states: “Early Egyptians built underground silos lined with reed basketry to store grain. Early Europeans built shelters from mammoth tusks and skins. And as everyone knows, Eskimos did and still do build shelters from blocks of snow and ice. Whatever was used for primary dwelling places was also used for storage, whether within the home or outside of and perhaps separate from it.”

Sure, few shed builders today are specializing in “structures lined with reed basketry”—but even in the last few decades, these builders have seen rapid changes in how sheds are used, designed and built.

New Materials

There’s not much information available on the earliest sheds, since these buildings weren’t exactly built to stand the test of time.

“It used to be that people just built their own shed, so it’s quite different now,” points out Jo-Anne Peck with Historic Shed, a Brooksville, Florida-based builder of sheds designed to complement local historic homes. “They were usually designed to match the historic house, especially if we’re talking from the 1920’s on. A lot of older [structures] didn’t survive. If it was meant to be just a storage shed, it’s long gone. If it was built as a carriage house or garage there was a better chance of survival.”

However, even as sheds grew from backyard necessity to a hot business for builders, the styles those builders have produced have changed vastly. For starters, today’s sheds just might be around for future generations to see.

“The styles sold today versus five, ten or more years ago are different,” says Kent Lapp, CEO and principal of Wood-Tex Products in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.

“There’s more attention being spent on quality than there used to be. Building materials have improved so maintenance has decreased and durability has increased. Colors have changed with the times as well. Some of the popular colors we used to use all the time are not popular at all anymore. It seems to follow general home-building trends,” Lapp adds.

While Corey Council, owner of Clinton Custom Sheds in Fulton, Illinois, notes that the company is constructing its buildings much the same as it did nine years ago when it was founded, he agrees that the materials are getting better. “The material that I use is offering a better warranty than when I first started. LP [siding] had a 30-year warranty and now LP has reached that out to a 50-year warranty,” he says.

Tom Merkert, who handles sales for Capital Forest Products in Annapolis, Maryland, notes that while only 10 years ago all sheds were trimmed with wood, composite trim and PVC products are more common today.

James J. Rule, president of The ShedQuarters Inc., a shed builder based in East Peoria, Illinois, finds that while the basic styles remain the same today as they did in decades past, the features and add-ons have changed dramatically. “For instance, many of our buildings go into neighborhoods with a homeowners association and many times they dictate what the size, style and/or the outer finish material will be. Some have to have vinyl. Some have to have brick. We offer add-ons such as dormers, cupolas, weathervanes, flowerboxes and shutters of various colors all so that the customer can have not just a shed but a beautiful building in their backyard, and sometimes that’s what it takes to get approval from the homeowners association.”

Merkert adds that with expanding functionality for today’s sheds, he’s seeing the addition of foil siding products. “The purpose is to keep the shed cooler. This is replacing the ½-inch plywood sheathing,” he says. These barriers can block as much as 97 percent of radiant heat from entering into the shed and installs like regular roof sheathing.

Broader Functions

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A shed/garage in Tampa, Florida from Historic Sheds.

According to information from Historic Shed, a shed can be defined as “a slight or rude structure built for shelter, storage, etc. [It] can be adapted to many uses but most commonly used for tool storage or garden equipment.”

However, those uses have changed in recent years, which has spurred changes in shed designs.

“Over the last two years or so, sheds are getting larger. More people are buying ATVs, Quad Runners and things like that, so they’re looking for more storage outside the garage,” Council says.

Today, Rule says, “The gambrel-style building is by far the most popular style customers purchase due to the cubic feet that is available for storage. Many of our customers are pressed for space and being able to go up in a loft is ideal for getting more clutter out of the garage or home.”

And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the growing trend toward shed-turned-home office (see page 11).

David Ballinger, designer and founder of MetroPrefab, a New Jersey-based manufacturer of modern storage solutions, notes that one of the more common requests from his customers is one that might have been unheard of a decade ago: electricity.

“We have a simple electric kit that plugs into an outdoor outlet and provides typical power requirements,” he says.

Evolving Techniques

One of the biggest changes in shed construction over recent decades is the increase in business. The back yard shed is more popular than ever as new options allow homeowners to select a product that provides not just storage but an aesthetic touch to a backyard landscape.

This increase has led to changes in the way shed builders do business.

For starters, Lapp says, “Having more and bigger designs does require more people to get the same quantity of buildings built.”

However, for Lapp, it’s not just the business that has grown—it’s the options.

“We track our production more by gross revenue produced now instead of quantity built because of the variety,” he explains. “Some shops choose not to get into the custom and more detailed designs and they do very well.” But for Lapp, the interest in customization is one of the biggest evolutions in shed construction in recent years although, ironically, it’s a return to a time when homeowners built their sheds to match their homes.

But beyond increases in suppliers and improvements in materials, for many small production builders, the process itself has evolved little.

“Our construction techniques have changed very little over the years, with the exception of new styles and product lines,” Lapp says. “However, we’re always looking for a better way.

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