Springtime Will Eventually Arrive, But in the Meantime…

As we settle in for some chilly temperatures and dream of spring and daffodils, now is the time to plan for those annual projects. You’ll be ready to start those projects as soon as the groundhog misses seeing his shadow! Mailboxes are beginning to fill up with seed catalogs, and we long to get dirt between our fingers once again. It’s also time to think about reviving an old shed or building a new one. In my instance, I have an original chicken house with a very pronounced northeast list from 102 years of wind and previous termite infestations and it’s scheduled for a spring re-do.

The term shed is actually an old English word that dates from the 12th century meaning a slight structure built for shelter. In the U.S., the garden shed became an essential extension of the suburban home of the early 20th century. Today, lots of these existing garden sheds are showing much wear and tear but still have charm and can be useful and can be major contributor to a home’s overall character. In a restoration project, it’s important to maintain the same sense of historical integrity as you would for a project in your main house. So those of us living in historic districts know the routine—for any significant repairs or alterations work designs should be submitted for review by the city’s Architectural Review Board. There are also coverage issues, how much ground your shed will take up, which is an issue anywhere in the city as well as property line concerns to be considered. It’s always best to have all those I’s dotted and the T’s crossed to make sure your homeowner’s insurance coverage will honor all claims, in case there are future problems.

Restoring old sheds, however, is often a fairly simple project, unlike restoring old houses. Start out by visually examining the structure. A sagging roof or leaning frame may indicate an unfortunate collapse, in which case a carpenter should be called in. According to Neighborly Pest MGMT, if the structure is reasonably stable you can proceed with the decision to repair or rebuild. Usually the unfinished interior of a shed allows you to check out the wall framing, sills and roof for rot or termites. Use a screwdriver to check out the softness of exposed wood. Even a novice should be able to get an idea of the extent of any decay and how much of the shed will need to be replaced to make it usable. And seeing daylight through the roof is never a good sign!

Even if your old house has been perfectly preserved, there’s a good chance the old original shed isn’t in salvageable condition. Usually located in remote corners of the yard, garden sheds tend to be out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Filled with broken possessions, cobwebs and mice, it becomes a place to be avoided. Too often this is the point at which repairs become too costly and the shed’s original character, history and potential are overlooked and it is torn down.

If your decision is to design a new garden shed instead, their function may shift slightly but the design of shed hasn’t changed much over the years. Garden sheds still tend to be small, simple outbuildings that serve as workshops or potting areas, and provide storage space for tools and other possessions that either don’t belong or don’t fit in your house or garage. Like other outbuildings sheds are typically sited behind the house, preferably in a place that can’t be seen from the street. The ideal location is one that is convenient to get to but doesn’t block the view of or access to the rest of your yard. A shed can also become a functional part of the garden layout.

As a utilitarian structure, the interiors of garden sheds traditionally have unfinished framing open to roof with at least one window to let in light. Situating the shed with lots of southern and western exposure for plants will allow your shed to serve as a greenhouse in the winter. Shelving, hooks, pegboards and bins can hold tools and supplies, and workbenches should be positioned under a window where light is best. Although there’s nothing wrong with storing the odd bicycle or mower in them, garden sheds shouldn’t be mistaken for those pre-fab metal or vinyl box utility buildings.

In either restoring your existing structure or starting from scratch, make your garden shed a pleasure to use and an attractive asset to your outdoor living space.

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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