Some DIY projects are an obvious slam dunk in the cost savings department, while others land closer to the gray area. When weighing the advantages and disadvantages of buying vs. building a shed, cost is certainly one factor to consider.
To decide if building or buying a shed is right for you, evaluate all aspects of the pros and cons list--including cost--as well as your skill set, available time, and need for customization.
What Can Sheds Be Used For?
Although you may have a specific purpose in mind, sheds are handy for any number of reasons.
Sometimes sheds act as an extension or a substitute for the garage. You may want to store landscaping tools, sporting goods, gardening supplies, or your child’s belongings they insist they'll move soon.
2. Keep Firewood Out of the Elements
If you use wood for heat in a wood-burning stove or store it for fires in the firepit, you’ll want to keep it dry and protected until you’re ready to use it. An outdoor shed is the perfect way to achieve this goal.
3. Set Up Shop
A shed can also be used as a workshop. Perhaps it will include woodworking stations or be equipped with a potting bench. Maybe its intended use is a space for welding or practicing a craft.
Whatever its use, define the space as part of your decision in whether to buy or build a shed. A shed that’s used for storing papers, fabric, or furniture, for example, will need to have some level of temperature control and preferably a floor.
On the other hand, if the goal is simply to have a cover over your workbench, a dirt floor may suit your needs just fine.
Once you’ve defined your space, consider whether you’ll need to have access to electrical outlets. You may be able to equip the space using solar power, or you can rely on rechargeable light fixtures and a generator for occasional power.
However, if you plan to use your shed as a primary workshop, you’ll need more permanent electrical solutions. This might mean creating or buying a self-contained system or hiring an electrician to run power from a nearby building.
Most sheds won’t require water, but yours might. If it does, it will need to be addressed during the planning stages. There are many ways to go about adding a wash basin or even a bathroom to your shed.
This can include linking into the home’s plumbing system or simply installing a self-contained sink with a foot pump and a composting toilet behind a curtain.
Whatever plumbing needs you identify for your shed can significantly impact whether you buy or build your unit.
As mentioned above, you may or may not need flooring for your shed. Having a stable foundation in the form of concrete or a wood floor is less messy and offers solid support for stored items or when you’re walking around.
However, many sheds are built with sides and a roof, but no bottom. If you take this route, you can lay down pallets, gravel the space, use paver stones, or install a wood floor at a later date.
Most sheds are very basic by nature. That means that in addition to not reliably offering electrical or plumbing, they also don’t standardize the use of insulation. However, insulation is crucial for temperature control.
This is a significant concern if you are storing items that need protection against extreme cold, heat, and moisture.
Perhaps the most relevant decision will pertain to the size of your shed. It’s certainly one of the first things to consider when mapping out your needs.
Even if you just need storage space for the lawn mower, calculate the size. You might be surprised how much room the deck on a riding mower sticks out, or how long a push mower is without folding the handle every time.
If you have more specific goals, such as a certain size of workbench or a height requirement, that will define your search and may lead you to a custom build to accommodate your needs.
Windows and Doors
Also evaluate the space in terms of access and light. Will you be using it as a studio? If so, you’ll want as much natural light as possible. On the other hand, if you’re keeping belongings inside, you may not want any windows at all.
For the door, you can build or buy a shed with a garage-style door, barn door, or swinging door. The opening can be large enough to drive a riding lawnmower through, or small enough to allow maximum wall space inside.
Move Forward With Your Plan For a Shed
Once you’ve hammered out all the details, your decision on whether to build or buy might come into view immediately. For any type of customization, from size to shape to material choice and features, you’ll most likely need to build a shed yourself or have one built for you.
For more standard operations, the choice might be harder. Let’s look at those pros and cons.
Advantages of Building Your Own Shed
If you have the skills, tools, and time, building your own shed can bring satisfaction and save you money.
Control of the Design
As the builder of the shed, you have maximum control over its design. This is important because you will be able to build the shed to serve your exact needs. Put the window in just the right place, include the outlet at the right height, and work in shelving for storage.
Insulate the space, choose the best roof style for your climate, or decide to leave the walls unfinished for additional storage between the studs. It’s all up to you.
Additionally, it will be a bit cheaper to build a shed since you will only have to pay for the materials and tools.
For the most part, building your own shed will be cheaper than buying an existing shed, as long as you’re comparing similar materials and designs. One way to go about this is through research. If you can, find a shed that matches your size and function requirements. Then do a cost analysis of building a similar shed yourself.
Note that if you plan to hire a builder, your expenses will be much higher, and unless the project requires a custom build, you’ll be better off buying a pre-built shed.
Disadvantages of Building a Shed
Whether you don’t have the right skills or simply don’t have the free time, building a shed can be a much bigger job than you can tackle.
Unless you’re a weekend warrior when it comes to all things construction, you’ll probably work on your shed build over time. Plus, along with the benefits of having complete design control comes the realization that you will need to make every decision. That decision fatigue is time and energy-consuming, so be prepared.
Even if you hire out to have the shed built, you may be at the bottom of a long to-do list for your contractor. Professionals generally have other projects and may not dedicate themselves fully to your particular project.
If you intend to build your own shed or have someone do it for you, you should be prepared to see the entire project through, which will require some organization and careful planning.
When buying a shed, you just need to decide between existing options. Therefore, it would be much faster and easier to have a shed delivered and set into place.
Advantages of Buying a Shed
If your needs are basic, you’re on a strict timeline, or you’d rather spend your time on other things, buying a shed might be your best choice.
Buying a shed is a quick way to get it erect and ready for use. Rather than scouring for building materials, digging into blueprints, and waiting for breaks in the weather, your shed can be installed in short order.
Note, however, that many sheds arrive with pre-fabricated pieces that you can hire someone to put together or construct yourself.
Disadvantages of Buying a Shed
As expected, the disadvantages of buying a shed are the opposite of the advantages to building one--mainly that buying a shed will likely cost you more, and you lose the ability to customize the build.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Common Shed Materials
If you’re building a shed, it will likely be constructed from wood. It’s easy to work with, materials are readily available, and it’s a natural material. If you’re buying a shed, you can find them pre-constructed from a variety of materials. Some of these materials are worth considering even if you do decide to build.
As mentioned, wood is readily available through your local home improvement store or building center.
There are countless plans online and in books to make the design process a snap. Plus, wood can be screwed or nailed together without any specialty tools.
Many people like the natural appeal of wood and it can be customized easily, as well as being used for decorative elements inside or outside the shed.
Your wood shed will need a sturdy foundation. You’ll want to avoid contact with the ground to avoid rot and excess decay.
Wood is susceptible to damage from moisture, insects, and fire. It should be treated to repel pests, fungus, mold, and moss.
There are many types of metal sheds. Quality matters when comparing one to another. In general though, metal sheds are durable and are not susceptible to fire and insect damage.
Cheaper metal sheds rust over time, while more expensive aluminum sheds can stand strong for many decades.
Some people don’t appreciate the unnatural essence of metal, finding the look to be cold or rigid.
Plastic is not only the cheapest option for material, but it is also lighter and tougher than wood. Additionally, it requires the least amount of maintenance because it resists most forms of damage, such as insects or rot.
However, plastic is unappealing as a shed option. Plus, it’s the least environmentally-friendly shed material option.
The architectural design options may also be significantly more limited than wood or even metal.
A primarily modern option is vinyl. It’s a strong material that handles myriad weather conditions.
Vinyl is typically one of the most expensive options due to its durability and resistance to most dangers.
Engineered wood resolves many of the problems traditional wood flooring encounters--moisture damage, bugs, and rot.
Many people consider engineered hardwood to be a more environmentally-friendly choice since it makes use of wood chips or dust, mixed with a binder and topped with a durable finish.
This requires less reliance on growing and harvesting trees.
Compared to traditional wood, however, engineered wood is typically more expensive for the initial purchase. There are also a range of qualities within this category, so do your research to ensure a durable product.
Also note the top veneer on cheaper materials may be too thin for sanding and refinishing later on as it begins to show wear.
Shed Building and Buying FAQ
Let’s run through some commonly asked questions on the topic of buying vs building sheds.
Is it better to buy a shed or build a shed?
If you have the skills, tools, and time, it’s better to build. This allows you to save money and customize. If you’re strapped for time or don’t have the required skills, buying a shed is easy and quick.
Is it cheaper to build a shed than buy one?
Depending on the materials you choose, it’s typically less expensive to build a shed than to buy one when comparing all aspects equally.
What time of year is the cheapest to buy a shed?
Check the off-season when you might find them on clearance. This is typically the latter part of August and September.
You may also find great deals early in the season, especially during holiday sales events like those advertised over Memorial Day and Independence Day.
What size shed is the most effective?
The size that is right for you. Many sheds come in standard sizes of around 3’x6’, 6’x8’, 10’x12’, and 8’x10’. However, you’ll need to consider your specific needs to decide on the best size for you.
For more information on the topic, look at How to Build a Bike Shed and Sheds: Plastic vs. Metal and Wood.