We love 'she sheds', 'man caves' and horticultural wardrobes

Whether you use it as an extra room or for storing cans of paint, here's how to look after the structure at the end of your garden 
We love 'she sheds', 'man caves' and horticultural wardrobes

Cuprinol Shed of the Year 2021 Nature's Haven category winner - The Hideaway created by Rosemary Hoult, pictured with her husband.

Greyed out, strangled in Hammer House of Horror shrubs, and up to the sills in damp grass, a neglected timber shed will do what all wooden things do. It will try to return in nutrient-rich splinters to Mother Earth. Rain is trying to get in, moisture in the shed is working its way out, and the building is being slowly, but steadily pulled apart by natural forces. 

Even if you don’t want a she-shed or man-cave (the latter described by my husband as the whole house in the 1950s) it’s a shame to ignore a promising focal feature with pleasing angularity in your otherwise softly billowing planting.

Cuprinol Shed of the Year Winner 2021 Danielle Zarb-Cousin.
Cuprinol Shed of the Year Winner 2021 Danielle Zarb-Cousin.

If you want a wake-up call as to why you should have a go at renovating the horticultural wardrobe crying out for care trot down to your local garden centre and enjoy the three-figure pricing on even a modest new, quality ship-lap 2m by 3m shed. 

That terrifying ticket, the product of our current construction timber shortage, is often dished up without any extra comfort detailing like an opening window, or storage elements. Now, take a turn down the DIY aisle and pick up medium-grade sandpaper, sanding blocks, and a pail of water-based garden stain. Can that shed even be saved? If the shed is simply not big enough for you it could be redeployed elsewhere in the garden.

Danielle Zarb-Cousin with her pub/entertainment space.
Danielle Zarb-Cousin with her pub/entertainment space.

Sloughing rain off without gutters, a failing roof is generally the main culprit in a dilapidated shed. Fixing torn felt, or replacing it completely; boring work but in terms of expertise: not a big deal. You can expect to change out the felting every five-seven years (a good motivator to use some sort of tiled solution with greater longevity). 

However, if OSB of the roof is squishy and sagging, or you can push the building from a corner across the running boards, and/or it has actual, comprehensive rot throughout you’re going to need considerable skill to make this shed weather-tight and stable. It might be best to knock it down and start afresh. 

An unloved, 15-year-old middling, commercial softwood shed is an old shed. If you’re sick and tired of deal with wind-driven rain penetrating a timber type, it might be time to move to vinyl or steel.

Cuprinol Shed of the Year Winner 2021: Danielle Zarb-Cousin's pub/entertainment space.
Cuprinol Shed of the Year Winner 2021: Danielle Zarb-Cousin's pub/entertainment space.

Whatever your decision, no serious flip will work without completely emptying the shed out to examine every crevice, board and corner of the panels, flooring and roof for rot and splits. Wear a face mask and gloves, especially when dealing with pressure treated planks, and expect the odd mummified rodent to send the sugar-plum of the team screaming down the garden path. Where you find old tins of atrophied paint and ancient tins of petro-chemicals, do the right thing. 

Take them to your local civic amenity for proper disposal. If when you’re clearing out, you find water stains, wait for the next heavy rain (not a long wait, this is Ireland after all) and trace where the area of ingress is. Don’t ever step onto a shed roof they are universally flimsy. Fix any holes in the roof immediately to protect the shed’s integrity. If the joists aren’t bowing in agony, this may be all you need to sort out the floor, which with the door and windows open, now has time to dry out.

Sometimes, all you will be faced with is using a claw hammer to take off and replace the odd board, tightening screws and fixing proud nails before sanding the shed down and re-staining. In a more serious renovation, even where your old dear is reasonable structural sound, it’s possible to dismantle a lightly damaged shed back into its modular panels. The roof is kept in one part where possible. A long weekend’s work, beginning to end, but not a very complex project if you’re a have-a-go Harry or Harriet handy with nails, screws and angles.

Cuprinol Shed of the Year Winner 2021, Danielle Zarb-Cousin.
Cuprinol Shed of the Year Winner 2021, Danielle Zarb-Cousin.

This way, you’re not closeted in that dingy interior of a stinking old building, head bowed. You can lay the individual pieces down on the lawn and do any needed repairs before doing a full reinstall to tighten up the whole structure. This is a great time to improve or even extend the base. A form banged up with a few off-cuts, and a few bags of cement and sand could be the moment for our first attempt at a small slab for a well-supported, level and square shed. No shed should sit right down on the ground, so think tamped hard-core and a few blocks as an easy entry point. A shed pushed around by water-logged clay will warp over time.

If you want to power-wash the panels and it’s had a water-based treatment in the past, choose a nice dry day where the shed parts will dry out quickly and you can flip the panels into the sunshine to ensure they are ready before re-staining. 

Keep the washer at a safe 45-degree angle to prevent blasting through more fragile feather-board. Standing or exploded into parts, the surfaces must be dry, free of the old treatment and completely clean before you reapply a new coat of protective water-repelling, anti-fungal, anti-microbial stain. Check the door. Is it closing flush with the surround? With driving rain, it’s very likely to be slightly warped. Don’t panic. Try fixing the warped side down with an extra shoot-bolt and with any luck it will flex back into shape with natural wetting and drying out. Fill gaps around the frame with a flexible timber filler. 

The window seals are very likely to need replacing. Work them out (mind your fingers as shed glass is often just tacked into place against light beading with the edges on the show). Seal where needed using a flexible, dedicated, silicone sealant. Replace any cracked glass panes, dangerous if they fall out without warning while you’re bouncing around on the shed floor. Acrylic plastic is a cheap if energy-inefficient refresh if you don’t expect to do protracted, sit-down work in the shed.

Looking towards the prospect of cottage-core-cute, wi-fi access and WFH comfort like a fully stable floor, the upgrades and maintenance of your shed will be more than an aesthetic issue. You will have to tackle a bigger insulation and ventilation project for any proper habitable room. Sprawling on a few pavers outside the shed in a deckchair in July is one thing, but year-round- vulnerable electronics and paperwork won’t stand for damp for more than a couple of months.

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