In this podcast, Joe DeMarco of Perry Brothers Construction talks about the viability of living in a modern shed. He explains the legal implications of shed living, the advantages, and disadvantages compared to living in a traditional home, as well as the lifestyle requirements to successfully live in a shed.
Joe DeMarco: Hi, I’m Joe DeMarco, General Manager of Perry Brothers Construction, a general contracting company based in Newbury, Massachusetts, who specializes in home renovation and remodeling. Today, we’ll be exploring an increasingly popular question stuck on everybody’s mind, can you live in a shed? And what would you need to consider, legally and practically, when living in a shed?
So seriously, to start off, what are the legal and practical requirements of shed living? I mean, the first thing you really got to start thinking about is zoning in permits, for sure. Researching any of your local zoning laws and building codes to determine if you’re even legally allowed to build a livable shed on your property is extremely important. Plenty of towns and cities, different municipalities, they have specific requirements for accessory dwelling units or any secondary structures.
And a livable shed would fall under the category of ADU, accessory dwelling unit. Now, in ADU, it can be anything from your granny flat to your in-law suites, in-law apartments, they would even consider a home office shed or a yoga studio shed in your backyard as an ADU, because it’s technically designed to be a livable, habitable space. So you really got to research all these different zoning laws and ordinances.
And I would also recommend talking with your local building inspectors and departments, just gathering all the information you can, not just from them, but online as well. But just remember that information you read online regarding building regulations are, again, municipality specific. So you got to make sure, if you live in Salem, Massachusetts and you’re trying to build an ADU, you need to look at Salem, Massachusetts’ ADU laws.
Another thing you got to consider, and again, this is on the legal side of things, is the size of your livable shed. There’s minimum requirements depending on your municipality for how big the shed has to be to be considered livable. One example with that would be the fact that you don’t want to live in an 8×10 tool shed, because while that may be comfortable for your garden tools, it’s not going to be comfortable for you, and you need to enjoy where you’re living.
There’s a certain type of person it takes to be able to live in a van or a small shed, or if they’re going to stay in a tent their whole lives. But if you want to enjoy what you’re doing and have room for activities and just feel good about your living situation, you need to not only meet the minimum size requirements, but you’re going to want to exceed that as well.
And you got to think about ceiling height in your livable shed too, because whether you or someone you know is over six feet tall or maybe you’re going to have an NBA player over. Jayson Tatum is coming over to visit you, I mean, one to two feet minimum ceiling clearance between their head and the ceiling because you don’t want to have any potential accidents. And that also goes into your livable shed, whether you might have some stairs and a wooden porch surrounding the shed, going inside and out in your livable shed, you need to make sure there are no splinters in the wood, no hanging nails or screws, and definitely proper insulation.
You need to make sure it’s not getting too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. You got to feel comfortable in there. And you have to have insulation to complement your heating and cooling system inside the shed, which I would recommend a Mitsubishi mini-split. You need to consider, how are you going to contain the temperature? How are you going to control the temperature?
A lot of the legal requirements for making a livable shed, they’re also practical as well. For example, I mean, you got to make sure the structure is sound. You got to make sure nothing’s going to collapse, that you have a proper foundation laid out. Most cities and towns are going to require you to put a foundation under these sheds, a livable shed. And you want to have a roof that when you get snow piling up, you don’t want to have to think of it potentially collapsing. You don’t want to waste the time trying to find the right snow removal company to take it off. We would recommend, personally, at Perry Brothers Construction, you install a metal roofing system onto your livable shed because the metal roof, when snow falls onto it, it just melts and slides off. It’s really a beautiful thing.
And just like with a traditional home, you got to think about insurance and liability with your livable shed. Check with your current insurance provider regarding the coverage you have for shed living. You might be surprised you might not have any. And you’re going to have to determine if there’s any additional insurance policies or adjustments that you’re going to have to make to your property, so you can build a livable shed, whether you or someone in your family’s living it, or if you’re renting it out.
Specific zoning codes and building regulations could prevent someone from living in a shed. One extremely important requirement to think about is setbacks. So setback regulations, they determine how far a structure must be set from things like property lines, roads, other buildings in your neighborhood, preserved environments. So anything from the trustees’ organization, the woods, like Willowdale Forest in Ipswich, to just the marshes around Massachusetts and New Hampshire. If a shed doesn’t comply with setback requirements, it’s not going to be permitted as a dwelling and you won’t be able to build it.
And then you got to think about your basic utilities. What would also restrict you from building a livable shed would be if you’re not able to run the proper plumbing and sanitation to the shed. There’s standards with plumbing and sanitation that you have to think about. And building codes typically are going to have regulations on your plumbing systems and sanitation facilities.
And of course, you got to think about waste management too. I mean, I’m assuming you’re going to build a bathroom in your livable shed. I mean, you could have an outhouse or a hole outback, but again, our goal is to create a livable shed that is enjoyable, comfortable, and feels like a home. An outhouse? I guess it depends on the person, but for me personally, it doesn’t feel like a home or at least part of my home. But hey, I’m not one to judge. But yeah, if a shed lacks the necessary plumbing, infrastructure, or fails to meet your sanitation standards, again, you’re not going to be permitted to build a livable shed on your property as a dwelling.
And also, on top of that, I would definitely say you got to be thinking about safety, and of course, fire codes. Pretty much building codes anyways, they’re often addressing fire safety measures, electrical wiring measures and other standards, just any general safety requirements that are necessary for a dwelling. And if your livable shed doesn’t meet these safety codes, it’s going to be deemed unsuitable for living purposes.
That’s the biggest thing with zoning and building codes and restrictions, and why getting your proper electrical, plumbing, insulation and building inspections is important. Why building inspectors and your contractor working well together is so essential to the success of your project is because the laws, they could seem annoying, acting like barriers between you and your dream shed, but following these codes is what’s going to allow you to have a safe, habitable living space. And it’s only going to benefit you in the long run.
I’d like to talk about…and this is more on the practical side of things, but what are the challenges and downsides of downsizing to a shed? I would say, first off, the most obvious downside to downsizing to a shed would be the limited space that a shed provides compared to a typical home. I mean, a shed is always… As we say, a normal garden shed is probably what? 8×10? I mean, sheds are typically smaller than the conventional home. And I’d say the biggest challenge to deal with is the limited living space. I mean, it’s going to require work in the design phase of your project, you’re going to really have to do some careful planning and think about how you’re going to organize the layout of your shed.
So a typical livable shed, I would say you could have two bedrooms, a living room, and a living area/kitchen shared between. And while that’s plenty of space to be happy and to do everything that you want to do and to have the necessary utilities you need to live, it is limited compared to a home. I mean, a home’s got stories and different rooms, whatever, but homes are extremely expensive. And not a lot of people can afford a traditional home currently. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.
So you got to think about too, how are you going to organize all your possessions inside the shed as well? A solution to that, maybe if you’re going to have limited storage space, is to think, “Hey, maybe I’m going to have to live a more minimalist lifestyle or something.” Everything you buy, get rid of two more items, whatever you want to follow. But I would think the easiest way to save space would to be in the mindset of less is more.
I would say another big challenge, and I wouldn’t call this a downside, but definitely a social challenge when it comes to living in a shed would be the social perception you may think others will have of you for living in a shed compared to a traditional home. I mean, everyone fears social stigmatization or judgment. And especially when you’re doing something that’s authentic to you and unconventional to others, people just don’t fully understand or accept the choices of someone that does something different from what they think is acceptable. And the choice to downsize to a shed compared to a traditional home, I mean, it could actually impact social interactions and personal relationships. You might get people who are hesitant to visit you anymore because they find your shed living a little cramped and they just don’t feel comfortable being in that space. It’s not enough room for them to feel like they aren’t trapped.
I would definitely say another challenge when it comes to downsizing to a shed would be the fact that the resale value of a shed is obviously much lower than that of a traditional home. But in most cases, if you’re a homeowner and you’re building a livable shed on your property, you already have a traditional home. So really, you’re just increasing the total value of your property by combining your traditional home with now this shed that you’re either living in, using for specific activity, or renting out.
And if you want to make your shed more comfortable and accessible to people who don’t personally think that a shed can be livable, you got to think about what are some creative shed design ideas that you could use to maximize your livable space. And definitely, the first one I would say would be creating a loft space inside your shed. If you’re going to have a metal roof, it’s going to be a vertically pointed roof and you should utilize that vertical space by incorporating a loft area. Basically, you’d have a little ladder that goes up and there would be a floor in between the vertical roof, and it can serve as a sleeping or storage area. That’s a great way to maximize your floor space. And it’s extremely fun to sleep in, it’s like you’re sleeping in a tree house.
And another big creative design idea for your shed would be having multifunctional furniture. So I would say opt for furniture that serves multiple purposes. An example would be you having a sofa that can convert into a bed, but you’re also using it as a recliner, because you don’t want to always be laying down, that’s bad for your back. You could also use that same recliner/sofa to eat your food. Okay, now, you don’t even need a dining table.But, if you want a dining table, you could have a dining table that has built-in storage solutions inside of it. Or, your bed could have drawers underneath, think about all these different ways you can maximize your storage space.
And that goes into creating built-in storage inside your shed, solutions that are in the walls, space-saving techniques, such as built-in shelves, again, under the bed storage, hidden cabinets. You could have one of those loft beds that once you’re done with it, it just folds right into the wall. I mean, you could have everything in your shed fold up and fold out whenever you want to. Say, maybe you have a desk for work, a standing desk, and when you’re done using it for the day, you just slap that back into the wall and then your TV pops out from the cabinet above it or something. I mean, you can get really creative with storage solutions.
And another creative design idea I would consider, and this isn’t even just a creative design idea, this is an effective design idea, would be sliding doors or pocket doors. I mean, because if you think about it, traditional swinging doors, they take up a lot of valuable floor space, and they prevent the accessibility of getting in and out of there. Say, if someone was trying to get into your livable shed who’s in a wheelchair, they need all the space they can to make turns. So the thing about a pocket door or a sliding door is that it operates from inside the wall. So there’s no space being taken up on either the outside or the inside of your shed when it’s being open or closed. It’s a no-brainer to get sliding doors or pocket doors for your livable shed.
Think about how you can extend your livable shed beyond the walls inside of the shed, create outdoor seating, maybe even an outdoor dining area, have a wraparound deck on your shed, a grill, really utilize the shed’s exterior space. And not only are you going to enhance your overall livable area, you’re going to be able to host some mighty fine 4th of July bangers. You’re going to be grilling steaks outside in your livable shed while Bob down the streets at his traditional home with maybe a bigger grill, but bigger bills.
And then just the last thing to go into that I think everyone would be concerned about, and this is probably the biggest benefit of why you would choose to live in a livable shed versus a traditional home, is the cost of living in a shed compared to a traditional home is much lower. I mean, think about just the price to purchase and construct a livable shed. Most companies, such as Reed Ferry Sheds, when they ship their sheds, they’re pre-fabricated and in panels. Basically, I’ve seen Reed Ferry Sheds be put up in three hours. I mean, it’s pretty crazy.
And shed prices can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. It all depends on the size, the materials, the design. I mean, when you’re making a livable shed, it’s definitely going to be in the tens of thousands of dollars range because you’re essentially building another home. Again, you’re not just building a tool shed or a garden shed.
You are going to be adding property expenses to your property on top of your traditional home. You will have property-related costs, different property taxes, extra insurance to pay. And you have to think about if you’re planning to convert an existing shed into a livable space, or build an entirely new outdoor structure. You can’t just take any shed and turn it into a livable space. You can’t turn any shed into a modern shed. You’re going to have to insulate it. You’re going to have to run the electrical main from your house or run a separate electrical feed. You’re going to have to think about plumbing installations, sanitation, waste management, the flooring, the painting, structural modifications, the foundation. I mean, this is just like building a home.
And these costs, they really vary depending on the complexity, depending on your local building codes and regulations, depending on just your state and the cost of materials and labor. And of course, the level of customization desired. I mean, a more customized, unique shed is going to cost more money, it’s as simple as that.
And I guess one of the long-term benefits, at least for saving money, would be the lifestyle adjustments associated with shed living, requiring you to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle. And when you live a minimalist lifestyle, there’s financial benefits. You’re saving money because you’re not purchasing unnecessary things, and you’re only focusing on the essentials. Because if you think about it, your livable shed can only afford to fit the essentials.
And for costs, there’s just some long-term things to think about when it comes to shed living, just the viability in general and potential costs that could arise in the future. Say, if maybe you’re renting the shed in someone else’s property and they want to rent it out to someone else, I mean, you can’t get up and take the shed with you. If you’re going to live in a shed, especially if you don’t own the property where the livable shed is located, you’re going to have to have a plan B for the future, and you’re going to have to consider the costs involved with adapting to that new plan. You’re going to have to have the money saved to be able to make that jump to the new plan, simple as that.
But yeah, I mean, I think that’s enough time for now. I hope everyone understands that, yes, you can live in a shed. For more information on modern sheds, ADUs, or any other types of renovation or remodeling services, please don’t hesitate to contact Perry Brothers Construction. If you want, you can visit our website at perrybrothersconstruction.com, or you could call our office at (781) 233-7511, that’s (781) 233-7511. Thanks for listening, guys and gals.