In How to Build a Shed (Laurence King Publishing, 2018) by Sally Coulthard, readers will find step-by-step instructions for building a shed and detailed directions for everything from the floor to the walls. If you are new to building projects, this book will quickly become a favorite as it will help you from start to finish of the project. This excerpt can be found in chapter 5, “The Shed Interior.”
The shed is an ideal candidate for a low-impact ethic – you don’t have to find a huge quantity of reclaimed or eco material to transform the entire space, and there is an abundance of eco-friendly choices at your disposal.
Eco decor is no longer a niche aesthetic, and many of us incorporate recycled or sustainable materials into our lives as a matter of course. When it comes to your shed, there are a few ways in which you can be eco-friendly, from using recycled or reclaimed materials, to buying products that are sustainable, non-polluting and non-toxic. Here’s just a selection of what’s on offer to the eco-minded shed builder:
Flooring and Wall Cladding
Bamboo: One of the biggest recent interior trends, bamboo is sustainable, non-toxic and durable, and can be bought as solid flooring or engineered boards. A great choice if you want the look of a wood floor without the price tag.
Sustainable timber: From Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) timber to reclaimed planks from demolition sites, there are dozens of ways in which to use wood ecologically. Hardwoods, such as oak, are more expensive than softwoods and, as a general rule, the wider the board, the pricier it will be.
Cork: Lightweight and moisture-resistant, cork is an effective thermal and acoustic insulator, that comes from a sustainable source. It can be purchased as tiles or planks, both of which can be used on walls and underfoot.
Natural linoleum: With its impeccable eco-credentials, lino has seen a renaissance in the past few years. Made from entirely natural materials, including linseed oil and wood flour, lino is highly durable, anti-microbial and easy to clean.
Wool: Soft underfoot and naturally stain resistant and sustainable to produce, 100 per cent wool flooring is perfect for a cosy shed. Look out for other eco-friendly, flexible floor coverings (including rugs) made from recycled plastics, coir, jute and sisal.
Paints and Finishes
Paints, varnishes and stains: Whilst many conventional timber finishes (both interior and exterior) contain levels of volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to health problems and poor air quality indoors, eco paints tend to have fewer or no toxic ingredients. Look for labels such as ‘minimal VOC’, ‘VOC free’ or ‘solvent-free’ on paint cans, and logos such as the European Eco-Label, or the Green Seal in the US.
Oils and waxes: If you want to enhance the natural beauty of timber, search for products that are based on sustainably harvested natural oils, such as linseed, vegetable wax and beeswax.
Fabrics and Furnishings
Fabric: Cotton, despite being a natural material, is often called the world’s dirtiest crop, thanks to its overuse of insecticides and water, coupled with poor working conditions and greenhouse emissions. Organic cotton, recycled fabrics, hemp, bamboo fibre, soy-based fabrics and wool are all sounder choices.
Furnishings: You can be eco-aware with your furniture and furnishing choices by simply buying antique, vintage or second-hand pieces – although not if you have a wood-burning stove in the shed, as older furnishings often don’t conform to fire safety standards. If you want to fill your shed from new, look for furniture that is made from FSC timber, built from reclaimed or recycled materials, or created so that it is easy to disassemble. This last point is often overlooked: pieces that are durable, well made and easy to take apart are more easily mended or incorporated back into the recycling system at the end of their useful life.
Part of being ‘green’ is being mindful of how you use resources, and designing structures that don’t waste materials. Whilst this shed is not specifically an eco-building, much of the design is based around simple, sustainable materials (such as timber or the rubber roof) used judiciously. And, should you choose to use it, the adjustable pile method of creating foundations is a great way to avoid using energy-intensive concrete and will give you the option to re-use them elsewhere. Installing a wood-burning stove, high R-value insulation and double-glazed doors will help keep the building warm without wasting valuable energy.
You can go further: choose natural insulation instead of traditional mineral wool or rigid foam; install a solar panel; harvest the rainwater from the roof; use low-energy appliances and lightbulbs; decorate with non-toxic paints. You could also plant trees around the shed – not only to enhance the natural landscape but to offset a portion of the carbon the build has created.
There are a number of ways to lessen your environmental impact when it comes specifically to choosing furniture:
Choose multifunctional furniture so that just one piece takes the place of several
Select furniture designed with the minimum use of materials.
Using Reclaimed Materials
Whilst these shed instructions are designed with new timber and sheet materials in mind, there is no reason why you can’t incorporate salvage into your build. In fact, crafting a shed with reclaimed wood, windows and other components can create an outdoor building with bags of character and great eco-credentials.
Salvage comes in two forms. The first is new material that is surplus to requirements. The construction process is often wasteful, so it is not uncommon to find builders who have overbought and have leftover materials. Rather than throw surplus in a skip (which incurs a cost), many tradesmen and homeowners would be happy to sell on these materials at a reduced rate.
Salvage also includes material that has been saved from demolition or the remodelling of a building, but still has plenty of life left in it. Some construction materials, such as rafters or floorboards, may need de-nailing or refinishing, but the results can be well worth the effort, especially when it comes to valuable or scarce timber such as mahogany, pitch pine and oak. Leftover insulation and plasterboards are also something the salvage-savvy can take advantage of – both of these materials are expensive to recycle (many local recycling centres now charge for disposal) and so will often be advertised as free to anyone willing to collect. Look out for materials on the usual auction sites: eBay, Preloved, Gumtree; but also check out local Facebook groups, classifieds, farm sales and car boot sales.
If you want to use reclaimed framing timber in the build, you will need to check that the sizes match up to the actual sizes and not the nominal sizes given in the instructions.
When to Use Salvage
You could build a shed – start to finish – with reclaimed materials. From recycled timber frames to unwanted sheets of insulation, from sturdy rafters to reclaimed cladding, there is an almost infinite source of building materials to choose from. If you have an eye for design, there is also a huge amount of creative fun to be had with salvage – it can form buildings that are playful, original, historically interesting or just plain quirky, especially if you make a feature of some elements, such as doors and flooring. Consider using reclaimed materials anywhere in the build, including the framework, sheet materials, insulation, doors and windows, internal flooring, wall covering and exterior cladding, lighting and furniture.
A Note of Caution
Anyone who has built with salvage will tell you that what you save in raw material costs you often spend in time, either refinishing or mending a reclaimed item, or remodelling it for its new purpose. It isn’t always a cheaper option, but the green credentials and potential for creativity more than make up for any difficulties.
Reclaimed materials still need to be safe, so check for nails, sharp edges, fragile glass and other potential hazards. Old-buildings salvage such as asbestos sheets, lead paint and untested wood burners are clear no-nos, and you need to be aware that salvaged lighting, upholstered furniture and second-hand electrical equipment might not meet current safety standards.