Kiplinger Today


Backyard Getaways

Nothing stresses your budget and your nerves like building a home addition. But if you need more space for your hobby or a home business, there's an option besides knocking down walls: backyard rooms. We don't mean bland boxes that could double as lawn-mower garages. These upscale sheds offer well-sealed walls, double-pane windows and interiors that can look like your living room. (See our slide show of ten incredible backyard sheds.)

SLIDE SHOW: 10 Incredible Backyard Sheds
Upscale-Shed Sourcebook
Fabulous Prefabs

When shopping for one of these, you'll find the terms shed, cabana and garden room used interchangeably. Prices range widely, from a simple plywood structure that's built from a kit and costs less than $2,000 to an elaborate fir-and-cedar Michael Graves Pavilion built by Lindal Cedar Homes for about $30,000 (including $8,000 for delivery and assembly). These upscale backyard structures typically cost 40% to 50% less per square foot than similar-size home additions.

As the backyard-room market grows, so does the quality of the products. At the cutting edge are brothers-in-law Nick Damner and Casper Mork-Ulnes of San Francisco. The two recently started Modern Cabana, which made the 10-by-12-foot shed that Marie Delahaye and Carmelo Salgado of Walnut Creek, Cal., bought. The shed's look -- with cedar siding and a modernist roof -- doesn't clash with the aesthetic of the couple's wood-paneled ranch-style home. Marie is especially delighted to have a room in which to unwind. "There's something about stepping into another structure," says Marie. "It feels as if you're really getting away."

Marie and Carmelo chose a model with a base cost of $15,000, and they spent $5,000 more for taxes, shipping and assembly. After adding a French door, large, operable windows and other extras, the room cost was about $27,000. In addition, they paid $3,000 for electrical work (which included an upgrade to their home's electrical system) and $3,000 for landscaping. The project's total tab of $33,000 compares favorably with the $50,000 tab to add a room of comparable size and style to their house, says Marie.


Skittish about local building regulations? Don't be. These sheds can usually be built without zoning approval if they're 120 square feet or less. Ask your local building authority and your homeowners association for particulars. Also ask how you may use your structure. In Seattle, for example, most residents aren't permitted to use such buildings as home offices.

You have two main options: Buy a kit with dozens of pieces (referred to as pre-cut kits), or buy a kit that comes in panelized sections. In either case, a few makers insist that their workers install sheds on site. With most, however, you may either hire your own contractor or build it yourself. Some manufacturers offer free installation; others charge up to $2,700. Below are the pros and cons of pre-cut and panelized sheds, plus questions buyers should ask.

If Ikea built sheds

Kits of pre-cut wood pieces are the most affordable options, and they feature all the necessities -- plus a few of the niceties -- of the best upscale sheds.

A good rule of thumb is to add about 30% to the price of the basic kit to arrive at the bottom line. For example, you may start with a basic shed that costs from $2,000 to $5,000 and then pay extra for factory options such as window boxes, upgraded windows and doors, and insulation. Delivery can add between $300 and $1,300 -- although some manufacturers will deliver free and others may add up to $2,400. Hiring two handymen to assemble your shed may cost a few hundred dollars.


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