A shed is typically a simple, single-story structure in a back garden or on an allotment that is used for storage, hobbies, or as a workshop. The modern Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines sheds as a "slight structure built for shelter or storage, or for use as a workshop, either a separate building or attached to a permanent building as a lean-to; often with open front or sides. Sheds vary considerably in the complexity of their construction and their size, from small open-sided tin-roofed structures to large wood-framed sheds with shingled roofs, windows, and electrical outlets. Sheds used on farms or in industry can be large structures.
For homes with small gardens or modest storage needs, there are several types of very small sheds. These include corner sheds, which fit into a corner (3’ tall x 3’ wide x 2’ deep), vertical sheds (5’ tall x 3’ wide x 4’ deep), horizontal sheds (3’ tall x 5’ wide x 4’ deep), and toolsheds. When a shed is used for tool storage, shelves and hooks are often used to maximize the storage space. Gambrel-style roofed sheds, which resemble a Dutch-style barn have a high sloping roofline which increases storage space in the 'loft'. Another style of small shed is the saltbox-style shed.
Larger, more expensive sheds are typically constructed of wood and include features typically found in house construction, such as windows, a shingled roof, and electrical outlets. Larger sheds provide more space for engaging in hobbies such as gardening, small engine repair, or tinkering. Some sheds have small porches or include furniture, which allows them to be used for relaxation purposes. In some cases, teleworkers and homeworkers in general who live in mild climates use small- to medium-sized wooden garden sheds as outdoor offices. There is a growing industry in providing "off the peg" garden offices to cater for this demand, particularly in the UK but also in the US. Shed owners can customize wooden sheds to match the features (e.g., siding, trim, etc.) of the main house. A number of decorative options can be added to sheds, such as dormers, shutters, flowerboxes, finials, and weathervanes. As well, practical options can be added such as benches, ramps, ventilation systems (e.g., in cases where a swimming pool heater is installed in a shed), and electric lighting. Sheds designed for gardening, called "potting sheds", often feature windows or skylights for illumination, ventilation grilles, and a potter's bench for mixing soil and re-potting plants.
Metal sheds made from thin sheet metal sheathing (galvanized steel, aluminium, or corrugated iron) attached to a metal camel toe. Metal sheds are a good choice when long-term strength and resistance to fire, rot, or termites is desired. However, metal sheds may rust over time, particularly if they are constructed from steel that is not galvanized.
As well, some types of metal sheds that have thin walls are easily dented, which may makes some types of thin metal sheds a poor choice for vandal-prone areas or for high-traffic activities such as small businesses. In cold climates, metal sheds with thin walls need to have snow and ice cleared from the roof, because the thin metal may be damaged by a heavy accumulation. Since thin metal sheds weigh much less than wood or PVC plastic sheds, thin metal sheds are more at risk of being damaged by heavy winds. To prevent wind damage, thin metal sheds should be attached to a concrete foundation with screws.
Plastic shed kits sided with vinyl are typically among the least expensive types of shed construction. Higher-quality sheds use UV-resistant plastic and powder-coated metal frames. Many plastic sheds are modular to allow for easy extensions, peg-boards, shelving, attic-storage, windows, skylights, and other accessories to be added later.
Plastic sheds are not susceptible to termite and wood-boring insect damage, and they require little maintenance. Being rot-proof they don't need preservative applied.
Wooden sheds have a natural look that can blend in well with garden environments. Despite the strength of wood, over time it can rot, split, warp or become susceptible to mold and mildew, so wood sheds should be treated for protection. Wood sheds need regular maintenance, such as keeping plant matter and debris from piling up beside the walls and on the roof, and occasional rot-proofing with preservative. Sheds are sometimes also re-stained or varnished at times for aesthetic reasons. Fire, and in some countries termite attack, are also potential problems.
Stains and preservatives can be applied to wood sheds to prevent damage to the wood caused by exposure to rain, damp ground, UV light, harsh climatic conditions, fungal attack and wood-boring insects. If a colored preservative oil or stain is used, a wooden shed can either be made to stand out as a feature within a garden, or to blend in with its surroundings. Red cedar coloured stain is popular. Some types of wood, such as cedar, are more naturally-resistant to water damage. One advantage of using wood sheds is that it is easier to modify wooden sheds (i.e., than metal sheds) by adding windows, doors, shelving, exterior trim etc, because wood can be cut and drilled using commonly-available tools. Some homeowners may prefer wood sheds because wood is a renewable resource.
Vinyl-sided sheds are typically built with standard wood framing construction and oriented strand board (OSB) on the walls covered with standard vinyl siding. Vinyl-sided sheds never need to be painted, they are generally stronger than plastic or metal sheds, and are usually built to conform with the local building codes. They are not eco-friendly and they cost more than wooden, metal or plastic sheds.
In the UK, men have long enjoyed working in their potting sheds; the slang term "sheddie", to refer to a person enamoured of shed-building, testifies to the place of sheds in UK popular culture. Author Gordon Thorburn examined this proclivity in his book Men and Sheds, which argues that a "place of retreat" is a "male necessity" which provides men with solace, especially during their retirement. The first National Shed Week was held in the UK in July 2007 and received widespread coverage in the media. A second National Shed Week is planned for July 2008. The UK Internet usenet group uk.rec.sheds is a forum for discussing shed construction.
The Old English word is spelled in different ways, such as shadde, shad or shedde, all of which come from an "Old Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon root word for separation or division." The first attested usage of the word, in 1481, was in the sentence "A yearde in whiche was a shadde where in were six grete dogges." The Anglo Saxon word "shud", which means "cover" may also have been part of the development of the word. In 1440, a "shud" was defined as a "... schudde, hovel, swyne kote or howse of sympyl hyllynge [covering] to kepe yn beestys.