Can I Build a Loft in My Shed?


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A loft is a space above the main part of the shed, normally thought of as an attic. It goes from the top of the wall plates to the peak of the roof. You can put flooring in this space for more storage. If your shed is big enough, you can actually make a sort of room up there. All but the smallest sheds or plastic sheds should have studs across the width of the roof base, making it easy to put in flooring.

It’s certainly possible to build a loft in a shed. As long as local building codes permit, you can either build a shed with a loft or add loft space to an existing shed. With the gambrel or typical gable roof, you already have the space for a loft. It’s just a matter of putting in flooring. You may already have the studs for the flooring installed when the shed was built, especially if trusses were used, unless you have a plastic shed or all metal shed.

How Do You Support a Shed Loft?

Floor joists for the loft (or shed ceiling rafters) are usually 2 x 4s or 2 x 6s. They can be larger sizes. You probably won’t want to store really heavy things in your loft. (Think of climbing up and down holding something heavy and getting it through the loft opening.) However, if you plan for more than just a very small space or to use it for something other than storage and you just have 2 x 4 joists, you may think about adding some extra support.

If your shed is already built with joists, they are probably on 24-inch centers, and you can easily add additional joists between the existing ones. You can even use wider joists if you think it is warranted. If your shed doesn’t already have joists, you can add whatever size you want, of course.

If you are buying a metal shed building made to order, discuss with the company the possibility of a loft space. The company can plan and build your shed with the loft much more easily than you could add a loft space to an existing metal building. If the price is prohibitive, ask about the company putting in a wood stud framework for interior walls. Almost any company can do this, and you can use the stud frame to build a loft yourself.

If your shed is not built yet, it’s a good idea to put in the loft space and flooring before installing the roof sheathing. It will be much easier to build your shed this way. While most lofts are floored with plywood of sufficient thickness, if you plan to use the shed for sleeping quarters or spend much time in it for other reasons, it would be a good idea to put in a subfloor as well as regular flooring.

A minimum thickness for plywood flooring is 7/8-inch when joists are 19-24 inches apart. If your joists are 16 inches apart or less, you can use 5/8-inch plywood.

What Type of Roof Do I Need for a Loft?

The best type of roof for a loft space is the gambrel or barn-shaped roof, especially if the walls are at least six feet tall. Some sheds with gambrel roofs start the first roofing slope lower down and only have walls as low as four feet tall. This style of shed may not be suitable for putting in a loft space, as your main ceiling would be only four feet up or the loft space would be smaller.

The next best is the typical gable roof. A roof with one slope may be used if the slope is high enough, but space will be very limited. Because of the small space, saltbox or lean-to sheds also are unsuitable for a loft.

Does a Shed Need to Be High to Add a Loft?

If you are using the loft just for storage, it doesn’t need to be very high. It just needs to be high enough so you can move around without bumping your head constantly when looking for items or arranging things. Plan for around four feet at the highest point to be comfortable. If you plan to walk around in the loft, you may need to plan for a taller roof, keeping in mind any height restrictions your building codes may have on the total height of the building.

The larger your shed overall, the higher your roof needs to be to have the proper slope. Usually, the pitch is calculated at three feet of rise for every twelve feet of roof, so larger sheds naturally have more attic space. With a larger shed, you can plan for a steeper pitch, allowing more space under the roof for a loft.

What is the Difference Between a Loft and a Mezzanine?

A mezzanine is an intermediate section between two main floors of a building. It’s one way people make their homes into a split level. Anything in the region of the roof is usually called a loft.

Can I Build a Partial Loft?

Many people with large or long sheds choose to make a partial loft over half the available space or more. Of course, with this option, you won’t have to worry about building an opening for access. One good idea is to build a permanent ladder at one side of the loft or attach a ladder to the joists. This will prevent somebody (or yourself) from moving your access ladder to use on another project, then forgetting to put it back.

How Do I Get Access to the Loft?

You can build a simple opening in your flooring, using two cross braces attached to the joists. If the joists are too close together for this, you’ll have to cut one to make your access. Cut the flooring to match your opening framework. Some people like to have their opening near the center of the loft, enabling them to have access all around without moving around a lot; others prefer having the opening at one end to maximize space.

Where you plan your access will depend somewhat on how big a floor space you will have and the use you plan for it. If you plan to make the space an occasional sleeping area, for instance, you will probably want the access point at one end of the shed. Another way to make an access point is to leave some space at one end of the shed when you put your flooring in.

A permanent or folding ladder is a plus. It keeps you from having an unpleasant surprise when you find your ladder is missing because somebody used it for something else and didn’t return it. If nothing else, make sure everyone in the family knows that the shed ladder stays in the shed, no exceptions.

Are There Height Restrictions for a Shed?

Some municipalities and building codes have restrictions on overall shed heights. Some have restrictions on building a loft in a shed in order to use it for an office or extra sleeping place for company, as they regard this as having two stories in the shed. Many localities will not allow two stories in an outbuilding.

Even if they do, you may be required to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to use the loft as an office or other such use, which can be a real problem to obtain. In addition, homeowners’ associations often have additional restrictions on outbuildings. If you do plan to use the loft as an office or additional sleeping space, you’ll probably want electricity run to the shed, which will require a permit and inspections itself, whatever other requirements there may be.

Check with your local authorities first if you are adding loft space to an existing shed. Of course, if you haven’t built your shed yet, you should have the loft space indicated in the plans you submit for a building permit. To save yourself a lot of work, it would be a good idea to check with the building authority to see if livable loft space is permitted at all in a shed before you draw up your plans. That way you won’t have to start your plans all over if you get bad news about a loft.

How to Build a Simple Loft

Adding a loft to an existing shed is not as easy as building one in when building the shed, but neither is it very complicated. Plan for enough 2 x 6 lumber to fasten to your top wall plate to match the wall stud placement. Smaller joists, such as 2 x 4s, are not really recommended. It’s better to have too much support than to find out later that you didn’t have enough.

A simple way to attach the joists is to rest each end on top of the walls’ top plates and attach each end to the rafter. You may need to make miter cuts to get the ends to match the pitch of the roof. Framing nails can be used for fastening. This method utilizes the strength of the walls to help support your floor.

Another method is to attach joist hangers to the top plate boards using strong fasteners. The joist hangers should come with recommendations on the proper fasteners. Just make sure to get the size hangers that will fit your joists.

If you have a shed with a gambrel roof but the lower height walls, you can still add a loft, bearing in mind that your loft height will be limited as well as overall loft space compared with sheds having normal wall height. Attach your joists to the trusses or rafters above the wall top plates to get the height you want.

Allow at least six feet of headspace in the main part of the shed. When attaching joists to the rafters you won’t have the support of the walls, so stronger fasteners such as bolts should be used, as they will carry most of the floor’s load.

Next comes the flooring. If you plan to walk around in the loft much you should probably install a subfloor. The spacing of the floor joists will indicate the thickness of the plywood you need. If the joists are 19-24 inches apart, use 7/8-inch plywood; for joists 16 inches apart, plywood no less than 5/8-inch thick is recommended.

Build your framework for the loft access before installing the subfloor, cutting a hole in the plywood to match. Screws are best for attaching plywood flooring. Even with thick plywood, there still is a little give to the floor, and this motion tends to eventually work nails out. This can lead to tripping or even scraping your knee over a raised nail head if you have to crawl in part of the loft. Screws tend to be able to stay put better. Now you’re already done.

Conclusion

Having a loft space makes good use of the space under the roof, which would otherwise go to waste. As anyone who owns a shed knows, no matter how big a new shed is, it fills up more quickly than you would think, leaving you wondering if you should have built a bigger shed. Building a loft space gives you much more space for storage, leaving the bottom part for larger things such as the riding mower or ATVs and things you regularly use.

The loft can be used to store seasonal things and other items that aren’t used very often. This also clears up walking-around space in the shed, keeping you from having to squeeze between things to reach for that thing on the back of a shelf, or not having space for a stepladder to reach things on a higher shelf. In short, they not only are useful in themselves but leave the lower space more usable as well.

If you are planning a shed build, a loft doesn’t take much more material. If you already have a shed, adding a loft is not a huge project. Your only problem will be keeping the kids from turning it into a playroom instead of storage. Maybe that’s not a bad idea.

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