Ground Preparation For A Shed: 7 Mistakes To Avoid

Workers building a gravel shed foundation in PA

A backyard shed is one of the best investments you can make to increase both the value and the usefulness of your property. But before it arrives at your property (or you build it) you obviously want to think about the proper way to do ground preparation for a shed!

Once you’ve determined whether or not you need a foundation for your shed, preparing the ground for a shed is not an incredibly complex job. Good tools, quality materials, and proper planning will make the job painless and efficient. (Step-by-step instructions for building a gravel shed foundation can also be useful!)

However, there are some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid as you work on the project. If you’re planning to hire a site preparation contractor to install your shed base, you’ll also want to make sure that they’re qualified for the job and aware of these issues. Here are 7 mistakes not to make:

1. Placing Your Shed Too Close To Property Lines

While this is technically not part of the actual ground preparation for your shed, it’s important to double-check where your preferred shed location falls relative to your property lines. Most townships and municipalities have specific requirements for building setbacks (distance from property lines) and you’ll want to check them before you start building.

Ground preparation for a shed foundation on a slope

It’s common for local regulations to require a shed to be 5-15 feet from the rear or sides of your property. For instance, Manheim Township in Lancaster County, PA requires a minimum of 5 feet setback from the side/rear property lines.

It’s best to check directly with your local zoning office to see what, if any, requirements affect you.  If your property is part of a homeowners’ association, they may have additional requirements and if there are any easements on your property (such as overhead utility lines) you’ll want to take those into account as well. You can read more about choosing the ideal location for a shed here.

Manheim, PA regulations for ground preparation for a shed

2. Preparing A Shed Site On Low-Lying Ground

If there’s anything you don’t want, it’s a flooded shed! If you have a choice, you will definitely want to avoid placing your shed in any swampy or low-lying areas of your property. Look for a high, well-drained spot and do the ground preparation for your shed there.

Building a shed in a wet area can have several negative effects, even if you can keep your shed from flooding. For one, excessive moisture will tend to make your shed deteriorate faster as it promotes rot. In addition, mold and mildew love to grow on buildings in wet areas. Finally, maneuvering any lawn equipment becomes much more difficult when the ground is soft.

level ground for shed swamp

3. Not Leveling The Ground Properly Beneath Your Shed

This is probably obvious, but it bears repeating. One of the quickest ways to cause issues in your shed is to simply put it in the backyard without first making sure the spot you’ve chosen is level!

If a shed is off-level, it can put strain on the structure which the framing was not designed for. Also, if the slope is too steep, anything with wheels will find a way to roll around in the shed! You can read more about how to level the ground for your shed here.

Ground preparation for a shed on the side of a hill

4. Using Only Concrete Blocks For Ground Prep Under Your Shed

There are a lot of people who will suggest placing your shed on concrete blocks, but in the long run this is probably not the best ground preparation for a shed.

shed on foundation blocks

One of the biggest reasons to not use concrete blocks under a shed is the fact that the shed will not be supported evenly. Even if you are able to perfectly level all the blocks (which is difficult) when you first place your shed, as the years go by, the blocks will tend to settle at different rates. This can put unnecessary strain on the shed’s framing, causing it to show its age much faster.

Eventually, you might end up with a shed that is listing to one side. Worse, the uneven strain on the shed’s frame can cause windows and doors to bind, preventing easy opening and closing.

In addition, sheds on blocks offer a perfect place for critters to burrow. Once they’re underneath the shed, they’re much more likely to cause damage to the structure from below. We have an entire article about the use of concrete blocks under sheds here.

As an alternative to concrete blocks, a gravel foundation is one of the most economical and durable ways to prepare the ground for a shed. It will support the entire shed evenly, keep the bottom of your shed well drained, and discourage animals from nesting beneath your building. Here are three more pitfalls to avoid when using gravel for you shed base…

shed block foundation floor

5. Not Preparing Enough Extra Space Around Your Shed

If you’re preparing ground for a 10×12 shed, you’ll need a 10×12 foundation, right? Well, not exactly. It’s important to plan your foundation with some extra space around your shed.

gravel shed foundation

Generally speaking, your shed foundation should allow for at least 12” extra on each side of the building itself. So, if your shed will be 10×12, your gravel foundation should be 12×14.

Allowing 12” on all sides of your shed, accomplishes a couple of things:

First, it reduces rainwater dripping off the roof from splashing up against the sides of your shed. This will keep the sides of your shed cleaner and help them last longer.

Second, extra gravel will help keep grass and weeds from growing along the sides of your shed. Grass can trap moisture around the base of your building, helping it to deteriorate faster. Also, you run the risk of scratching and scuffing the sides of your shed as you trim the grass around it every week. You can read about choosing the correct size of shed foundation here.

6. Doing Ground Preparation For Your Shed Without Landscape Fabric

Gravel alone might not be enough to keep all the grass and weeds away from your shed. It’s a good idea to add landscape fabric as part of the ground prep for your shed. But what exactly is landscape fabric?

Landscape fabric (also known as weed barrier) is a fabric, generally made from polypropylene fibers that is placed under flower beds, gardens, and other landscaping to prevent unwanted plants from sprouting up through the soil.

By placing a fabric weed barrier over the soil before adding the gravel to your shed foundation, you almost completely eliminate the chances of any weeds sprouting up around your building. Additionally, the fabric helps separate the gravel from the soil beneath it, adding extra stability to the finished shed base.

At Site Preparations LLC, we use commercial grade landscape fabric in every shed ground prep job we do.

level ground for shed weed barrier

Photo: The Spruce

The barrier product we use is actually the same type of heavy duty fabric used in road construction to prevent potholes! It adds a lot of stability and resilience to the gravel foundations we create and we won’t build a shed pad without it.

7. Preparing Ground For A Shed Without Adding A Perimeter

A lot of landscapers or DIYers miss this important step in the shed site prep process. It might be tempting to just clear a spot of grass, lay down some weed barrier, spread a pile of gravel around, and call it good enough. Don’t forget the perimeter, though!

Gravel ground preparation for a shed on a slope

A solid wooden perimeter helps to contain the soil and gravel for your shed foundation, so it won’t be spread around and work its way into the lawn as the years go by. It’s especially important if you’re planning to build your shed on a spot that’s off-level. In that case, your perimeter can also double as a retaining wall.

Choose a high-quality, pressure-treated wood for this job. Make sure the lumber you select is rated GC (ground-contact) since it will be exposed to soil moisture for years to come. In addition to screwing the perimeter together, the corners of the lumber should be drilled through and staked down with rebar to keep it anchored to the ground. At Site Preparations LLC, we use 4x6s for most applications (6x6s under some circumstances).

landscape timber installation for shed pad

Let’s Do It

And there you have it!  Plan ahead, avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your to having a long-lasting shed foundation!

If the project seems a little bigger than something you want to tackle yourself, you always have the option of working with a professional site preparation contractor to do the ground preparation for your shed. Site Preparations LLC offers shed pads, garage foundations, and general site prep throughout Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and beyond. Give us details on your shed project and we’ll be glad to provide a free quote for ground prep!

Crushed stone ground preparation for a shed

24 thoughts on “Ground Preparation For A Shed: 7 Mistakes To Avoid

  1. John says:

    Very helpful. Thanks. What brand or thickness of landscape fabric do you use. It has to be porous so water does not collect , right.

  2. Glenn says:

    Hi. My shed site is uneven with roots from nearby small trees visible on the surface. Shall I raise the level of the base well above the roots using a pressure treated perimeter and fill it with gravel? I’m concerned the roots may cause movement and collapse the gravel – is that a risk or unlikely? The base dimensions is approx. 8′ x 8′. Thanks

  3. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Glenn,
    We’ve been notching the perimeter lumber out around tree roots in situations where we encounter them. So far, that’s worked well for us. There’s probably more risk of the tree roots moving the lumber than the gravel…just something to consider.
    Good luck with your project!

  4. Verna says:

    I live by the lake . Water has not been an issue for 30 years
    Last shed was 30 years old in on spot. The last 2 years water has been high and we have flooded and water sits in that corner of yard now. If I want to build up before I replace shed do I only use cloth and gravel or should I add more dirt first?
    I was going to fill in than add about 4 to 6 inches of the small compacting/ screening gravel
    Will this be okay?

  5. Fred says:

    Hi, I am building a shed on an old leech field.
    Q1: After I dig out my site, what is recommended depth, 4″, 6″, ?
    Q2: It seems to me that it might be useful to slope my digging to one corner, to allow for overflow water to be drained out from under the shed. I live on a lot of clay…
    Q3: What is the best way to compact/consolidate the soil after I dig out to prevent excessive settling? The plate compactor and jumping jack compactors seem a little.. wimpy?

    Appreciate your time!

  6. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Verna,
    If you’re building your site up, keep in mind that gravel settles less than dirt. We’ve installed built-up pads with gravel several feet deep! We recommend using “3/4″ clean” gravel as that will allow the best drainage and will lock together to prevent settling. We actually have a full shed foundation installation guide here:
    Hope that is helpful!

  7. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Fred,
    First off, it is a bit risky to build on a drainage field…not something we generally recommend. If that’s your only option, we’d recommend only digging down a few inches (4″ or less)…undisturbed soil will settle the least.
    There’s no need to slope the site unless water was pooling in that area previously, in which case you’d want to come up with a drainage plan before you build. The gravel pad is permeable, so water will soak straight through as it would otherwise.
    As far as compaction, we try to disturb the soil as little as possible; we also use the weight of our skid steer to compact it before adding gravel.
    We have an entire how-to guide here, which you may find helpful:
    Good luck!

  8. Gregory Dickson says:

    Hi there- I have dug a shed prep space and it is ready for landscape fabric and gravel, but since we’ve had a lot of rain lately, the dirt is a bit on the looser, muddier side… no puddles, but definitely looser in spots… so I need to wait until the ground dries out more before laying the fabric and gravel, or does the weight of the fabric and gravel help dry it out? Thanks!

  9. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi VW,
    You’ll want to excavate down until you reach firm soil. If necessary, you may need to add concrete footers as well; you can see some examples of that here and here.

  10. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Gregory,
    It’s ideal to have the ground as firm as possible. To be honest, we usually do the excavation and lay the fabric and stone on the same day to avoid that issue as much as possible. That being said, assuming you’ve removed any loose topsoil it should be fine if the ground is a bit damp. And of course, make sure to tamp the crushed stone well after adding it. Hope that’s helpful!

  11. Caleb says:

    Putting in my first shed, zero experience/knowledge, found this article during a Google search, I’m pretty sure I would have made several of the “common” mistakes listed (blocks, no extra space, no fabric, no perimeter). Thanks a ton for posting helpful information like this for knuckleheads like me!

  12. Ali says:

    I’ve got a 30 yr old shed on sloped ground which wasn’t prepped properly. And you guessed it, the ground has settled, and every time it rains I’ve got two inches of water underneath.
    I can’t afford to have it moved and a new pad installed.
    The corners have been jacked and leveled and raised with more 8x16x1 blocks.
    Still there’s water.
    I’m thinking of pulling the floor myself and auging holes and filling them with gravel.
    Then spreading more gravel underneath.
    Do you think that would work?

  13. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Ali,
    That may work…it’s a bit different approach than what we usually use, so we can’t vouch for it specifically. You may also want to see if there’s any way you can divert water away from the shed. Good luck with the project!

  14. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Joann,
    We wouldn’t recommend it due to permeability issues. The stabilization fabric we recommend allows water to drain through the foundation and into the ground. A tarp will trap water in the foundation beneath your shed and will likely shorten the lifespan of the lumber in your shed floor and in the foundation perimeter.

  15. Richard Conlin says:

    We’re having our first ever backyard shed delivered late September. It will be 12′ X 16′ and have a little cottage look but, it’s specifically to hold pool equipment. Our pool currently has all of the equipment visible and we don’t like that look. The floor of the shed is wood and the joists are wood too. I’ve hired a landscape company near me to prep the location but they did not suggest the wooden perimeter around the gravel. The area has a very slight slope and is heavily wooded. Over 100 trees were removed to create space for the in-ground pool and concrete sun deck surround. I want the shed to sit back into the trees. Based on my description do you have any suggestions? I have approximately one month to do what you suggest.

  16. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Richard,
    We often install these foundations in wooded areas; the only downside is the pain of occasionally dealing with roots/stumps during installation. We recommend the perimeter, especially on a slope, as the gravel will tend to wash or drift away over time, causing your shed to sink or list to one side. Our recommendation would be to invest in a perimeter for your shed foundation in order to protect the longevity of your shed. Good luck with the project!

  17. Site Preparations LLC says:

    Hi Dale,
    Wood chips won’t pack tight enough to support a shed properly. Plus, they will settle and eventually disappear as they decompose, and it will be hard to replace them under your building. Hope that’s helpful!

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