land excavation

The Complete Guide to Shed Site Preparation (2020 Update)

Sheds are an incredibly handy space for extra storage, especially if a garage isn’t available or there isn’t enough room for your tools, equipment, or other items that need safekeeping. 

They are also a lot less expensive to build. In fact, there are pre-built sheds that can be easily delivered and installed. A shed is also a good option if space on your lot is limited.

Before you start plotting out space in your yard to build a new shed, there are a few things to consider. 

Putting the time, energy, and effort into a new shed should not be wasted on poor planning and preparations. 

In this article, we will prepare you for all you need to know about shed site preparation:

1. Planning Before You Get A Shed

2. How To Determine The Best Site For Your Shed

3. How To Work With An Excavator for Your Shed Site Preparation

4. How To Level The Ground In Preparation For Land Grading

5. Best Shed Pad Foundations For Every Need

6. Shed Pad Foundation Solutions for Severely Sloped Grounds

7. DIY Or Call A Professional?

8. Consider Working With a Professional Excavation Contractor

1. Planning Before You Get A Shed

Surprise birthday parties are fun… but, a surprise visit from the local planning department putting a halt on your project? Not so much. 

First things first, familiarize yourself with all codes, requirements, and permits needed before adding a new structure to your property.

Permits

Every city and state has different regulations for building permits and it can also depend on the size of the structure that will be added to your property. 

It is advised to check your local town or city’s government website or call their office to get this information.

Dig Safe

Before you begin any type of land excavation it is always best to contact your state’s Dig Safe department for any regulations that need to be adhered to. 

Dig Safe will inspect the property to mark out where all the utility lines are laid underground to make sure they are not dug up or damaged during the excavation.

Also, keep in mind that the shed shouldn’t be too close to utility lines. Dig Safe can also advise the safe distance or clearance that should allow enough space for utility departments to access the lines if need be.

Property Lines:

To keep the neighbors happy and avoid any potential territory crossing, consult your property’s deed, property’s survey, or hire a land surveyor to confirm the land that is yours.

It is also wise to account for 10 feet distance from the back property line and 15 feet from a side lot.

The clearance around the shed from the adjacent property lines is also referred to as the setback – setting your shed back from the property line a safe distance. 

Check with your local building department for any other specific regulations.

Protecting The Foundation of Your Shed 

Placing a shed on your property will take a little more effort than having the shed company do it for you. 

The ground beneath the shed will also need preparation to maintain its longevity and utility.

Just like a house, a shed will need a good, sturdy foundation placed upon a properly prepared excavated site. Land grading is a necessary step in this process to ensure level ground. 

Compacting the soil to avoid further shifting under the weight of the structure. Applying adequate drainage to avoid water damage to the structure and what it stores.

2. How To Determine The Best Site For Your Shed

shed site preparation

Here are some tips to help you explore the lay of the land to find the best area to place your shed. 

Find The Most Level Part Of The Property

The easiest way to find the best shed site location is to eyeball your property and find the area where you think the ground is most level. 

To test your judgment, place a 2×4 beam or other flat surface structure on the ground and set your level upon it to see where the bubble lands.

Now, even what appears to be level may still have some slope to it. 

Keep reading, we’ll discuss how to best even out your land as well as list options for what to do if you have a severe slope.

If possible, try to set your shed in an area that is the most level in an attempt to decrease the amount of work needed for land excavation and land grading.  

If there is a location in your property that is prone to collecting water, avoid placing a shed or any other structure in this area.

Based on this configuration, let’s look at a few options for shed site preparation based on convenience.

Place The Shed Site According To Convenience

First things first, where do you want the door to face?

Convenience is key when considering gaining access to the items in your shed. Think of all the ways you will be using your shed and what will be stored in it:

  • A ride-on lawnmower – needs easy in and out access without having to make any turns
  • The kids’ yard toys and sports equipment – direct the shed door to where you want your kids to bring the toys and equipment, for instance away from the flower garden.
  • Storage shed for your gardening tools and supplies – position the shed to face the garden for easy access to its items
  • Maneuvering a wheelbarrow – face the shed door in a manner that allows wide clearance for easy in and out
  • Extra accessories to work on the car – point the shed door in the direction of the driveway to eliminate extra steps while handling an oil pan, a car jack, the car detailing kit, etc.

When looking for the best shed site, make the access to the inside of your shed quick, easy, and efficient with a conveniently located door.

The placement of the door will also determine the area to be marked off for site preparation and excavation of the foundation. 

Keep reading, we’ll hit this topic in this post too!

Curb Appeal Also Goes A Long Way

Your shed site can also be determined based on what is most aesthetically pleasing to the land. 

A shed can fill in space that is lacking character and charm, especially if other areas of the land have a landscape or other features and functions. 

If easy access for other activities isn’t a huge factor and the shed will be used as a hobby area or where your kids hang out, there is more freedom for its placement. 

Though, you should still keep in mind the quality of the land when thinking of aesthetics. 

Don’t Forget About Your Neighbors!

So, you have the perfect site picked out for your shed, but it may be too close to your neighbor’s property line. 

As mentioned before, consult your property deed for property lines and then the county offices for the proper distance from your neighbor’s property.  

You’ll be thankful you did this before any excavation construction begins.

Remember Those Utility Lines, Too!

We can’t stress enough to always double-check with the state’s Dig Safe department to ensure you are not on top of or too close to utility lines. 

This is especially crucial for the preparation and excavation of the shed’s foundation.

OK – so you have an idea of where the shed site is going to be. 

Great, let’s start the site preparation for your shed’s new home!

3. How To Work With An Excavator for Your Shed Site Preparation 

With the perfect site picked out for your shed, it’s time to prep for the land excavation. 

There are a few steps involved in the land preparation stage. 

These are important to follow as the stability of the foundation for the shed relies on the excavation and the land grading. 

Vegetation Clearing And Removal

First, remove any vegetation and rocks from the area, including at least 5 feet from the marked dimensions of the shed. 

This extra 5 feet of space will provide ample room to move around the shed as well.

Get Ready To Dig

Use the dimensions of the shed to plan out the excavation for the foundation. 

A good rule of thumb is to add an extra 12 inches to every side of the shed’s dimensions to allow for adequate room for grading and placement.

With a fairly level area that does not require a great deal of excavation and land grading, a gardening spade should suffice to be used to remove the layer of topsoil. 

(If you have a severely sloped land, skip to step #4 for t foundation solutions)

Topsoil is malleable and easily shifts, which you can feel even under the weight of your own feet. So imagine the movement under a 1200-2600 lb. shed!

A depth of 4-6” is recommended to remove the topsoil or until you start to see lighter colored dirt. This dirt is more stable under heavy weight. 

Once the topsoil is removed, leveling the ground is next. Again, this ensures the longevity of your shed with a base that will support the foundation to hold your shed and all the items within.

Something to Consider…

You may find rocks and tree roots in the excavation process. 

An easy dig just turned a little more grueling with sweat starting to drip as you reach for alternative digging tools to get around these obstacles.

The pickaxe is a decent tool to use to break up the soil that has the big rocks impregnated into it. 

It is also useful for removing obnoxious roots that will disturb the level ground for your site’s foundation. 

Your local home improvement store will also house other useful tools to help successfully remove these tougher items from your excavation site.

High-Quality Backfill Is Required

Once these items have been removed from the site, proper ground leveling is going to be critical for the longevity of the shed. 

To fill in the voids of where the roots and rocks were, you will probably have to order a high-quality backfill that is suitable for compaction and stable under pressure, not shifting.

Once the rock and soil excavation has been completed within the accurately measured parameters for the shed’s base, add 12 inches on every side. 

The shed site then needs to be graded, leveled, and compacted. 

To know more about proper ground leveling for your shed site prep, read on! 

4. How To Level The Ground In Preparation For Land Grading 

shed site preparation

Here is where you can show off to your friends with this neat leveling trick, no engineers required!

Follow this quick “how-to” for determining the level of your site to prepare for land grading.

What You’ll Need:

  • Rubber mallet
  • (4) Wooden-grade stakes with one end pointed
  • Orange nylon string
  • String level
  • A helper
  • Measuring tape
  • Calculator
  • Backfill
  • Soil tamper

Here’s what you need to do: 

  1. Using the wooden-grade stakes, mark out the four corners of the excavation site.  
  2. Use the rubber mallet to bang the flat end of the wooden stakes into the ground at each corner – the pointed end makes for easy impalement into the ground.
  3. Attach the string to one of the wooden stakes – using an orange nylon line is recommended for its strength and easy visibility. 
  4. Bring the remaining spool of the string toward an adjacent wooden stake. Mid-way to the other stake, attach the string level to the string.
  5. Your helper is going to watch the string level to see when the bubble falls in between the two lines, indicating a level line, while you adjust the string on the adjacent stake, going up or down depending on the level. 
  6. When your helper signifies the string is level, wrap the string around the wooden stake to hold that level line.
  7. Using the measuring tape, measure areas along the string to see the slope in the land You are looking for high points and low points to determine how much soil is needed for leveling.

This is just one method to level the ground. Check out these other methods for leveling the ground, choose what you feel is most accurate and easiest to get the best results.

Once the area is marked off with the high and low points. Ordering the backfill is next.

Backfill

Backfill is soil that is constructed to provide support for a structure’s base.

This is ideal to support the longevity of your new shed, especially with a concrete slab for its foundation. It is needed to fill in areas to be raised up to level.

To determine the backfill that is needed for your site, the formula involves a little geometry and a calculator. Determining the cubic feet of the area to be filled we will get the volume of backfill. 

So, we are in need of V for volume which = the Length x Width x Depth of the area to be filled.

V = L x W x D

The volume will equal the square footage which will then need to be converted into yards as backfill is sold in this measurement unit.  

A cubic foot in a yard equals 27 (3 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep) in size. Divide the number you solved for V (volume) and divide by 27 to figure out the number of yards needed for backfill.

Dirt Compaction

Once the backfill is laid out, get out the soil tamper to press the dirt into a compacted state to eliminate as much space for movement and shifting under the foundation. 

To ensure that the ground is level throughout this process, a trick is to lay a flat board over the ground’s surface  to see where there may be gaps or peaks in the soil.

Slope For Drainage Away From The Shed

Before placing the foundation – make sure the adequate slope is applied to the property for proper drainage to protect the foundation of your new shed. 

Dig 8 inches down and 8 inches wide on the side of the shed you want to drain the water away from. 

Direct this trench to a safe area where the water can drain, such as a wash or drainpipe.

How To Measure The Slope For The Drainage

Using the string line method, similar to the leveling method, place a wooden stake along the drainage path every 10 feet. The rate of the slope is to be 1 foot for every 100 feet.

At each stake, 10 feet apart, measure 1 inch down.

  1. Starting with the first stake at the shed, measure 2 feet and place a stake. Tie a string to the first stake and tie off at the second stake where it is level with the ground. 
  2. Tie a string to the second stake and then attach to the third stake that is 1 inch lower than the previous stake, continue this process until the drainage destination is met.
  3. Cover the bottom of this trench with 2 inches of gravel.
  4. On top of the gravel place drain tile with a diameter of 4 inches, to run the length of the trench.
  5. Attach a 90-degree 4-inch PVC pipe to the top of the drain tile near the shed which will be exposed on top of the ground.
  6. Cover the drain tile with landscape fabric and then cover with 3 inches of gravel

Once complete, you are now ready for the foundation!

5. Best Shed Pad Foundations For Every Need

Who knew there were so many shed pad foundations to choose from!  

This is good news for you because you can choose the best one for your budget, your skill, your time and energy, and what will work best for the land the shed site is going on.

If you don’t want a permanent structure placed on your property or want the freedom to move or remove it, then the on-grade foundation options would be good to start with. 

The alternative would be the more permanent options, which we will explore in this article as well.

As with any foundation, before building the final installation of the shed, always ensure that the foundation remains level.

Easy And Cheap – Concrete Pavers

Want an easy and quick foundation for a quality storage shed site? The concrete pavers are a great way to get your shed site going. 

The pavers can be placed right on the level ground that you just prepared! This does involve some heavy lifting, squatting, and bending, so make sure you are up for the task.  

Other than the manual labor, this shed site foundation is one of the easiest to accomplish without putting a huge dent in your wallet. 

Since the pavers go under the structure, the style doesn’t have to play a big factor. Only the pavers that may be exposed around the perimeter.

Another plus for pavers is that it keeps the shed site close to the ground, which makes for easier access.

A Popular Option – Gravel Pad

Want a cheap yet sturdy foundation for a high-quality shed? Installing a gravel pad might be your best bet! 

As you’ve read in many informational guides on shed foundations, the gravel pad is often mentioned, most likely for its affordability and ease of installation. 

A gravel pad foundation takes only about 2 hours to construct. It is another inexpensive option with an average cost of $1.25 – $1.80 a square foot.

A gravel pad works best for wooden-floored sheds. However, if you have a pre-built floor, the concrete pad is a better shed pad foundation for you.

After the gravel pad has been laid out, the tamper from the backfill is used to level and compact the gravel.

The gravel pad also keeps the shed close to ground-level for ease of use and access. 

So if you’re building a storage shed in your backyard, this is a great, inexpensive, and quality option! 

Deck Blocks

If you followed the site prep and ground leveling steps above, then the deck block foundation option may be a great fit for you.  

Again, a leveled shed pad foundation is key. If you’ve managed to do this already, then laying the deck blocks according to the size and support needed for the shed site will be fairly easy.

Deck blocks are a pyramid shape with the top designed to hold wooden framing beams for extra support. 

Compared to the gravel and concrete pad options that provide consistent support throughout the base, deck blocks and the wood beams have areas with low support

Building storage sheds containing heavy equipment is not ideal with this foundation.

Depending on the style, size, and where it’s been purchased, deck blocks range from around $3 to over $8.

Poor Man’s Option #1 – Concrete Blocks

If you would like to avoid the shed site prep and excavation process altogether, then this is a good option for you. 

This foundation uses wood beams and concrete blocks to level the shed.

This shed pad foundation uses solid concrete blocks. As with any shed pad, doing site prep and leveling are still important for this foundation.

You need to level the area that the concrete blocks are sitting on as well as the final foundation. 

This will be determined by the number of blocks required to raise the shed pad’s foundation to be level.

Wooden beams are placed on top of the concrete blocks to support the perimeter of the shed. 

The number of beams stacked and secured on top of each other will be determined by the level line according to the severity of the slope of the land.

Now, this poor man’s option has some drawbacks. 

The concrete blocks raise the shed substantially off the ground, requiring a ramp positioned at the right grade for any wheeled vehicles. 

Also, the middle of the shed’s floor will not have support unless more concrete blocks and beams are added. 

Compared to the gravel pad and concrete pad foundations, this option doesn’t provide you much security. There’s a risk that your shed pad’s foundation may shift. 

However, if you want to skip the site prep and need a quick install, then this is your best choice. 

Poor Man Foundation #2 — A Pallet Or Skid Shed Pad Foundation

Great for the recycling enthusiast, this shed foundation puts quality wood to good use! 

A pallet with pressure-treated hardwood is ideal for the foundation for your shed pad. The level ground you prepared earlier is perfect for this option too.

The difference between a skid and a pallet is that a pallet is double-sided with pressure-treated wood for better durability. 

For more stability, it is recommended to take off one of the sides of a pallet, or just use a skid. 

Also, be sure the pallet can be flush with the neighboring pallet, this may require sawing off any wood overhangs.

With the exposed wood-bottom runners on the ground, a word of advice would be to create trenches in the ground below filled with gravel to protect the wood structure.

Lay the pallets on the level ground, again, flush with each other. Connect the pallets with 3-inch deck screws through the runner boards or with metal plates. 

Lastly, lay plywood over the top of the connected pallets to complete the solid base- making sure it is level as well..

The idea of a skid foundation was, as it implies, to skid the structure from one location to another.

This is one of the most affordable and non-permanent foundation options to consider.

Plastic Base Kit

While on the recycling kick – why not reuse some plastic to support your shed site? A grid made out of plastic then filled in with gravel is another option. 

The plastic creates another barrier between the ground and the shed pad, which is a plus. 

Though the tricky part is making sure that each grid is level. Since it is a flexible unit, it moves and shifts.

This shed pad foundation option is a little pricier than the other choices. However, it is fairly easy to install after the ground leveling and site preparation has been completed.

Pre-Built Shed With Foundation Kit Included

These kits were designed to provide the best foundation for that specific store-bought shed. 

This shed pad foundation does need to be installed after the much-needed ground leveling and site preparation. 

Read the instructions fully before leaving the home improvement store to be sure that you have all the materials needed for the installation. 

Some shed pad foundation kits require that you pick up some extra materials not included in the kit

Do your homework on this option to see if it is worth it for your budget and if the premade shed is suitable for your needs.

The Concrete Pad For Your Shed

A concrete pad is sturdy, stable, durable, and a fixed commodity to your property (of course concrete removal is available if needed). 

Here is what you need to know for a concrete pad. 

You’ve done the hard work with land grading and leveling for your site preparation. 

Laying a concrete slab can be done by a die-hard DIYer, though it is highly recommended to call in the professional concrete contractors for this one.

The benefits of having a concrete slab, just like the one your home is built on, is that it will withstand the load of heavy equipment. If you’re looking to build a storage shed, this is one to consider! 

A concrete slab requires prepared soil to be laid underneath which will decrease any shifting when exposed to wet, dry, hot, or cold elements.

Time to get committed!

A quality shed will definitely need to get approved by the town/city that you live in. 

Ensure all the right permits are obtained and regulations abided by to avoid fines or having to tear down your beautiful shed!

Having a relatively level lot sure does make it easier for proper placement of a shed site.  

Just because you may have more slope in your land doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the convenience of having a storage shed! 

Read on to know more about shed site preparation on an uneven ground.

6. Shed Pad Foundation Solutions for Severely Sloped Grounds

shed pads

Post & Beam

This option provides a sturdy and quality base for your shed that’s on sloped land. 

Beams are used to provide a level base. The beams are cut to the appropriate size to raise the base to the desired height that is even with the high point of the land.

To determine how the post and beam structure needs to be leveled and the placement of the base, review this video again for methods on how to measure the level for an outdoor structure.

You will need pressure-treated wooden deck posts. These will be placed end first into pre-dug holes that have gravel on the bottom to help with drainage.

Be sure to dig the holes for the footings at least a foot below-undisturbed soil and the frost-line (this is the area underground where the water freezes at a certain depth).

For a complete guide on the how-to of building a post and beam foundation for a shed, check out this detailed post.

Deck Blocks And Dirt!

Using the method to find the level ground with the high and low points of the slope, you need to determine the amount of backfill needed to fill in the area. This should cover the bottom of the slope to make it level with the top. 

A professional excavator will come in handy for this process to dig out the area needed to be refilled with dirt with the topsoil removed.

Pressure-treated lumber will be used to secure the backfill in place, installed as the retaining walls. 

For added strength and stability, it may be necessary to use concrete-set footings for the retaining wall that is carrying the load of the added soil. 

Fill in with soil.  Use your soil tamper to compact the soil to level.

Since there is space between the ground and the deck blocks, laying landscape fabric over the dirt will help to prevent weed growth.

Place the required amount of deck blocks on top of the fabric to fit the surface area of the shed site.

Adding a couple of inches of gravel can also help prevent weed growth once the deck blocks are placed.

For extra strength on the frame place deck blocks on its exterior using 4×4 pressure treated wooden beams. Secure these beams with 1/2″ x 8” galvanized bolts.

Similar to the deck-block method above, lay the pressure-treated lumber on top of the deck block that will be used as the foundation for the shed.

7. DIY Or Call A Professional?

So here is the ultimate question, with all the information, methods, and procedures listed in this article – what is the best option for you if you want to get started with your new shed?

Are you wondering if you should…

Work with a professional land surveyor to precisely measure the slope of the land, as well as the slope for proper drainage to protect your new shed?

Do you want to hire a professional excavation contractor to remove the dirt and ensure accurate leveling?

Do you have a severely sloped yard that needs excavation services, excavation equipment, or a footing driller?

Every property is different and requires a unique approach to accomplish the desired end goal.

Of course, the DIY method is cheaper without paying for the work of many laborers. There are risks involved and maybe a headache or two if you hit any problems. 

Working with excavation contractors can help to eliminate the stress about learning all the codes and regulations.  

They also know the ins and outs of the shed site prep, land leveling, land grading, and other requirements for a successful foundation.

There is much to consider.

Consider Working With a Professional Excavation Contractor

hire a contractor

To ensure a job well done with a quality shed that will last, Specialty Grading is an excellent resource to consult.

Since 1995, our family-owned excavation and land grading business has delivered high-level service to Yavapai County (Prescott, Prescott Valley, Dewey, and Chino Valley). 

We are here to provide efficient excavation services at a great price! 

We cover all the necessary services to provide a shed install that you can trust:

  • Excavation and grading
  • Rock excavation services
  • Dirt and rock screening to reuse the soil for backfill
  • Vegetation clearing and removal
  • Footing services
  • Land grading services

For questions and more information on shed site preparation, give us a call today!

We would love to hear your thoughts about this article on shed site preparation. Leave a comment or question below.

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