Can You Live in a Shed On Your Own Property? (Is it Legal?)

I love our two sheds in the garden. I’ve got my weights out there, my wife has her art materials in one – and the kids play games in them when it’s raining. Could I live in one – especially when things get too hectic and noisy over in the house? I think that might be taking it too far, and I’m not even sure it’s legal.

You may be able to live in your shed if your city, state and county zoning laws and HOA rules allow it. To make a shed habitable so you can live in it full time, you’ll need planning permission to essentially turn it into a tiny home – so then you won’t be technically living in a shed anyway.

This is actually a bit more complicated than it sounds – so let’s look at all the issues involved in more detail…

Can You Live in a Shed On Your Own Property?

Is Living in a Shed Illegal?

Sorry, folks, but the answer is a definite – maybe. City, state, county zoning laws and HOA rules decide.

Zoning laws vary and zoning laws are critical. They even dictate whether you can have a shed in the first place – just for storage. Zoning can be commercial, industrial, residential, or agricultural. Zoning laws will describe what type, how many and what size of accessory buildings you can have. 

Zoning laws will dictate whether you can have an accessory dwelling unit (ADU, or sometimes called a detached living unit) on your property. Even though dwelling is a key word, often the official difference between a home office shed or an ADU shed is – an oven or toilet.

Turning a prefab shed into a tiny home is going through a boom period and cities and counties are still developing rules. The tiny house movement wasn’t even a gleam in someone’s eye when most zoning regulations were created, so some confusion, and grey areas, exist. Here’s a reference.

Can You Live in a Shed Without Planning Permission?

The answer here is no. Not routinely. Sure, have a slumber party with the kids occasionally. But you can’t routinely live there. When someone routinely lives somewhere, the somewhere becomes a dwelling and the rules change.

The simple truth is that garden sheds straight from a big box store, Costco or shed manufacturer aren’t made for living in. But – they can be.

If you don’t plan on living in your shed, you can get permitted development rights (be sure to check with your HOA or Historic Preservation District first). That means that no one’s going to live there. 

If your needs change and you intend to move in, then you’ll need planning permission, and your shed will have to comply with the building regulations in your city or county. Generally, the more populated areas will have more stringent rules than rural ones.

Local codes (either county or municipal) are based on three things: health, safety, and welfare. Of everyone, including you and your neighbors. 

Building regulations are designed not to give everyone headaches, but to keep people safe. Safe with electricity and structural strength. In some areas, wind load design (think hurricanes) is critical. There may not be a regulation about building a storage shed in a flood zone – but there sure is for a dwelling.

They will want to know how energy efficient the shed will be. They will ask about your foundation, insulation, windows (for fire escape), electrical system and drainage.

Inspectors will want to know what you plan to do, and then they will personally inspect it when it’s done. They will drop in, and they don’t need a warrant, FYI.

Check out all the ins and outs of your city or county’s building rules. See if there is a planning officer to help with your questions. Also, check out – tax rules. You may be taxed on your additional livable square footage.

How Can You Make a Shed Livable? 

If you start with a prefab shed, then hire professional contractors to do the utilities, the interior is totally doable for a DIYer. DIYing a shed or tiny home is a huge trend and there’s LOTS of advice and videos to help.

Shed manufacturers have perfected their designs and processes. Starting out with a prefab shed is often a really good idea if you aren’t the greatest from scratch builder. Starting with a manufactured shed can save time and money.

The three main utilities that most people need to live comfortably are sewer, water, and power. Hire a professional to help you. We here at Take A Yard are crazy DIYers but not with utilities. A professional that is experienced, licensed and insured will keep your and your family safe

Professionals can also help you with permitting and inspecting too.

It’s a great idea to start with a prefab shed. You get the benefit of all the manufacturer’s learnings on their shed line. Then, get professional help with designing, permitting, and installing utilities.

The interior is up to you and it’s at a scale that most DIYers can handle. One expert tip is to request your shed manufacturer use standard 2 inch x 4 inch framing boards – not smaller. This will help when you want to install standard size wall boxes or light fixtures.

First, lay a good foundation. At the very least, scrape, level and lay down 4 to 6 inches of gravel for the foundation. At the most, pour a slab. This is also the time to add a good drainage system to keep water away from the bottom of the shed. 

One expert says to consider making a crawl space under the shed to allow you access. They also suggest sealing the underside of the shed with a heavy-duty sealant.

Consider a French drain system that will tie into your shed gutters.

Once the shed is delivered and in place, it’s time for professional help. Enlist an electrician and a plumber. They will help you rough in electrical lines, water lines, internet, HVAC, etc. Make sure you have enough outlets with the proper loads to run your computer, mini-fridge, power tools, and anything else. 

Adding outlets at this stage is cheap. Adding outlets later is very hard. Experts say to video the insides of your walls for reference.

Before going any farther, get some heavy-duty exterior silicone caulk and go over every one of the prefabs shed seams. It’s surprising how fast such a small space can get either too hot or too cold. Take the time now to insulate and seal as much as you can. Insulation will help with both heat and cold.

The spray can foam works well as a sealant and an insulator. Next, insulate your walls and ceiling with bat or spray foam insulation. Check out opinions on the R value you need for your climate.

Experts say, if you live in a cold climate, you may want to insulate the floor as well (or check out radiant heat). You can lay down foam board and then cover it with another layer of subfloor plywood.

Then comes the fun, creative part. Drywall your walls and then add baseboards. Paint. Then – cabinets, counters, flooring, appliances, and lighting, hooray!

Garden shed

How Much Does it Cost To Build a Livable Shed?

Experts say that a shed conversion can cost from $1,500 up to $30,000. Another expert says it will be $75 per square foot, including the cost of the shed.

Here’s a good reference with a cost breakdown.

Can I Convert My Shed into a Granny Flat?

Yes, a shed can be converted into a granny flat. A granny flat is a self-contained living unit

If you are thinking of renting out your granny flat, be sure to check with your local authorities. Small rentals have become a hot spot lately, thanks to Airbnb, Vrbo, and others.

Because it is a separate space (as opposed to a garage-turned-granny-flat), you may not be allowed.

Can I Put a Bathroom in My Shed?

Of course! If you have hired a plumber to help you, plumbing in a bathroom shouldn’t be a problem. Keep in mind that a bathroom takes up space

Be realistic about the odor of a toilet in a small space and be sure to install ventilation. Consider looking at RV bathrooms for ideas on how to save space. You CAN shower while sitting on the toilet.

Looking at camping or RV solutions will give you other ideas, too. Maybe you don’t have the space and the plumbing for a bathroom. Consider a composting toilet.

Summary

While I’m not planning on living in one of our sheds anytime soon – it’s heartening to know that if I followed all relevant city and state planning rules, then I *could* do it without breaking the law.

But at $75 a square foot to convert a shed into something worth living in – it just wouldn’t be worth doing in my opinion.

And ultimately, I think my wife and kids would also wonder ‘why the hell’ daddy was living in the shed too. 🙂