Backyard Buildings: 3 Tested Options No One Talks About

Build Your Backyard Building for Extra Space: 3 Tips for Beginners

Common types of backyard buildings

7min read
by Olesia Chikunova, ADU Specialist.

The real estate market does not give us any breathing room. We face decreasing inventory of homes for sale and increasing mortgage rates. Many of us cannot move to a bigger home and have to find ways to improve their lifestyle where they are.

family in the backyard with fireplace

Yet, most people underestimate the number of solutions available. By default, homeowners start looking at well known, but expensive options like additions. Home additions may be cost prohibitive if you have bought a house some years ago, and it had appreciated since then. Imagine, not just paying for construction once, but also having to pay indefinitely for it with increased property taxes.

Another extreme is to opt for storage sheds, this traditional backyard building to host equipment, bikes and cleaning supplies.

backyard storage

Let us not break a bank or clutter our outdoor space. Let us build something that will fill the need for extra space and last for years in your backyard. Ideally, you will enjoy looking at it for years too – it should give you joy. Enter a backyard building.

Many solutions to add space.

When you’re looking for more space, there are many different options available for backyard buildings:

  1. Accessory structure (i.e. pergola)
  2. Accessory Building (i.e. home office)
  3. Accessory Dwelling Unit (i.e. backyard cottage)

They all can be attached, and detached. These backyard buildings come in different sizes, and styles. You should be able to find one that fits your needs.

white attached pergola

Choose a Project Location and Size.

Before you make your choice and start building, make sure you decide on a location and size that fits your needs.

You’ll need to consider things like backyard layout and how much outdoor space you have.  As a result of this planning exercise, with a small yard you could opt for a small shed or a screened-in porch.

There is another possible scenario. Your backyard might be lacking a focal point that a modern shed could add with its striking looks. Layout of your yard will drive outdoor design.

Another important consideration is how far away from the property line you can to build. In some cities it is 3 feet, in some 5 feet. It depends on zoning of your property. You or your designer will need to check this regulation before finalizing the plans.

Right location will improve your chances to increase the value of your home with this building project.

landscape design for backyard building

Determine Your Budget.

Once you’ve decided where you’re going to build, understand your budget. This will help you confirm what type of structure you should build. 

If you’re planning to build something larger than 80 square feet, you might want to think about hiring a licensed contractor. In most cities, these projects will need a building permit. You can apply for the permit yourself as an owner builder or have someone help you. If you opt to be an owner-builder, be prepared to show the architectural drawings, typical details, and type of foundation. And get ready to address the city plan checker comments.

Home Office

Accessory structure
from $48k

  • With 6 piers foundation
  • With permits for electrical work
  • With insulation
  • With interior finishes

Home Gym

Accessory Building
from $90k

  • With stem wall foundation
  • With permits
  • With insulation
  • With interior finishes
  • With bathroom


Accessory Dwelling
from $160k

  • With stem wall foundation
  • With permits
  • With insulation
  • With interior finishes
  • With bathroom
  • With kitchen

backyard building

Select from 3 common types of backyard buildings.

Select the backyard building type: accessory structure, accessory building or accessory dwelling unit.

Accessory structure refers to various traditional backyard structures. This could be a traditional storage shed, patio cover, garden arbor, gazebo, pavilion or other types of outdoor structures. DIY pergolas also belong in this class. These structures have the least stringent requirements from the city planners. Storage sheds and other small structures are often placed on gravel foundations or small concrete piers.

backyard pavilion

Accessory Building would mean a more elevated shed with plumbing and electrical connections. Yet, adding an outdoor room is often the most cost effective way to gain an office space or a hobby room.

backyard building

Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a secondary house on a single family property. Since the new State laws regulating construction of accessory dwelling units back in 2017, this type of backyard building became the most popular way to add living space for your family. The state law requires ADUs to have living and sleeping spaces, a bathroom and kitchenette.

Most jurisdictions have different definitions for accessory structures and buildings. Unfortunately for us, homeowners, the rules differ city by city and county by county. Only ADUs are governed by the State law and thus have more transparent regulations.

You’ll also need to decide between a freestanding structure or attached structure. A freestanding (or detached) structure is one that’s not connected to another structure. An attached structure is one that connects to another structure. 


backyard building (ADU)

Select backyard building design: traditional or contemporary.

You might have seen a beautiful picture on Pinterest. But I have to disappoint you – your city might have other opinions on what works well in your backyard. Most cities are asking your backyard structure to match the looks of the main house. Yes, your city can dictate even the style of your shed. That said, there is a variety of styles and design options that could match your current home.

Make sure you understand differences in construction details. Standard floor for traditional sheds starts with treated 4×4 runners which are leveled to the ground without any foundation. The assumption is that the site is already level. Treated 2×4 floor joists are assembled on the 4×4 runners, then OSB is added on.

If you’re looking for something more solid, consider a structure built as a house. This means it has proper foundation, insulation, and moisture resistant barrier. 

If this is going to be a place for solitude or meditation, you may want to consider adding a tree hedge or privacy fence as an extra layer of privacy.

accessory dwelling unit in the backyard
Features to be enjoyed

Backyard building ideas

To make this place truly yours, add your personal touch. After all, it will be your home office, your gym or your sanctuary. Use favorite colors, art and rugs. Bring in comfortable furniture. 

You can also customize your building with some unexpected creative touches. Consider adding a doorbell, a bench, or a small deck. 

Feeling bold? How about adding a swinging chair? Whether you decide to add it inside or outside – you will have to let your builder know in advance. Your backyard building structure will need a beam that could support its weight.

swinging backyard chair by home office

You may also consider other bold features: an outdoor kitchen or a fire pit. What will make this backyard building a perfect place for you and your family?

These small details add to the final look, and will make you want to spend more time in your backyard.

There are different ways to add extra space. Making your backyard work for you and your family is a good idea. Improve your backyard space, take it to the next level, make it a great place for friends and family. Let us know what backyard building will work for you!

Backyard design

If you need help figuring the best option out, we are always here to help you with your project plans.

We have crews to build any backyard building.
Select which backyard building is right for you

Three ways to add space

tiny home studio

Tiny Home, Small ADU

Looking for a newly built detached solution with a bathroom and kitchenette? This type of projects start at $158,000.

Learn more
home office

Modern Shed

If all you need is an extra room for an office, then a simple 120 sf backyard structure may work. Starting at $48,000.

Learn More
accessory structure

Accessory Building

There are jurisdictions that allow accessory structures with plumbing fixtures. Permits required. Starting at $75,000.

Learn More

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