WhatShed knows that buying a summer house is a serious undertaking. As perhaps the most expensive item you will ever buy for your garden, the decision should not be taken lightly. We produced this buying guide based on our professional knowledge in the industry to help steer would be summer house owners in the direction of their dream garden building.
The guide starts with some necessary practical considerations prior to making a purchase, then introduces common construction materials and techniques. It moves on to different stylistic considerations before concluding with installation, maintenance and care tips.
As you can see there is a lot to get through, so without further ado, here’s WhatShed’s ultimate guide to the ever-popular summer house!
- Reasons for Buying a Summer House
- The Best Spots for Your Summer House
- Summer House Construction
- Choosing Your Summerhouse
- Summerhouse Delivery and Installation
- Looking After Your Summerhouse
Reasons for Buying a Summer House
For many, a summer house in their back garden is all about relaxation. It can provide the perfect recluse on a warm evening, an extra dining space for family barbecues, or even guest bedroom during the less inclement months. With careful planning, you can use the space for a variety of different things, including home office, playroom, extra dining area, garden bar, or games room.
A summer house enhances a garden, bringing new possibilities to the space. Depending on design choices, they function as an extension to your home at a fraction of the cost of a traditional extension.
Since the space will generally not be as well-insulated as a garden log cabin, many summer house owners choose to use it for storage during winter and entertaining or relaxing during the summer months. A summer house is an excellent place to keep outdoor toys or furniture whilst not in use, for example.
If you’re hoping for year-round comfort, we recommend something a little more substantial. The large doors and windows of many summer houses may well let in ample sunlight, but they are much less insulated than those common on more permanent garden buildings. Although double glazed windows and other heat retaining additions can be included, we recommend that those serious about a winter garden recluse consider a log cabin over a summer house.
The Best Spot for Your Summer House
Although less permanent than a log cabin, a good quality summer house will still stand for many years when cared for correctly. For this reason it’s important to give proper thought to a number of factors when deciding where to place your new garden building.
Obviously your new summer house is going to take up quite a bit of space. You need to make sure your garden has room for the structure before you start shopping!
Frustratingly, summer house manufacturers do not always quote their sizes in the same way. Some might provide measurements for the internal space which will be smaller than those for the actual structure. Similarly, companies may neglect to include measurements detailing any overhang there might be on a roof. We strongly recommend you clarify all measurements with the manufacturer directly if you are at all in doubt.
When you’re thinking about how much space to factor in to your plans, remember that you will want to periodically maintain your building. For this, you need access space along all sides. We recommend leaving around 18 inches to two feet at least. You’re going to need to apply treatment regularly so don’t make things too cramped!
A gap between a perimeter fence or boundary wall and the building is also advisable since these areas are often damp. Since water is the leading cause of damage to structural components, you will also want to build on a well-draining part of your garden.
How much direct sunlight you want your new summer house to receive each day (providing weather permits!) is a matter of preference. Remember to consider the eventual use you have planned for the space. If it’s strictly a zone for relaxing, you will likely want as much full sunlight as possible.
Alternatively, if you want to include home office equipment such as a computer or printer system, full exposure to direct sunlight might be detrimental to your devices. An area of your garden in the shade might therefore be preferable.
No matter if you want a shady recluse or to bask in a warming glow, it’s worth examining the route that the sun actually takes around your garden. Check what times of the day each spot gets its sunlight and make your plans accordingly.
Which Way Should a Summerhouse Face?
Since most summer houses are primarily built for relaxation, you might want your doors and windows to look out on a particularly pleasant part of your garden. Alternatively, if you want the building to soak up as much sun as possible, position it facing south. Ideally, you’ll find a spot where it can face south and have a suitably pleasing view.
Again, adding a power supply to summer houses is a matter of preference. That said, we find more and more owners wanting to use electrical devices in their garden buildings these days.
If you do want to hook the building up to power, this will play a factor in where you will site it. Obviously, the closer to your home supply, the easier, quicker, and cheaper the process will be.
Of course, live wires can be highly dangerous. We therefore strongly recommend you consult a qualified local electrician before attempting to power any garden building.
Summer House Foundations?
It’s worth remembering when selecting a position for your new garden building that it will need a solid base. Some manufacturers will provide a plastic or wooden base for their products. Others will expect the customer to prepare a suitable area.
Whilst certainly lighter than log cabins, manufacturers still recommend customers use at least a paved area, but preferably concrete. It is possible to build directly on wooden bearers but this makes the entire structure more susceptible to damage caused by damp from beneath and means it is more likely to become unaligned over time.
It’s really important to get the size of the base right, so don’t actually lay it until you’ve decided on the exact model of summerhouse you will buy. You want to make the base slightly larger than the size of your building’s footprint and as level as possible.
Whilst you’re thinking about flags and concrete, it’s worth pointing out that repeated trips back and forth from a well-used summer house will result in areas of lawn becoming damaged. If the only access to the structure is across your grass, consider building a pathway to it.
Generally speaking, most summerhouses will not require planning permission. Regulatory authorities usually consider the structures as outbuildings.
That said, larger summer houses may indeed require planning permission. To help you decide if yours will, we’ve included the most relevant below:
- Your house is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- The building will be within five meters of your property. Check to see if planning authorities consider it an extension.
- Your home is a listed building.
- The structure will take up more than 50 percent of the land surrounding your house.
- The summerhouse will be in front of the property, facing a road.
- If the building is within two meters of your property or a boundary wall, it will need planning permission if it exceeds 2.5 meters in height.
If you’re at all in doubt, check the government’s website before making a purchase. The site features a more detailed and completely current version of the above guide. Remember, planning regulations can change, so it’s a good idea to double check the legality of your plans just prior to construction. It’s also worth consulting your local council if you plan to run either electrics or plumbing to your new garden building.
Summer House Construction
Summer houses are generally made from wood. Different woods will impact both the longevity and overall cost of a summer house.
When considering different models, look for constructions using slow-grown varieties of wood. An example is European redwood. Similarly, avoid faster growing woods such as Baltic white. These may save you money upfront, however, the wood is much more prone to warping and splitting, resulting in an inferior garden building.
Walls, Floor, and Roof Construction
The walls, floor, and roof of a summer house are typically constructed out of a wooden framework that is boarded with either a single sheet or multiple boards of wood.
The method used when boarding a summer house will impact greatly on its cost, durability, and appearance. We’ve included some information about each of the most common cladding techniques below, as well as some advantages and disadvantages of them.
Single sheet: Using single sheets is an inexpensive way to board the walls, floor, and roof of a garden building. A large sheet of plywood or other boarding material is screwed directly onto the framework.
Single sheet boarding is cheap, fast to put up, and easy to replace. However, in terms of durability, heat retention, security, and weather resistance, it does not offer the same level of quality associated with other methods. Single sheet boarding also lacks the visual appeal achieved when using alternative techniques.
WhatShed Tip: Some manufacturers might use medium-density fibreboard, oriented strand board, or a similar engineered wood product. Whilst this can result in a perfectly pleasing end product, the material is much less durable than a single sheet of plywood or any of the below cladding techniques. Such products are a lot cheaper than real wood, however, there is a large trade off to be made when it comes to overall longevity.
Square edge: Square edge cladding is common on sheds and cheaper summerhouses. It consists of wooden boarding overlapped to give a traditional look. The top of each piece sits underneath the bottom of the one above it. The resulting overlap creates a staggered finish allowing rain water to run off.
Feather edge: Feather edge is much like square edge cladding only with a slightly neater finish. Each board tapers in at the top creating a less rustic but still traditional finish. Feather edge cladding offers a nice balance between affordability, style, and functionality.
Shiplap: Shiplap cladding generally provides better heat retention and durability than the previous two methods mentioned. For many it is also superior visually.
Rectangular boards featuring an identical recess cut into opposite sides of both the top and bottom allow for the pieces to fit together much more snugly. This creates a smooth finish outside, and a more insulated space inside.
Tongue and groove: Many manufacturers’ flagship summer house designs will feature this style of cladding. It’s superior to those previously mentioned. Of course, the additional craftsmanship comes at a higher price too.
Tongue and groove cladding boards will feature two recesses cut at either side of the top. This creates the “tongue”. Meanwhile, the groove refers to a vertical channel cut into the bottom of the board length ways. Each tongue slots into the next board’s groove. This provides an exceptional level of heat-retention and durability. It also provides greater security against would be intruders and many find the smooth finish to be pleasing visually.
WhatShed Tip: Many manufacturers wrongly call their products “shiplap tongue and groove”. This is misleading since the two cladding methods are distinct. If you really want a garden building to last, be sure to confirm the cladding technique used. It can make quite a difference in a structure’s overall longevity.
Roof and Floor
Like the walls, manufacturers will construct the roof and floor using either single sheets or multiple boards. With it being more desirable to have an entirely smooth finish (for both walking on, and rainwater to run off), you will most often see boarded roofs featuring tongue and groove constructions.
Pay attention to the thickness of the materials used throughout the build. We don’t recommend opting for either boarding or sheeting below around 12mm for either walls, roofs, or floors.
The timber used in the construction of many summer houses comes pre-treated. Common are both pressure treated components, and materials dip treated with some form of wood preservative.
Although a summer house that has been either dip or pressure treated will certainly last longer than one that has not, it is still important that the owner gives a coat of appropriate wood preserving treatment following initial construction. This guide covers loads of treatment tips below.
Since their raison d’etre is to keep rain and other foreign objects outside of your summerhouse, roofs will need extra protection against the elements. Manufacturers will typically carry a few different types of roofing covers:
Felt: A popular and inexpensive roofing material, felt, comes in various grades. It consists usually of a bitumen layer with either a sand or fibreglass finish. The thickness of felt will vary between manufacturers and, obviously, this influences its overall longevity.
Shingles: Shingles are not only more resistant to the elements than felt but give additional visual appeal. Shingles come in a range of different styles (square and heptagonal being most popular) and will create a tiled appearance. They feature an extra layer of bitumen and fibreglass, increasing their water resistance and prolonging the life of the structure protected by them in the process. Shingles also come in a range of colours allowing owners to personalise their summer houses further.
EPDM: This ultra-durable roofing material is even tougher still. Whilst lacking the visual appeal of shingles, it makes up for that in its efficiency. The synthetic rubber covering means it will remain completely waterproof for years to come. Manufacturers claim it will last more than three times longer than other choices.
WhatShed Tip: Always check if your new garden building comes with a roof covering within the standard asking price. Some manufacturers will sell their products without and offer different coverings as an additional extra. WhatShed strongly recommends at least a felt covering for all garden buildings.
Choosing Your Summerhouse
Manufacturers of garden buildings are well aware that customers preferences vary dramatically. For this reason, the market is full of different styles of summer houses.
Think carefully about what you want to use your garden building for. Different applications will surely influence design choices along the way. Similarly, different sized and shaped gardens might suit certain styles better. For example, a corner style or octagonal design might better suit a smaller square garden than a lengthy, narrow product.
Ultimately, the perfect style of summer house will be different for each individual. Traditional designs, with a cabin-in the-woods vibe will appeal to some. Meanwhile, more contemporary, stylish designs are more likely to delight those with modern tastes.
There are far too many different styles for this guide to cover them all. Once you know your available space, budget, and intended use, you can start to browse the myriad of styles offered by the industry’s leading companies.
When browsing different garden buildings, you’ll notice a range of different roofing designs. Of course, these have an influence on the style of the building but they also provide other qualities that might be less apparent at first glance.
Apex (and reverse apex): These designs will give the building a classic feel. They consist of two sloping panels that meet at the centre. The ridge will run front-to-back on an apex and side-to-side on a reverse apex. Both designs are not only stylish but functional. Owners can store various items in the space created by the style.
Pent or flat: Consisting of a single panel with a slight (flat) or steeper (pent) gradient. These designs can create a contemporary feel. Resulting in a lower overall height, they might be the best option for those concerned about planning regulations.
Off-set apex: Somewhere between an apex and a pent roof, this design features two panels that meet closer to the front of a building. They’re often lower than a full apex but give a similar visual appeal.
Split level: The split level roofing style is more common on log cabins. However some manufacturers use them on their summerhouses too. Split level designs feature two sloping panels but they don’t meet directly. An additional piece of wall connects the two. Such a design can include an extra window on the joining wall, which can let in even more light to your garden hideaway.
Hip: Hip designs are most commonly seen on non-square garden buildings. However, on a square or rectangular design, they can look equally impressive. Each wall has its own single sloping panel, which meets the others in the middle. Pieces are usually triangular. Owing to their greater complexity, hip roofing options are typically more expensive. They also create less room to store items above the functional space of a building’s interior.
Windows and Doors
Windows and doors come in all shapes and sizes for summerhouses. Again, the decision is a matter of both personal preference and intended use for your garden building.
For those that just want a relaxing space to entertain guests in during the summer months, modern, fully-glazed double doors and large windows would be ideal. These let in loads of sunlight and make for a bright interior. Other options include more quaint Georgian styles, half-boarded, or even fully boarded doors. Each will give the finished structure a totally different character.
Most manufacturers will carry both glazed windows and non-glass windows. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Glass is typically more expensive and a better insulator. Different manufacturers will usually carry a range of different window thicknesses, as well as toughened and non-toughened options.
The thickness of the glass used will have a direct impact on both the warmth inside your summerhouse, as well as its overall safety and security. Although thinner panes are available, we recommend going for a minimum thickness of 3mm for all glass products. Single glazed, double glazed, and triple glazed options are also available, as are PVC fittings.
Styrene and other non-glass alternatives won’t give your building quite the same bespoke finish and will usually let in slightly less light than their glazed counterparts. However, they do have some advantages. For one, if they break, they are much safer. This might be important if you plan to leave children unattended in the building, for example.
As the main access points to your summerhouse, you might need to ensure that your doors and windows are adequately protected. Manufacturers will carry a range of different security measures. How far you want to go will depend on what exactly you plan to keep in the space.
If you just have some garden furniture and children’s toys in there over winter, you might not need any special security systems in place. That said, some owners want to enjoy the space with audio visual equipment or to kit it out as a home office or garden bar. For such applications, something more heavy duty than a company’s entry level options will be needed.
For the security conscious, manufacturers will supply upgraded locking systems for windows and doors, as well as security lights, cameras, and alarm systems. You can also get rugged steel door bolts to seal off the space from would be intruders and can even assemble the structure using security screws for additional peace of mind.
Summer House Accessories
Garden buildings can be customised to a huge degree. Different companies will offer all sorts of structural and non-structural options to suit a wide range of tastes. We’ve listed some of the available additions to a summer house below:
- Gazebo space.
- Decorative details (finials, window and door framing, hinges).
Summerhouse Delivery and Installation
Summerhouses are built using many different components of varying sizes. Getting it all home can be something of a headache without an appropriate vehicle. For this reason, many manufacturers offer home delivery as part of the asking price.
WhatShed Tip: We always recommend buyers take a company up on their delivery service, even if it costs a little extra. Transporting building materials requires specialist equipment. If a piece gets damaged in transit, it can seriously impact the longevity of the end building.
Manufacturers tend to make their designs as easy as possible to construct. If you’re at all handy at DIY, you and a friend shouldn’t have trouble constructing a summerhouse. You’ll need a few tools (spirit level, electric screwdriver, mallet, hammer, handsaw, utility knife, stepladder, silicone sealant and applicator) and maybe a weekend to get it looking perfect.
For those suffering from mobility issues or having some other reason why they don’t want to build the structure themselves, a lot of manufacturers and retailers will provide an installation service for an additional fee. Not strictly essential for all customers, having the building constructed by a company’s professionals can bring a lot of peace of mind to those less confident in their own craftsmanship.
Looking After Your Summerhouse
Once you have assembled your summer house, it’s important to give it a thorough treatment both inside and out. Treatments work to preserve the wood used throughout the construction and can also add a splash of colour to a garden building.
It’s very important that you wait until after your garden building is constructed to apply a treatment product. You need to get all the pieces fitting together snugly and then you should use an oil-based treatment product to protect the materials; particularly where they join. A treatment only applied prior to construction may not be enough to activate any anti-rot guarantee a product might come with.
WhatShed Tip: Make sure to treat areas of the building that might not be immediately visible. A lot of owners forget to treat the underside of floorboards, for example.
You should aim to get your initial treatment of the structure done as soon as possible after construction. It’s then important to treat the building again once a year to help further protect it against the elements.
WhatShed Tip: When giving an annual treatment, pay close attention to any parts of the building that might be showing signs of rot. Replacing damaged components quickly will greatly improve your structure’s longevity.
It’s also important to clean your summer house regularly. Use step ladders to access the roof and clear and leaf debris from the surface. Remove any bird droppings too as these can damage your roof covering if left on. The better you look after your garden building, the more years it will be able to continue bringing you joy.