Letter Re: Prefabricated Garden Sheds as Instant Shelters and Storage Spaces for Retreats

This article is not intended to promote the Tuff Shed brand per se. Any of Tuff Shed’s products can be built from scratch. This is just one way to obtain “instant” shelter at a reasonable price. Tuff Sheds come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. For the sake of this discussion I will limit myself to the rather plain-looking Tall Ranch Tuff Shed model because, unless you happen to be short of stature, you will probably need a tall shed. In Portland, Oregon the Tall Ranch model is available in sizes ranging from 6’x6’ to 16’x24’. This idea will not be practical in an area prone to flood, hurricane, or tornado. Much of what’s in this article is just common sense. I like to think of it as food for thought.

The great thing about this idea is that many county building codes will allow the construction of a shed without obtaining a building permit, although this often depends on the size of the shed. (Of course they don’t expect anybody to actually live inside one.) So, you can put one on your “bug out” site without notifying anybody in most cases. If you purchase a ready-built shed that is only 8’ wide it can be moved on a flatbed trailer without an oversized load permit. For the purpose of a simple survival shed I would consider the 8’x12’, 8’x14’, or 8’x16’ models. These sell for around $2,500-$3,000 new in Portland, or about the same price as a good used travel trailer. The shed doesn’t come with any insulation, wiring, plumbing, or interior walls however. This is good because it makes it easy to install these features exactly the way you want them before you deliver the shed to your site. The shed is usually sold with a window, but it can be easily omitted. I would order it without any windows and, instead, I would install peepholes on all four sides. Not having any windows means that a light can be kept turned on inside without alerting anyone that passes by.

I would install three or four electrical receptacles and stub the wiring out in a corner where the inverter and batteries will go later. I would also install one low power-consumption, but bright, LED light in the center of the ceiling with a quiet DC switch located where it could be reached in a hurry. For heat I would install a vented propane heater of the type used in recreational vehicles and install it through the wall at the back of the shed. After I had done all of the wiring, and installed the heater and peepholes, I would thoroughly insulate the shed so that it could withstand the most severe winter weather with only minimal heat. All of the work would be done at my leisure in my own back yard before the shed is ever moved to my “bug out” site. For the walls I would use oriented strand board (OSB) instead of drywall because it’s tougher and lighter. Also, it’s easier to mount various accessories on the OSB later on, with screws. The OSB can be painted with interior house paint. I would use a thick rug or carpet on the floor so that it wouldn’t make much noise when walking around inside. Just before the shed is to be delivered to the “bug out” site I would paint the exterior with two or three coats of good quality house paint in an earth tone color similar in color to the “bug out” site [soil or foliage].

Ideally, I would place the shed on my site where it is surrounded by brush and/or trees or, even better, in a low spot between some knolls. In any case the shed’s foundation would have to be elevated 6” to a foot above the grade to avoid rainwater infiltration. I would be sure that the rainwater drains away from the shed. Once the shed has been set in place I would repaint the outside of it to closely mimic its surroundings, camouflaging it that it cannot be seen from any direction by anyone less than 25 yards away. The roof would be similarly camouflaged with paint and/or local vegetation. The shed would have to be well hidden to avoid detection because it’s a hideout, not a fortress! For water I would use a two-gallon water cooler and refill it from a spring or creek (with proper filtration of course.) For a restroom I would use a portable chemical toilet. A pit could be dug at some distance away from the shed for waste burial. Bathing would have to be done in a creek.

For electricity I would use a couple of deep cycle 12-volt batteries, a solar panel, and a 120-volt power inverter. The inverter need not be large. In fact a small one would help to conserve battery power. It would only need to be large enough to run a couple of lights and a radios. The solar panel would not be mounted on the roof. It would be portable so that it could be hidden inside the shed when it isn’t being used. It would be placed outside during the day when I was around to keep an eye on it. Harbor Freight and Northern Tool & Equipment both sell 15-watt solar panels for about $60. A couple of these would easily keep the batteries charged. I would spend most of my time outside of the shed during the day and only use it at night or during inclement weather.

This “bug out” shed or cabin would suffice in an emergency to provide a relatively safe hideout for up to several months. The trick would be to keep it secure when I was not there to watch it. It might make better sense to bring along most of the needed supplies when retreating to the shed. – Mr. E.