How to Level the Ground for a Shed

level ground for shed

If you’re planning to install a storage shed on your property, you’ll need to level and prepare the site before the day of delivery.

We’ve broken down the process of leveling the ground for your shed into five steps. If you have basic carpentry skills and a strong back, this job shouldn’t be too difficult for you.

Skill Level: Medium

Here are the five steps to a level shed base for your shed:

  1. Choose a shed location
  2. Square and stake corners
  3. Complete excavation
  4. Install a perimeter (optional)
  5. Install a gravel base

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Choose a Shed Location

Here are 9 points to consider when choosing an ideal portable building location.

  1. Check with your township
  2. Beware of zoning requirements
  3. Avoid swampy areas
  4. Avoid steep grades if possible
  5. Watch out for the stuff underground
  6. Beware of trees
  7. Make it easy to access
  8. Consider sun exposure
  9. Pay attention to aesthetics

1. Check with Your Township

Many townships will require you to apply for a permit before installing a storage shed. Avoid hassle and frustration down the road by making this one of your first steps.

Check your township’s website for information on obtaining a storage shed installation permit. If you have additional questions, you can give your township office a call and ask to speak with the building permit or zoning officer.

how to level ground for shed zoning permit
Sample Zoning Permit Application

2. Beware of Zoning Requirements

Your township zoning code may prohibit you from placing a storage shed too close to property lines or other existing structures. If setback requirements interfere with the desired placement of your shed, you may be able to apply for an easement in order to gain exemption from setback requirements.

level-ground-for-shed-apply-for-easement
Applying for An Easement (Wikihow)

Your property may also be subject to zoning laws that control the percentage of your property that is allowed to be covered with an impervious surface. Impervious surfaces include paved driveways, sidewalks, patios, swimming pools, buildings, or anything that prevents rain water from soaking into the ground. You may be required to present a rough sketch of your property when applying for a permit that shows existing impervious surfaces. Google maps in satellite view can be a useful tool if you need to do this.

If you’re township requires you to to control water runoff from your new storage shed or garage, you may be interested in our drainage system installation service.

Satellite View in Google Maps

3. Avoid Swampy Areas

Swampy and low lying areas should be avoided for several reasons.

  1. The area may be difficult to drive in with lawn equipment.
  2. Your shed will be more susceptible to long term damage from excessive moisture.
  3. It’s more difficult to prepare a solid base for your shed in a swampy area.
  4. Moisture supports the growth of mold and mildew on your shed.
level ground for shed swamp
Avoid Low-Lying Areas

4. Avoid Steep Grades if Possible

The closer your site is to level, the less work you’ll need to do to prepare it for your shed. You should also be aware that a steep grade will most likely require the use of a retaining wall. 

level ground for shed steep grade
Avoid Steep Grades When Possible

5. Watch Out for the Stuff Underground

If you have a private sewer system, make sure you don’t place your shed above the seepage bed or underground sewage tank. Also avoid placing it on top of buried gas lines. Your utility company may be able to mark the location of your gas lines free of charge.

how to level shed ground call before dig
Call 811 Before You Dig in PA

6. Beware of Trees

Avoid placing your shed under trees that are susceptible to losing branches and damaging your shed roof. Remove old trees before installing your shed if possible.

level ground for shed dying tree
Beware of Dying Trees

7. Make it Easy to Access

You may occasionally want to drive your vehicle up to your shed to make loading and unloading things easier. Make sure the location you choose is easily accessible. 

how to level the ground for shed accessible
Your Location Should Be Accessible (Roger and Carol)

8. Consider Sun Exposure

Placing your shed in an entirely shaded area may support the growth of mildew on the walls and roof of your shed over time. Exposure to the sun discourages mildew growth. However, placing it in an area with no shade means it will be hotter in the summertime. You’ll need to decide which scenario is more advantageous to you.

how to level ground for shed sunshine
Prevent Mildew Growth with Exposure to Sunshine (Mold Remediation)

9. Pay Attention to Aesthetics

You’ll want to consider aesthetics when deciding where to place your portable building on your property. Where will it enhance curb appeal? Will it look better on an angle or parallel with the property line? These are just a few questions as you think about the possibilities.

level the ground for shed visual appeal
Will It Look Good at That Location? (Sheds Unlimited)

Step 2: Square and Stake the Corners

Now that you’ve chosen a location for your shed, you’re ready for Step 2. Follow these 5 steps to make sure the finished shed pad is nice and square.

  1. Stake the first and second corner
  2. Stake the third corner
  3. Add the final stakes
  4. Stretch final lines
  5. Mark the ground

Note: Jump to Step 3 if your site is more than 12” off level over an 8′ span. You can check the level by using an 8’ 2×4 and a level. Place the one end of the 2×4 at the highest corner of the site and place the level on top. If the 2×4 is level and the one end of the 2×4 is more than 12” off the ground, then you should proceed to Step 3.

how to level the ground for shed
Check the Level Using a 2×4 (Gap Photos)

Note: Your shed pad should be 1’ wider than your shed on all sides. For example, a 10×12 shed should be installed on a 12×14 gravel pad. Add another 12” when installing the corner stakes. Using a 10×12 shed as an example, the four corner stakes should cover an area measuring 13’ x 15’. If you’re not planning to install a 4×6 perimeter, then the area covered by the corner stakes should measure exactly 12′ x14′.

level the ground for a shed
The Gravel Base Should be 12″ Wider On All Sides

1. Stake the First and Second Corner

(watch the video below to see this in action)

Pound in your first stake, making sure it is perfectly straight. Pound in your second stake at a distance of 4’ from the first one.

2. Stake the Third Corner

This step is the most tricky. Install your third stake at a distance of 3’ from the first one (just eyeball it to get it as square as possible) and wrap your string around the third stake. Then measure from the second stake and move the third stake until it measures exactly 5’ from the second one. This creates a triangle shape that you can use to square your shed pad.

3. Add the Final Stakes

Finish installing the final corner stakes by using the triangle as a square. Stretch your string to the desired length (in this case 15’) from the first stake and let it just barely touch the second. Then pound in another stake at the 15’ mark.

Repeat that process on the other side. Stretch your string from the first stake to the desired length (in this case 13’) and let it just barely touch the third stake. Then pound in another stake at the 13’ mark.

Now simply measure 13’ from the one corner and 15’ from the other to get the location of the fourth stake.

4. Stretch Final Lines

Tightly stretch lines around the outside of your stakes (make sure the stakes are placed securely in the ground).

5. Mark the Ground

Mark the ground so that you can remove your string before beginning excavation. A can of marking spray paint is nice for this but you can also get creative and simply use your shovel to dig a small trench following the lines.

After marking the lines, remove your string. You are now ready to begin excavation.

how to build shed pad marking paint
Mark the Ground and Remove the String (Gap Photos)

Step 3: Complete Excavation

(If your site is more than 12” off level over an 8’ span, you may need to complete this step before Step 2)

If completing this step before Step 2, use the following 7 steps to achieve preliminary leveling of your site. If you’ve already completed Step 2, you may skip this section

  1. Stake the corners
  2. Mark the area to be excavated
  3. Remove surface debris and topsoil
  4. Remove subsoil, rocks, and roots
  5. Clean the corners
  6. Check the level using a 2×4
  7. Proceed to Step 2

1. Stake the Corners

Give yourself a general idea of where your shed corners will be. Your stakes should extend past the footprint of the shed at least 2’ all the way around. This will give you room to install a retaining wall and a shed pad that’s at least 1’ wider all the way around your shed.

2. Mark the Area to be Excavated

Stretch strings between the stakes and mark the area to be excavated. Remove strings. 

3. Remove Surface Debris and Topsoil

Remove all surface debris and top soil, even in areas that don’t need to be excavated. This helps to prevent weed growth in the future.

Build a Gravel Shed Base Topsoil
Remove Surface Debris and Topsoil

4. Remove Subsoil, Rocks, and Roots

Continue to dig down, removing sub soil, rocks, roots, and any other obstructions until your site appears level (and watch out for that chest of buried treasure).

5. Clean the Corners

Take some time to clean the corners and smooth out your excavation site. This will save you time later.

6. Check the Level Using a 2×4

After your site is as level and clean as you can make it, check the level using a 2×4 and level. Cut the 2×4 if necessary to fit within the graded area. Place the level on top of the 2×4 and move it around from one part of the excavation to the other, checking the level along the way. Excavate any high areas or fill in low areas as needed.

Check the Level with a 2×4 (DIY Network)

7. Return to Step 2

If you want to make sure your site of excavation is square Return to Step 2

If you’ve already completed Step 2, follow these 3 steps to level your shed site. 

  1. Remove surface debris and topsoil
  2. Clean the corners
  3. Check the level and excavate as needed

1. Remove Surface Debris and Topsoil

Remove all surface debris and top soil, even in areas that don’t need to be excavated. This helps to prevent weed growth in the future.

2. Clean the Corners

Take some time to clean the corners and smooth out your excavation site. This will save you time later.

3. Check the Level and Excavate as Needed

After your site is as level and clean as you can make it, check the level using a 2×4 and level. Cut the 2×4 if necessary to fit within the graded area. Place the level on top of the 2×4 and move it around from one part of the excavation to the other, checking the level along the way. Excavate any high areas or fill in low areas as needed.

Step 4: Install a Perimeter (optional)

Follow these 8 steps to install a 4×6 perimeter around your shed base. This step is optional but recommended for a neat and clean end result.

  1. Cut 4×6’s to length for first course
  2. Lay in place
  3. Join corners with screws
  4. Measure across corners and square
  5. Drill holes for pins
  6. Verify level and install pins
  7. Install additional courses as needed
  8. Replace soil around outside edge

1. Cut 4×6’s to Length for First Course

In the case of a 12×14 shed base, you’ll need two 4×6’s cut at 14’ and two cut at 11’ 5”.

level ground for shed base 4x6 perimeter
Cut 4×6’s to Proper Length

2. Lay in Place

As you lay the 4×6’s in place, make sure they are resting firmly on the ground. You may need to smooth out the soil by filling in low spots or removing high spots.

3. Join Corners with Screws

Use screws to join all 4 corners of the 4×6 perimeter frame.

how to build a shed base screw corners

4. Measure Across Corners and Square the Frame

Use a measuring tape to measure the distance across the corners of the frame. If the two measurements are the same, your frame is square. Adjust the frame by pushing or pulling on the corners until both measurements are the same. 

5. Drill Holes for Pins

Use a ⅝’ drill bit (or whatever size is required for the rebar to fit snugly) to drill holes through the 4×6’s and pin them to the ground. Use 2 pins at each corner and place them approximately 4’ apart from there.

6. Verify Level and Install Pins

Verify that your 4×6 frame is level and make adjustments as needed. Cut the rebar into 2’ lengths using your sawzall or grinder and pound it into the freshly drilled holes in the 4×6 until the top of the rebar is flush with the top of the 4×6.

landscape timber installation for shed pad
Install Rebar Pins (Our Homestead Life)

7. Install Additional Courses as Needed

If you’re planning to use your 4×6 perimeter as a retaining wall, then you’ll want to add additional courses until the wall reaches the desired height. Use landscape timber spikes to fasten each new 4×6 to the one underneath. 

install shed pad retaining wall
Install Additional Courses as Needed

8. Replace Soil around Outside Edge

Fill in the outside edges around the 4×6 frame with soil. You are now ready to install a layer of gravel on your flat and level surface. 

Step 5: Install a 5” Gravel Base

Use the following four steps to install the gravel and complete the final step for leveling the ground for your shed.

  1. Install the landscape fabric (optional)
  2. Spread the gravel
  3. Level and smooth with a 2×4
  4. Admire your level shed base

Confused about whether or not you should install a gravel or concrete shed foundation. Learn more about that issue in our blog post: Gravel vs. Concrete: Which Shed Base is Best for You?

1. Install the Landscape Fabric (optional)

Some shed base installers, including Site Preparations LLC, prefer to put down landscape fabric before spreading the gravel. The intent of this is to prevent weeds and to give the overall foundation more stability by separating the gravel from the dirt below. While it’s recommended, fabric is not required for DIY projects, so it’s listed as optional. 

level ground for shed weed barrier
Install Weed Barrier Fabric (Tidy the Garden)

2. Spread the Gravel

Spread the gravel at a thickness of 4-6 inches. 3/4″ inch crushed stone is a common gravel size used for a shed base.

3. Level and Smooth with a 2×4

Use the 2×4 that was used to level the excavated area and slide it across the surface of the gravel. This helps to smooth out uneven spots and create a pad that’s perfectly flat. If the job was done correctly up to this point, it should be very easy to level the gravel.

Level the Gravel with a 2×4 (DIY Network)

4. Admire Your New Shed Base

Step back and admire your work. Your shed now has a solid foundation that will help to ensure that it functions properly and lasts for a long time.  

We Can Help

Are you not sure if you want to tackle this project on your own? Our experienced crews can install your new gravel pad so fast you’ll think it appeared out of nowhere (not quite but you’ll be surprised by our efficiency). Request a free shed pad quote and let us do all the work for you!

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