A Shop for Dan #1: The state of what is

Blog entry by Dan Lyke posted 07-31-2009 11:02 PM 3210 reads 1 time favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of A Shop for Dan series Part 2: Thinking about living roofs »

We live in a little 768 square foot cottage on a little lot on the southern edge of Sonoma county, of wine country fame, in a cute little town called Petaluma. If you’ve seen Basic Instinct, or Peggy Sue Got Married, or, especially, American Graffiti, or any number of other films, you’ve caught a glimpse of the community we call home.

My shop currently fits in the garage of that house (not counted in that 768 square feet), a space it also shares with laundry. The garage was designed to fit a 1940s car, so we’re not talking sprawling spaces, and sharing it with the washing machine and dryer and a few other things means we’re tight on space and dust control. Out in the back yard we have a covered awning in which we store the bicycles and some yard equipment, it’s got lattice walls so I believe it falls in that nebulous zoning category called “auxiliary structure”, even though at 12×18 it’s got some square footage covered.

It’d be nice if we could replace that with a humidity controlled space and I could move my shop out there and the bicycles to the garage. It’d be even nicer if we could add a couple of square feet.

Unfortunately, it also appears that that structure doesn’t comply with current setback regulations, its built up against the back fence (should be 5’) and about 3’ from the side fence (should be 4’). On the other hand, none of our neighbor’s garages appear to respect the current legal setbacks, and its recognized on the city maps as a building.

I have a number of questions to answer before we can do this. The first is about setbacks: Can we get a variance to put a new structure in that location? What does that take? Can we repair that structure, or convert it into a garage, or does that buy us anything when we’re pursuing whatever variances we need?

The second is about the structure itself: Do we buy a Tuff Shed or similar prefab? How about a steel building, at a quarter the price of a stick-built wood building? If I build it myself, what advantages do I get and what am I getting into?

And, of course, for any variance the city will notify every neighbor within 300’ of the house, and at the very least we need to confer with the closest neighbors most affected to make sure that we’re making all of our worlds better.


It’d be nice to build on the current slab. I need to excavate to find out of the slab is up to code for a garage floor, 3½” of concrete over 4” of gravel, and I’d still need to dig out around it (and probably chip some of it away) to pour a real foundation. A Tuff Shed has its own floor, all we really need to do is shim the galvanized steel sills level, but then we’d be rolling equipment up and down a ramp to get into the shed, and the whole thing would be a foot or so higher.

It’ll probably be easier to get the variance if the wall up against the back fence has a real fire rating. If I built this shed myself I’d probably do Hard-Plank or equivalent with a drainage plane over OSB or plywood sheating, but what about construction techniques I’m not so familiar with, like concrete block, or even AAC (Aerated Autoclaved Concrete)?

How do we run electrical in the steel building? Just put everything in conduit? And what are the noise implications of a steel building versus something that’s likely to be more sound deadening? If I go steel, am I going to be annoying the neighbors every time I fire up the router?

Our neighbor’s bedroom windows look out on the current shed. We’ve got a really small yard. What about a living roof? That’d give us 250 square feet of extra greenery, even if none of it is really harvestable, and make the neighbor’s view better? Of course this means beefing up the structure quite a bit, so we couldn’t do that with any of the prefab options.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California, http://www.flutterby.net/

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