Are you thinking of converting an existing garden building into a functional space that can be used all year round? That’s exactly what happened to me and I’ve decided to document the process and share my experiences with you. I insulated a shed a couple of years ago and more recently my garden office log cabin. The process is quite straight forward and most will be able to accomplish a much warmer, functional living space that can be enjoyed all year round.
By adding insulation to garden rooms you will accomplish two things. Firstly, you are going to help improve the thermal efficiency of the building. Any heat within the building will be trapped inside and will seep through walls, floors and ceiling much slower. This will help keep heating bills to a minimum. Secondly, this process works in reverse. During the summer heat from the sun will be reflected away from the building keeping the interior cooler. I think that’s pretty clever.
Within a normal house, heat is lost through the following different areas. A garden building is quite similar to this. Here are the percentages you could expect:
- 25% through the roof
- 35% through the walls
- 10% through the windows
- 15% through the doors
- 15% through the floor
As you can see heat is lost in all directions, so it’s important to cover every aspect of your garden building.
Garden sheds are typically made with thin 11mm spruce wood. Not a great insulator! There are however many options for increasing the thermal efficiency of even the thinnest of sheds. Rhino Sheds offer a range of buildings that can easily be insulated and converted into a workspace, studio, gym, games room or whatever your imagination can muster up.
In this article, I’m going to cover: How to insulate a summer house, how to insulate a shed and how to insulate a garden room. Basically, you will be able to insulate any garden building with these simple techniques. As a starting point, I want to break down the steps most will need to follow. As sheds and other garden buildings are generally single-wall constructions we need to alter them to support and house the insulation.
Table of Contents
- Step-by-step process to insulate your garden building
- What type of insulation is best for a garden building?
- How to insulate a shed
- How to insulate a summer house
- How to keep your garden building warm
- How can I insulate my shed cheaply?
- What is the best material to line the inside of a shed with?
Step-by-step process to insulate your garden building
Step 1. Build a supporting frame in which the insulation sheets will sit
Prepare to lose some of the interior space within your garden building. Insulation and finishing can take up between 30 & 120mm. The supporting frame should be thick enough to house sheet insulation such as PIR boards. These come in a number of different thicknesses so you’ll need to decide how thick you want the insulation before you buy the timber battens. If you have a small garden building then the thinner insulation might be the preferred option.
Step 2. Add a moisture barrier to protect the internal walls and build-up of mould
A moisture barrier or vapour barrier is easy to install and doesn’t have to be expensive. For a 2.5m tall roll, you can expect to pay about £24 for a 25m length. If you are using PIR boards the vapour barrier should be installed over the top but if you are using a soft, wool-type insulation then the barrier should be installed before the insulation.
This vapour barrier from Wickes is ideal for the job and is very reasonably priced.
Step 3. Cut and fit the insulation
PIR boards are easily cut with a sharp knife or panel saw. The boards will be cut to fit in between the supporting frame. There should be no gaps left anywhere between the wood frame. PIR boards also acts a a great moisture barrier.
If you are using wool insulation like Rockwool then this can also be cut with a sharp knife.
Step 4. Replace windows with double-glazing units
Replacing the windows and doors on your garden building will dramatically increase thermal efficiency by up to 50%. Double glazing can be expensive but this step should not be ignored.
Step 5. Cover the insulation with a suitable sheet material like plasterboard
I finished the interior with plasterboard which was then skimmed with plaster for a nice clean and smooth finish. This could then be painted for a presentable finish. You could also finish the walls with softwood cladding or a sheet wood material depending on your preference.
Step 7. Use insulation boards to cover the roofing sections
The same insulation boards can be used to line the interior of the roof. PIR boards can be glued into place and then covered with sheet materials or cladding.
Step 8. Insulate the floor with a suitable underlay
Assuming you have already built your garden building, the best way to insulate the floor is to install a thick thermal underlay and laminate flooring. A sub-layer floor can be installed with PIR boards but this will raise the floor significantly which might not be ideal for your build. If you haven’t built your garden building yet then you have a great opportunity to build a properly insulated sub-base which I will describe in more detail below.
This completes the basic process for insulating your garden room, shed or summer house, so let me go into some more detail about each section.
Insulating the roof and walls
You may be limited with the thickness of insulation you can use on your walls and roof. The slimmest insulation available can be as small as 3mm, but this isn’t going to be effective. If possible, use a 25 – 50mm insulation board or wool. I’ve used both before and either can be effective. The wool insulation can also provide an acoustic barrier which can be good if you are using your space for music production, DJing or using noisy power tools.
Read on below to see the different types of insulation I have previously used in my garden buildings.
Insulating the windows and doors
Replacing the doors and windows for double-glazing units is the best way to insulate your building. Single-glazed units can sometimes be modified with double-glazing so you might not need to replace the whole door or window. If you are going all out, you should also be able to fit house-quality windows and doors into your garden building. I have fitted these windows and doors to my really simple shed.
You can also use rope caulk to help seal any gaps in the window and door frames. This will help prevent heat from escaping through obvious spaces in your building.
Insulating the floor of your garden building
This can be tricky if you are unable to access underneath the building. If this is the case the only real option is to insulate on top of the existing floor. This will mean raising the floor which can also create a problem. The best way to approach this is to lay a thin (but good insulator) 3-4mm underlay and put a reasonably thick floorboard down. I have previously used a gold standard thermal underlay before which is perfect for this situation.
If you can access underneath the building then the best idea would be to install a thick 100m foam board insulation sheet. These can fit in between rafters or a small sub-base can be built to house the sheets. It doesn’t have to be 100mm but the thicker the better.
How to insulate a shed floor
A shed floor will differ slightly from my garden office build. You might not have access underneath so the only option is to insulate on top of the floor. You can do this effectively, but the floor’s thickness will need to increase. This will mean a step up into your shed, which can be fine if you’re ok with a little less headroom.
In the above image, I’ve also used a slightly cheaper insulation bubble roll under the floorboards. Foil backed insulation rolls are perfect where space is tight. I’ve used these insulation rolls as an addition to other insulation boards. They also help create a vapour barrier to prevent moisture from rising up through the floorboards.
It’s also a great idea to install a good thermal underlay if you are planning on installing laminate flooring in your shed, summer house or garden office. I decided to use this gold foil-backed thermal underlay which is a great insulator. It’s a bit more expensive than other types of underlay but it’s worth spending the extra for that additional thermal insulation.
This thermal gold underlay will cost you about £75 for 15m2 and is thicker than a standard 3mm underlay. This one is 5mm thick and covered with a gold foil moisture-proof barrier. Laminate flooring can be installed directly on top without the need for any adhesive.
Now my garden office has two layers of thermal insulation which is ok for most of the year. If you have the option to install the foam boards before your garden building has been constructed then I would highly recommend it.
What type of insulation is best for a garden building?
Garden buildings typically have thin wooden walls and are therefore not great insulators. To help improve this we can make them thicker, add foam or wool insulation and create a watertight, airtight barrier. Here is a cross-section view of a well insulated garden shed I built a couple of years ago.
I have successfully insulated two garden builds now. I used different insulation for each project based on research into the best types to use in each situation.
For my first project, I needed an insulation that could provide both thermal and acoustic insulation. The best product for this application is a Rockwool RW45 insulation slab. These come in 3 different thicknesses, 50mm, 75mm and 100mm. You will need to decide which is best for your project. How much interior space are you willing to sacrifice to insulate your building?
The second project was to insulate my BillyOh Kent garden office. For this, acoustic insulation wasn’t a big priority so I decided to go with a 25mm Celotex insulation board. The thinner 25mm insulation was selected because I didn’t want too loose much of the 4x3m interior space.
The other great thing about this board is that it also acts as a vapour barrier, preventing moisture from reaching the inner walls, which in this case was a 12.5mm plasterboard.
The walls for each project were covered with plasterboard and plastered for a perfect seal and smooth finish. If you don’t go with the foil-backed sheet insulation then it’s a good idea to seal your walls with a vapour barrier which will help prevent mould and moisture from building up behind the plasterboard. This should be installed on top of the insulation before the plasterboard is fitted.
How to insulate a shed
Sheds are typically constructed from panels made out of a thin cladding, fixed to a thin timber frame. This can make it tricky to insulate. My advice would be to bridge this gap with a thicker timber batten and create a larger gap that can house the insulation boards.
In most cases, a flat-pack shed will have framed panels constructed with 25x25mm batten timber. If you attach a 25x50mm batten timber on top of this you will seal the gap and create this perfect void on the panel to which you can instal some 50mm foam insulation panels.
Red markers indicate additional batten – Blue indicates where thermal insulation boards are added
25x25mm batten can be added on top of the existing frame where there is no join. Insulation panels can then be cut to size using a saw and inserted into the gaps. It’s then easy enough to install panels over the top of this to seal and finish the interior.
Interior walls can be finished with plasterboard, chipboard or plywood board for extra strength and thermal insulation. Again, thicker boards will provide better insulation. It’s also worth noting that a small gap between the boards can be a good thing. Warm air can get trapped in this small gap which will increase the thermal efficiency of the building.
How to insulate a summer house
A summer house will differ slightly from a shed or garden office in that it will likely have more windows and larger doors. As described above, 25% of the heat will be lost through windows and doors. But, as there are more on a summer house you can expect to lose up to 50%.
Windows and doors can be upgraded with double-glazing glass panes which will help reduce heat loss. Another great way to prevent heat loss it to add seal strips around the doors and windows to ensure air cannot easily travel through gaps.
The rest of the insulation process will be similar to that of insulating a shed. The walls, flooring and roof can have insulation panels fitted and sealed. The interior can be finished with cladding, wooden sheet materials or plastered and skimmed as I did in my garden office.
An insulated garden summer house opens up a number of opportunities for its use, and they look pretty amazing too. Whether it remains as a relaxation space or you decide to use it as an office space, you’ll have far greater flexibility with this insulated space.
How to keep your garden building warm
With the addition of insulation your garden room will now be able to retain heat much more efficiently. You now have to consider how you’re going to produce the heat in your outdoor building. To do this cost effectively you’ll likely want to avoid expensive electric heaters and consider a wood burning stove or even a gas fired heater.
If you already have a good source of wood then a wood burning stove is going to be a sensible option. It will have the highest up front cost but will be inexpensive to use in the long run. The fire might take a little while to get going (15-30 minutes) and will require attendance every hour or so but will produce plenty of heat all day long.
A portable domestic gas heater will give you instant heat which is easy to control. Gas can be sourced locally and a single bottle will last you many hours. Typically a 15kg butane gas bottle used on a low setting will last 147 hours and 73 hours on a medium setting. Find out more on the Calor website.
In comparison, an electric heater will cost more, especially with energy prices as they are now (Jun 2022). You can read more about costs in this useful article.
How can I insulate my shed cheaply?
If you are trying to achieve this project on a budget then there are ways to do this. If you are looking to save some money then consider using packing materials and recycled clothing to insulate your roof or walls. Polystyrene is a great insulator and if you can save enough it can be used to pack out the walls and roof cavity. This can however be a time consuming process. Ask friends and family to collect it for you or look on FB Marketplace for any freebies. You can also look in your loft for any excess insulation. I’ve been in many lofts with way too much insulation stuffed in. (Not sure if builders have over compensated for something?)
For my garden office I was stuffing the ceiling void with clothes, packaging, soft insulation and polystyrene from deliveries which makes for great insulation. We also used some recycled packing from our frozen meal delivery service which was amazing. It’s made from recycled jeans. You can just see it in the top of this image.
Bubble wrap can also act as a good insulator. The small bubbles trap warm air and with a few layers can be very effective. A layer of foil thrown in the mix is also very beneficial although I’m not sure how many rolls you’d need!
Old clothes can be utilised to insulate your garden room but they will perform better when shredded. I have previously used recycled packaging materials made from shredded jeans.. They are a great insulator and never in short supply.
What is the best material to line the inside of a shed with?
As you can see I have converted a shed into a warm workshop and a garden building into a functioning office. So depending on your desired use you may wish to have different materials to line the inside.
That’s all for now. Insulating a garden room, shed or summer house doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive and can give you many returns. I hope you have found this guide useful and will now be able to make better use of that garden building.
Thanks for reading.
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