How to build a shop

A guide to planning, designing and building a new workshop

Last updated: 10 June 2024
40x60x14 metal workshop building

Are you dreaming of adding a new metal shop building to your property but unsure where to start? You’re in the right place! Our beginner’s guide to planning, designing, and building a shop will help you navigate the exciting process of creating your ideal workspace.

Whether you’re looking to build a small hobby shop, an auto repair shop, or a multi-purpose workshop, we’ve got you covered. We’ll break down the planning, design, and construction phases into easy-to-follow steps, providing practical tips and expert advice.

Step 1: Planning

Identify your workshop needs

Planning for all aspects of its present and future use is essential to ensure a successful build. This includes considering how the workspace will be used, what products and services it will offer, and how it will accommodate future growth. The last thing you want is to work in cramped conditions, thinking, "I only wish I'd..."

Good planning now can save a lot of grief in the future. First, take a complete inventory of what you intend to store and work on, including vehicles, parts, supplies, machinery, and any additional storage. Machinery and vehicles will ideally require a 4’ clearance all around to be safely and comfortably worked on.

 

Go as big as you can afford and try to anticipate future requirements. When was the last time you heard someone say, “that shop of mine is way too big”?

 

What size shop building do you need?

This will depend greatly on your intended usage.

Step 1: Take a detailed inventory of what will be stored in the workshop now and soon.

Step 2: Plan your layout with graph paper (using a scale of one square = 5 feet) and place scaled cutouts of your main machinery and equipment to get an idea of what will suit your particular setup.

Step 3: Calculate the area requirements from Step 2 and add 20%.

Also, use our floor plan maker tool to get an idea of the space you need.

Consider standard sizes: The most popular kit packages (by far) are the 40x60 building and the 30x40 workshop. For a hobby, woodworking, or auto shop building (for maintaining one or two vehicles), a 30x50 metal shop will generally provide an adequate floor space.

Steel building packages are available in sizes from 30'x40' to 100’x100’. Standard widths increase in 10' increments, and lengths are unlimited.

Also, see our sample garages for inspiration.

 

shop size illustration

Other size considerations include:

  • How much area will be required for the storage of parts and supplies?
  • How many bays (either 20’ or 25’ wide) will be required?
  • What access height do you need for vehicles and machinery?
  • How many 4’ wide workbenches will you need?
  • Will you require a half bathroom? If so, allow approx. 25 sq ft.
  • Will you require an office area? If so, allow approx. 80-120 sq ft.
  • Will you require room for a compressor, dedicated welding area, parts washer, spray booth, breakroom, or waiting room?
  • Will a dust collection system be used?
  • Will you add a mezzanine loft for additional storage? If so, your eave height must be 16’, 18’, or 20’.
  • Do you need a steel building with living quarters? If so, see our shop houses section for suggested layouts.
  • For those constructing a ‘ManCave,’ allow room for a couch, pool table, TV, bar, fridge, etc.

 

Popular commercial shop building sizes

  • Typical sizes for small to medium-sized commercial storage buildings, including auto & body shops, include a 30x50 or a 40x60 (for servicing/maintaining 2-4 vehicles). Vehicles to be worked on will require approximately 4’ all around, so allow 330 sq ft for cars and 420 sq ft for trucks.
  • Most woodworking shops are approximately 30x40, partitioned into a primary work/project area, a finishing area, a utility room, and a lumber storage area.
  • Farm workshops for maintaining agricultural machinery are typically 60x60 or 50x100, depending on the size and type of machinery to be maintained.

 

TIP: Go with what you can afford now. You can always extend your building by adding additional 20’ or 25’ bays in the future. If this is a possibility, be sure to request 'expandable end walls' when placing your order.

 

What height do you need?

Steel building height is measured at the eave, and door openings require a 2’ clearance between the top of the door and the eave. Most mechanic shops will require a minimum door height of 12’ to accommodate car lifts, giving a recommended eave height of 14’, and for oversized vehicles, choose an eave height of 16’. A minimum eave height of 18’ or 20’ is recommended for farm shops. For structures with a mezzanine second level, choose a building eave height of 20’ or 22’.

 

How many framed openings?

Personnel and overhead door openings each require a framed opening. You must decide how many framed openings you need and their size.

 

framed openings for a workshop building

Do I need a permit?

Some rural and farm properties are exempt, but most new builds require a building permit. Once you've chosen a site and size for your steel-framed building, contact your local building department to start the process and verify if a permit is required. The more details you can provide about the build, the easier and faster the process will be.

For further details, see our page on building permits and codes.

 

Our suppliers ensure that your building is engineered to meet or exceed local codes for wind, snow, and seismic conditions throughout the United States and Canada.

 

If you require financing…

Several options are available for financing; see our steel building financing page for more details.

See our planning your build page for a more in-depth look at this process.

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Step 2: Design

The base steel building package will cover most people's needs, but a wide range of options allows you to get the look you want to meet YOUR specific requirements. Detailed below are some of the more popular customization options:

 

Choose a metal workshop roof style & pitch

Most buyers chose a gable roof profile. Pitches are usually between 1:12 and 4:12. Steeper pitches are available but require special engineering. The simple lines of a shed (single slope) roof are also popular for many commercial builds. These have a pitch of either 1:12 or 2:12.

For more, see our metal roofs page.

metal building roof pitch illustration

40x60 metal warehouse building 30x50 four car garage
1:12 Gable
1:12 Single Slope (shed roof)

 

40x60 metal barn with gambrel roof 40x60 monitor style metal home
Gambrel
Monitor

 

Roof Style
Available Pitches
Gable 1:12 to 4:12 *
Single slope (shed roof) 1:12 or 2:12
Gambrel (Dutch barn) Upper roof 2:12-3:12
Lower roof 5:12-6:12
Monitor - (American barn) Upper roof: 4:12 - 6:12
Lower roof: 3:12 - 5:12

* steeper pitches are available but require special engineering


Pick custom options

Color: Choose over twenty standard colors for your siding, roofing, trim, and wainscot to complement your existing structures or match your company brand or personal style.

Doors: Choose from sectional or roll-up overhead options. Pick sizes and styles that work for your access requirements.

Siding: Kit packages come standard with 26-gauge PBR metal siding. You can replace this with other materials, including Hardie board, stucco, or faux stone.

Structural: Add a lean-to for additional covered outdoor storage or a mezzanine for second-level storage. Also, roof overhangs or covered porches should be added.

 

TIP - consider placing windows 7’ off the floor; this way, you will maximize wall surface and prevent prying eyes from looking in.

For more, see our page on customizing a metal building.

Step 3: Ordering and contracting

Once you have a reasonable idea of your garage's size, style, and design, the next step is to get quotes for the garage kit. We can help with this - tell us about your project, and we will match you with FOUR reputable building suppliers who will provide competitive quotes for your metal garage kit. Request competing quotes from local suppliers.


After selecting a supplier to work with, you will place a building deposit (typically 20-30%) and sign a contract before the factory can begin engineering your custom garage. You will then receive (typically in 2-3 weeks) a set of building and foundation (anchor bolt) plans stamped by an engineer licensed for your state. Building plans are typically included, but some suppliers charge extra for foundation plans. So be sure to verify this before you place your order.


Armed with all the relevant plans, you can now get quotes from local subcontractors or a general contractor to facilitate the construction of your garage. You will also be able to:

  • approach your local building department and begin the permitting process and
  • talk to lenders if you require financing.
Garage/shop mezzanine level

Garage/shop with custom mezzanine storage area

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Step 3: Ordering

Compare price quotes

When you are happy with your chosen size, style, layout, and design, the next step is to get quotes. This is where we can assist with your project. Provide some details about your requirements in our quote request form. We will match you with the FOUR most suitable, vetted suppliers, who will provide competing quotes for your steel building kit package.

Choosing the right supplier is crucial in getting your workshop built. Here's a breakdown of the key steps involved:

  1. Placing a Deposit: To secure your position with the manufacturer and kickstart the engineering process for your custom building, you'll typically need to put down a deposit upfront. This deposit is usually 20% and 30% of the total price.

  2. Signing a Contract: After placing the deposit, you'll solidify the agreement with the supplier by signing a formal contract. This contract should clearly outline all the project details, including:

    • Specifications: This covers your workshop's precise design, materials, and dimensions.
    • Timeline: This sets the expected timeframe for the completion of your order.
    • Payment Terms: This details the payment schedule, including any remaining installments after the deposit.

Once the contract is signed, the factory can begin the engineering and fabrication process. Finally, you will receive a set of building and foundation plans (typically 2-3 weeks later). These plans will be stamped by an engineer licensed for your state. Some suppliers charge extra for foundation plans, so be sure to ask before you finalize your purchase.

Armed with your shop building engineering plans, you can get quotes from local subcontractors or a general contractor to erect your building. You can also approach your local building department, begin the permit process, and talk to lenders if you require financing.

Step 4: Pre-construction

Site preparation

Before you can break ground, careful site preparation is critical. Many factors need to be considered, including setbacks and easements, existing utilities and access routes, and the ability of the ground to support the building. In addition, proper compacting and grading are essential for ensuring a stable foundation. Finally, don't forget to pull permits and run services to the job site before you start construction. Read more about construction site preparation.

 

Pour the concrete slab foundation

Your new shop will require a slab-on-grade foundation. The foundation is your responsibility; note that the foundation and anchor bolts are not included in the package. It will cost anywhere from $4 to $8 per square foot.

To obtain the proper permits and ensure that your steel building is code-compliant, you must hire a local, licensed structural engineer to design the foundation plan.

Unless you have substantial foundation installation knowledge, we strongly recommend that you have the foundation poured by a professional crew. A 4-inch slab will work for most small shops; however, if you use the room to store heavy equipment or install a car lift, you will need a 6-inch foundation.

You may also want to consider installing in-floor heating before the foundation is poured. Additionally, you will need to install wastewater drains (typically a trench drain or square bell trap).

NOTE. If you have no prior experience, we strongly recommend that a professional concrete company install the foundation.

For more, here's our guide to metal building foundations.

Illustration for Steel Building Slab Foundations with Haunch Design

Step 5: Construction

Delivery

Your building will be delivered somewhere between 1 and 4 months after ordering. You’ll need lifting equipment at the site to offload the framing and sheeting components and a place to store everything safely and out of the elements. The final balance of payment will generally be due on delivery. Read our guide to what to expect and how to prep for delivery.

 

When building a shop you have three options

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Build: All buildings from our suppliers have detailed plans and instructions. Construction is easier than you might think. For smaller-sized buildings (up to 3,000 sq ft), approximately 30% of buyers choose DIY. You will take care of permitting, pouring the foundation, erecting the structure, installing wiring, plumbing, insulation, and all interior finishing. 

Self Build: You act as the project's general contractor (GC). You hire and manage the subcontractors needed for the foundation, building erection, finishing, etc. This option will save you the GC fees (10-20% of the project expenditure).

General Contractor (GC) Build: You enlist a GC to hire and manage all subcontractors. This route is the most costly option and best suited for those without construction experience if you require a short build time or for large commercial buildings. GCs typically charge 10-20% of the project price, but their knowledge and ideas can significantly benefit the project.

Their experience may also equate to a faster permit approval process, as many GCs have long-standing relationships with local building departments and inspectors.

For additional details, see our guide to metal building construction.

Installing a steel shop building

Step 6: Finishing

Most shops will require some degree of interior finishing once the building is in place. Here are the basics that apply to most workshops, but the sky is the limit on how comfortable and appealing you want to make your new space.

Wiring Plumbing and Flooring

When you purchase a steel building from one of our suppliers, you are only buying the metal building shell, which includes the framing, roof, walls, and doors. It will be necessary for you to hire local contractors to handle the wiring, lighting, heating, plumbing, flooring, and internal framing if required.

electrical installation

Insulation options

Good quality insulation is necessary in most locations for improved energy efficiency and comfort while working inside. In addition, the investment will yield worthwhile energy cost savings over the long term. Most owners choose either spray foam insulation or fiberglass blankets. Insulation also helps prevent condensation and reduce noise levels.

For more details, read our guide to metal building foundations.

workshop insulation

Interior framing

Many steel buildings are a single area, open from wall to wall. Interior framing can easily be added for an office, bathroom, dedicated storage area, second floor, or mezzanine loft.

The two main options here are traditional 2x4 framing or steel studs. Either way, the framing required is the same as that for any new construction.

metal building interior framing

Walkthrough and final inspection

Your permit will not be considered complete until you have passed all necessary inspections. To avoid problems, it is advisable to have inspections performed throughout the construction process. Once you have passed the final inspection, the inspector will provide you with a certificate of occupancy.

For further details, see our page on finishing a metal building interior.

For additional shop planning information and ideas, see the following forum threads:

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