Exterior Cosmetic & Finishing Options

by Karen Knapstein

There is a lot of competition in the shed market. When you visit the outside lots at big-box home-improvement retailers, there are often sheds for sale on display. These prefab sheds are often very basic — built with stud walls and finished with hardboard or engineered wood siding. With prices starting at a couple thousand dollars, you may think it’s hard to compete with retailers and their ready-made shop and drop sheds.

You can make your sheds — both large and small — stand out among the competition by taking the exterior finish from nondescript to remarkable. Make your buildings more than just functional; make them a point of pride. By choosing quality finish options, you assure your customers that they aren’t buying a disposable building from you.

Stand Out With Siding

If you’re going to use wood siding, make the finish count. When your customers provide their color choice, it’s up to you to choose or recommend quality stains and finishes that will hold up.

One of the outstanding arguments in favor of metal siding is that, in addition to coming in any color imaginable, a 40-year warranty against fading and rust-through is pretty standard, reducing the maintenance over the life of the building. Plus, it’s bug-proof and animal-proof, and replacing a panel is a simple matter should the siding be damaged; these are all details that gain points with your customers.

CertainTeed just announced its newest siding product: CERTAplank™. The product is made in the U.S. and is available nationwide. Its wide-faced, durable vinyl cladding combines modern hardboard looks with a 7″ lightweight slim but rigid profile that can be installed quickly and safely, and requires virtually no upkeep.

“Fiber cement and wood planks are cumbersome and heavy, and they require special tools, extra crew, and safety gear to install. CERTAplank resolves these installation issues while delivering a beautiful, flat-face hardboard look,” said Kara Radcliffe, director of vinyl siding product management for CertainTeed.

Because CERTAplank is lighter weight and more flexible than fiber cement or natural wood siding, contractors can hand unload CERTAplank without any special equipment, storage, or stacking requirements. Panels will not crack or chip, and there are no OSHA restrictions on handling or cutting material outdoors. Any standard ¾” siding accessories can be used as trim, including standard new construction window J-Channel.

This large post-frame “shouse” features divided-light windows, a cupola, a corner porch, and faux stone URESTONE wainscot. Courtesy of Replications Unlimited



One of the most common things people ask for to dress up a shed is wainscot. Wainscot shortens the look of a tall sidewall with a complementary or contrasting color and/or texture.

The owners also gain the benefit of protection with wainscot. If the grandkids are playing with ATVs and run into the side of the building, the owners don’t have dented steel that they have to replace. Using more durable wainscot is a plus. A lot of things can dent steel in the bottom 3′.

Replications Unlimited manufactures a maintenance-free URESTONE line of textured products that replicate the look of stone, brick, and rustic wood. The URESTONE Series is a composite of a hard-coat surface backed by high-density foam and finished off by hand painting with high-quality exterior paints. It is impact-resistant, looks authentic, and they have projects that have been installed for a decade in the field without significant fading.

The URESTONE panels are lightweight, have an R-value from 5 to 7, and are easy to install. “One of our more popular options for dressing up a shed is our wainscot series,” said Replications Unlimited vice president Jerrod Jarboe. “This series has a ledger built into each panel and creates a quick install as a skirting.” It can be installed by anyone with basic carpentry skills. The panels cut easily with any type of saw and install with glue, screws, and caulk. (Make sure to use fasteners appropriate for the substrate.) If installing on more than one layer of panels, make sure to stagger the seams.

“URESTONE removes the need for any extra foundation or footing typically required to support the weight of real stone,” Jarboe continued. “It removes the need of a mason, which, depending on the region, can be difficult to find.”

This impressive post-frame residence features Replications Unlimited’s URESTONE wainscot as one if its design details. Courtesy of Replications Unlimited


Natural Light

Windows and doors are functional, but different styles can dramatically change a shed’s appearance. Installing windows and doors with divided lights add a more “homey” look to a shed, while single-light windows look more utilitarian.

Trimming the exterior adds a decorative look and keeps the inside of the shed dry by preventing water from entering between the wall and the window. Trimming out windows and doors with an accent color gives the shed a more finished look.

If your customer is concerned about break-ins through windows, consider using translucent roof panels or skylights.

A bit of caution: If you’re going to put in skylights, don’t go cheap. You can cut holes in a roof and do it correctly and not have leaks, but you need to do it right. If you’re going to put a Pella skylight in the roof of a building with a steel skin, you need to buy the Pella kit that is appropriate for sealing it up with installation. Recognize with any penetration of the roof, you can have the issue of leaks.

Another option for natural lighting is Palram polycarbonate panels. Palram’s SUNSKY® corrugated polycarbonate panels are lightweight, impact-resistant, and suitable for year-round use. Matching metal profiles is not a problem, as Palram’s proprietary MetalMatch technology allows for rapid matching of existing corrugated metal profiles. As a result, Palram has developed “the world’s largest catalog of corrugated polycarbonate profiles.” Using simple woodworking tools, the polycarbonate panels can be mounted as wall panels or as roof panels. Plus, “SUNSKY profiles feature coextruded UV protection. In fact, SUNSKY is warranted for 10 years against loss of light transmission due to yellowing, and against damage due to hail.”

Palram also produces SUNTUF panels. “SUNTUF is a great choice to bring your outdoor spaces to life,” Palram says. “These attractive polycarbonate sheets offer a variety of light transmission and color options to fit any style, while also providing maximum impact resistance and a broad service temperature range.

“SUNTUF is lightweight, durable, and easy to cut and drill using basic woodworking tools, plus features 99.9% UV protection, keeping the panel — and everything underneath of it — protected. Equip your home’s outdoor living area, storage space, or shelter for nearly any weather condition.”

MWI Components also offers high-quality corrugated polycarbonate sheets with high-impact resistance, available in many profiles and lengths. MWI offers the sheets in Soft White, Solar Gray, Clear, and Opal.

Change The Roof Pitch

Post-frame construction is a popular choice when building large sheds because it’s cost-effective, a building goes up quickly, and the frequently used steel skin makes for a low-maintenance exterior. A 4/12 pitch is pretty standard on post-frame buildings, but a steeper-pitched roof will detract from the “pole barn” look.

If you change the roof pitch from the standard 4/12 pitch to 6/12 or 8/12, it gives it a different look.

Having a steep enough roof pitch may allow enough extra room for a loft. A loft amounts to bonus space in a smaller shed and can add up to a lot of usable space in a larger shed.

A Case For Understatement

Morton Buildings is a leader in the post-frame industry. They pride themselves on unrelenting quality and will involve themselves at whatever level their customers want. Dan Nyberg, sales training manager, has plenty of experience seeing to it that customers are satisfied with the end result.

Morton designs some extraordinary exteriors, but in some cases, owners don’t want their buildings to be noticed. They don’t want their building defined by the exterior finish. Nyberg said they’ve built a number of buildings where it’s the only building on the property, and the last thing they are interested in is drawing attention and making people think “Wow! There’s got to be good stuff in there.” He recalled a case where they built a post-frame shed on a remote property. “It was the only building on the property,” he said. “I built one building where everything on it was brown. Walk door: brown. Sidewalls: brown. Roof: brown. Trim: brown. Overhead doors: brown. And it was a situation where this individual used it as his getaway and his hunting cabin. But if someone happened to be walking on his property, the last thing he wanted them to do was to see a building that was really dressed up, that was really tricked out, and they would thus be drawn to it and say, ‘There’s got to be good stuff in there. Let’s bust in and find it.’

An attractive color scheme, walk doors and windows with divided lights, and a metal wainscot dress up this farm shop.
Courtesy of Morton Buildings


“You can dress them up, but there are times when people are interested in keeping it looking as simple and plain as possible so it doesn’t draw exceptional interest to it and that’s usually when it is in a remote location or when it is the only building on the property.”

In cases like this, you wouldn’t put any lights or windows in the walk doors. And, if the customer wants windows in the building, they would be placed higher up on the sidewall so anyone outside could not look in.

All in all, listening to what your customers want, and going above and beyond what they expect, makes them more likely to come back to your business. It also makes them much more likely to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. GCSB