I've recently begun designing and building structural updates to my house. For example, I've built some shelving units and a cabinet space. Everything has gone well so far, but I'm about to tackle something more significant, a self-designed backyard shed, and I want to be sure that it is structurally sound.

The design will have non-traditional elements, such that copying an existing design would not be straight-forward and could not be relied on.

Is there a software tool or online resource that can help an average DIY'er calculate the load capacity for different structures using different materials? For example, if I use a 2 by 4 here it will be able to hold X weight, versus using a 1 by 3 can hold Y weight.

Or maybe there's are rules like 2 x 4 braced every 2 feet can hold 200 pounds. If this is the case is there a book or website that can provide me with guidance like this?

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    Welcome. This comment is meant to be helpful. Your wording "as structurally sound as can be" seems to be at odds with the sentences that ensue, which suggest you are looking for 'adequately sound, or a bit more'. You could tour similar sheds at HD or at a shed specialist's display yard to get an idea of what is adequate, then up it as desired. For software, there are BIM solutions which can be found through google. All the best.
    – mike
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 17:01
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    The resource you're looking for is the locally approved version of the Building Code. Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 17:48
  • @mike I updated my question to be less passive. It's simply about making project structurally sound.
    – Bob.
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 17:57
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    +1 on pursing a creative design. For the integrity of the shed as a whole, a BIM solution is the way to go. For individual elements, see this thread ... diy.stackexchange.com/questions/13352/…
    – mike
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 18:16
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    When in doubt overbuild
    – Justin K
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 2:06

1 Answer 1


Safe loads are determined through engineering and experimentation. The experimentation is used to gather real-world data, which then is used as input to engineering processes, which then result in guidelines and building codes.

This is all updated over time as new materials are introduced and new experience is gained.

When there's a situation that is non-standard, there are two common approaches to dealing with the situation. The first is to pay an engineer to provide guidance on an appropriate approach. The second is to simply overbuild. An experienced builder will know when it's okay to overbuild, and when you need an engineer.

To get back to your original question, it has no simple answers. It involves the materials used, how they are assembled, and what sort of forces they are going to be asked to deal with. If you can post more detail on your design, I can advise you on any deficiencies that I see, but I'm not a professional.

  • +1. If something is worth doing, it is worth overdoing. Overbuilding.
    – user4302
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 1:26

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