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Barn vs Shed | The 5 Key Differences

While some have wondered about the differences between a barn and a shed, others feel there are no significant differences other than size. Barns have been used as an efficient system for housing animals as far back as the 1800s and a facility for raising horses. 

A barn is a structure built on farms for housing livestock and storing grains and hay, depending on the region of the farm. A shed is a structure built to house equipment, animals and engage in outdoor work. While a shed can be built anywhere on a property, a barn can’t be built on every property.

A shed is a single-story structure erected on the back garden for work or storing items, and its complexity largely depends on its use. While some are open-sided to house garden tools, others are pretty complex with door frames and electrical fittings and used on large farms. Read on for an in-depth review of the differences between a barn and a shed.

5 Key Differences Between a Barn and a Shed

Several components distinguish a barn from a shed.

Here is a table that summarizes the primary differences between the two:

Area BarnShed
MaterialStones and timbersMetal, wood, plastic, or concrete
ShapeCommonly rectangular, round, and polygonalCommonly rectangular. Rarely round or polygonal
ColorPainted white or red. Various colors for horse raising.Depends on the material used in construction or owner’s preference.
RoofingDoes not use pent roofingUses pent roofing
UsesTo house livestock and store grains, crops, and hay.To house equipment and animals and engage in outdoor work and relaxation.

Let’s discuss these differences (and more) in greater detail:

1. Material

Barn Material 

People usually build barns with stones and timbers as a strong facility for housing loads, farm produce, and animal feeds. More modern barns feature a combination of materials, such as wood, metal, and plastics for efficiency.

Shed Material

Depending on the size, a combination of metal or wooden frame, plastic, or metal sheathing is used in constructing a shed. Flooring can be plastic, concrete, or wooden and may have an open-ended design or be fitted with doors to keep it secured.

  • Metal sheds: These shed types are fully framed with thin sheeting and covered with corrugated iron. Perfect for storing items that require protection from water, fire, and termites.
  • Plastic sheds: These sheds are designed using heavy-duty plastics such as polyethylene and PVC. They are durable and have a tough resistance against harsh elements. Some plastic sheds are roofed and framed with plastic to reflect sunlight and easily make the shed comfortable.   
  • Wooden shed: Wooden sheds are commonplace and are characteristic of most backyard sheds. It seems to be the least expensive shed option. Hence you’ll find more wooden sheds in many houses. 

Although wooden sheds are not as durable for long-term use, they are perfect as a make-shift material for a seasonal shed.

2. Shape

Barns are built in different shapes, depending on their purpose of use. Rectangular, round, and polygonal shapes are common barn shapes. Sheds are often built as rectangular structures and are rarely found in round or polygonal shapes.

Multiple Shapes of Barns
Barns come in all different shapes and sizes

3. Color

Some barns are painted white or red and often have a weathered look. Others, especially for horse raising, were painted in various colors ranging from green to black.

Shed color is largely dependent on the material used in construction; some wooden sheds are left in their natural wood finish, while others are painted based on the owner’s preference.

4. Roofing

Barns and sheds have evolved from wooden structures to steel types with hip roofing. While barns and sheds may have similar roofing options, depending on the shape, barns do not use pent roofing as may be seen in sheds.

Common shed types have apex or pent roofing. The apex shed type has the tip of the roof meeting at the middle and inclining downwards, allowing water to pour down from the roof easily. It is a traditional roofing design that enables the shed to stand as a structure on its own.

The pent roofing style, however, is angled downward and often hinged against a wall. The downward angle of the roof brings the front of the shed low while giving enough headroom on the back end.

5. Uses

The design of a shed is based on its intended use. Besides outdoor work, sheds could also be used for outdoor relaxation and engaging in simple hobbies like carpentry or pottery. 

Barns used to be for storing hay in the upper loft. They have equally served as a resting point for farm workers while they get some more work done.

Traditionally, barns have been described as a place for storing grains and have been constructed as tall storage buildings with large doors that allow easy passage of vehicles or machines within them.

Sheds are constructed for different uses, hence creating different types of sheds

  • Arena shed: This type of shed is built to shield users from the harsh weather, commonly found in open sports fields, where viewers can sit and make themselves comfortable.
  • Farm shed: This type of shed is sometimes confused for a barn as it’s often used to store tools, equipment, and supplies used in running the farm. Some farm sheds are also used to keep farm animals, such as poultry or cattle. A shearing shed is a type of farm shed where sheep wool is sheared.
  • Garden shed: Just like a farm shed, most garden supplies are kept here, saving the gardener the stress of moving them in and out. Items like rakes, hoses, mowers are commonplace in a garden shed. 
  • Vehicle shed: This is an outbuilding used to store vehicles, bikes, or boats in some cases. These sheds are specifically built to keep them away from the elements while protecting owners away from the main building. A boat shed, for example, is constructed close to the water and will often house-related supplies, like ropes, tools, etc. 
  • Storage shed: A storage shed might be a typical woodshed or metal shed to keep equipment and tools handy. It could also be a place to store outdoor items against harsh weather. It could have a lock or be left open-ended depending on the shed’s position or worth of items kept there.
Examples of Farm Buildings
Typical Farm Buildings

How To Decide Whether To Build a Barn or a Shed

Typically, sheds are relatively smaller than barns. 

When deciding whether to build a barn or a shed, there are three essential things that you must consider. These are the purpose for which you’re building the structure, the available space you have for it, and your budget.

  • Purpose: Sheds have various purposes for which barns would be inappropriate. You can’t build a barn to fix cars or for relaxation, for instance. Even if you have a small farm, a shed might still come in handy instead of a barn. A barn is used on large farms for storage. Hence a shed might not suffice if you have a large farm.
  • Space: Space is an important factor to consider when building a barn or shed since they are typically smaller than barns. Space can be a major constraint when deciding which to build. 
  • Budget: It will cost more to build barns than to build a shed since they’re larger and maybe up to two stories or more. Often, your budget will determine which you can afford to build. 

Can You Keep Animals in a Shed?

You can keep a certain small number of animals in a shed. Sheds are sometimes used to house cattle, horses, sheep, and other domestic animals. Certain animals can be housed conveniently in a shed, as long as the structure is within the regulated design to house such animals.

Final Words

Though some people think barns and sheds are the same things, the purpose of each distinguishes it from the other. 

A shed can be used to carry out activities that take place in a barn on a small scale. However, certain activities done in the barn are out of place in a shed. Barns go strictly for agricultural and farm uses, and anyone can build a shed for whatever use they deem fit.

For more, check out Should You Rent a Storage Container or Build a Shed? | Pro & Cons.