What climate, temperature, etc. issues do I need to build a "good enough" storage shed for my books?
November 23, 2012 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Please help me design & figure out how to build a "good enough" storage shed for my personal library. What with all the librarians lurking on MetaFilter, I figure that you guys should know the answer (or at least be able to bless me with an abundance of opinions), right? :)

I am unhappy with the prices (high), convenience (low), and conditions (infestation of book-glue-eating roaches) at my local climate-controlled storage place and thus would like to just build my own storage shed on my husband's land for my personal library. My current home is too small for a library and will be for the forseeable future.

Right now my library has 1,200+ books, with the contents always growing of course. I'm starting over on shelving too as all the books are currently in boxes but I want them all on shelves I can browse. The climate should be optimal for the books, not me -- I'll just be in there long enough to pick out books and put them away.

Nothing I'm sorting is antique, rare, valuable, etc. -- just your basic growing home library of nonfiction how-to and other reference books.

I don't want to spend a fortune. I live in Central Virginia (think Lynchburg / Appomattox area) in terms of climate, but I've only lived here for a year so I have no idea what the typical climate is here year-to-year.

My initial Google searches weren't turning up useful enough information fast enough and my husband is threatening to close the laptop on my fingers so that's all I've got for now. I'll follow up with answers to any questions tomorrow.

Thanks! :)
posted by Jacqueline to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
IANALibrarian, but I think you'd be better off storing them in the house if that's at all possible. Optimum conditions for books (within reason) won't be much different from optimum conditions for you, meaning you'll need to moderate temperature and humidity, requiring insulation, power, etc. Climate control in a small outbuilding will probably be less efficient than it is in the house, if for no other reason than the ratio of wall/roof area to enclosed volume is much larger.
posted by jon1270 at 4:46 PM on November 23, 2012

Sheds have one major advantage over houses - You don't need windows. So, IF you build one with normal-scale insulated walls (instead of the standard one-sided 2x4-framed walls you normally see used for sheds), it'll cost almost nothing to heat/air condition. Hell, for that matter, I'd suggest reading up on DIY icehouses - Although you don't want to keep them frozen, you do have similar requirements as far as isolating the inside from the outside in terms of temperature and humidity.

As an alternative, however - Have you considered buying a seriously EOL RV? One that you can get to your house but wouldn't trust to live through even a 20 mile road trip? Rip out the entire interior, line it with bookshelves, get an aftermarket rooftop HVAC unit, and bam, you have a climate controlled library (that might actually count as mobile - You could at least tow it) for cheaper than a 12x12 shed kit from Home Depot.
posted by pla at 5:10 PM on November 23, 2012

Extending pla's answer; consider an old library van? Many countries have or had them for (mainly) their rural or island services. I'm not too up on the specifics of buying them, tho' aware that there was an ex-library van convoy at a library conference (not sure where) very roughly five years or so ago. So they exist.

Pictures of the library van which visited us every three weeks, when we lived on a tiny Scottish island for several years in the last decade. Advantage: it's already kitted out with shelving and concealed storage space.
posted by Wordshore at 7:10 PM on November 23, 2012

Response by poster: My house actually is a 8ft x 20ft RV, so no, there is no room for them in them in the "house" and the final dimensions of the storage "shed" may actually be bigger than that of the "house."
posted by Jacqueline at 7:32 PM on November 23, 2012

I am a librarian, though I'll also say many of us (including me) have no training in things like how to build free-standing libraries. What I do know: the humidity level is what's really important. If the humidity is too high, you'll get mold and lots of it. I think you want humidity of 50% or less. If you aren't going to include any kind of a/c for summer, that could be a real problem.

Try googling something like humidity level books. That got me this page from the UCSD Libraries.

posted by bluedaisy at 7:37 PM on November 23, 2012

Perhaps you could buy a used shipping container similar to this:


I'm guessing these are available locally almost anywhere in the country.

To keeps the books happy you could run a de-humidifier in the container to keep the humidity down. IANAL, but I would imagine that books won't be harmed by the normal temperature range of your climate.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 8:26 PM on November 23, 2012

According to google, books run about 12 per linear foot. So 1200 books would be about 100 linear feet of shelving. That's a lot in a living room (and even more in a small RV), but isn't much in a shed.

How big of an issue is cost? Ignoring budget, the nicest option would be to just build a shed/detached garage/outbuilding (the specific name might have permitting implications, so ask if one is cheaper to permit), insulated as well as you can afford, and with an HVAC system sized for the building (a simple wall unit would probably be enough). That will keep the temperature relatively constant and the summer humidity under control. But that implies some real costs -- at least 2x4 and probably 2x6 walls with insulation, good doors/windows, vapor barriers, electricity and maybe gas, etc. Controlling humidity is the real key, because damp books get mildew and mold very quickly.
posted by Forktine at 8:40 PM on November 23, 2012

My biggest concern with this plan wouldn't be the issue of best-preservation (which is important but solvable) but of failure mode. You are, very literally, putting all of your eggs in a single basket. I would worry way more about what happens if there is any failure in the structure that led to water leakage, which is the most likely way for this to go wrong.

The Library of Congress has a page on book preservation, with links out to good, solid resources and a bibliography attached, if you still want to go this route. Me? I'd be thinking about digitization and not worrying quite as much about the physical instantiation of them.

If you do move forward with this, I would vastly overbuild the structure as well. Books are _heavy_, with weight-bearing loads on the floors of more than you might expect. The recommendation for tightly-organized library stacks is something like 300 pounds per square foot.
posted by griffey at 9:06 PM on November 23, 2012

A hundred linear feet assuming 8' high walls and 5 shelves per wall (which allows 19" per shelf) is 20 linear feet of wall space.

I'd build a 12x12 shed with a doorway from 18" to 42" from the outside corner on one (say the South) wall. Assume shelves 12" deep and 2x6 construction for the walls of the shed. That would allow for 11' of shelving space on the East and West walls plus 7' of double sided shelving space running North-South down the centre of the shed while still leaving 36" of circulation space. You could also put an additional 4-5' of shelving space on the centre of the south wall.

This design gives you 40 linear feet shelving space times 5 shelves per linear foot of space gives you 200 linear feet of shelving. If you are using a hundred linear feet now then you can double your collection before needing to expand.

In a pinch you could get a lot more density in this space. reducing the intershelf space to 16" would allow for 40 more feet. 12" spacing would net you a total of 320 linear feet. You'll probably find that the most efficient use of space will come from a mix of shelf inter spacing.

Construction could take several forms depending on how handy you or your helpers are. If it was me I'd:
  • Excavate to below the frost line.
  • Form and pour a foundation wall that extended 8" above the prevailing grade.
  • Back fill the enclosed area with well compacted gravel till level with the top of the foundation wall.
  • Insulate the exterior of the foundation with 2.5" of blue board then back fill the exterior paying attention to slope drainage away from the wall.
  • IPour a 4" slab over the the foundation wall and compacted gravel making sure to install appropriate reinforcement.
  • Build standard 2x6 wood frame walls with OSB sheathing, fiberglass insulation and gyproc interior walls.
  • Buy standard 4:12 roof trusses specifying a design that resulted in a 12-24" overhang on all sides to keep the walls dry. (either gable ends with ladder truss or a hip roof).
  • Roof with either asphalt shingles (cheap) or metal roofing (best and permanent)
  • Use a standard 36" prehung steel door for entry.
  • You have power for lights, A/C and heat. You won't need much; a standard window A/C unit installed thru the wall would be enough and would be your biggest draw. I'd probably run either a 12/3 NMWU (a type of loomex that can be directly buried) or an appropriate overhead cable powered by a 2 pole 20A breaker. That would give you a light fixture and more than enough juice to run both your A/C and a standard pair of baseboard heaters.
  • Blow cellulose insulation into the ceiling.
The most intimidating part of this whole project would be the concrete but it is well within the abilities of a DIYer. If costs are an issue you could get the shed to lock up (exterior walls, door, roof) and then complete the insulating, electrical, A/C, Gyproc as funds permit.

One of our building supply borgs locally (Home Hardware but I think they are a Canadian chain) sells garage/shed kits that include basically everything but the concrete. If such a thing exists in your area it would be a good way of gauging costs even if you don't buy one of their kits.
posted by Mitheral at 11:59 PM on November 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I was watching something on television a couple of days ago about how the Science Museum in the UK was building climate-controlled storage for their transport collection (old cars, bicycles, carriages etc.) Their solution was to build storage sheds using hempcrete panels, which they found was excellent for controlling temperature and humidity, and thus preserving the more delicate materials (fabrics, leather and so on).
posted by pipeski at 1:19 AM on November 24, 2012

Your biggest problem is going to be climate control --- in central Virginia, you're facing +/-100 degree temperature variations, some serious summer humidity, winter snow and occasional very heavy rainstorms; plus since it'll be out in a field, it'll need to be built tight enough to keep out bugs and rodents --- in other words, a smallish climate-controlled windowless house, complete with HVAC and insulated walls/floors/roof. Any kind of 'shed' you find at Home Depot or Lowes or whatever will not be able to protect your books.

(Oh, and whatever you build, don't just build it to fit just the current 1200+ books: we all know, book collections are always mysteriously expanding!)
posted by easily confused at 4:29 AM on November 24, 2012

The key advantage of climate-controlled storage facilities is, well, the climate control. Anything you build yourself for book storage will need to include a serious climate control system, including humidity control. Just a shed, even an insulated one, will quickly result in shelves of crumbling or moldy paper.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 AM on November 24, 2012

I have to wonder why it would not be more cost effective to get an ebook reader and digitize your library. It would certainly be cheaper than building a special house just for books.
posted by emjaybee at 6:58 PM on November 25, 2012

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