What's in your shed? Shovel, lawn mower, trash cans? These days, especially in California, sheds are housing more than tools; instead people are turning sheds and do-it-yourself cottage kits into everything from home offices to art studios.

According to an article in Newsweek, room addition alternatives have tripled in the last five years at The Shed Shop in Fremont, California.

And in Southern California up-scaled cottages-in-a-kit are being sold by an Encinitas company. The relatively inexpensive alternative is attracting homeowners.

"Everybody seems to need more space in their home," says John Aiken owner of Creative Cottages.

Esther Montagner a Fallbrook, California homeowner searched for nine months for a guesthouse or studio for her backyard. She wanted to make it her art studio.

"You had to have one built by a contractor at a cost of at least $60,000 to upwards of twice that amount.

Instead Montagner and her husband opted for a cottage in a kit. They purchased the product and within two weeks built it and painted it themselves.

"Although the pieces are pie shaped they are large and very heavy. You will need to be able to lift and hold them above your head while on ladders. There is also some prep work to consider, like the foundation, sealer or painting. If you are patient and have the strength, it is a very rewarding task to build it yourself," says Montagner.

However, Aiken says at least half the time homeowners order the kit they simply have his company build it as well. He says it usually takes about three days. Aiken says compare that to having an actual addition built and it's easy to understand why homeowners opt for the cottage kits.

"When you go out you find out that to add another 200 to 300 square feet to your home it's going to cost you $200 or $300 a square foot. There ought to be an alternative to that and this is one of those alternatives," says Aiken.

The attractively assembled cottages are about the size of an average kid's bedroom and can be wired for electricity. They're insulated and waterproof. But Aiken says a main attraction is that the cottages don't cost nearly the price of an addition, nor do they need the same level of legal attention that an addition would require.

"For the most part … you can build a bedroom-size, separate, stand-alone, detached building, single story in your backyard, typically not exceeding about 120 square feet, which is 10 feet by 12 feet, without a building permit," said Aiken.

Another big advantage of having the separate cottage in your backyard is it allows homeowners, who have turned their garages or bedrooms into office space, to regain those areas for other usable and livable options.

And it may create a better work psychology for the homeowner, "It gives them that psychology of, 'Hey, I've got somewhere to go today and when I leave business today, I'm leaving it behind and I'm going back to my house.'"

As the housing crunch continues and prices skyrocket some homeowners are even using the cottages as an extra bedroom.

"I hear this all day long. 'You could live in this thing!' And you could except now … instead of an apple, we're talking about a watermelon down at the building department. The minute you talk about something that's called a 'habitable dwelling' -- including things like a toilet or a kitchen; that's a completely different animal -- that thing has to be permitted," warns Aiken.

The kits cost between $5,000 to $15,000 depending on how many windows are in the cottage and the type of architecture and design of the cottage. For more information on the cottages visit: www.creativecottages.com.

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