December 11, 2023


Q: Our new property came with a charming but dilapidated old playhouse. Our young daughters might love to play in it, but it’s occupied by a swarm of ants, a few hornets’ nests and rotted wood. It’s also situated awkwardly on concrete blocks facing away from the house. We are working parents and are slightly crafty/handy, but we have less time than creativity. Any advice on how to make this safe and accessible for children? Or is it less expensive and less of a hassle to just have it hauled away?

A: The answer to whether it’s worth fixing depends partly on what the damage is. But also important is the level of repair you’d find satisfying. Targeted repairs and fresh paint can do wonders, especially if you need the building to last just during the playhouse years of your daughters’ lives. After all, small buildings such as garden sheds and playhouses aren’t collateral for a 30-year mortgage.

The pictures you sent show damage to the bottom of the siding and to corner pieces (maybe metal flashing) that have twisted off. The adult-height door on the end also has some rot at the bottom. But other than that, there doesn’t appear to be much that a good scrubbing and some new paint wouldn’t fix.

Inside might be a different story, but it’s hard to assess that without first clearing the debris. If the hornets’ nests are near the doors, deal with those first with a can of wasp and hornet spray, applied at night or early in the morning from a distance. If you are highly allergic to stings, hire a professional. Fox Pest Control (; 855-953-1976), which works in Northern Virginia and various other parts of the country, said the fee typically ranges from $150 to $200. You could have the company treat for ants at the same time for no additional fee.

What questions do you have about taking care of your home?

Judging from the pictures you sent, the inside of the structure appears to be dry. Put on a disposable respirator and gloves, and walk in. If the floor seems solid, move the big items outside and scrape smaller debris into a pile, so you can scoop it up with a dustpan or a flat-head shovel. Dust cobwebs and sweep or vacuum up what remains.

If sections of the walls or the underside of the roof are black, water has almost certainly seeped in. With a screwdriver or an awl, poke into the wood; if it goes in more than ⅛ inch, rot has probably begun. This isn’t a good sign, but it’s not necessarily a death knell for a shed or play structure if the damage is not extensive.

On the other hand, if the floor is so soft that it seems unsafe to walk on, or if numerous studs or roof rafters are spongy, then you might conclude that it’s better to have a junk-removal company demolish the building and haul it away, a bill that could run from about $200 to $2,000, according to 1-800-Got-Junk. The company also offers advice about the steps involved, if you want to tackle this yourself.

Chances are, though, that the building still has years of life left. In that case, you might want to reorient it before you tackle repairs. If you have friends who work in construction or landscaping, invite them over to talk through the process and enlist their help. You or a landscaping crew will need to prepare the new site before moving day; the structure should sit on a level bed of ¾-inch crushed gravel that is four to six inches deep (or deeper if you need to fill in a low spot). Sheds and playhouses usually sit on 4-by-6-inch pressure-treated skids between the floor and the gravel, but the 4-by-4 pieces that support the structure now should suffice. Trim them after the move, so they don’t stick out past the building.

Buy enough Schedule 40 PVC pipe (four or six inches in diameter), so you can cut three or four pieces a foot or two longer than the distance between the 4-by-4s. (A 10-foot piece of six-inch-wide pipe is $101 at Home Depot; a four-inch-wide piece is $52.96 but would make the move more laborious.) You’ll also need four jacks, such as Husky’s six-ton hydraulic bottle jacks ($32.98 each at Home Depot).

Check before you buy to make sure the highest setting is enough to at least slightly lift the corner of the building that’s farthest from the ground. And have a couple of thick planks to use as a ramp as the building rolls onto the gravel, plus more that you can insert under the building to keep it level as you roll it, as well as scraps of plywood to place under the jacks, so they don’t sink into the soil.

On moving day, with helpers present, use the jacks to raise the building just enough so that you can move away the concrete blocks. Place the pipes perpendicular to the 4-by-4s, maneuver wood under them to make the pipes level and gradually lower the building onto them using the jacks. Then use your people to move the house to the new location. As a pipe comes free at the back, move it to the front, so the building stays on its “wheels” the whole way, and insert more of the scrap wood, so the house stays level. Depending on which way you want to move the building, you might need to modify these directions, such as by first adding another pair of 4-by-4s perpendicular to the existing ones, so you can place the pipes to roll the building in a different direction.

To repair the exterior, wash the siding, and let it dry. If the siding is plywood, you can probably repair the rotted bottom edge of the siding and the adult door by first brushing on an epoxy wood hardener, then filling in with an epoxy putty, such as Abatron LiquidWood & WoodEpox ($42 for a 24-ounce kit on Amazon). If the siding is made from flakes of wood, get tips from my June column titled “How to repair damaged shed siding.”

Then, at last, are the fun, transformative final steps: new paint inside and out, as well as decorating.

Only you can decide whether all of this is worth the effort.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to [email protected]. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.


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