How to Build Inexpensive Basement Storage Shelves

August 23, 2011 | by Ethan (email) |

A few years after Jocie and I moved into our home, the unfinished side of the basement looked like a we still hadn’t completely unpacked. Boxes and bin and bags were piled across the floor. There was a small aisle leading to the washer / dryer, but forget making it over to the small pantry we used for dry storage. Thinking back, our basement was probably a fire hazard.

If you’ve ever felt like your home could be featured on the TV show Hoarders, you know that good storage is vitally important for every home. With the right shelves, bins and probably a yard sale, you can eliminate clutter and create a well organized space. I decided to remedy our lacking storage with some good ‘ol DIY shelves. The shelves were built and installed in about five hours, and they were by far the cheapest solution I found.

Click here to jump down to where I provide step-by-step directions for building your own shelves or read on for a few thoughts about purchasing shelves.

Buying Basement Shelves

There are lots of great shelving options available, and my initial plan was to purchase some. I was looking for something strong, durable and cheap. I also wanted to get enough of them that our entire floor was clutter free. Unfortunately, nothing I found met all those criteria. All the pre-made options cost more than I wanted to spend.

I realize that not everyone is interested in constructing their own basement shelves. If that’s the case, here are some aspects you’ll want to keep in mind.

Material: Building your own shelves probably means wood construction, but purchased shelves are available in a variety of materials that provide different benefits. I’d suggest considering industrial-grade plastic or stainless steel shelving. Both materials won’t degrade with moisture or rust. They resists mold, and should last many many years. A lot of the stainless shelves are quick to assemble / disassemble making them easy to pack up if you ever decide to move.

Adjustments: An important feature to consider is how you can customize your shelves. By changing the individual shelf height, you can ensure that there isn’t any wasted space from a shelf being too big or too small. I’ve also found that those big, Rubbermaid bins are perfect for keeping things organized. Setting your shelf height to fit those bins is a good idea.

Max Weight: Purchased shelves will indicate a max weight per shelf. If you shop around, you will see some shelves that can accommodate over 100 lbs!

Build Your Own Basement Storage

OK. You’ve decided to build your own shelves- great! Now what do you do? I’m going to share how I did it, and offer up a few suggestions from my experience.

The final design for my storage solution was very simple. I built four ladder-esque supports with OSB shelves in between. The total dimensions are 12′ wide x 7′ tall x 2′ deep. Here are the required materials and costs.

Materials and Cost to Build Shelves

  • 2″x3″x8′ Pine, dimensional lumber @ 1.38 x 15ea. = $20.70
  • 5/8″ OSB, 4×8 sheets @ 5.94 x 3ea. = $17.82
  • 3″ screws to secure ladder supports to joists @ 5.94 x 1 box = $5.94
  • 1 1/4″ screws to secure OSB shelves in place @ 5.94 x 1 box = $5.94
  • Nails to build ladder frames
  • 4 spare bricks

The total cost to build these shelves was about $42 dollars (after Lowe’s coupon).

Build the Supports
Find two straight 2×3’s and line them up parallel to each other. Cut four other 2×3’s at two feet long and nail them across the gap, spaced 18″ on center. Flip the support over and nail four more 2×3’s at the same distance on the other side. Keep everything square so otherwise the OSB won’t sit flat.

I made two of these supports with ladder rungs on both sides, and two more with ladder rungs only on one side. The double sided supports have shelves on both sides while the others act as end caps. Make as many of these supports as you need depending on the total width of your shelves. For instance, my shelves will be 12′ wide and I have four supports. I wouldn’t suggest stretching out the supports any further than 4 feet on center.

Attach to Joists
Next, I anchored these supports to the floor joists above. You can see I’ve got webbed floor trusses, and I used 3″ screws to attach more 2x3s to the joists, and subsequently to the supports. Below, they sit on spare bricks to keep them off the floor. This is a really good idea in case your basement ever floods and it transfers some of the weight off the floor joists.

Lastly, we cut the OSB into 2’x4′ sections with a table saw, practicing good table saw safety to avoid injury. The OSB serves as the shelf and spans the distance between adjacent ladder supports. It sits on top of the ladder rungs and is secured with 1-1/4″ screws. If you don’t have a table saw or circular saw handy, get the sheets cut when you purchase them at your local DIY center.

Looking Back

OSB vs Plywood
One reader brought up some valid concerns about using OSB- specifically strength and potential moisture problems. OSB will delaminate if there’s too much moisture and it doesn’t have the best horizontal rigidity. 5/8″ plywood is a safer option but my shelves are still in great shape even after 3+ years holding some pretty heavy stuff. They sag but I’m not worried about them breaking, and my basement is relatively dry. Fred wrote a great OSB vs. plywood comparison if you want to learn more about the differences between the two materials.

Stronger Shelves
If you want to really buff up the structure, consider framing the OSB (or plywood) around the perimeter and adding strechers. It adds a small cost but greatly improves the shelf strength. You’ll also lose a little space but the sacrifice is worthwhile especially if you plan on storing really heavy items.

Other “How To” Shelving Articles

Final Thoughts

These shelves were easy to construct. You make a lot of the same cuts, there are no difficult calculations, and the shelves go together quickly. Best of all, these shelves are easy on the wallet. It would be tough to find better shelves for the price.

What do you think? What tips can you add?

This post originally ran in December, 2008. I took some time to update the post, add additional thoughts, and make the instructions easier to understand. I hope you find it helpful. I deleted all the original comments but made sure to address any questions, concerns or insights they brought to light.

50 Responses
  1. Joe says:

    ahh, basement storage!

    My parents have a habit of buying industrial shelving when places go out of business. They have a bunch of nice solid sheet metal shelves that are just bolted to 2x3s, some actually on their original supports, and a bunch more which are just sitting in their barn (along with a trailer containing a 2 story thing shelving unit that they haven’t gotten around to installing).
    They also picked up some shelves when the Farberware factory store closed. These are white wire shelves what are pretty easy to adjust, and they used to hold dishes (LOTS of dishes) so I know they are super strong. I got as many of these shelves as I could fit in my house, I have 5 sets in the basement, one full of dishes, one is a pantry, and the other three are just plain old storage. Since they came from a store, they were really tall (like 9-10 feet) and needed to be trimmed to fit in my short little basement. I used all of the trimmed pieces (which were still 2-4 feet tall) to make some shelves in the garage, I just got some 1/8″ steel and used it to bolt the short pieces together and got something as tall as the original.

  2. To add a little to Joe’s comment. Craigslist is a great place to find industrial shelving on the cheap. The difficulty usually comes in hauling it or finding shelves small enough to fit in a basement or garage space, at least that was my problem. Some of those things are huge!!

    In my situation I built shelves more like the shelves in your shed. Perimeter 2×4 on each shelf with 1/2″ ply. Put the shelves in the corner so I could mount them to the walls on 2 sides. Only needed two 8′ legs on the front and the unit is strong enough for me to climb up them even when loaded.

    12- 2×4
    2- 4x8x1/2″ ply
    Mine are only 8′ long shelves where OPC’s are 12′ for the same price though.

  3. dadskills says:

    buuilt this on one side of my gaage when first saw article now its time to do the other thanks for reminding me

    • Joe says:

      Don’t forget to look up when trying to find spaces for storage in the garage. Above the garage door is good for storage of light goods (empty boxes… packing materials, etc.) I built myself a couple shelves above my garage door and it worked out great for all those empty boxes I cant get rid of.

      • JustME says:

        Great idea for storing light weight items Joe. But if you really can’t get rid of the boxes then check Craigslist. There’s always someone looking for boxes for a move. Just check the “Wanted” section.

  4. MissFixIt says:

    Got this in our basement too does the trick!

  5. Icarus says:

    this looks like something I’d like to try at my mom’s house. Is it really necesary to attach to the joists, and supports?

    • If you built them out of OSB and loaded them up pretty good, the sagging in the shelves would pull the supports together a little bit. Perhaps enough to pull it off of the bricks depending on your span unless there was a spreader of some type. Securing to the joists serves that purpose.

  6. MelissaT says:

    Putting the wood shelves on bricks is a great idea. Not just in case of flooding, but in our experience concrete floors tend to weep.

  7. MIke says:

    This looks like what I am planning for our basement. I need each shelf to support a minimum of 300 pounds. What do you think about the addition of attaching the bottom shelf supports to the floor with concrete anchors (while still using the joists for fixed attachment at the top)?

  8. JustME says:

    Not sure why we didn’t look into building something like these ourselves in the first place, but we purchased five heavy duty plastic shelving units at HoDe for just under what you built this whole unit for. The sad thing is they aren’t wide enough to put two Rubbermaid containers side by side like the old metal units we had from our last home so we had to find boxes to put things in.
    Thanks Ethan. I’m sure we’ll be making some of these in the future.

  9. jose relio says:

    im confused, at first you say dont span more than 3 ft centers, then you build them 4 ft? you may not mind the sag but this can be a real safety concern. we must exercise caution when advising amateurs “how to” construct, besides… a job worth doing is worth doing right- spend 5 bucks and put ribs underneath!

    • Ethan says:

      Jose, That was a typo- thanks for catching it. At the end of the post I describe ways to improve the strength of these shelves, and adding ribs is one of them.

      • Dave says:

        As a means to strengthen the shelves, you mention “framing and adding stretchers”. We’d love to see an example of this, or even just a sketch. Going to start building these in a few weeks.

  10. Paul&Aundrea says:

    This looks like the perfect solution to my mother’s latest “home construction” problem. She included a huge storage room upstairs but is trying to find affordable and durable shelving.

  11. HANDYMAN51 says:

    After looking at the reference to AdvanTech sheathing, it would seem to me that if the cost wasn’t significantly higher, that might be a better choice for moisture- resistance reasons, unless it has much less strength. Your shelves look like they’d be very cost-effective, while providing ample storage. I’ve put some metal kits together which had fiberboard shelves, and they weren’t worth the effort to disassemble when it came time to move. The only problem with more storage: One tends to fill it with more “stuff”. These would be great for organizing food pantries to assist the poor- very handy to organize, pick items from the shelves.

  12. John says:

    I had no choice but to build something similar after our we had a flood in our community. I also had to keep in mind that weight was a major factor as most items to go on the shelves were very heavy. The solution for me was adding 2×4 stringers underneath the length and width of the OSB. I built mine a total of 16′ long and there is no sagging after a year.
    And yes, they serve incredibly well for pantry food storage also(canned goods, potatoes, and similar) Cedar would be expensive but it sure would help with the bugs we have here.

  13. carolyn says:

    We live in an appartment for the time being, but could move as soon as 6+months. Is this unit able to be taken down and reassembled?

    • Ethan says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      I wouldn’t suggest these shelves if you hope to move them in the next 6 months. It would basically require complete disassembly. With that said, they are cheap enough that you might consider just building a new set.

      • carolyn says:

        thank you very much! haha, i sorta figured that, but i am just so egar to build them! lol. also, how were you able to find 3 sheets of OSB for only $17 total? all the sheets i found of that or ply were around $17 each. i saw you had used a coupon, what sort of coupon was it? obviously i need to wait for a house AND that coupon!

  14. gary Hines says:

    I like your plans for building basement storage and it looks easy. Can you tell me how to beef up the shelving for more weight support? Do I use 2×3 underneath the shelf itself and where do you anchore the 2×3 anchore supports underneath? I just want to make sure I don’t get any sag. I plan to build the selves 30″s deep and about 30″s on center and just need to beef up underneath for add support…

    • Ethan says:

      Hey Gary,

      I’d use 2×3’s (or upgrade all the 2×3’s to 2×4’s) to build a frame with cross supports underneath each shelf. Then, the shelf and frame will sit on the “ladder rungs”. Good luck!

  15. Rachel says:

    Hi Ethan,

    If I was to build this eight feet long, would I need 11 pieces of 2x3x8 pine and 2 pieces of 5/8 OSB, 4×8 sheets?


    • Ethan says:

      Hi Rachel,

      I think your estimations are correct. It never hurts to purchase a few extra boards just in case, and you can return them later.

  16. Matt says:

    Thanks for these plans, I just built them in my basement and they will be perfect for Xmas decorations and sporting goods…

  17. Ted Sterne says:

    I love your site. Simple but strong designs. I am building basement shelving following your plans here.

    4X8 OSB (19/32″) is now 20.47 at HD in Maryland!!! I guess due to demand from the hurricane.

  18. Ted H says:

    Good design, I used it to build a 12′ long shelf system in my basement today. The design to me is only half complete. You need to add support on the front and back of each 4′ shelf section / OSB shelf. It makes the shelving capable of supporting me a 170 lb man without sagging. The shelving without front and back support sags badly with any significant weight. Sagging is not acceptable in my book. Thanks for the design idea. I have photos to share, but I do not see a way to do it.

  19. Sean says:

    A buddy of mine and I will be building a set of these on Monday. I’ll be using OSB to save some cash but we plan on adding one 2 x 3 stringer per shelf, down the middle of the span, to help hold some weight and add some support… My wife and I live in an apartment building (and we have a baby on the way), so we’re short on storage, but the building has a basement… problem solved. Pretty much everything we have to store is in plastic tote/tubs, so I am worried about bowing/sagging. We will also be using 2 x 4 for the “legs” to get a little bit more support. I plan on using 3″ drywall screws to put it together so we can disassemble and move when we move. Thanks for the plans!

    • Ted Sterne says:

      If you are going to add one or more 2″ x 3″ supports under the shelves, then you can use thinner OSB or plywood shelves saving the money on the shelves for the additional supports. This will give you much more rigid shelves for the same money. I am planning 7 sections to go around 2 walls so the materials are adding up.

      • Sean says:

        True, I’m looking at about $150 for all the materials… for four sections, 16 feet of shelves. The comparable steel storage shelves at Costco are $70 and they’re only four feet long, so this DIY option is still cheaper even though prices of materials have skyrocketed from what was posted in their material’s list.

  20. Adam says:

    Hi Ethan,

    I wanted to thank you for the shelving design. I built them about a year ago and it is working out great as the basement floor had become quite cluttered. I had a buddy at my house over the weekend and he was so impressed with the shelves that he wanted the design so i referred him to your site. I used 3/4″ plywood and also added 2×3 supports under each sheet of plywood. Probably overkill but very sturdy.

    • Ethan says:

      Hey Adam,

      That’s awesome! I’m glad the design worked out so well. I’m still enjoying my shelves too (but it may be time for some spring cleaning). Thanks for referring your friend- it’s a great compliment.

  21. ImReady says:

    That 5/8″ OSB shelving in these pictures, Isn’t going to hold up much weight. Plywood would be stronger, less likely to break. The back and front edge of the shelves need support from end to end. Or at least a block on the floor under the center of the bottom shelf, and legs in the center, the rest of the way up to the bottom of the top shelf. OH, I just read the post above me from Adam. Yes, 3/4″ plywood and supports under each sheet if totally necessary. Unless you’re going to stack empty boxes on every shelf! There again, though, how strong you need to
    build them depends totally on how you will be loading them. Too much weight, they will break in the center.

  22. Alfred Green says:

    ***Neat shelves. But they will sag. I suggest a lengthwise 2×3 or 2×4 support, attached with the 2″ side up, to minimize sagging.

  23. Dale W. Miller says:

    I have been looking for sturdy shelves to hold a record collection, but nothing in the stores that will hold the weight is within my price range. You would be surprised to find out how much a milk case full of 78’s weighs! And I have about 20 cases worth, but a lot are in albums or loose. Plus there are lots of 33’s and 45’s to store.
    Your beefed up shelving unit will do the trick, especially with edge supports and stretchers. Planned to connect them to the joists to prevent tipping, and putting bricks under the posts, just like you did. Thanks for a great description!

  24. theresa says:

    How much would each shelf hold and would it work in an apartment storeage unit

  25. This is a simple design but what you will find is the playwood will start to sag over time. I would add 2×4’s Horizontal along the frount and back for each shelf to add support.

  26. Marcus says:

    Don’t forget the dehumidifier if you are going to store stuff in your basement unless you like mold…

    • Ted Sterne says:

      Good point! I run one in my concrete floor and walled partial basement to prevent mold on all my precious junk. About 58% humidity works without running a big electric bill as dehumidifiers use a lot of watts.

      If you are buying a new one now, buy the new Energy Star models. They use about 25% less electricity for a given capacity.

  27. S2man says:

    Hey! Those look like my shelves. 🙂 Mine are attached to the floor joists, too.

    I used 2x2s for horizontal supports instead of 2x3s. I figured the weak point is the screws, not the lumber, and they have held up well.

  28. Alvinsrini says:

    Very nice design. I was looking for that and got idea from your post. keep posting more.

  29. Christine says:

    These look like just what we need in our basement crawl space. I would like to utilize the corners of their space as well. Any ideas on how to alter these plans to include usable corner shelf space? What we have now are 2 store bought pieces next to each other, but the corner is then inaccessible. Hate to waste that space!

  30. Derek D says:

    I just made this with a couple of adjustments. I couldn’t get 2×3 so I had to use 2×4 instead. Also, I wanted the shelves a little more durable on the cheap so I used 1x6x8’s on each shelf. (I am only planning on using this to store totes or other bigger items) I did 3, 1×6’s per shelf. Looking back, I could have used plywood but the price for plywood was $25 each so that would have been $75. I paid $75 for the 1x6x8’s and its a little thicker.

    All in, with an extra cheap t-square because I couldn’t find mine, I probably paid $125 at Lowes. Not bad considering it’s 12 feet shelves. Wish I had a Menards closer.

  31. […] How to Build Inexpensive Basement Storage Shelves […]

  32. Tom H. says:

    Very nice!

    I love how detailed this article is and the accompanying photos

    It makes the whole thing look so simple and, indeed, basic carpentry at home is something that any skilled homeowner can get into


  33. Brian says:

    So as I am looking at the list of materials needed I think 6 4×8 OSB’s will be needed if you have 12 2’x4′ shelves as pictured above. I have started to build my list for the hardware store and want to make sure I only need to make one trip.

  34. Alex Bowman says:

    Thank you for these instructions!

    Just completed our 3′ wide shelves, 3 shelves wide and 5 shelves high (18″, 18″, 15″, 12″, 12″). Had 3 1’x2′ leftover OSB pieces and made mini 6″ tall movable shelves which works great for jars.

    Feels extremely sturdy after screwing into joists.

    In MA with the local hardware store delivery, we totaled at ~$118 in materials pre-tax.

    3x $16.00 5/8″ OSB
    18x $2.50 2×3
    1x $10 100x 3″ deck screws
    1x $5 100x 1-1/4″ deck screws
    2x $2.50 1 lb 8d common nails
    8x free bricks (on hand)

    Was worried about maintaining squareness when creating ladders, but ended up fine when screwing and maintaining level. Placed top shelves in (unscrewed) and then worked from bottom to top.

    First real woodworking project in many years. Probably took ~5 hours with chop saw and circular saw. Measure twice, cut once! Only two small sawhorses made cutting OSB sheets a challenge.

  35. Your methods were a big help! I built mine a couple of years ago. I wish I could send you a photo. I had to work around a couple of meters but this design made it do-able. I was able to use lumber we removed from the basement ceiling so it didn’t cost anything. Today they are full of precious storage. I call it my pantry down under.

Leave a Reply