Barn and Shed Cupolas Reviewed – Should You Build or Buy?

Barn and Shed Cupolas Reviewed – Should You Build or Buy Off the Shelf?


CUPOLAS CAN BE the crowning glory on just about any structure, including your shed or even your home.

Although cupolas might look like they are easy to build, you may find there is more to building one than you imagined

You can of course buy one ready to install, but where would the fun in that be?

You have a number of options, including building your own from scratch, buying a kit online, or simply ordering one that is premade and ready to install

Here we take a good look at your options and try to help point you in the right direction so that you don't end up with something you don't want

What Exactly is a Cupola?

In the days before the advent of roof and ridge ventilation, cupolas were often used as a form of ventilation. Many were just as decorative as they were functional.

Metal shed cupola

Shed cupolas can be made out of materials such as wood, sheet metal, plastic, copper and glass

Cupolas are no longer considered a mainstream method of ventilating your barn or shed. However, when made with the right materials a good cupola can provide your shed with excellent ventilation

The early cupolas were installed over a large hole in the center of a barns roof. They were a way to provide enough airflow to prevent mold and mildew from building up on the crops stored within

The first of these ventilators or cupolas consisted of a wooden box with louvers that allowed air to flow through them while keeping out the rain.

These days, modern cupolas can range from small and ornate to larger units that are more about function than form.

The cupola itself consists of the base, the vents on each side, and the cap. The vents can be designed to let in fresh air and light. While at the same time allowing moisture and hot or stale air to flow out. Screens are typically added to keep out bugs and many other creatures.

Cupolas come in all sizes and shapes based on the needs or desires of the owner.

Should You Build a Cupola From Scratch Yourself?

There are 3 main options for adding a cupola to your shed roof

  • Build your own cupola from scratch
  • Buy one in kit form
  • Order a complete unit

So how do you decide which one is for you?

There are several things that should be considered in order to answer this question

1. What are Your Skills Like?

The first concerns whether or not you have the necessary skills to build a cupola from scratch.

In most cases the only skills you need to have are relatively basic, such as the ability to measure accurately and work with the appropriate hand and power tools

2. What is Your Budget?

Sadly, no matter what type of project you are planning, cost has to factor into your final decision

If you do a little shopping online, it is easy to see just how much buying a pre-built cupola can be.

Pre-built Shed Cupolas are available from:

They can range from hundreds of dollars up to several thousand, depending on the size you need, the design, and of course the materials you want your cupola to be made from.

If you want to price building your own cupola, the first thing you need is a set of plans. The plans should list the various materials needed to build your cupola

Shed Cupola Plans are available from:

This list should include all of the different sizes of lumber you are going to need along with quantities for each. It should also give you an idea how many pounds of nails or screws will be needed along with sizes and types, i.e. 6d or 4d nails, wood screws, staples, etc.


A modern cupola with windows for light and a weathervane

If your plans call for windows, they should state the exact size to help you shop for the right ones. You will also need to factor in shingles or metal for the roof, any screens for the louvers or windows, a weathervane if you are going to install one and any other miscellaneous materials such as paint or siding

You can price the materials you need at your local discount hardware and lumber superstore. Anything you can't find there you can find on eBay

So Why Buy an Off-the-Shelf Cupola?

Buying a pre-built cupola can be more expensive option. But all the lumber and hardware you need, if you were to build it yourself does add up. Not to mention the time and effort required


3. What Style Will Suit Your Shed Roof?

There is quite a large range of styles, sizes, and types of material available with pre-built cupolas for you to choose from. However you still may not find what you are looking for 

Building a cupola yourself does ensure you can have it exactly as you want it. In the style you want and built with the material you want

The Pros and Cons of Each Type of Cupola at a Glance

Type of cupola



Build from scratch

· Least Expensive

· Can Customize to Meet Your Needs

· Fun to build

· Personal Satisfaction

· Time Consuming

· Only as Good as Your Skills

Build from a Kit

· More Affordable than Buying Pre-Built

· Can Still Customize to a Certain Extent

· All Pieces Are Precut to Fit

· More Affordable than Buying Pre-Built

· Can Still Customize to a Certain Extent

· All Pieces Are Precut to Fit


· Completely Built and Ready to Install

· All Seams, Edges, Frames Perfect Fit

· Sized to Meet Your Exact Needs

· Can Be Very Expensive

· Can Be Damaged in Shipping

· Limited Number of Sizes, Styles

Sizing Your Cupola

There is no simple answer regarding how large or small to build your cupola. In reality, the right size depends on a number of variables. Among these are:

  • AESTHETICS: How the size of your cupola relates to the shed/barn size as well as the surroundings.
  • WEIGHT: Keep in mind how much weight the structure of your roof can withstand.
  • PURPOSE: Is your cupola ornamental or will it serve as a part of your ventilation system?
  • CODE RESTRICTIONS: Before starting any construction project, check with your local authorities.
  • LOCATION: Where on your shed/barn will the cupola be mounted?

The basic rule of thumb is that your cupola should be 1.5 inches of cupola width for every foot of uninterrupted roofline of your shed/barn.

For example, if your roofline is 24 feet long, the calculation would look like this; 24 x 1.5=36. Therefore, your cupola should be 36 inches wide.

How Much Work Is Involved in Building a Cupola?

Depending on the size and complexity of your chosen cupola, building one from scratch or from a kit can take a lot of time and hard work. The good news is that once the job is done, you will have something you can be proud of and that everyone in your neighborhood will be able to see.

If you want to see how much work it can be, watch this video from Home and Leisure TV:

Choosing the Right Materials for Your Cupola

Choosing the right materials for your cupola is vital if you want your project to provide you with many years of reliable service while continuing to look great on the roof of your shed or barn.

type of materials




· Easy to Work With

· Inexpensive

· Easy to Find

· Requires Several Power Tools

· Must Be Kept Painted

· Can Rot if Not Properly Protected


· Low Maintenance

· Easy to Work With

· Long Lifespan

· Hard to Paint if You Want New Color

· Can Be Damaged by Extreme Heat or Cold

Sheet Metal

· Very Strong

· Requires Few Tools to Work With

· Still Have to Build a Frame

· Hardest to Work With

· Subject to Corrosion

· Must Be Kept Painted

What about the Roof?

When it comes to the roof of your cupola, you can choose between a wood and shingle roof or one made out of copper or in recent years tin or steel.

The most common choices seem to be either wood/shingle and copper. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but are equally worth considering.





· Inexpensive

· Easy to Build

· Easy to Replace

· Can Easily Be Damaged by Storms

· Wood rots easily in humid climates

· Requires Frequent Replacement


· Lasts Virtually Forever

· Lighter than Wood/Shingle

· Made from Recycled Copper

· Looks Fantastic as It Weathers

· Very Durable

· Very Expensive Initial Outlay

· Harder to Work With

Where Can I Find Shed Cupola Plans, Kits and Off-the-Shelf Cupolas?

While many of the national hardware warehouse stores often have a small selection of cupolas in their catalogs along with a few plans, shopping online is a much better choice.

On the Internet you will be able to find a huge selection of plans and kits to choose from.

This will let you decide what style, what size, and the type of materials you want your cupola to be built from. To start we reckon a great place to check out is eBay. There you will almost be certain of finding a cupola kit to meet your needs at a price you can afford

If you want more choice, we had a look for some decent ranges of cupolas. You can follow the links below to go straight to the appropriate pages...

Pre-built Shed Cupolas are available from:

Shed Cupola Plans are available from:

Installing Your Cupola

The best way to cover how to install your cupola is to show you how it's done in this video from Home and Garden Lifestyle.

In Summary...

There is a lot to think about when you decide the time has come to install a cupola on the roof of your shed or barn. One of the biggest decisions beyond cost is whether or not you have the time and skills needed to get the job done right.

Scratch built from plans and kits will save you a lot of money, but could end up leaving you with an inferior product if your skills are not up to the task. However, there is nothing quite like the feeling you get from building your own cupola.

Thank you for reading this article!

Want to start a conversation with your friends on shed cupolas? Then share this on your favorite social media and let them know your going to build a cupola!

Related Articles: