As featured in the May 27th issue of Maclean’s
Written by Bryan Baeumler
Edited by Chris Daniels
Inspired homeowners continue to push the boundaries of outdoor living. In an uncertain economy when people are staying home more, they’re eager to maximize every square foot of their yard with terraces, patios and decks.
But the design – or upgrade – of an outdoor living space can be a costly project. As with any home renovation, the key consideration is to keep the anticipated added value of the renovation in line with that of neighbourhood property values.
If you’re the only home with a pizza oven, custom kitchen and swimming pool-waterfall combo in the backyard, you may not get the return on investment that you had anticipated.
Homebuyers are typically attracted to an outdoor living area that is both easy to take care of and sustainable. So educate yourself on what is a sustainable design for your property, and choose functional items that suit the lifestyle needs of your family. Outdoor living should blend form, function and comfort, comparable even to living areas inside the home. It’s common now to see backyards with exquisite furnishings such as TVs, audio systems and fire pits, turning them into a livable environment virtually year-round. No question a renovation to create an outdoor living space can be expensive, but it can result in benefits that you’ll enjoy for years to come.
Starting with Basic
Blueprint and Budget
When it comes to designing your dream outdoor oasis, map out how you want to use each portion of your area. Look at the relationships between the different areas within your outdoor space and focus on how each individual space flows into the next. This may include identifying places for entertaining, lounging, cooking, dining and recreation such as pools and spa. Note that entryways and pathways are often overlooked, so remember to consider the flow of traffic in your design process. By simply changing the landscape material or pattern or elevating one portion of a deck slightly above another, homeowners can establish distinct living areas while maintaining a consistent flow. If you’re planning to install a pool or hot tub, you’ll also need to allot enough deck area for moving safely around. The size and scope of your deck and patio should be confirmed with your municipal building and planning department.
Make sure to invest in a proper electrical plan. When homeowners tackle larger design elements themselves, they are often disappointed when they discover that they didn’t adequately account for utilities. Utilities are important, such as providing electrical wiring for an outdoor TV or gas lines for a fire feature.
When budgeting for your outdoor living space focus on the largest cost expenditures – even if they are not in your initial plan. If you are looking to incorporate a pool in the next few years, then prepare in advance for that $30,000 to $40,000 investment for a prefabricated pool or $60,000 to $80,000 for a basic customized concrete pool. Even the addition of a hot tub or water feature can cost upwards of $100,000. Keep in mind, however, a pool can actually lower your property value. Many potential buyers don’t want the costs of maintaining a pool, so this investment should be made for purely personal reasons.
A well-designed landscape should reflect the natural green of your residence, your proposed outdoor ideas as well as the indoor living environment. To create a design plan, a landscape architect charges anywhere from about $85 to $150 per hour – or 5% to 15% of the total project cost. An irrigation system, although an initial expense of $3,000 to $5,000, will help maintain your landscape and ensure your investment pays off.
Outdoor living rooms complete with cooking stations, fireplace and comfortable furniture are popular but you have to decide on whether it’s money well spent. A built-in custom fireplace can range anywhere from $8,000 to upwards of $30,000, and a well-designed outdoor kitchen can range from $15,000 to $80,000 and beyond.
Photo courtesy of Perennial Wood
When coordinating with various contractors, work from a single design plan. It will save you time, money and headaches if everyone has a clear understanding of how you envision the outdoor living space. So when you plan a pool build or remodel, there is value to also involving your landscaper, or when planning to add design features like a fireplace or barbecue, it’s beneficial to also consult an electrician. When doing a custom build, I strongly recommend hiring a landscape architect who specializes in residential design. Although you may not be building your dream pool right away, they can design your entire property so that it meets both your short- and long-term plans.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to tackle your outdoor living project on your own, take the time to research home improvement websites and do-it-yourself guides. Some no-cost online resources allow you to design a deck or layout a patio, and include calculators for building materials that can help you stay on budget. If you’re confident in your DIY abilities, you’ll also save money on labour costs. Just be sure you have the time to not only do the actual build but create design plans and obtain local permits.
Lighting can create wonderful ambiance and help to differentiate sections of your outdoor living space. This year, energy efficiency remains a priority so the demand for LED, halogen, fluorescent and solar powered lighting is going strong. LEDs, in particular, give customers more flexibility with respect to wattage increments as well as size and colour options. Since lighting options have dramatically increased over the past few years, homeowners are now offered a much wider range of products, including chandeliers, pendant lights, and even table lamps, all of which have been adapted specifically for outdoor living.
Research the ground layer of your outdoor living area. Crushed stone, sand, grass and mulch on walkways may not provide the look you’re going for, and could also result in unwanted debris in your pool or spa. When it comes to the many materials on the market today for your patio or deck, consider utility, aesthetics and simplicity. Many of the deck products available today can also be used for your fence – a key element that provides privacy and can add value to your home.
Cedar fencing is a popular choice because it combines functionality, architectural style and beauty. Cedar ranges in price depending on what you want: $15 per linear foot for material and installation for a very basic fence to $50 per linear foot for a more intricate design.
Trends Under the Sun
Outdoor entertaining has reached epic proportions, with outdoor food preparation as elaborate as built-in cook stations with three or four appliances. Homeowners are even topping out their budgets with beer taps, pizza ovens, refrigerators and added cabinet and counter space.
Only a few years ago, a top-of-the-line gas grill featured approximately 12,000 BTU burners and extension shelves for holding condiments. Today add-on features commonly include as many as eight stainless-steel burners with variable temperature controls, side burners, electronic ignition, warming rack and built-in infrared searing grill to achieve that restaurant-style touch. With the addition of a rotisserie, multiple fuel cabinetries with under-counter storage and stainless steel construction, you can expect to pay in the range of $6,000 to $9,000 for a quality gas grill. One of my personal favourites on the market today is the Summit Grill Center from Weber that comes in a stainless steel or black finish with warming racks, rotisserie and side burners.
The hottest outdoor appliance right now is the pizza oven. For those who can afford the roughly $6,000 price tag, stainless steel, stone-lined, arch-top ovens have become increasingly popular. If you prefer wood-fired pizzas, Chicago Brick Ovens sells a stationary, all-brick model that fits the needs of most entertaining enthusiasts. Imagine an evening surrounded by the warmth of the fire and the aroma of your pizza!
Custom home clientele are creating entire kitchens housed in an open-air structure accompanied with a bank of stainless steel cabinets, granite countertops, adjustable lighting, food prep center, refrigerator, wine coolers, warming drawers, deep fryers and icemakers. Outdoor cooking stations average around a 10-foot run in counter space and can cost upwards of about twice that of an indoor kitchen for the length of space.
Photo courtesy of Weber
The deck or patio – usually the place you transition from the inside of your home to the elements of Mother Nature – is a key feature of any outdoor space. Your deck should be super durable, while conveying a natural aesthetic at an affordable price.
In my Georgian Bay summer home, I have recently chosen one of the hottest deck materials on the market, a product called Perennial Wood. Perennial Wood gives homeowners the benefits of a weather resistant material similar to that of a plastic or composite deck but with all the beauty, character and charm of real wood. It’s also considered to be three times more resistant to shrinkage and swelling caused by weather conditions than unmodified wood. Since each piece of the material is modified at the molecular level, Perennial Wood stands up against rain, heat, humidity and cold while also being a good choice for the environment.
Photo courtesy of Chicago Brick Oven
Today’s patio furniture provides an element of comfort to any outdoor living space, while also being stylish, elegant and contemporary.
Wicker continues to be one of the hottest materials on the market for outdoor furniture. It’s now made of synthetic vinyl and resin materials with UV protection for additional durability. Patio furniture composed of sling fabric is also in style, particularly for homeowners with pools because its mesh-like material dries quickly when wet. Lightweight and comfortable, the fabric is made from vinyl coated materials which protects it against moisture, mold and mildew.
For more affordable and casual furniture, I encourage the support of Canadian companies like Element Square. The company manufactures maintenance-free outdoor furniture using marine-grade polymer material which ensures that it will not swell, rot or splinter when exposed to humidity and water. Unlike its natural wood counterparts, no painting, sanding or refinishing is required.
Photo courtesy of Element Square
Expand Your Living Space
Given all the new options and resources on the market today, you can extend your living quarters into the outdoors like never before. So whether it’s spring, summer, autumn or even winter, cherish each of the seasons by creating an outdoor respite right where you live.
Read more of Bryan Baeumler’s expert renovation tips.