Landscapers have been kept quite busy, lately, transforming a yard into a greater extension of the living space. The trend over the past several years has leaned toward creating spaces that include fewer showy gardens and fancy (but unusable) stone walls and more toward “rooms” that people want to use.
Common features that many backyard makeovers include are decks, patios, ponds, and fire pits. Your budget might not accommodate adding all four—but here’s a breakdown of the benefits to adding any of these upgrades to a yard.
Decks are great spaces that add value and beauty to a home, transforming how families use their outdoor space. Second-floor deck double the space on top and underneath, creating additional storage for yard supplies and tools or a good spot to stash outdoor furniture during the winter months.
Decks provide a central place to hang out, cook on the barbeque, relax with friends, or unwind from the day’s stresses. Many homebuyers look for decks because they’re family-oriented spaces.
Designing and adding a deck allows you to get more creative—you can build one that complements and enhances your home’s best features. Plus, building a deck doesn’t take nearly as long as a home addition, and if you’re looking for extra space, it’s a lot less expensive! Many home additions take months to complete, whereas a good-sized deck can be built in a week or two.
Today’s decks come in a variety of materials that fit nearly everyone’s budget. Traditional pressure-treated lumber, cedar, ipe, mahogany, or other high-quality woods age beautifully and last a long time. Wood decks do require more upkeep, requiring regular sealing and staining (about every three years). Composite decking—like Trex—costs more, usually starting at $7 a foot, and are made of plastic materials like polyvinyl chloride, wood particles, and polyethylene.
Hardscapes provide a level oasis on which to add patio furniture or a dining table and chairs and your grill. Stone or brick patios and walkways also increase a home’s value. If you enjoy spending time outside, patios offer wonderful spaces in which to unwind and relax—perhaps with a cup of coffee in the morning or a cup of tea or glass of wine after a long day at work.
Patios create welcoming spots for entertaining, and increasing that outside space is also a boon for people whose homes are on the smaller side.
If yardwork isn’t your thing, adding a patio can decrease the amount of grass you have to mow. Patios require much less maintenance than a lawn. You’ll want to sweep it and hose it down periodically, but its upkeep won’t demand much more of your free time.
Patios are usually attached to the home; if you decide to cover your patio, you’ll not only provide an outdoor living space that’s sheltered from sun and rain, but also create a natural barrier that shields your home’s windows and interior from the sun’s heat. That’s a nice little bonus of keeping your home a little more energy efficient.
Water features create a sense of serenity and peace—and they provide a wonderful benefit not just to people, but the environment, too. Smaller ponds attract and provide food and homes for wildlife like amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, and other small mammals.
Adding a pond can also increase the “wow” factor, especially if it’s your yard’s centerpiece. A pond’s ecosystem changes regularly, and it’s fun to see how it evolves throughout each season. You can also add your own animals to your pond, like koi—a very popular pond fish that can withstand deep freezes and hot summers.
If you’re an avid gardener, incorporating a pond into your landscaping adds a whole new dimension. You’ll have different plants to use, and depending on its size, the pond may even provide a source of water with which to hydrate other plants in your garden.
If you have children, ponds provide a unique learning experience because your kids can learn all about those ecosystems, plants, animals, and more. Encourage your children to become wildlife scientists, journaling details about the pond, taking pictures, and observing the environment.
- When you’re designing and planning to build a pond:
Include water plants that are native to your area, because they’ll provide local wildlife food and shelter.
- Add plants along the edge and in the pond itself. Diversity is good!
- Add large rocks, chunks of wood, or even pieces of bark around the edges for local critters to use as cover.
- Incorporate a shallow portion—like a gradual ramp into the water—on one end to entice wading birds, amphibians, and any critter who wants a good wash (or splash!).
If you live in a part of the country where you can enjoy outdoor living during all but the coldest winter months—and even then, might have a family who’d appreciate an opportunity to roast marshmallows and warm by the fire after an afternoon of sledding–consider adding a fire pit to your back yard.
Fire pits provide a great focal point for a place to relax, an opportunity to unplug and spend time in nature, and extend your season of living outdoors. They can also create a fun experience for outdoor cooking, whether you’re roasting hot dogs on sticks or wrapping meat, vegetables, and potatoes in foil to cook among the coals. If you’re even more daring, add a grill or grate over the fire and turn it into a barbeque.
When you get fancier with fire pits, adding fieldstone to make it a more permanent fixture, you can add beauty to the back yard and increase your property’s value. Natural and manmade stone is durable and long-lasting, and there are enough varieties that you should be able to find something that complements the rest of your outdoor space.
If you’d rather go with something a bit less permanent, you can opt for a portable pit, which is available in a variety of materials and shapes. Their advantage is the ease with which you can move them around the yard—or even take them camping when you’re on the go.
Installed properly, fire pits are safe and easy to use. Permanent fire pits are enclosed with walls to contain sparks. You can add wire mesh to the top of a patio fire pit, too, for additional safety. You’ll want to consider the purposes of your fire pit, your family members—especially if you have young children or curious pets—and any local ordinances that dictate the size and type of fire pit you can install.
In 2014, the US Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction said that 56 percent of new homes included a patio and 23 percent of new homes had a deck. While patios cost more than decks to install, they also last (and are nearly maintenance-free) for 20 or more years. Water features are especially popular in homes located in cities, and built-in stone fireplaces and fire pits are quite common to most new landscape projects.
So go ahead and visit Pinterest and your favorite online garden sites—and have fun dreaming…and planning!