Moving Up, and Out

The demand for outdoor living projects continues to grow.

Like so many other things, the term “staycation” was redefined in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. For families working, schooling, and then vacationing in their own homes, those four walls started to close in well before summer was over.

In anticipation of possibly similar restrictions this summer, many homeowners are taking a long, hard look out that back window and making plans to change their view.

At Archadeck, Harold Cross says the demand for outdoor projects skyrocketed last year. “COVID changed everybody’s lifestyles,” he says. “The increased business wasn’t really a marketing thing. It was a COVID thing.”

Ted Lare Design Build’s Keegan Lare agrees. “Our new-project call volume is definitely up. We’re not necessarily seeing bigger projects, but definitely more projects.”

“People have been stuck at home with limited vacation options,” says Rob Walker of BLC Projects. “A lot of them are opting to use their vacation money on projects they’d put off at home. Making their own backyard more usable is often high on that list.”

Whatever the project’s motivation, area professionals say the same questions apply when they meet with a potential client. “The value in any project isn’t just in the resale value; it’s in how it helps the homeowners enjoy their home more and use their space better,” says Cross.

Because of that, homeowners aren’t looking for a basic deck anymore. They want to create an outdoor living environment that they can enjoy long after the current restrictions are past. “The conventional deck definitely is not the norm anymore,” says Devan Kaufman of Kaufman Construction and KC Handyman. “People want to customize their outdoor spaces to fit their lifestyles, which leads to many, many options.”

Upgraded materials

Composite products have improved significantly in the past 10 years, offering virtually maintenance-free durability with the beauty of a natural wood look. Walker says, “The vast majority of our clients are converting decks, either replacing a treated wood product with composite or upgrading from a first-generation composite to the improved options available today.”

And powder-coated aluminum accessories for hardware and railings open up design options while remaining low-maintenance. Kaufman says, “Railings have just as many options as decks: natural wood, cable, man-made, glass, aluminum. And to make it even more fun, many of these products can be mixed and matched to create a unique look for each project.”

“Most of the products we’re installing now are 90% maintenance-free,” says Kimberley Construction’s Troy Sydow. “Homeowners want to spend their time enjoying the deck, not taking care of it.”

For sites better suited to a patio than a deck, the selection is even greater. “We can get natural stone from different parts of the country to get a different color and look,” Lare says. “There are also man-made pavers that have the look of natural stone but require little to no maintenance.”

Upgraded designs

Another way to reduce the maintenance needs is to cover the deck or patio and protect it from the elements. Sydow says, “Covered decks were by far the most popular outdoor project for us in 2020, and we anticipate the same being true in 2021.”

The options are almost limitless when it comes to upgrading the deck’s design. “Homeowners can have a fully covered porch or a partially covered porch and open deck,” Kaufman says. “They can choose screened-in or open-air, walls or solid railings for privacy, or open railings for a less obstructed view.”

Although outdoor pergolas are attractive, they are a less popular feature for several reasons. “They really don’t provide much protection, except from some of the harshest sun with the right plants,” says Walker. “And they’re a maintenance nightmare. A full roof is much more useful and cost-effective.”

Creating a variety of distinct spaces within the plan provides multifunction as well as a transition from home to yard and from one activity to another—cooking, dining, entertaining, and more. Features like walls and windbreaks and even three-season designs can make these sites more comfortable and more usable throughout the year.

“Even though these projects are outdoors,” says Cross, “privacy can still be a factor if the home is close to the neighboring houses or if the deck is up off the ground where it overlooks neighboring yards.”

Upgraded amenities

To help extend the outdoor living season, designers are finding ways to incorporate some less common elements as well.

“Our clients are usually looking to go to the next level,” says Sydow. “They want to extend the outdoor season and be able to use their deck or patio longer into the fall and earlier in the spring.”

Cross says, “A lot of commercial installation ideas are carrying over into the residential market. They’re things that have been around for a while, but not really implemented for residential projects.” Fireplaces, for example, are not a new idea. But their role in outdoor living projects has grown, he says. “People are looking for ways to heat their outdoor seating area so they can use it later in the season, and a fireplace is one way to do that.”

Another option that’s growing in popularity is infrared heaters. “We have a lot of homeowners installing heaters in the ceiling of their covered deck or screened room,” Sydow says. “Restaurants have been doing this for years, and it’s a fairly easy way to extend the outdoor season as far as you want.”

Kaufman says, “We’re seeing about every possible structure you can imagine, with features from grilling areas and firepits to full kitchens and bars.”

One of Sydow’s favorite elements is adding hardscapes into the design. “Built-in stone benches or seating at an outdoor bar is a great way to upgrade the space. For patios, stained concrete can add a lot of creative options for the design.”

“We’ve had a lot of clients who are installing swimming pools,” Walker says. “They want to incorporate pool features at the same time, maybe a pool house with a bathroom or a small outdoor kitchen area. We offer a different cabinetry line specifically for outdoor projects like that.”

He says another way to extend the outdoor living space for homes with walkout designs is to waterproof the deck off the main level and install a ceiling system on the underside. “We can create a complete outdoor room this way, utilizing the space below the deck instead of letting that area go to waste.”

“Ideally we like to plan the landscaping when we create the initial plan even if the homeowners are doing a multiphase project,” Lare says. “The construction of the space is usually the first priority. But the landscaping adds beauty and ambience, and it should be planned with the construction design in mind too.”

“Aligning client expectations and desires is important—making sure they understand a product’s durability and maintenance guidelines, making sure the design fits the way they live so their investment holds value for them,” Kaufman says. “It’s important to review it all.”

Cross says, “Studies prove that decks and outdoor living projects rank high on the list of cost-to-value investments.” That means creating the right outdoor space can accomplish multiple goals. It can increase your satisfaction with your home and increase its value, too.