Demand for outdoor projects remains high.
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. The increased business wasn’t really a marketing thing; it was a COVID thing.”
Ted Lare Design Build’s Keegan Lare agrees. “Our new call volume is definitely up,” he says. “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, “and 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.”
Homeowners aren’t looking for a basic deck anymore either. 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.”
“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,” Walker says.
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.”
For homeowners looking to reduce the maintenance needs even further, covering the deck or patio to protect it somewhat from the elements is a great way to upgrade the design.
Pergolas are attractive, but they are a less popular feature for several reasons. “They really don’t provide much protection, except from some of the harshest sun if you have the right plants,” says Walker. “They’re a maintenance nightmare. A full roof is much more useful and cost-effective long-term.”
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.”
“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.”
Creating several 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.
“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.”
Features like walls and windbreaks and even three-season designs can make these sites more comfortable and more usable throughout the year. Cross says Archadeck has worked with clients to adapt existing products in new ways to suit individual homeowner needs.
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.” For example, the role of fireplaces 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.”
“We’re seeing about every possible structure you can imagine, with features from grilling areas and firepits to full kitchens and bars,” Kaufman says.
One of Sydow’s favorite elements is incorporating 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, “and 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 homeowners are doing a multiphase project. 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,” Lare says.
Kaufman says, “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.”
As Cross says, “Studies prove that decks and outdoor living projects rank high on the list of cost-to-value investments. Helping homeowners see that their own benefit is just as important as resale value is part of the communication process.”
Another challenge these days is timing.
“It’s going to be hard to source materials in 2021, just like it was in 2020,” Walker says. “Manufacturers thought they were going to have their usual downtime over the winter to build up inventory and meet the demand in the spring. That hasn’t happened. Builders have been so busy this winter, those sourcing issues are carrying over into the 2021 season.”
Walker says patience will be the name of the game this year in all areas of construction. “Six to 10-week lead times are not unusual,” he says. “We have to plan accordingly and communicate that to builders and homeowners as well.”
Sydow says, “Restrictions are driving a lot of projects, but we still have to answer the same question: How can we help our clients make their homes work best for the way they live.”