Angie's List: Break up big outdoor projects over several years to defray the costs

Adding a pool, patio or deck? Check here first

TAMPA - With the recent slump in the housing market, many homeowners have opted to stay where they are and invest in their current homes. One popular improvement option is enhancing outdoor living spaces. "Many consumers these days are investing in their current home versus moving, and in our Angie's List annual project poll we found about 35% of the respondents plan to invest in the exterior of their house," said Angie Hicks, founder of the consumer group Angie's List . "Outdoor living spaces can become very elaborate these days. More of us want to spend more time outside, but if you are on a budget be very clear and upfront when you are planning the process. Potentially get your project broken out into phases so you can do parts of it in any given year. Maybe a fire pit this year and a new deck next year, so you don't have to do all of it all at once."

Contractor Charlie Watson has seen it all, from simple landscaping projects to elaborate pool-patio-kitchen combos. "The thing we are asked to do most is an outdoor living room with maybe a kitchen area and a dining room. They can get pretty extensive from some small jobs you do - decorative patios, maybe a fire pit - to full fledged areas where we do a full roof over. We have full blown kitchens, masonry fireplaces, fire pits... they run the whole gamut."

Here are a few of the more popular outdoor living space enhancements:

  • Outdoor fireplace: You can choose many different options from elegant to inexpensive options for a fire feature – a chimenea, fire pit, fire bowl, or traditional fireplace, all fueled by different means. Whether you have small children or not, safety should always be the No. 1 concern. Consider a locking ring that allows you to padlock your fireplace in the "off" position.
  • Adding hardscape features: Permanent elements of the landscape such as patios, walkways, retaining/sitting walls, etc. make outdoor space usable and are easy to maintain.
  • Outdoor patios: From installing concrete to pavers to stone, there are almost limitless options when it comes to designing an outdoor patio for your yard.
  • Adding a deck: A deck is another option for providing your family with additional space for outdoor enjoyment. Decks can be built to any size or design. Most are constructed from wood building materials, however composite materials which are manufactured from plastic and wood fibers are becoming more popular.
  • Pergolas & gazebos: A popular choice for homeowners who want to create an intimate outdoor space similar to an enclosed room in their home.
  • Outdoor kitchens: This space is typically focused around a grill, pizza oven, or hearth. If enough space is available, an outdoor kitchen can include everything that an indoor kitchen has. The first step in designing an outdoor cooking space is to determine how much space can be devoted to it.

"When planning an outdoor project and talking to contractors remember to talk to them about what you want to have as your end goal," Hicks said. "And it might be that you are looking at a five year plan for getting this project all done. And then make sure you find someone who listens to you about your budget so that they know exactly how much you can spend and where you can make the most impact in your yard right out of the gate." Watson adds, "(We) sit down with the clients and understand what their lifestyle is and what their lifestyle goals are. How many people do they want to entertain out there? Is it just the family or do they have guests over a lot? Do they enjoy sitting outside at night with a fire or is it more grilling and a place to eat outside? So it's really diving into those questions and understands what they want."

Angie's List Tips: Getting your outdoor project started

  • Check rules and regulations: Before building your outdoor living space, check about rules/regulations and/or if permits are needed .For example, since decks are designed to be attached to the home, they are considered to be permanent structures of the property. For this reason, it is necessary for your contractor to obtain building permits and follow zoning regulations. And most regulations require a built-in fire pit to be installed at least 25 feet from the home.
  • Who to hire? The construction and installation of your outdoor kitchen may require the assistance of a team of professionals. For a complete outdoor kitchen with appliances and functioning sinks, homeowners might need the services of a plumber, an electrician, mason and general contractor to oversee the entire project. A landscaper can help make the transition from the outdoor kitchen to the rest of the yard.
  • Set your goals. It's important to establish the reason for your outdoor project, and what you hope to
    • accomplish. Do you want to create an outdoor space for enjoying meals with the family, or do you want to line your yard with attention-grabbing scenery? Your project will go a lot smoothly if you clearly state your goals to the contractor.
    • Establish a budget: Adding outdoor elements can cost under $100 all the way to thousands of dollars. For the majority of homeowners working within a budget, it makes good sense to plan a project in phases. For example, say you can only afford to do the fire pit this year, you should have cutoff points within the plan so if you don't implement phase two or three, it doesn't look like something that's incomplete.
    • Create something you will use. What's the point of spending a bunch of money on a project if you're never home, or you don't like being outside? Landscaping will increase your home's curb appeal, but if you opt for more ambitious projects like installing a pond or a paver patio, you should make an effort to use them.
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