People have always loved to be outside. Most of us typically travel to a particular destination in order to enjoy an outdoor excursion. But the pandemic has changed the way we work, where we play and how we live at home.
Our backyards, our porches and our decks have become our go-to oases. The trend actually pre-dates the pandemic, but it has accelerated. Now an outdoor excursion consists of walking from your bedroom or the main living area of your home, opening a sliding glass door or a French door, and enjoying the outdoors.
So, when you walk outside from your house, which backyard features would you like to see? Does your new at-home lifestyle create some outdoor-living “must-haves?” Or maybe you are simply looking for a place to escape from the craziness we are experiencing in trying to get back to normal, as we see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel?
In talking about outdoor living, you will note that I speak not only from my professional perspective as a contractor, but also from my personal perspective. It is a combination of what I hear and see from clients about what they are asking to have installed in their yards with what I would like to see in my own yard.
Pools and Lanais
In St. Petersburg, Florida, where I run a contracting company, pools are probably the No. 1 item being added to a backyard. These are not just any pools. These are the ones with hot tubs connected, perhaps with a waterfall feature.
Some are incorporating Florida plants and foliage as a nice decorative end-piece. For homes that already have a pool, many are upgrading the decking around it. Maybe they are re-surfacing the pool itself or adding an elevated hot tub or other water feature to the existing pool.
Another project I am seeing is to increase outdoor living space by building a lanai—a covered outdoor space that takes its name from the Hawaiian island. Lanais are roofs that connect to—and blend in with—the roof of the main house. Lanais facilitate easy passage from the interior of the main house to the pool, to the outdoor kitchen and to other backyard living features while being protected from the sun and rain.
Two columns typically support the roof structure for a lanai. These columns may be decorated with stone, glass tile or simply stuccoed to match the house. The ceilings are usually vaulted and covered with stained tongue-and-groove boards.
Another nice option are the PVC column-wrap products that are very durable. They are either paintable or come pre-stained from the factory. A lanai also includes a ceiling fan along with dimmable recessed LED lighting. These elements make for a comfortable and cozy evening outside on the patio.
Outdoor Kitchens and More
Outdoor kitchens have long been perceived as a luxury item. Now many households seek to entertain outside. Therefore, they need to cook larger meals for family and guests. Cooking inside would mean more people who are literally not able to “stand the heat,” so they are getting out of the kitchen.
The outdoor kitchen might be positioned just outside of the indoor kitchen to help with coordinating food and beverage delivery. Or it may be a stand-alone kitchen that includes a sink, under-counter fridge and grill with cabinetry for storage.
Cabinetry materials range from stainless steel to acrylic, and from PVC blends to natural woods such as cypress. Countertops are usually a quartz or granite, and it is highly advisable to have a roof, such as a lanai roof or a tiki-style roof to protect the kitchen components. Besides, who wants to grill kiboshes under a blazing sun?
In addition to pools, kitchens and covered patios, other up-and-coming outdoor features include gas fire pits, torch lighting and other gas appliances. These not only provide warmth for cool evenings, but they also offer a warm glow to the backyard and make for great conversation pieces.
For clients who do not have natural-gas service to their streets, a propane gas tank can be easily buried on their property to supply numerous fire features that might be positioned around their backyard. And if they so desire, they could install a gas pool heater too.
Fire pits with surround seating for conversations and enjoying one another’s company also offer a nice touch. Seating may be built-in concrete bases with a wood seat or outdoor furniture that can be moved around as needed for different types of outdoor entertaining.
Strategically placed gas torch lighting helps with safety while guests are walking around the backyard, and they are great ways to illuminate pathways to a dock, the pool or other areas of interest in the backyard. Light grading to create slight undulations in your backyard—by removing the flat Florida terrain—makes for an interesting look.
The remodeling market is strong in 2021, and no home improvement segment is stronger than outdoor living. Pay attention to this trend and consider the National Association of the Remodeling Industry as a resource for outdoor-living information: NARI.org. QR
Doug King, CR, is chairman of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and owner of King Contracting, Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla.