Whether for your own personal enjoyment, to help your family spread out, or even if you’re just thinking of increasing the value of your house, crafting a more permanent place of respite outdoors can be worth the investment it takes to do it right.
According to KV Harper, founder and principal of Kex Design + Build in New Orleans, the biggest considerations for a backyard renovation are how you plan to use it and what your budget is. The cost for a backyard remodel can vary greatly, with total spend averaging anywhere from a couple thousand dollars for basic landscaping to more than $40,000. For bigger budget projects that can creep into the $20,000 range, like adding an outdoor kitchen, consider a Discover® personal loan (which allows for flexible repayment terms for all loan amounts of 36 to 84 months) to help cover the costs.
Getting inspired? Here are a few ideas to consider.
A Low-Maintenance Retreat
“If you don’t think you’ll be up for much maintenance, then a design utilizing mostly hardscape would be the better option,” says Harper. This doesn’t mean turning your yard into a barren expanse of concrete, but it does mean you should avoid grass and a lot of flower beds. Instead, opt for a patio and walkway, with a few planters potted with low-maintenance grasses and shrubs.
A small DIY pathway or patio can be constructed for less than $1,000 with materials from a big box retailer. Professional installation adds $5 to $15 per square foot, and higher-end materials, such as flagstone will also bump up the cost. Pea gravel or a similar material is the most cost-efficient. “I really like crushed granite as an inexpensive hardscape that can provide a nice clean backdrop for furniture,” Harper says.
If you have children or pets and don’t want to deal with mowing the lawn, artificial turf is an option, though it can be expensive, at $5 to $20 per square foot, compared to $0.90 to $2 for sod.
Transform the Shed
Sheds are often under-utilized. Instead of using it as a place where rusty garden tools and old bicycles go to die, transform it into useful real estate. A small shed can easily accommodate an art studio, a reading lounge, a playroom, or even a daybed for overnight guests. There are literally thousands of models on the market, many designed to look like miniature houses, complete with porches.
If you aren’t wiring for electricity, or concerned about climate control, the only real cost is buying a shed that comes with at least one window to let in light. These can be found at home improvement retailers and big box stores for a couple thousand dollars.
Running electricity and insulating the shed so that you can use it when the weather is hot or cold adds a few hundred dollars to the budget. The average cost of installing insulation is $0.64 – $1.19, so for a 100-square-foot shed, it would be around $120. Hiring an electrician is $50 to $100 an hour.
Create a Culinary Experience
Dining al fresco on warm evenings is the best part of summer. Adding an outdoor kitchen and dining room can be a dream come true for many home cooks, but they can be expensive, costing up to $21,000 (or much more for a luxury setup).
Maintenance and weather should be key considerations when thinking about the design. “One of the first things to consider for an outdoor kitchen is the weather,” notes Harper. “Outdoor kitchens can get hot, so you want to design to accommodate shading either naturally or with a pergola.”
For the grill, Harper recommends gas over charcoal because it is easier to maintain and clean. She adds that you will want “a durable heat-resistant stone for the flooring and countertops.” Natural stone is one of the priciest materials you can choose, at $25 to $45 per square foot, but will hold up much better than cheaper options like stucco or manufactured stone.
Other add-ons that can increase your budget include plumbing for a sink, a built-in grill, refrigeration, or special features, such as a pizza oven or fireplace.
Build an At-Home Spa
With many self-care businesses still closed, some DIYers are creating spa-like retreats in their own backyards. And it can actually be quite affordable, when compared to a major project like an outdoor kitchen. A prefab sauna that seats four averages $2,800, while you can expect to pay $3,500 for a typical residential hot tub.
Add native plants and grasses around a sauna or hot tub for ambiance and privacy, or consider a pergola with curtains for an even more secluded escape. If either is too much of a commitment, you can achieve spa vibes by adding a small fire pit or chiminea, a water feature, and fragrant flowering vines or shrubs such as lavender.
Make Small Mighty
Don’t let limited real estate stifle your dreams. Harper designs a lot of small backyards, and she always focuses on making the space multi-functional.
“I think the easiest way to transform a small yard is to create a design that maximizes space by using built-in seating or dining,” she says, which is something she did in her own backyard. “I recently added a small deck to replace the stairs from our kitchen to the backyard. It was less expensive than doing a wide deck, and now the deck functions as stairs and a place to relax.”
She adds that light landscaping with hardscape materials is another inexpensive way to transform a yard. Think a pea gravel and paver patio combined with native plants that will thrive in the existing condition. In other words, if your yard only gets a few hours of sun, don’t waste space trying to grow a vegetable garden.
A Note on Buying Outdoor Furniture
For any backyard transformation, be sure to budget for furniture. A small patio can be outfitted for less than $1,000, but a full outdoor living and dining room set up will be significantly more. Harper recommends waiting until prices drop to invest in new pieces. “I know it’s hard, but try to buy outdoor furniture at the end of the season when it goes on sale. Most big box retailers put outdoor furniture on sale at a deep discount around the first week of August,” she says.