Cost Saving Tips When Creating A Backyard Paradise

Our previous house had the most beautiful backyard paradise. My dad is handy in everything and worked with me to design the perfect deck and patio. Then one summer, my dad and husband spent about a month building the deck. It was quite the endeavor, but wow, it sure extended the living area of our home. Our entire deck and patio combination ran the full length of the back of our home and included built in seating, a nook for our grill, and two areas to congregate. Honestly, I think upgrading our backyard was what led to our house selling at asking price within only 24 hours. We then built a new home from Lennar and are so pleased with the house, but with a large company, there are very few customizations you can request, especially when you purchase a house already in the build process. In our new home, started from scratch. Both designs ended are quite different. In this blog, I’ll walk through five cost saving items to consider when designing your backyard paradise.

  1. Determine what you want from your backyard.
  2. Expand your search for inspiration.
  3. Explore your material choices.
  4. Receive multiple quotes.
  5. Work in phases.

Before we get started, I’ll share a few before and after from both projects. As the Chicago winter fades, I will post additional after photos of our new home. We wrapped up the project right before the cold weather hit.

Old Home: Before and After

Backyard Paradise upgrade: Before and after deck add-on
Old red deck removed and replaced with a stamped concrete patio, 22 foot long deck with built in seating and grill nook.

New Home: Before and After

Backyard Paradise upgrade: Before and after patio add on
From a step step walk out to a full patio with gazebo, fire pit, built in seating, bar area and cooking area.

1. Determine what you want from your backyard

When starting the process of creating your backyard paradise, you first need to narrow down what you actually want to accomplish from your backyard. What is important and prioritize the wants. It is important to frame these as wish list items. As you continue the process, you may need to make some updates and sacrifices in order to fit your budget.

  • How often do you have large gatherings? If you have family dinner every other week at your house for 25 people and it is tight inside, you may want to consider a larger deck or patio. If you host 1 or 2 gatherings a year, the size of your patio should NOT be dictated based on those temporary visitors.
  • What special elements would you like? Firepit or fireplace? Outdoor cooking area? Gardening locations? Gathering area?
  • Would you prefer a deck or patio? Does one make more sense based your backdoor walk out?
  • Area there any regulations with your homeowners association?
  • Are you looking to include a pool or hot tub? What about a putting green, playhouse or swing set?

2. Expand your search for inspiration

Many times we easily get locked into one idea; your perfect backyard paradise. Perhaps that idea come to life because you saw a picture on Pinterest, attended a backyard BBQ or even was inspired by your favorite outdoor beer garden. There are dangers of getting locked into one idea; you may end up overspending or you may miss some great ideas because your inspiration was limited. Keep in mind the following when looking to expand your inspiration:

Fire structure inspiration
  • Look at fire pits, fire places, lanterns, heating lamps and impact lighting options. Keep your options open to propane powered, wood burning or natural gas lines. A gas or wood burning portable firepit is the most economical option. Portable firepits range from $125-$300, depending on size, heat output and style). The most expensive option is an outdoor fireplace powered by natural gas. Fireplaces built by a landscaper will run anywhere from $10,000-$15,000 depending on size and complexity. If you add a built in grill area or pizza oven to the outdoor fireplace, expect the cost to increase.
Fire Pit
Other Fire structures
Shelter inspiration
  • Determine your rationale behind the shelter. Is it shade or more of a backyard appeal aspect? Ideas range from retractable patio covers, pergolas, gazebos to full sunrooms. All of these options come in a variety of sizes. When determining the size, consult your HOA guidelines to first determine how large your outdoor patio/deck can be before locking into a specific size. You will also want to look at the grade of your backyard, does it slope? Also determine what furniture you will put under the structure. Will this be conversational sitting area or will your outdoor dining set be placed under your structure. All of these factors come into play when deciding the size and type of structure. We selected the Yardistry 10×10 Meridian Gazebo. Wayfair also has some great outdoor structures. Installation of any prefabricated structure still requires some skill. You will need 2-3 people to install over a two day period.
Deck inspiration
  • Look at similar backdoor to yard photos. If you have a second story backdoor, you will need some sort of deck. If you have a ground floor backdoor, you will most likely have the option to step down right to a patio or build a deck. In our first home, we did a deck and patio combination, whereas in our second home, we went straight to the patio. When looking at decks, get inspiration for steps, lighting, railings, colors, built in seating, swing or built in shade structures.
Patio inspiration
  • Explore patio shape, landscaping around the patio, water or fire structures on a patio and seating areas. First start with what you want the patio to accomplish and then seek inspiration for size and shape. Second, find several patio surface materials you love. This can include concrete, stamped and or colored concrete, pavers, brick or even gravel or pebbles.

The standard places to look for inspiration are Pinterest and other online sources, however, I strongly recommend getting out in the wild. Take walks and drive through your neighborhood and surrounding areas. That will provide you some great ideas and give you an idea of the investment other neighbors have made. Explore or Redfin to see pictures of other backyards. We found a backyard we loved of a house that was on the market, and we went and knocked on the front door, let them know we recently bought a new home but loved their backyard. They gladly gave us permission to go in the backyard, take measurements and explore a bit. The homeowner even came out and shared the phases they completed the project and a few of the companies they used. People take pride in home updates, so ask about them and learn from their process. Unless you are friends make sure you aren’t over presumptuous and ask to see something inside:)

This next piece KEY! You will need to stay competitive in your neighborhood should you sell, a buyer may not want to pay more for your house based your $30,000 investment versus the neighbors $15,000 investment. This is a piece we considered with both of the backyard updates.

3. Explore material choices for your backyard paradise

Pavers and Brick versus Concrete

Many landscape design teams will only install pavers or brick. When you are selecting a paver, inquire about the price differences between the bricks offered. We saw a significant prices differential between brick textures. When looking at pavers consider other textures, colors and other hardscape you have at play in your design or in the surrounding area. This includes matching the pavers to your home, any structures, blending with any existing patio or landscaping. I also encourage you to explore concrete materials. So much can be done with concrete. The standard grey concrete is one option, but you can also select from multiple colors, and also incorporate stamping. The prices to increase considerably when you move from the “standard” concrete to a colored stamped.

Standard Concrete
Standard and Stamped Concrete
Colored and Stamped Concrete
Built in Brick/Stone versus Portable Fire Structures

In our initial inspiration we had a fireplace and a built in natural gas fire pit. We ended up only going with a wood burning fire pit. After looking at costs and expected use, we could not justify the cost of the outdoor fireplace or running natural gas to a built in fire pit. A year later, we are so pleased with our $150 wood burning firepit.

Building material: Treated Lumber versus Composite

When building a deck, the lumber will be your largest material cost. I am far from an expert in this area, however, I will share my viewpoint from experience. does a great job reviewing composite vs. wood materials.

Treated lumber: Requires bi-annual maintenance such as pressure washing and staining and over a period of time the wood will start to crack, weather and mold, if you are in a dark shaded area. This lumber is significantly more cost effective and weighs much less.

Composite wood: Some composite wood does have a “fake” wood appearance, to avoid this, look at several composite vendors to make the best selection. With composite you will avoid the annual or bi-annual maintenance. The initial cost of composite is significantly more expensive.

4. Receive multiple quotes

Just because your neighbor or best friend has a person, does not mean you must use that person. Ask your neighbor, as your co-workers, and get recommendations from your neighborhood facebook group. You will want to have three companies provide quotes. With each company, share your vision and ask for their guidance based on their experience. Many landscape architects will diagram out your design and provide that along with a quote.

Ask for different aspects of the design to be priced individually. I recommend asking for pricing breakdown between the following elements (your design will most likely not have all these elements):

  • Bar or cooking area
  • Firepit and seating area
  • Patio base with pavers
  • Gazebo or pergola on patio
  • Landscaping bricks
  • Landscaping foliage
  • Built in seating areas
  • Based deck components
  • Deck add-on’s: built in seating, pergola, gazebo

With prices for each aspect of your deck or patio, you will then be able to determine what fits within your budget.

5. Work in phases when creating your backyard paradise

When creating your backyard paradise, you can work in phases. Home updates can be expensive and you may only be able to budget for the project basics to start. Talk to your landscape architect and ask for their guidance on what could be done in stages. Keep in mind that any permanent structures will need to be included in the initial phase.

Phase 1 Items
  • If you are running any natural gas lines, those need to be installed prior to pavers or concrete.
  • The Base: base deck or base patio using pavers or concrete
  • Deck: Any built in seating
  • Patio: Built in fire pits.
  • Anything requiring a built in look
Phase 2 Items
  • Landscaping around the deck or patio
  • Pergola added to a deck
  • Prefabricated gazebo or pergola. These can be bolted to the concrete or pavers.
  • Bar areas: This can sit on top of your concrete or pavers. When working with your landscape architect or concrete company, make sure you inform them of the long term plan. They may need to reinforce certain areas.
  • Portable fire pit
  • Fireplace: Inform your concrete company or landscape architect about this plan. Additional reinforcement under the base patio area will be needed.
  • Lighting: Our Edison lights have been up for a year so far and still work great! We even left them up through a Chicago winter.
  • Water features

You are now ready to get started on creating your backyard paradise! I hope this blog helped frame your perspective for tackling this project. You may feel overwhelmed at times, but it will all the worth it when you are sitting on your patio drinking a nice cold margarita!


Emily M

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