Photo courtesy of Precision Landscape

About a decade ago, outdoor living spaces typically consisted of a patio, a grill and a few chairs.

Today, they’ve become extensions of the home, with many incorporating kitchens, fireplaces, sound systems, lighting, pools, shade structures and more.

Several contractors from across the United States told Lawn & Landscape they received more requests for outdoor living space jobs in 2017. In addition, they said homeowners were more willing to spend money on improving the look of outdoor living spaces.

“It’s becoming more mainstream that everyone hires a designer,” says Freyja Kendrick, design install manager at Dig Right In Landscaping near Chicago. “They want pergolas, patios and fire pits. They’re willing to pay for design.”

Prices for outdoor living space jobs have increased, yet this hasn’t deterred demand, contractors say. “Prices are through the roof,” says John Durso, design group lead at Pacific Outdoor Living in Los Angeles. “What used to cost $5,000 is now $16,000.”

Durso recalls a time a few years ago when he told a customer it would cost $6,000 to redesign her front yard. “She looked at me like I was a bank robber,” he says.

Today, Pacific Outdoor Living customers hardly bat an eye if they hear it costs $20,000 to redesign a front yard or outdoor living space, he says.

Although Durso says landscape design work is somewhat of a requirement in Los Angeles communities due to the culture, more places are treating the design of outdoor living spaces as an art form. Stylistically, homeowners are looking for an outdoor living space that has all the bells and whistles but features a clean, modern design.

Hot demands.

The outdoor living space today comes with more features than it did one decade ago: fire pits, a water features, shading and lighting to name a few. Of those features, Durso said homeowners in Los Angeles often want either a fire pit or fireplace.

“People gravitate toward fire,” Durso says. “You have friends over, and fire is a great social gathering tool.”

For Jeremy Rose, co-owner of Precision Landscape in Knoxville, Tennessee, fire pits were a must. While many homeowners prefer the look of a fireplace, he says the cost savings of the fire pit made them more desirable.

“About 80 percent of patios included a fire pit,” he says. “Fire pits are maybe $10,000 versus $15,000 for a fireplace. There’s a huge cost savings.”

He also thinks fire pits tend to function better for outdoor living spaces. About eight to 10 people can sit comfortably around a fire pit compared with only four to six people in front of a fireplace.

Dennis Shennard, owner of New Jersey-based Groundmasters, finds that many homeowners are most drawn to fire and water features.
Photo courtesy of Groundmasters Inc.

Not unlike the allure of fire pits, homeowners are drawn to water features, primarily for the sound effects they add to the yard. “People like the idea of being by fire and water,” says Dennis Shennard, owner of Groundmasters in Hightstown, New Jersey.

Many of Groundmasters’ customers live near highways, so they usually request a water feature for the sound in order to drown out cars on the freeway.

In Los Angeles, homeowners still like adding water features to their outdoor living spaces. Durso says the state’s water restriction periods aren’t usually a concern to meet this demand, either.

“We get a fair amount of requests for water features,” he says. “Water features use less water than a lawn. The average lawn in California requires 3 inches of water per week to keep it well and alive, whereas a water feature requires half an inch for the same square footage of area. It’s cheaper and less water use.”

For shading, homeowners are often requesting pergolas, as they provide a special area for people to congregate. With heat being an issue in California, Durso offers customers misting systems for their pergolas to keep them cool. His higher-end customers also add space heaters so they can be used in winter.

In the Chicago area, most customers want pergolas to provide an open shade structure for summer months and to provide a place to block wind in spring and fall. Kendrick achieves this by placing pergolas that have partial roofs.

Lighting has also become essential to the design of outdoor living spaces.

“People always gravitate toward fire. You have friends over, and fire is a great social gathering tool.” John Durso, design group lead, Pacific Outdoor Living

“Landscaping is not cheap,” Durso says. “Say you spend $50,000 on an outdoor living space and you can’t see it at night. Adding lights creates magic and you can highlight certain elements like a tree, a fountain, a statue. It doubles the time you can enjoy it.”

For lighting, almost all homeowners were requesting LED lights in 2017. The LED lights last much longer than standard bulbs and are made of a higher quality material such as bronze or brass versus aluminum used on halogen lights.

low-maintenance designs.

Increasingly, contractors are noticing homeowners want “maintenance-free” designs for their outdoor living spaces. Many people want contractors to perform even more basic outdoor living space jobs, and fewer people are attempting DIY jobs. In Tennessee, Rose says he seldom receives requests for water features due to maintenance aspects.

“Years ago in 2008 or 2009, everybody wanted a pond,” he says. “There are still people who want some water features, but they need to require less maintenance.”

Shennard has experienced the same demand for low-maintenance water features in New Jersey. About a decade ago, he says his company installed up to 25 koi ponds each year. “Now, if I install two a year, that’s a lot.” Today’s homeowners want easier-to-maintain water features such as a vanishing water system or bubbling rocks.

Most of Dig Right In Landscaping customers requesting “maintenance-free” designs tend to be younger Chicago-area homeowners, Kendrick says.

“This new generation – people in their 20s and 30s – have never really gardened. They’re looking for maintenance-free programs,” she says. “They have less of a concept of what it means to take care of a garden, so they’re hiring out.”

In particular, Kendrick says homeowners in her area want native plants for their outdoor living spaces, as they require less work. For Chicago, native plants are primarily prairie plants such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans or goldenrod.