Patio Upgrades

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

January 18, 2012 5 min read

Turning your patio into luxury outdoor living space is easier than you think. With some serious planning, new and affordable all-season materials, equipment, furnishings and accessories, you can convert that tired concrete slab into an attractive getaway, just steps out the back door!

It's not a job for amateurs, experts say, if you want to do more than spruce up what you have with some flowerpots or a new chaise lounge. A real makeover such as adding an outdoor kitchen, new stone flooring, an outdoor fireplace and/or other upscale amenities requires forethought and detailed plans, industry sources say.

In addition to underground utilities, rethinking seating needs and/or redoing landscaping, homeowners wanting to upgrade outdoor living space need to consider future expansion or existing structures such as a pool. "Nothing is worse than finding out a few years after you spend thousands of dollars on your patio that you didn't leave enough room to expand for additional seating, or that part of the patio has to be removed to install a pool or hot tub because of site constraints. Plan for future site amenities even if you don't plan to build them for some time," advises architect Christopher Colby, principal and founder of Spire Architecture and Design.

"Typically, the construction of these projects is not for the weekend warrior. Items such as gas piping for grills or fire pits require the expertise of a plumber. Lighting and electrical outlets would require the expertise of an electrician. Depending on the code requirements of the town where you live, inspections for such items may be required by a licensed contractor as well," he points out. Some local municipalities also may require site plans and/or drawings.

"While there is a lot of information and do-it-yourself TV shows out there to assist the average homeowner with designing outdoor space, there are also a lot of pitfalls if you choose to do it all on your own," warns Ramsey Prince, founder of Ramsey Jay Prince Designs and The Merchandise Mart, as well as a manager for the outdoor furniture manufacturer Ebel. "Contact an interior designer or landscape architect, because it is too easy and too costly to make huge mistakes simply because you didn't know better. In the end, you'll be happy you consulted a team of skilled professionals."

A cosmetic upgrade can be easy as a few hundred dollars, says Prince, "but be prepared if you're doing any sort of contracting work such as gas lines, electrical, hauling or excavation. These projects will price out just like a home remodeling project."

"Manufactured patio pavers for example can cost as little as a few dollars a square foot at big box supply stores to $15 to $20 a square foot for higher-end brick/stone pavers," notes Colby. "Typically, the most expensive items will be related to specialty items that require infrastructure such as gas piping and electricity. Usually associated with these installations are the higher priced items such as custom stainless steel grills and other cooking equipment, fire pits and torches. Basic outdoor kitchen patios with manufactured pavers or stamped concrete, such as a stainless grill set in a masonry counter system can start at $7,500 to $10,000 depending on styles and finishes. After that, the sky is the limit!"

Some higher-end patio kitchens include wine coolers, crisper draws for fruits and veggies, trash compactors, built-in icemakers, bars, cocktail carts and blenders. These upscale patios may have special heating and cooling equipment canopies, misters, gas-powered tiki torches, fireplaces and even outdoor television sets.

No matter where you live, natural materials, such as stone, weather the best, Colby believes. "Man-made materials like brick and concrete work well, too. Stainless steel is an obvious choice for grills and refrigerators. Woods that weather well -- such as mahogany, ipe and teak -- are good choices for pergolas and decking," he points out.

In climates prone to harsh weather like northern winters or rainy seasons in the tropics, homeowners should remove and store away furniture, cushions and any other decorative items. "The best way to approach what materials to use is to remember that they will be exposed to the weather 24/7/365 and select only materials that can withstand the test of time," Colby says.

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