Watch this video to find out how to add and maintain an outdoor living space on your home, including:
- Decks: Adding and maintaining a wood or composite deck on your home.
- Covered Decks: Building a roof over a deck to allow use during rainy weather.
- Retractable Screens: Adding screen that retract out of sight when not in use to keep insects at bay.
- Outdoor Kitchens: Adding a kitchen to your outdoor living area, including how to choose between the various types of grills.
- Paver Patios: Adding a paver patio to your home, and using polymer based sand to keep the pavers in place.
- Concrete Patio: Scoring lines in a concrete patio to dress it up, and finishing a concrete patio with paint or stain.
Read episode article to find out more.
Danny Lipford: This week on Today’s Homeowner we’re going outside to create some great outdoor living spaces. Building or improving decks and patios is one of the great American pastimes and this week we’ll unpack a ton of ideas to help get you going.
More and more it seems like having a comfortable home is as much about being comfortable outside the home as it is being comfortable inside. You know what I mean, years ago patio furniture was pretty simple stuff and beyond that if you had just a small little space outside your backdoor for a barbeque grill you had just about everything you needed. But today when people are looking for a new home or improving the one they live in, they’re likely to spend just as much time thinking about an outdoor entertainment space as they do about the size and décor of the living room.
So today, we’re going to look into what makes a great outdoor space, whether you’re starting from scratch or simply making some changes to what you already have. We’re going to get started here on the deck because millions of American homeowners either have one, or they want one. The first thing to consider here of course is the design of the deck and the way your house is laid out will drive that design quite a bit. For example this house has some unique angles that are complemented by the angle of the deck.
Once you determine what you want your deck to look like, the next big decision is what material to use. Once upon a time that was easy, it was wood, and you used whatever weather resistant wood was most available in your area, that might be redwood, cedar, or like we’ve used here, pressure treated pine. But now more and more homeowners are choosing composite materials.
It’s a little misleading to call these composite decks though because they aren’t made entirely from composite materials, they all begin with a framework made from a more rigid structurally sound material, usually pressure treated wood. This framework will include the posts that support the deck and the joists that connect them to each other and to the house. Because composite deck boards are less rigid, these joists will be spaced more closely together to provide additional support.
The composite material is installed on top of this framework, so that the surface you see, and the one that the sun and rain beats down on is more attractive and less likely to deteriorate in the weather. Composites are made from cellulose or wood fibers and plastic resin. That means each board is identical in size and profile. It also means that warping, splintering, and cracking are things of the past because composites tend to be more dimensionally stable.
Depends on the manufacturer but there are several different ways to install this material, some varieties have a tongue and groove design that allows them to be installed so that none of the fasteners are visible on the surface. But the most common style of composite mimics one of the most common wood decking materials, the five-quarter by six plank. The fasteners can be driven through the face of these boards but the fasteners are one of the key differences between composites and wood. Composites are almost always installed with screws, instead of nails. That adds a little bit of time to the process but also makes for a clean, secure deck.
As you might guess, a wood deck starts with a similar framework but the deck boards themselves are also wood. Wood decking, especially the pressure treated varieties, tend to have a higher moisture content when it’s new. So it’s a good idea to install the boards as tightly together as possible, because as they weather they tend to shrink. That shrinking and expanding the wood does as the moisture content and air temperature rise and fall is the cause of most of the wood deck’s problems.
The best solution is to apply a sealer or a stain so that the pores of the wood absorb less moisture. The better ones will also block out the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can break down wood fibers. If you do this to an existing deck you’ll want to clean the surface first to remove any dirt or mildew. If your new wood deck is made from pressure treated material, it’s best to let it weather for at least one full season before applying any kind of stain.
As you might imagine, those composites are a bit more expensive than wood, but how much more expensive will depend on the type of wood you compare them to and which kind of brand and style of composite you select. One misconception about composites is that they are maintenance free. Unfortunately, anything that stays out in the weather will get a little dirty so composites need to be cleaned just like wood, even if it’s only for aesthetic reasons.
You should also be aware that composites will change color in time, that’s because the wood fiber content that they’re made of, just like any other wood, tends to gray with exposure to the elements. Most manufacturers are pretty candid about this fading, although they usually refer to it as weathering. The point is before you buy you should ask to see a sample of the material you’re considering that has been out in the elements for at least a few years, that way you’ll have a better idea of what you’re deck will look like after it’s been in place for a while.
Now, speaking of the elements, you can’t always count on them cooperating so you may want to add a little protection from them for yourself and we’ll talk about that right after this Simple Solution.
Joe Truini: Another great outdoor surface is a paver patio, now this is a great DIY project because the pavers, or the bricks, are simple set on the ground and then filled in with sand. But the problem with using traditional sand, or plain old sand, is that when it rains really hard it gets washed out of the joints and then you can track it into the house. There’s a new product called jointing sand that is sand mixed with a polymer. When a polymer gets wet it helps lock in the pavers and the sand gets locked between the joints.
OK, and here’s all you need to do. Pour some out onto the patio, then use a push broom to sweep it into the joints. What I like to do is to sweep it diagonally across the joints, just helps drive it in, into every crevice. OK, so you’re going to do this on the whole patio and then sweep it, all the excess sand off. Once you get it all swept off, then you’re going to spray it with a garden hose or a plant mister and you’re going to get all the sand wet. And you’re going to spray it three times in the first hour and then wait 24 hours and it’s ready to walk on.
Danny Lipford: This week we’re looking at some outdoor living spaces with an eye towards helping you make some good decisions to build your own or improve the one you have. So far we’ve talked about decks and what you need to know if you’re building or improving one, and this one is in the process of being upgraded and we use some of the composite decking that we talked about earlier in the show, we have it all covered up to keep all the paint off of it. Also, this owner wanted us to add a new roof section to cover it up and if you live in a region of the country that gets a lot of rain, you already know the reason for this cover. Now nothing will kill that party mood more than a rain shower in the afternoon at that barbeque and having to move everything inside.
Now, though there are a lot less expensive solutions to cover a patio like this it still is the best way to do it, to build it permanently like this if you can afford it. Now, the thing about it is this kind of structure is permanent so it adds value to your home and if it’s done right you may even want to convert it to inside the living space at a later date. Now, I can’t tell you how many covered decks and patios I’ve turned into sunrooms and bonus rooms over the years. So here’s a few things to consider if this is part of your plan.
Start by consulting a pro. Even if you think you’re up to doing the work yourself, get a pro involved in the design, because they’ll know the requirements of the local building codes. Plus there’s more to a roof system than just keeping the rain out, it has to support a lot of weight and be able to withstand high winds. The new roof should also blend into the house which may mean matching the pitch or the slope of the roof to an existing adjacent roof or creating a whole new pitch that will complement and tie into the old one.
Finally, sweat every detail so that the tie into the house not only looks good but it also keeps out the water, you don’t want to cause a leak in the living room while creating a dry deck or patio. Now, the point of keeping out the rain or creating some shade for your outdoor space is to make it feel a little more comfortable but still be outside right? A roof will certainly do that, but unfortunately it won’t keep out the bugs, that’s why these homeowners are having us install screens around this area once all the painting is complete and it’s nice and dry.
Enclosing a deck or patio with screen is a great way to maximize the use of an outdoor area because many of the climates where outdoor living is very popular, well, is also real popular with the insects, at least during part of the year. But as popular as open floor plans have become inside the home, just a matter of time before that concept caught on for outdoor living spaces as well, so how do you get both? Protection from the insects when they’re active and a wide open space the rest of the time? Well, the answer may be a retractable screen.
At its most basic, a retractable screen is a screen door that rolls into the door jam instead of swinging open. But what if you want the same effect for a larger opening like the space between columns on a deck or patio? Then you need a larger retractable screen and the model suited for this application roll and unroll vertically with a roller and an electric motor mounted in a ceiling cavity overhead. The tracks that guide the screen will be recessed into the surfaces on either side of the opening. It’s not an inexpensive option but if you have the budget it can be a great way to open up an outdoor living area.
You know we’ve covered a lot of things you can do to make an outdoor area more comfortable, but there’s still one little thing missing. If you’re going to spend a lot of time out here, eventually you’re going to get a little hungry. And besides you can’t have a backyard barbeque without a grill that must be what a lot of people are thinking because over the last few years we’ve been asked to put in more and more outdoor kitchens. Everything from simply building a small grill built in to a small section of countertop to much more elaborate set ups with all the appliances you could want or need in a regular kitchen. So we figured that if you’re one of those people thinking about creating an outdoor kitchen, we’d give you some help to get you started.
Allen Lyle: The heart of any outdoor kitchen is the grill, but before you rush out and buy that 29 dollar bargain basement special, let me encourage you to visit a show room, talk with a pro who knows about all the options that are available today. Options that will suit your needs. Hey side burners, rotisseries, they’re great. Now I am not going to get into that eternal debate of charcoal versus gas, it’s pure preference.
Purists will tell you that you cannot beat the flavor of charcoal cooking, and of course charcoal grills typically tend to be a little less expensive than they’re gas counter parts, but for built in situations gas really is the way to go. It’s cleaner, it heats up quicker and of course you can control the temperature. Now speaking of built in situations, if you are building it yourself keep in mind that even the best grills will break down over time, so make sure you have access to replace any broken or worn parts. One final thought for you, when it comes time for that backyard barbeque and you are sending out those invitations, I like my steak medium well.
Danny Lipford: OK, you’re all set up if you want a deck, a covered deck, a covered deck with a screened in area, or all of the above, plus an outdoor kitchen. But what if you’re a little more down to earth than that. Well, there’s good news, because after Jodi shows us this weeks Best New Product, we’re going to take a closer look at patios.
Jodi Marks: Do you remember these things? I always loved playing with Chinese finger traps, the tighter you pull them the stronger they get. OK, so this isn’t exactly a new product but the concept has been incorporated into the new Cordzilla, this is the monster of all bungee cords.
The bungee is encased in a polypropylene rope in the same design as the finger trap, so when you stretch it over the load you’re hauling it actually gets stronger. In fact, it’s rated at a safe work load of 400 pounds. Steel hooks are on each end so you can easily attach it to your truck bed or roof rack and they’re vinyl coated to help prevent scratching.
And if you’re hauling something like an appliance or a piece of furniture, the Cordzilla has these foam rubber sleeves that slide into place and cushion the item against any damage from the rope. They come in three different lengths so you can match the right size for the job at hand. The three foot is green, the four foot is yellow, and the five foot is orange. This new bungee really goes to extra lengths to keep your load in place and that’s some rope trick.
Danny Lipford: We talked earlier about decks as those outdoor entertaining spaces that everybody wants but not every home is well suited for a deck and truthfully every homeowner isn’t suited to build one or even live with one. For those of you that are a little more down to earth there is of course the patio to consider and it has some unique benefits of its own. For instance there’s no need for any hand rails, that’s a big advantage. But, if you have a lower opinion of patios than decks, it’s probably because you’re thinking of those plain little 10×10 patio slabs, concrete slabs, that are often tacked on behind a track house. Now, those don’t add any character to the house, it’s just basically a convenient little place to park a couple lawn chairs and do a little grilling. So, how do you make a patio more than that?
Well, one way is to use pavers instead of concrete, like these folks have done. First of all it gives you more opportunities to create character in your back yard and second it takes the concrete truck right out of the equation, whether you do it yourself or hire a pro to take care of it. A paver patio starts with several inches of base material like crushed granite, recycled crushed concrete, or even coarse sand. These materials drain well even in compact. The base is evenly spread and leveled within the area to be covered before it’s all packed down. You can do this with a hand tamp, but a motorized plate compactor will really speed up the process. The pavers are arranged on top of this base surrounded by a fixed border to keep them in place.
Finally, sand, or a sand polymer mix like the one Joe showed us, is spread across the surface and forced into the cracks to lock the pavers in place. This is yet another patio where instead of bricks or any type of concrete, we used these large flat stones and we started out with a mortar bed that we placed the stones in then we used mortar all around them to hold them all together, worked out pretty well and a very attractive looking patio but Joe you’ve done a lot of this kind of work.
Joe Truini: Yeah.
Danny Lipford: Do you think using this type of material or brick pavers is something that a homeowner would be comfortable with?
Joe Truini: Well, setting brick pavers in sand is certainly going to be a lot easier than this, but the important thing is the homeowner picking a project they can complete in a reasonable amount of time. I think most homeowners don’t take into consideration how much time and energy it takes to level the site, dig out all the dirt, and prep it for the patio itself. So it’s key to take a project, choose a small project, perhaps a landing at the bottom of a set of stairs, or a small garden pathway and use brick pavers. This way you can see how it works on a small scale before you try tackling a larger project.
Danny Lipford: Boy, that makes a lot of sense, because it can get very frustrating if you take on a project a little bit larger than you actually thought it would be.
Now, if you have a concrete patio already out back there are some options to make it look a little bit nicer. Scoring a pattern in the concrete is one of the easiest ways to add character. Once you lay out the pattern like a grid to mimic say a tile floor you use a diamond tip masonry blade on an ordinary circular saw to cut a shallow trench in the concrete. A straight edge will keep the lines nice and clean. This cut is usually no more than an eighth of an inch deep but the pattern will break up the monotony of the concrete. For even more interest you can stain the concrete with an oil, latex, or even acid based stain to add color and even more character to an outdoor surface.
Joe Truini: So Danny, if scored concrete is easier, does that explain why there’s so much of it in your backyard?
Danny Lipford: No, no, no, my wife wanted all the scored concrete. Actually I was really looking forward to crawling around on my knees with all those hundreds of pavers… And you know I was kind of disappointed.
Joe Truini: Yeah, right. While Danny keeps trying to convince me why don’t you check out this week’s Thinking Green.
Danny Lipford: There was a time when hanging garlic cloves around your neck was no big deal, everybody knew you were taking smart precautions against vampires. Today we know how silly that is but people are still using garlic against other blood suckers, of course I’m talking about mosquitoes. The common belief is that if you ingest enough garlic rich food you will repel the little insects, the problem is that you’ll be repelling a whole lot more than that. So here’s a couple of other green mosquito repellants that’ll do the trick.
One tip is to use a juicer to create a celery extract, you can put the celery juice in a spray bottle, or just wet a small cloth and rub the liquid on your skin, it does the trick for short stays outside. An even better solution is to use lemon eucalyptus oil; it’s the most effective solution without using a toxic chemical like DEET.
This week we’ve been looking at ways to improve your outdoor living spaces. And though we’ve covered more than just a few, we’ve only scratched the surface. You’re goal may be to add or improve a deck and if it is you can see that there are more than a few ways that you can do that, so look for a deck material that fits your style, your budget, and get started. Maybe you just need to break out the old wheelbarrow and start the paver project that you been dreaming about, or get busy and add some life to that plain old concrete slab of a patio. Whatever your vision is, start making it happen.
Well, I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the ways you can really get the most out of your outdoor living area. You know the thing I love about these kind of projects that we looked at on this weeks show is that everything you’re doing is to create a place to rest and relax. It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s not exactly instant gratification, but it’s close. And it’s nice to know that all that hard work and the reward come pretty close together.
If you want to see some other ideas to improve your outdoor living area or almost anything for your home check out our website at dannylipford.com. I’m Danny, we’ll see you next week.
Tune in next week when we’ll shed some light on out buildings for your home.