Back yard remodels become more popular

HOUSTON - Outside may be the last place a Houstonian wants to spend time in the heat of the summer, but with a few additions, it could be a nice place to spend the less scorching hours of the day.

Remodeler Charlie Watson told Local 2 that the options for a back yard remodel are only limited by the budget and imagination of the home owner.

"The thing we are asked to do most is an outdoor living room with maybe a kitchen area and a dining room. They can get pretty extensive from some small jobs to decorative patios, maybe a fire pit to full-fledged areas that we do a full roof over. We have full blown kitchens, masonry fireplaces, fire pits, they run the whole gamut," said Watson, a remodeling contractor specializing in outdoor areas.

If you dream of making it cooler and cozier, Watson said it can be done.

Smaller projects like adding a ceiling fan on the patio or a pond with a flowing waterfall may be just the thing to make the back yard cooler and a little more bearable this summer.

When planning the bigger remodels, Angie Hicks with the service referral website Angie's List, said it's important to establish the reason for your outdoor project, and what you hope to accomplish.

"More of us want to spend more time outside, but if you are on a budget, be very clear and upfront when you are planning the process," Hicks said.

Hicks said people should go ahead and dream big, but then take a step back and see how you can make it affordable in the long run.

"Get your project broken out into phases so you can do parts of it in any given year -- maybe a fire pit this year and a new deck next year so you don't have to do all of it all at once," Hicks said.

Once you are ready to go, Hicks and Davis said be sure to get the right paperwork lined up before you actually start hammering away.

If you are attaching a deck to the house, it will be considered part of the property, so there will be permits and zoning restrictions.

Also, be sure to check out the city ordinances as well as your neighborhood home owners associations rules.

Outdoor Project Hit List:

· Check rules and regulations: Before building your outdoor living space, check about rules/regulations and/or if permits are needed. For example, since decks are designed to be attached to the home, they are considered to be permanent structures of the property. For this reason, it is necessary for your contractor to obtain building permits and follow zoning regulations. And most regulations require a built-in fire pit to be installed at least 25 feet from the home.

· Who to hire? The construction and installation of your outdoor kitchen may require the assistance of a team of professionals. For a complete outdoor kitchen with appliances and functioning sinks, homeowners might need the services of a plumber, an electrician, mason and general contractor to oversee the entire project. A landscaper can help make the transition from the outdoor kitchen to the rest of the yard.

· Set your goals. It's important to establish the reason for your outdoor project, and what you hope to accomplish. Do you want to create an outdoor space for enjoying meals with the family, or do you want to line your yard with attention-grabbing scenery? Your project will go a lot smoother if you clearly state your goals to the contractor.

· Establish a budget: Adding outdoor elements can cost under $100 all the way to thousands of dollars. For the majority of homeowners working within a budget, it makes good sense to plan a project in phases. For example, say you can only afford to do the fire pit this year, you should have cutoff points within the plan so if you don't implement phase two or three, it doesn't look like something that's incomplete.

· Create something you will use. What's the point of spending a bunch of money on a project if you're never home, or you don't like being outside? Landscaping will increase your home's curb appeal, but if you opt for more ambitious projects like installing a pond or a paver patio, you should make an effort to use them.

Outdoor Space Options:

· Adding hardscape features: Permanent elements of the landscape such as patios, walkways, retaining/sitting walls, etc. make outdoor space usable and are easy to maintain.

Outdoor fireplaces: You can choose many different options from elegant to inexpensive options for a fire feature - a chimenea, fire pit, fire bowl, or traditional fireplace, all fueled by different means. Whether you have small children or not, safety should always be the No. 1 concern. Consider a locking ring that allows you to padlock your fireplace in the "off" position.

· Outdoor patios: From installing concrete to pavers to stone, there are almost limitless options when it comes to designing an outdoor patio for your yard.

· Adding a deck: A deck is another option for providing your family with additional space for outdoor enjoyment. Decks can be built to any size or design. Most are constructed from wood building materials, however composite materials which are manufactured from plastic and wood fibers are becoming more popular.

· Pergolas & gazebos: A popular choice for homeowners who want to create an intimate outdoor space similar to an enclosed room in their home.

· Outdoor kitchens: This space is typically focused around a grill, pizza oven, or hearth. If enough space is available, an outdoor kitchen can include everything that an indoor kitchen has. The first step in designing an outdoor cooking space is to determine how much space can be devoted to it.

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