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outdoor_patio_hardscape(MCT)—Building experts say homeowners are turning the old design mantra of bringing the outside in on its head. Instead, they’re keeping the outside where it is but making more use of it.

The good news about this trend is that nearly everyone can participate, as savvy builders design phased approaches to fit most any budget.

Tim Niemiec of American Paving Design in Bluffton, S.C. is excited to see the interest as well as the range of possibilities.

“I’m seeing a lot more outdoor living areas,” Niemiec says. “It doesn’t even have to be a large-scale project. It’s almost like you’re creating your own outdoor room; smaller and larger patios that are really just an extension of your home. Fireplaces, small outdoor kitchens, grilling areas – especially in this area – a lot of retirees move down here from the north and northeast and want to enjoy the outside areas, so they’re going more and more to these larger outdoor living areas.”

Many landscaping companies are focusing more on the hardscaping component; things like paver patios, sitting benches and retaining walls, where they incorporate different styles for a customized look while creating more usable space in the yard and bringing balance to the landscaping.

Both Niemiec and John Ruggeri, of Precision Pavers, Inc. in Lutz, Fla., say they’ve seen a big increase in homeowners with pools upgrading their pool decks to incorporate more stone pavers instead of concrete. Travertine pavers, for example, have grown in popularity. They’re stylish and cool on the feet in a hot climate.

“The No. 1 scope of business right now seems to be remodeling the pool deck,” Ruggeri said. “Most people with existing pools that were built in the 1980s, ‘90s and even the early 2000s were of the pool deck nature. They had a concrete deck that was stained. Most of those are kind of outdated at this point. Most customers are upgrading and remodeling those with either pavers or travertine.”

The increased interest in hardscaping by homeowners has led to more hardscaping options being made available by manufacturers.

“We’re seeing a lot of different styles of pavers,” Niemiec says. “The selection and variety is just unbelievable now. Instead of seeing the same thing over and over again, like maybe 10 years ago when you saw maybe five different colors and two different shapes, now we’re seeing 10 or 12 different shapes and 30 different colors from all these manufacturers. So, it gives them a wide variety of looks and styles and shapes they’re able to utilize.”

Because of the increased popularity, more homeowners are also taking the do-it-yourself route in hardscaping projects. Many are also finding out just how difficult it can be to do a hardscaping project on their own. The biggest issue, both Niemiec and Ruggeri say, is homeowners don’t properly prepare the base. The result is often hardscaped areas that are uneven.

“We’ve ripped up quite a few homeowner-done patios” Niemiec says. “They did it (themselves) initially to save their money but then they have to redo everything they’ve done and end up spending almost twice as much money. It’s really a costly process. I’m a fan of having homeowners do things themselves, but this is very physical, demanding type of work and it’s very difficult to do it right. It really takes a good eye and good knowledge to do this type of work.”

Hardscaping projects can range in price. A paver patio can cost several thousand dollars, whereas an outdoor kitchen can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. For homeowners on a budget, most hardscaping design can be executed in phases. Niemiec, for example, said he puts together a three-dimensional design for homeowners with different options. The first option might just be a paver patio, while the second option would include a sitting bench and fire pit and the third option would include a full outdoor kitchen.

“Phases are a very, very important part of my business,” Niemiec says. “They can see the add-on that they can add later, or they can do it all at one time. It’s definitely something they can start with just a basic patio and grow from there.”

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, the nation’s most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to healthcare.

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