The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) 2020 trends report ranked having a multiuse transitional outdoor space in the top 3 trends for the upcoming year. While many homeowners allow their yard space to remain largely undesigned except for perhaps some patchy lawn and a small covered patio, experts see the installation of a versatile all-seasons (aka "transitional") outdoor living space as a smart upgrade that expands the usable square footage of the house.
"Transitional spaces help homeowners extend the life of their outdoor living areas," says Jeff Rossen, a landscape designer and member of the NALP. "Today, homeowners are planning their spaces with unpredictable weather patterns in mind."
Superior outdoor entertaining facilities are one reason that people choose one rental property over another. A $6,000 buildout of heated outdoor space for a three-bedroom home can pay for itself over the course of a month or two of shoulder season bookings, making it a pretty solid home improvement investment if you're doing short-term rentals. It also adds to the value of the home when you sell it.
Here are some elements to think about adding for cool weather, summer heat, rainy days, and just for fun.
An outdoor cooking corner
All you need is a grilling and chilling area with a hibachi, a table, and a few chairs, or build out a full outdoor kitchen for luxe appeal. If a high-quality grill is the centerpiece, add outdoor cabinets for storage, a sink with an under-counter water heater (so the hot water supply doesn't need to come from the plumbing system), and a fridge or beverage cooler, and you have everything you need for outdoor dinner parties or barbecues.
Outdoor heaters for practicality or fire features for extra flair
"Relaxing and entertaining outdoors should not end when temperatures begin to decline," says Rossen. Patio heaters start under $200, but since fire features are hot right now from a trend standpoint as well as a temperature one, be advised that popular home retailers sell them for $400 and upward.
Sun-blocking blinds to shade an indoor-outdoor space
Although people tend to focus on cold-weather protection most of the time, Southern states know that direct sunlight and high temperatures can make a space unbearable just as surely as rain or freezing weather can. So, in places where homeowners regularly build sunrooms or covered porches with windows to protect from the elements, installing blinds or other window treatments can keep temperatures low and protect the furniture.
"Make sure the shade is mounted as close to the glass as possible within the inside of the frame, creating a sealed space. For those who prefer horizontal slant-type classic blinds versus shades, we recommend they adjust the blinds to redirect sunlight to a light-colored ceiling, which will diffuse light without much heat or glare," says Karina Grinberg, owner of DIY Blinds in South Florida.
Quoting aDepartment of Energy post about energy-saving home décor ideas, Grinberg says windows are responsible for as much as 20% of energy loss in the home, and smart management of window coverings can reduce heat gain by up to 77%.
The party doesn't need to end at sundown, especially if you're in a place where the sun sets at midafternoon by autumn. As long as you've taken the step to install lights around the property, it can keep going with increased ambiance, and less risk of a guest tripping on the way out. Even green building advocates are fine with this feature, as long as it's done right.
"Low voltage lighting is easy to install and a bit less expensive than high voltage. It also has multiple options to be programmed to turn on and off," says Neil Chambers, author of Urban Green: Architect for the Future. He says that well-placed illumination is probably the one design element that is consistently overlooked but can give an entire space a pop of awesomeness.
A walkway through the landscaped area
Be it wood, well-placed pavers, or stamped concrete (many contractors' choice for a high-end look that isn't overly costly), a walkway is a must from a purely practical standpoint. Extend it through the side yard, too, if that's how people are sometimes directed to exit.
"Simple is better, but not so simple it looks like an afterthought," advises Chambers. "The proportions of the paver say volumes about how much attention and care was given to a project."
Of available products, he recommends Techno-Bloc pavers because they are durable and sustainable.
Is an all-seasons outdoor space right for you?
Does it take planning? Yes. Is it expensive? Kind of. But in comparison with finishing a basement or getting an addition, it's not -- and it requires fewer permits and less time. So the expert verdict is, if you've got the outdoor space…do something fun with it and gain value year-round.