Why You Should Consider Hardscaping as Well as Landscaping
There’s a difference between the most common landscaping elements — trees, grass, and gardens, typically called “softscape” — and what’s known as “hardscape.” As the name implies, hardscaping describes more permanent man-made fixtures — walkways, pools, fountains, patios, decks, stone benches, and other “hard” elements.
Increasingly, it’s hardscaping that is appealing to both homeowners and homebuyers. These more permanent outdoor elements can not only add value to a home; they can add to the enjoyment of being a homeowner as many Americans continue spending more time outdoors.
People “Like to Get Outside”
“The biggest change I’ve seen is people just like to get outside now,” Jerry Evans, a real estate brokerage owner in Washington, N.C., told the Washington Daily News earlier this year. “The formal way of sitting down in the dining room doesn’t seem to be happening anymore. They’re changing their dining room furniture for patio furniture. People like to get outside.”
“There was a time when homeowners had a nice patio, but never really used it,” Mark DelPrato, a landscape designer in Lumberton, N.J., told Turf Design Build Magazine. “Things have really changed,” continued DelPrato. “Nowadays people want true entertaining — and they want spaces that can actually be utilized.”
The change is reflected in surveys of homeowners. It’s no longer enough to put out a few lawn chairs and watch the kids run around, or to wheel a portable grill out of the shed a few Sundays a year. Increasingly, homeowners are considering their outdoor space an extension of the home. They want permanent fixtures that can add value to their home while increasing the enjoyment to their homeowning experience.
Survey Respondents Want Hardscaping
Houzz, the home design and decorating website, has quizzed registered users in their Landscaping and Garden Trends Study for the last few years. The results support industry experts’ claims that demand for hardscaping is rising.
According to a Houzz 2016 survey, interest in overhauling the backyard appears to be increasing. While 30 percent of nearly 1,000 respondents have finished an outdoor renovation in the last year, 32 percent are currently remodeling, and 38 percent have plans to start in the next six months. For nine out of 10 of these homeowners, these are serious outdoor projects. More than half described their renovation as “substantial,” while 35 percent said it was a “complete overhaul.”
In last year’s edition of the survey, lawn reduction and hardscaping came to the fore. That survey found that 36 percent of respondents nationally were reducing the size of their lawns. It’s nearly on par with 39 percent of respondents reducing their lawn in California, where increased water regulation has taken hold amid serious drought conditions. Nationwide, 16 percent of respondents had decided to get rid of their lawn altogether.
In place of that lawn acreage, 67 percent of nationwide respondents said they were installing at least some hardscape elements. Seventy-two percent said their goal was to achieve a new outdoor design, while 52 percent said they wanted less maintenance.
In fact, the desire for easy maintenance is only going up. In the 2015 survey, 71 percent cited it as the most important aspect of their outdoor space. This year, the figure rose to 80 percent. Homeowners with limited free time are catching on to the fact that patios and retaining walls don’t require weekly mowing, watering, or hedge-trimming.
Ways to Use Hardscapes
While there are many different hardscape elements, preferences appear to cluster around three main ideas: covered areas, kitchens, and entertaining spaces.
Covered Structures – Tim Gehman, director of design for a luxury development firm in Pennsylvania, recently told Professional Builder he sees many buyers that want a covered outdoor area just beyond the main living area. Meanwhile, DelPrato and other builders told Turf Design Build that clients were pushing limits when it came to amenities for their covered hardscaping, from basic pergola construction to full roofs and built-in home theater systems.
Kitchens – Scott Cohen, an award-winning landscape design expert, has said that it’s outdoor kitchens which are “stealing the show” when it comes to hardscaping. Writing about the “outdoor room boom” in 2014, Cohen noted outdoor kitchens were a standout feature that could add significant value while providing a social focal point.
Entertaining – Cohen goes on to say that beyond kitchens, other entertaining areas are popular with homeowners. Bistro patios, full-scale dining rooms, and other relaxation areas are common, often clustering around small group-seating areas. Cohen notes that he often uses “wayfinding” areas in his hardscape designs to connect these gathering spots with “welcoming pathways.”
How Hardscaping Adds Value
When it comes to adding value to your home, it’s no wonder so many homeowners put kitchens and entertainment areas near the top of their list. According to Inman, outdoor kitchens can bring an average return on investment, or ROI, of 100 to 200 percent, though it depends largely on the regional climate and the materials used. Fire pit areas come a close second with an average 150 percent ROI. A professionally constructed deck can still offer a 73 percent ROI, while the ROI of patio additions typically ranges between 30 and 60 percent.
John Duffy, with Duffy Real Estate, told Houzz that hardscaping features outside make a strong impression on a prospective buyer. There’s an assumption that the interior will wow them as much as the exterior. Inman notes that professional landscaping can reduce the time a home spends on the market by 10 to 15 percent. “The new mantra in home buying is location, location, landscape,” quipped Duffy.
Houzz’s 2016 study finds that budgets vary widely among homeowners eager to update their landscaping. Ninety percent of survey respondents were expecting to do minor updates for less than $5,000. However, for larger projects, 43 percent expected to spend $20,000 or more.
Avoid Hardscaping Pitfalls
For homeowners who are thinking of taking on their own hardscaping project, a word of caution before digging in. “You don’t want to put in a lot of effort and then have your materials or design fail within a couple of years,” cautions Samuel Salsbury, a partner with an Ohio landscape design group. Salsbury told HGTV that hardscaping involves fixed objects that can’t be moved or fixed easily.
The most common missteps homeowners make involve improperly prepared sites and drainage issues. Salsbury says the proper amount of base material, adequately compacted, is a must. Deep frost footings are required for areas that get harsh winter weather, and drainage and moisture flow is important for areas that get much precipitation.
The best advice from Salsbury is to hire a professional for any project that involves a structural wall or a hill with stability issues. Salsbury says it’s also important to consider the cohesiveness of the whole backyard design, even if you’re only going to build on one area for now.
The result of such careful planning will be a hardscape you and your family can enjoy for years to come and a significant recoupment on your investment on when it comes time to sell.