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Outdoor Living Spaces: Mapping The Cost of Priceless Lifestyle Experiences

Outdoor Rooms: Mapping The Cost of Priceless Experiences

If you are asking about the cost of an outdoor living space or room you will first want to do some discovery. 

You can arrive at a meaningful cost by first asking the right questions. 

The honest answer is that outdoor rooms and living spaces are capable of giving you far more than you may have imagined. The possibilities are limitless.

This realization is what makes planning and budgeting for it potentially overwhelming. That alone can take the fun out of realizing the dream of creating priceless lifestyle home improvements.

Here’s a process that will help you get there.  

Visualize Year-Round Outdoor Living

The true cost of anything is determined by more than the initial price. 

Price is a one-time consideration and an important one at that. However, most people justify their investment by how consistently it delivers value over time. 

For example, if an additional investment of 20% more than the standard price allows you to use your outdoor living room or kitchen year-round, then get 12 versus 8months of service from it every year. This effectively gives you 33% more use from it.

Is that worth it? It depends.

One way of determining this is to visualize how you wish to experience your outdoor environment. 

Most people have a few must-have elements in mind, such as a surface for entertaining and possibly a structure that provides shade or even full protection from the elements. 

You can also include a small water feature or fire pit, privacy screening from the neighbors, or specimen trees to frame a special view.  Hold those thoughts for just a moment. 

Planning any major project can feel like a juggling act of what’s in and what’s out. Before long you are mentally exhausted and less reluctant to pick up the conversation later. 

An easier approach is getting to the heart of your imagined experiences, the purpose of your outdoor living spaces.

The Empathy Map is a planning tool that will help you through this process.

As you consider your use of these spaces, ask what you want to be seeing, thinking, feeling, and doing — every step of the way.

Write these thoughts down. Try to map them by activities, the time of the day and week, and throughout the season. 

  • Serenity or excitement?
  • Privacy or open activities? 

Spaces change over time, from dawn to dusk, season-to-season, activity-to-activity, and year-to-year. This will give you ideas for outdoor furniture, lighting and security, and protection from the elements, to name a few. 

What are the priorities? List them. 

This is also a time to make drawings. You don’t have to be an artist to draw a shape that represents a patio or an arrow that suggests prevailing winds or sunshine that needs buffering. 

All of this will be helpful for the design professional you hire or the engineer that interprets their drawings. 

  • Start with the foundation and build from there. 
  • In addition to what you may wish to add, what needs to be disposed of or relocated?
  • What additions would be cost-prohibitive to change later, such as a swimming pool? 

Outdoor Rooms: Mapping The Cost of Priceless Experiences

3 Major Cost Categories To Know

Now it’s time to take your visual outdoor living map and identify the hard and soft costs. 

To put an accurate number to a project you will need a completed design. That’s the dilemma. How do you put a price to something that doesn’t yet exist?

The answer to that is to think in terms of ranges, high, medium and low. When it comes to landscape architectural elements and materials, you have control over the costs because you make the final choices. 

First, you decide which are the must-haves and what may be added later

Second, you can choose higher or lower-cost materials to suit your budget and style needs and desires. 

The three big cost categories for any project are labor, materials, and equipment.

There is abundant information available online to work with, in addition to what you learn from your contractor. Do your research and ask questions so that you can make decisions to meet your goals while maximizing your budget.

For example, natural stone patios will cost more than brick pavers. Both are great materials with their respective pros and cons. Stone may develop cracks and chips over time but will retain its rich color. Brick pavers are more durable but will tend to fade if they are not sealed every year.

Labor is often the largest cost category. While it’s tempting to hire a company with lower labor rates, those laborers may not have the skills and experience to get the work done efficiently. In addition to skilled labor, do not underestimate the value of skilled supervision.

The right project manager will keep your project on budget and keep you informed of potential cost overruns before they get out of control. 

This planning and budgeting process will help you actively manage your project.

  1. Settle on the must-have features or elements to include in your outdoor living space (e.g. patio, seat wall, firepit, pergola, kitchen station, lighting, etc.)
  2. List them in a column on the left axis. 
  3. Then to the right of that column create three more columns: HIGH, MEDIUM, and LOW.
  4. Now fill in the grid with estimates of the cost for each element with its high, medium, and low price points. (e.g. a natural stone patio may be high, fabricated stone medium, and standard brick pavers low). 
  5. These high, medium and low costs should include the materials, labor, and equipment to build them.
  6. The sum of the respective high, medium and low columns will give you a broad budget range for planning
  7. Choose specific quality/cost targets from each high, medium, or low column to further tighten up the budget. 

NOTE: If you can add it later, you may elect to eliminate an element to further manage your current budget.

Also, do not forget to include a lump sum for demolition or general site work, including permits, drainage measures, temporary fencing, and other miscellaneous costs. 

Lastly, you will want to hire a company you trust, but being informed and available can prove to be invaluable for making your vision come together as smoothly as possible.  

Outdoor Rooms: Mapping The Cost of Priceless Experiences

Theme Your Project For Focus

Designing and building outdoor living spaces is very much like building a custom home. It’s a fluid process that can change a little here and there as opportunities present themselves. 

To easily navigate these inevitable decisions, give your project a theme and stay true to it. This will help you avoid self-inflicted cost overruns and the regret of passing on missed opportunities. 

You only get one chance to make upgrades during construction for a minimal cost that will bring much greater value later. These are inherently part of any typical design-build process, so prepared for them.

If the theme of your outdoor environment is family fun, outdoor entertainment, or connecting with nature, use that focus to guide your choices for bringing home the best possible version of that inspired vision.