Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rating the top 15 outdoor home improvements

Warm weather and summer time in Northern California are here, and that means we’re enjoying spending time in our yards again. Whether it be a backyard barbecue on a Sunday afternoon, sitting out at night with a glass of wine to watch the stars or just watching the kids run around on the lawn to their heart’s content, the outdoor areas of our homes enrich our lives at least three seasons a year.

In fact, homeowners invest $6.2 billion yearly in outdoor improvements, but when it comes to adding fun and functional elements to our yards, is it always worth the time, money and aggravation? 

We’ll list the top 15 outdoor renovations or projects for homeowners and give them a rating based on the pros, the cons, practicality, enjoyment of use, costs and return on value.

1. Deck
Decks add huge value to a home with a 77% reported Return On Investment, and that’s probably because they offer a natural transition to a comfortable and functional outdoor living space. But they can also be expensive, as the cost of good wood is usually surprisingly high, and the alternative of Trex or some synthetic decking material can be twice or three times as much as wood (but never will need painting, collect mold, or rot.) Some intrepid homeowners try building decks by themselves, but even if you don’t hire a professional contractor you’ll probably need a building permit. Remember that wood decks also need maintenance of cleaning and re-staining or painting every few years.

Rating: B+

2. Outdoor lighting
One of the most economical ways to highlight and enhance your home and yard, outdoor and landscaping lighting is a great addition for any home. Of course there are plenty of options for landscaping lighting and lights along paths and driveways, but homeowners are getting more creative as lanterns, fixtures, globes, lamps, and even chandeliers are now made for outdoor use.  LED lights even allow you to rotate colors for interesting effects. Outdoor lighting not only adds to your curb appeal but improves safety and security, and therefore increases value with an approximate 50% ROI. But you may have to rework some electrical, trench to lay wires, and maintain landscaping lighting that goes out or needs new bulbs. Your energy bill might take a small hit but there are also more options for solar lighting than ever before.

Rating: A

3. Koi pond
Koi ponds, natural ponds, and fountains are one of the most enjoyable and beautiful enhancements you can make to your yard. Just sitting by a serene koi pond will lower your stress level after work or on weekends, and children love them especially. However, koi ponds should only be considered if you plan on staying in the home long term because they are not a great financial investment. There are basic DIY koi pond kits you can install yourself with a good deal of labor and patience, but custom professionally installed ponds could run $5,000 all the way to $50,000 or more for huge projects. Maintenance is an ongoing task with filter pads that need changing, fish food, chemicals or additives to balance the water, and other items. And of course you’ll need to purchase some koi, but for many homeowners all this will be well worth it as they are some of the most beautiful creatures in nature, growing as big as their environment allows and sometimes living up to 200 years in extreme cases!

Rating: C

4. Gazebo
Well-planned and aesthetically pleasing sitting and communal areas are always a good investment, and gazebos are starting to see resurgence with homeowners who want to spend more family times outdoors. They can be as big as 30 feet diameter or as small as only 6-foot diameter and made from natural weather resistant wood or synthetic Trex material. Depending on if you have a gazebo custom built, built to standard plans, or even buy a DIY kit and try it yourself, gazebos can run $2,000 all the way to $10,000 or more. You might want to add lighting, speakers, mosquito netting etc. to make it a more useful, but gazebos will offer a high ROI if you ever choose to show your home and sell – but many gazebos can be deconstructed and move to your next house!

Rating: B-

5. Putting green
As eccentric as it may seem, adding a putting green to your backyard may be a sound investment in some neighborhoods and for some homes. If you live in a high-end community or area that may have some avid golfers, it could attract potential buyers in the future, whose excitement to buy a 1-hole golf course with a house attached will translate in a solid offer. But putting greens are also efficient to install, as you can either lay out a round green area or contour it to just about any space or corner of your yard that is free. You can easily set up and install a putting green in one weekend yourself or purchase some of the DIY kits that are not available, with synthetic grass you’ll never need to maintain. Fore!

Rating: C+

6. Awning
If you have a house that faces directly west, you probably get blasted with full sun every day and know just how much it can heat up rooms, living areas, and make the outdoor spaces unusable until nightfall. In fact, up to 40% of heat and UV rays that enter your home come through windows. So an awning or shade cover may be a great remedy to that. They range from simple canvas awnings that you can affix yourself to motorized retractable awnings and even ornate wooden trellises with vines. Over time, you’ll recover any cost of installation and maintenance in lower AC bills and being able to use your entire home and yard again.

Rating: A

7. Trampoline
These days, it’s easier than ever to add a trampoline to your backyard, offering countless hours of enjoyment for your kids and their friends (and even bouncy adults when no one else is looking!) The vast majority of homeowners choose to purchase an above ground trampoline for only a few hundred dollars at places like Costco or Sam’s club. They’re not fun to put together but should last a long time – and can be moved when you decide to sell your house and live elsewhere. However, injuries are not uncommon on trampolines so make sure it as safety netting and padding on any exposed metal or hard areas, and check with your insurance agent if it will affect your homeowner’s policy or increase your liability. Trampolines that are set into the ground used to be in vogue but are rare these days, and only recommended if the homeowner knows they will stay there a long time.


Rating: C+

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Here is part two of this blog, with ratings for the next 8 outdoor home improvements.

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