Q: How can we increase the livability, comfort and enjoyment of our home without investing significant funds or incurring massive debt?

A: Adding outdoor living space and other amenities can be an inexpensive way to improve your home and your quality of life. It’s unsurprising that recent industry surveys reveal that outdoor living spaces are growing in popularity, even in cool, wet climates like the Pacific Northwest. A covered patio can serve as a living space nearly year-round, especially if features like a fireplace, radiant heaters, or even just strategically placed landscape elements are included to insulate you from the damp environment.

Depending on your lifestyle this can be a viable cost-saving alternative to more interior floor space. But be aware that while options like an outdoor kitchen, entertainment center and stamped concrete flooring can add enjoyment to an outdoor space, they can also drive up the cost to levels comparable to adding new conventional floor space. Figure out what you want to do with the space and judiciously decide what you really need. It will save you money and headaches.

If you have a covered patio adjacent to your primary living area, it’s possible — but very expensive — to install an operable glass wall that completely opens the outdoor space to the interior, dramatically expanding interior living space. This is something to consider doing instead of building a much larger interior living space, especially if that space only accommodates large groups a few times a year.

Take the fun outside this summer with a paver patio

Regardless of what you decide to do with your outdoor living space, it’s important to remember that the quality of the surrounding environment can have a big impact on the quality of the space. Here are a few things to consider before you begin your project

Views. If you have a beautiful view to enjoy, make sure it will persist when plants and trees mature, both in your yard and the neighbors’. On a related note, if you want to enjoy a degree of privacy then you should integrate appropriate screening into the design, whether it be a privacy wall or mature plantings.


Trees. If large trees surround the outdoor space, consider removing or thinning them to let in more light and prevent needles or leaves from accumulating. If preserving trees is important, the space should be strategically located to minimize the impact on established root systems and future tree growth. A professional arborist can provide recommendations on the best way to do this.

Sound. If you are bombarded with unwanted sounds (traffic, neighbors or mechanical equipment), consider including a water feature, sound system, large plantings or fencing to reduce their impact.

Smell. Unpleasant odors can make an otherwise enjoyable outdoor space intolerable. While fragrant plants can help mask the smell of animals, stagnant water or furnace exhaust, some plants produce their own unpleasant odors and allergic reactions. A qualified landscape architect can provide valuable guidance on plant selection.

Once you have a plan to address all the above issues — or if you’re lucky enough to not have any of these issues to begin with — it’s time to get started on the fun part: designing and creating your new outdoor space. Good luck, and remember, have fun! These are the great outdoors, after all.


Philip W. Frisk, AIA, is a principal at PWF Architecture and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling, or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s nearly 2,800 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.