Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Ron in OR: Hello Brian. I’ve been waiting all winter and into the spring to get outdoors. I’ve cleaned up the yard and have the grass and plants looking healthy. I’m looking for a yard project that will bring the family and maybe a few friends outside on the weekends this summer. I’ve read a few of your other DIY articles and like your advice about making improvements that we can enjoy rather than only thinking about what could improve the selling price of our home. We’re not thinking about moving anytime soon, so doing what pleases us makes good sense. Any ideas?
Answer: Hi Ron. If you build it, they will come. You didn’t mention what kind of budget you’re working with or any specific outdoor activities that your family enjoys. But here are many relatively low cost projects that the average person can tackle in a weekend or two. The summers in Oregon are pleasant and mild so I’m assuming you want to spend time enjoying the fruits of your work rather than working on a big project the entire summer.
Relax in the shade. Every yard needs some shade during the heat of the summer. If your yard doesn’t already have a shade tree or three, late spring and early summer is a fine time to plant one that will grow with your family. While you’re waiting several years for the trees to grow a shade canopy, you might have to settle for patio table umbrellas or a retractable canopy over the patio. A shaded place in your yard attracts family and friends whether it’s for a group gathering or a quiet place to read a summertime novel.
If you have shade trees, make these an inviting place to relax. You have a lot of options that include a hammock, wooden benches, a paver stone patio (inexpensive, quick, and moderate difficulty), or a picnic table. A tree house is more complicated option for the kids. Whatever makes for a comfy, stay-cool spot for the entire family. If you build permanent benches or outdoor furniture from wood, consider going with a dense hardwood and treating it against the winter elements. Some people use pressure treated softwoods (like pine) but these tend to splinter easily and you don’t want to be sitting on splinters.
Entertain Al Fresco. An open-air cooking area gives relief from the kitchen heat on summer evenings. This is a great project that can be expanded over several summers but you will begin enjoying it almost immediately. You also probably want to find a shaded area to make it a pleasant spot where you don’t mind standing over a BBQ several times a week. To get started, you don’t need to do much more than bring a gas grill out near the shady area you created for relaxation (but a good distance form trees and shrubs). The first year you can use a folding table as a prep area and for serving the food.
Over a couple of years, you might add amenities like a full kitchen counter made by stacking any of the many types of rough cast stone blocks with a finished stone countertop. These fit together so tightly that you often don’t need to mortar them in place as long as you don’t’ stack them above waist height. This can be done as an extended counter on either side of a good quality gas grill or stand alone work island. In years to come, you can continue adding on by bring electricity and water utilities to your cook station. By the third year, you could have a running-water sink, small fridge, and lighting adding all the comfort you need to your Al Fresco Entertainment Area.
Playtime. Your well-rounded yard needs to include some play space. This could be as simple as an open area where outdoor games can be set up. A nicely groomed grassy area for volleyball, badminton, or croquet. Not many yards are large enough to dedicate space to a tennis court or softball field, and swimming pools get expensive fast. If you do have a strip in the yard that is out of the way, you might think about something more permanent like horseshoe pits. Something that almost everyone enjoys in the dusk of the evening is a fire pit. But that fire pit belongs under the stars, not under the shade tree.
Ron, that combination makes for a low cost, easy to install, and easy to maintain summer yard. Everything you need to bring family and friends outside to spend summertime together. Happy DIY project making! Please comment with your thoughts and experiences for summer DIY projects. Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].