Outdoor patio and deckIn years past, Charlotte’s most elaborate outdoor living spaces were, if you’ll pardon the pun, decked out. They featured elaborate architecture, expansive paved areas, and fixtures and finishes that rivaled the finest gourmet kitchens. As the economy and times have changed, the way homeowners view their outdoor living spaces has also been transformed. Homeowners are taking a conservative approach and undertaking projects that stretch their home improvement dollars. Fortunately, a well-planned outdoor living area remains a wise investment.

Why? Because pragmatic outdoor living spaces are money well spent. If your backyard is designed for entertaining, you’ll be more likely to have friends over, instead of going out. You may opt for a staycation instead of that quick weekend getaway. Ultimately, you’ll make better use of the space you have, and since you’re generally not adding traditional square footage (building a new foundation, walls, roof, etc. from scratch) the additional living space costs far less per square foot than any other addition.

Here’s a look at what we believe many of your neighbors will be doing this summer:

What’s Hot: Some of the most popular projects we’ve seen involve creating a covered porch or transforming a deck into a screened-in porch, both of which keep you out of the sun. Some homeowners are taking it a step farther and converting porches into sunrooms that are heated and cooled for comfort but allow you to open the windows for fresh air, providing the best of both worlds.

What’s Not: Extensive synthetic decks or patios crafted from stone choices that retain too much heat – particularly if they are exposed to full onslaught of the summer sun. These surfaces can become painfully hot, and thus won’t get much use.

What’s Hot: Intimate patios and eating areas designed for conversation are ideal, inexpensive gathering places for family and friends. Finish the space with a cooking area with a nice grill. Upgrades here that are hot right now include practical granite surfaces (they stand up so well to the elements that they are well worth the initial expense) and overhead exhaust hoods for grilling areas that take smoke and odors away from guests.

What’s Not: Extensive (and expensive) stonework, overly elaborate outdoor fireplaces and showy fire features that are more form than function. Using the wrong type of stone can result in a very heated situation! Some stones are best suited for shaded patios as opposed to surfaces that receive full sun; otherwise they will absorb so much heat they can make using your patio intolerable.

What’s Hot: Pools are beginning to come back around, with good reason. They are great entertainment for families and a healthy exercise option for older adults or those with physical limitations. Oftentimes, families question whether a pool is worth the initial investment, and we’ve personally found that it is. For us, the expense of joining a swim club and the hassle of packing all your stuff up to go there takes away the spontaneity, and limits the number of times you actually use a public or club pool.  Because you can enjoy it at a moment’s notice, you simply use your own pool more often. Today’s salt water pools are easier and less expensive to maintain than the chlorinated pools of the past.

What’s Not: Cheaply made, vinyl-lined pools. We’ve heard of homeowners who have had walls collapse if they drained the pool too low, or whose liner has actually ripped when a torrent of rain from a summer storm got between the liner and the pool wall. If you’re going to invest in a pool, spend wisely and opt for a solid wall, gunite pool.