House & Home

​Outdoor living spaces are feeling the love

Posted May 16, 2015
Updated August 18, 2015

The outdoor spaces of our homes often receive more use than interior rooms. (Photo courtesy of Saussy Burbank)

A survey from reports more than 54 percent of women respondents and 46 percent of men said a creative and livable outdoor space could make them fall in love with a piece of real estate.

That passionate embrace is big business, according to the American Institute of Architects. More than 62 percent of its members said they anticipate nationwide growth in the outdoor living arena to reach $5.7 billion by 2016.

Numbers aside, the outdoor spaces of our homes often receive more use than interior rooms. After all, when was the last time you actually used your dining room?

With new home communities sprouting up all over the Triangle, builders are on top of the trend, adding fire pits, porches, decks, fencing, patios, landscaping and more.

Greenhouses part of the outdoor landscape

Aaron Moore and his family own a custom homebuilding company, but decided two years ago to create a sister company working mostly on outdoor projects, including roofs, decks, fences, porches, patios and now, greenhouses.

Moore, founder of Neighborhood Construction Services, is building his first greenhouse in Wake Forest with several more lined up.

A growing awareness for organic fruits and vegetables combined with a nationwide “farm-to-table” trend is prompting some homeowners to look for ways to grow their own food year-round.

Moore says it’s a simple structure that will provide a lot of function.

“The space that we had to work with was about 12 by 16 feet. It’s basically a 2-by-6 wall system with reclaimed windows trimmed out nice,” says Moore, a master carpenter. “We did a simple shed roof to tie into the house, and we’re going to have a plastic liner on the inside of the wall. It’s going to have two layers of plastic; the air between the layers acts as insulation. Then we put a polycarbonate sheet on the roof. It’s basically an all-season room for your flowers.”

Moore is partnering with Norwood Road Garden Center to finish the interior, which will include a hydroponic garden fed by reclaimed water. The greenhouse sits on a stone patio that Moore completed before the greenhouse work began.

He expects his greenhouse projects to cost an average of $12,000 and take about 3 weeks to build.

Social media driving outdoor living trends

For years, homeowners and buyers have referred to magazines and television to give them ideas about creating inviting outdoor spaces that are modern and fresh.

Today, social media plays a big role as well.

“Most of our buyers spend a lot of time on Pinterest and Houzz,” says Jenn Nowalk, sales and marketing manager for Homes by Dickerson. “We have an extensive library of images, too, on our website’s picture page. We encourage our pre-sale customers to spend some time on there and bring some ideas to their design appointments.”

Homes by Dickerson is building in eight Triangle locations, including North Raleigh, Wake Forest, Chapel Hill and Durham in neighborhoods such as Croasdaile Farm, Barton’s Grove and Briar Chapel.

With an average selling price of $525,000, homes range between $300k to over a million. The average home is between 3,200 and 3,500 square feet.

“Our buyers have that extra income to spend on the niceties,” says Nowalk. “Just from an interior perspective, a lot of our homes have tons of windows out the back; everyone wants that natural light coming in. Also, they want to be able to see out the back so we don’t actually put any grills on the rear windows of our homes; it just makes everything feel a lot bigger.

“The most common feature right now is a fire pit out in the back with a gas line,” continues Nowalk. “We’re seeing a lot of curved and rounded patios—flagstone or permeable pavers.”

Outdoor kitchens are popular in the higher price ranges; spaces include grills, bars, stovetop burners and mini-fridges.

“People really like for things to be built in so that it matches the whole look and feel of the house and the existing space,” says Nowalk.

What social media might not tell you

Houzz and Pinterest photos usually don’t come with a price tag, which can leave homeowners with sticker shock. Nowalk says she often has to rein in buyers.

“A lot of times when you’re out looking and dreaming about your new home, you don’t always know the materials that were used and how much it costs,” she says. “It may look great, but we’re still trying to accomplish getting buyers what they’re envisioning but also staying within a budget and trying to be practical.”

The professionals can steer you in the right direction, and there will usually be several options that may cost less.

“A lot of people, if they can’t afford to do a fire pit, they’ll do stone seating on the outside perimeter of the patio to set the stage for gathering spaces,” says Nowalk.

If a screened porch or covered porch is outside the budget, you could opt for terrace decking or multi-tiered decks to accommodate both grilling and gathering. Pergolas and paver pathways are an option for outdoor landscaping if the budget is too tight for the stone patio you’ve been dreaming about.

All about porches

Homebuilder Saussy Burbank is building now in Hillsborough, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Holly Springs and inside the beltline. Most of the homes are mid-sized, from 1,400 to 3,000 square feet—and a few at more than 4,000 square feet—with prices ranging from $200k to $700k in neighborhoods like Briar Chapel, Claremont, Forest Ridge and 12 Oaks.

Sales and marketing assistant Katelin McCarthy gets a lot of requests for outdoor amenities, particularly porches and fire pits.

“We almost always do a front and back porch, and those come standard on a lot of the elevations that we offer,” McCarthy says. “We’ve seen a lot of people do porches off the master—or second-story porches of any sort. That’s an idyllic thing to sit outside on the porch off the master suite and drink your coffee.”

And some choose to screen the porches.

“Many people view a screened-in porch as an additional room because it’s closed in at that point and not allowing bugs in,” says McCarthy. “We do ceiling fans so you can be out there in the dead of summer and not be hot. There are a lot of different ways to make it so it’s a more livable space year round.”

Porch time means you’ll be looking at a view of the yard, so most homeowners invest in landscaping as well.

“We had a wonderful couple who were second-time homebuyers with us recently who were adamant they wanted these big boulders in their yard,” says McCarthy. “Our construction manager went and bought the boulders and placed them, and they actually look really nice.”


Some homeowners want to add recreation into the mix, investing in pools and hot tubs. Pools require a certain amount of space, and you may want to check with your neighborhood homeowner association covenants. Spas require less space and are usually easy to install. Both require weekly maintenance.

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