Rethinking your home’s outdoor and leisure spaces
For many Torontonians, the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns drastically changed the way they experienced and utilized their homes thereby sparking the renovation revolution that spread across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) throughout the pandemic and beyond. As many sought to improve the function and aesthetics of their indoor and outdoor living spaces, new interior creature comforts improved working from home, and once work was over many sought out their exterior spaces to enjoy life. However, what many homeowners found was that their outdoor spaces either needed improvement or a complete overhaul and so the landscaping, or more suitably, dreamscaping, boom began.
Turning your landscape into your dreamscape – where to start
Whether you are looking to spruce things up with a flower box, improve the curb appeal of your home, add some extra seating room with a new deck or create a backyard oasis for the whole family complete with a swimming, outdoor kitchen and entertainment area, it is important to understand and map your landscape end goal and ensure you understand the options. Function, aesthetics, upkeep, and not to mention, the price tag, will vary depending on the selections you make, so get to know your options and the pros and cons of each!
Step 1: Define the scope and budget for your landscaping project
Questions to ask:
- Are you looking to redesign your front yard, backyard or all of the above?
- Does your current landscaping meet your functional needs? If not, where are the gaps?
- What new elements do you want to introduce to your home’s landscaping? What are your “must haves” vs. the “nice to haves”?
- Will any of these elements require permitting? Looking to add a pool, custom structures, etc.? You will likely need a permit. Engaging a qualified contractor early to guide you through this process can make your project run much more smoothly.
- Will you be needing help with the design and construction or is this a weekend warrior project? Happy to go at it alone? Great! Looking for some professional help? Make sure the team you select understands your needs, takes you through all your options (see step 3) and is able to work within your budget and timeline constraints. Plan to be flexible and be sure to reach out to professionals early. Most qualified contractors are booked at least a few months in advance. This means you will likely be planning your summer project when there is still snow on your yard.
- How much annual upkeep and maintenance are you willing to commit to your home’s landscaping? Some products and landscape elements will require yearly maintenance, while others are installed and left to be enjoyed – picking the materials and elements suited to your needs will be very important.
- What budget are you willing to allocate to your landscape project? White boarding your dreamscape with a design professional without a defined budget is a great way to set yourself up for disappointment. So define your budget early and be sure your design and construction team are operating within it.
Step 2: Getting started on your landscape renovation project
You’ve defined what you want and you have even found your perfect design and contractor team, now what? Permitting, selections and prep!
Smaller landscaping projects
These likely will not require permitting and will have a simplified selection process. Landscaping projects such as retaining walls, interlocking paving stones, flower boxes, etc. fall within this category. If working with a contractor, you will likely review options during the contracting phase and make selections from supplier sites, catalogues or samples. See step 3 for various options available as well as pros and cons of each.
Large landscaping overhaul projects
If you are planning a large landscaping project, you are likely working with design/build professionals. The team you select will work with you on:
- Design/rending/sketches – these will help you refine your dreamscape project. Ensuring correct measurements at this stage will be important.
- Permitting – in many cases a landscape project may require a permit from your local municipality (eg. City of Toronto, City of Vaughan, City of Markham, King Township, etc.) if something like a pool house, roof structure, swimming pool, etc. is incorporated. This would mean that first and foremost a property survey is required. Then an architect or architectural technician would have to put together a plans package and submit to the municipality. Permit fees would be paid, plans would be reviewed and the permit would be issued. This can be a lengthy process before construction can commence so plan ahead!
- Excavation – if excavation is required for your landscape project, it is important that either the contractor or the homeowner get locates so that services are not damaged. Locates are free through Ontario one call. All professional landscape contractors will handle this, but it is worth mentioning, as a gas leak can be catastrophic.
- Selections (see step 3)
TIP: Don’t forget about your neighbours! While not formally part of the your renovation process, they can make or break your project. Speak to your neighbours and let them know what you are planning and any impacts this may have on them (noise, mud, parking situations, etc.).
Step 3: Making your landscape selections
You have your vision and your road map, now for the fun part! Time to review your options and select your construction materials.
This is the main element of most landscape projects. The key decision here is precast vs. natural stone.
- Precast concrete is probably the most common product used in landscaping projects. These are man-made products that include interlocking paving stones and slabs for walkways and patios, retaining wall products, coping stones, garden and driveway curbs, steps, veneer stones, pillars and caps, and specialty application products such as fire pits make up the endless options available for all landscape or specifically hardscape projects.
Benefits of using precast hardscape materials: This is often a more cost effective option and provides more consistent colouring, patterns, sizing, and textures. Precast products have come a long way and can be found in a variety of different colours, shapes, styles, and even environmentally friendly solutions.
- Natural stone is mined from a quarry and is processed for it’s unique application include slabs, steps, retaining products, coping stones, and cladding. Examples of commonly used hardscape natural stone include sandstone, limestone, granite, quartz, and marble.
Benefits of using natural stone hardscape materials: these are often higher end options adding elegance to your project while providing the benefit of longevity, especially through Canadian winters.
The right deck design can add a tremendous amount of utility to any outdoor space/landscaping project by creating a partitioned, elevated space for dining or lounging with a softer feel on the feet. Decks can create a great transition between the house and the hardscape; bridging different levels/grades.
Decking materials can include natural lumber options such pressured treated (PT) wood, cedar, and IPE. Man made material options such as composite or PVC are also available.
- Pressure treated (PT) lumber is the most cost effective, but requires maintenance and may not stand the test of time when compared to other options.
- Cedar and IPE are more durable natural options with a higher end look, but also require some maintenance and are pricier than PT.
- Composite and PVC require no maintenance, but usually cost more to purchase and install. The main draw back of manmade materials can be that they look artificial. While this has improved over the years selecting a natural looking manmade product can come with a hefty price tag.
When it comes to decks you cannot forget railings. Options include pressure treated lumber, cedar, IPE, or a combination of lumber, aluminum, prefabricated powder coated steel, glass, and wrought iron.
Custom or prefabricated structures
Like decking, different structures incorporated into a landscaping project can add function and style. Structures can include:
- Roof structures can shade a patio area protecting its users.
- Gazebo is a nice way to create an enclosed lounging area.
- Pergola can offer a touch style (these can also incorporate fabrics to act as a “roof”).
- Pool house provides a space to hide pool equipment, act as a changing room, or even incorporate a fully functioning shower/bathroom.
- Sheds provide additional storage.
NOTE: In the GTA, construction permits may be required for any of these structures. Consult your contractor for information.
Pools, hot tubs, swim spas, and outdoor saunas
The ultimate luxury landscaping elements and the centerpiece for your dreamscape entertainment space.
- Pools are available in above ground or in ground. Construction materials including fiberglass, concrete, or vinyl. Like most things there are pros and cons to each option including ease of install, price, maintenance, and durability.
Lastly, you should consider any additional features you would want to include in your pool design such as waterfalls, slides, ladders, and diving boards.
One non-negotiable when it comes to your pool, it will require a fence with a self-closing gate.
- Hot tubs, like swimming pools, can be either above ground or in ground. Different sizes and different features will dictate price.
- Swim spas are fairly new; they look like large above ground hot tubs, but essentially allow users to swim on the spot.
- Saunas traditionally found in exterior landscape applications happen to be of the dry nature. The two types that exist are traditional vs. infrared.
NOTE: In the GTA, construction permits may be required. Consult your contractor.
Outdoor kitchens are a fantastic way to move the party outdoors and expand the entertaining space for your home. One of the big decisions you will need to make is whether you want a custom or prefabricated outdoor kitchen solution.
- Prefabricated outdoor kitchens have come a long way and can be very elaborate incorporating top of the line appliances, fixtures and features. These manufactured set ups can be made of a variety of materials including stainless steel, aluminum, wood, and stone.
- Custom construction outdoor kitchens open the door to every possibility one can think of. Like prefabricated outdoor kitchens, a variety of materials can be used, but custom means the limits are the bounds of your imagination, budget and the team you are working with. Unlike many areas of construction a custom outdoor kitchen can actually be a more cost effective option. Consult your landscape contractor for details.
Landscape lighting can range from a simple set up to a complex smart array. The amount and type of lighting selected will dictate your power requirements. While solar power is an option for smaller elements, many will require power to be run outdoors. Types of landscape lighting include:
- Wall lights
- Recessed lights
- Hardscape lights
- Pathway lighs
- Outdoor spotlights
- Deck lights
- Rope or string lights
- Lamp posts
Backyard heating options
Looking to keep your guests warm and cozy or to reduce the amount of shoveling in the winter? Consider adding heating options to your outdoor space.
- Fireplaces: natural gas or a wood fire pit
- Heaters: Ceiling mounted gas-electric, propane towers, etc.
- Radiant in-ground heating: A great option if shoveling snow is not high on your winter list of fun activities. Options include electric and hydronic.
Outdoor entertainment centers:
Spending the day outside or looking to host parties? Consider adding sound systems, TVs and other media elements to your space. A few things to consider here will be whether they will be outside all year round or if they will be brought inside for the winter. Ensuring adequate waterproofing will also be very important.
Trees, Plants and sod
Landscaping is not complete without some greenery and the natural beauty that plants, flowers and trees can provide. You will need to consider the vast options available or work with professionals to ensure the right selection is made.
It is important to note that plants and trees can be surprisingly costly, so be sure to budget accordingly. When making selections, it is important to select plants and greenery that are compatible for the level of sunlight and moisture that your yard gets throughout the year.
- Sod: This is one area of greenery where you can decide between artificial and natural. Artificial sod is growing in popularity as they have come a long way when it comes to aesthetics and are a great, low to zero maintenance, evergreen option.
While it is not something that is top of mind, drainage is an integral consideration for your landscape redesign. Your options will include:
- Hardscaping base material
- Linear drains
- Catch basins or French drains.
- Sump pumps
- Landscaping or filter cloth
Step 4: Get the ball rolling on your landscape project
Excited to get started? So are we. Grand Building and Contracting would be happy to work with you to help turn your dreamscape into reality. We are a full service design/build firm and can help you with your landscape project from start to finish.
Check out our past projects for some additional design and build inspiration: