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Bringing the Great Outdoors to Homeowners’ Doorsteps


Bringing the outdoors to homeowners’ doorsteps

Those of us lucky enough to call Colorado home have plenty to be grateful for: nice weather, beautiful views and no lack of opportunities for outdoor adventures. It’s no surprise that many Colorado homeowners want to bring the great outdoors right up to their doorstep.

The “2017 Houzz Landscape Trends Study” found that almost 70% of homeowners use their outdoor space for relaxing. In warm months, they spend almost seven hours a week relaxing outside, and even in cold months, they use their space for nearly two and a half hours a week.

“We’re a very outdoor-oriented state, but a lot of people, especially people with those south- and west-facing views, just can’t use their project 90% of the time,” according to Andy Hashman, lead designer in the Boulder office of Mosaic Outdoor Living and Colorado Custom Decks.

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A lot of people in Colorado may have a beautiful view, Hashman said, but “with the elements here, you walk outside and if it’s summer, it’s too hot. If it’s winter, it’s too cold, or the wind is blowing 50 miles per hour.”

Mosaic focuses on design and construction of structural, patio and hardscaping projects. Some of those projects can be seen in the television show “Mega Decks” on HGTV’s DIY Network.

Mosaic’s projects are designed to be used 365 days a year, Hashman said. Features that protect homeowners from the sun and wind while they enjoy their outdoor living areas are the biggest requests Mosaic gets, he said. “We can do that through a variety of things: pergolas, beams with shades, roof covers.”

A privacy wall or wind wall can help keep grill covers and patio furniture from blowing around in the wind, he said. For clients with a beautiful view, for which they no doubt paid a pretty penny, frameless glass walls can help shield them from the wind without sacrificing the view.

Wendy Booth, founder and president of Ivy Street Design, noted that protection from the heat and sun are increasingly popular. Ivy Street Design is a landscape architecture firm based in Denver.

“Whether or not you believe in climate change, we’ve had increasingly warm weather in Colorado,” she said. Mean annual temperatures in Colorado have increased by over 4 degrees over the past 50 years, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

In addition to fireplaces and heaters, Booth’s team is installing misters and sun protection so that homeowners can use their outdoor living areas all year long.

Connecting with nature

Consumers increasingly want to be able to stay plugged in when they’re outside, as research shows increased demand for high-tech design elements in outdoor living spaces.

A March 2017 survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects found that wireless access and internet connectivity are among the most popular outdoor elements, topped only by fire pits and fireplaces.

ASLA noted this is the first time that wireless features have rated among the top 10 most popular elements of outdoor design.

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“The fact that more consumers want outdoor wireless access shows that they want expanded options for remaining connected to their devices,” Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, said in a statement.

In addition to wanting to stay connected, consumers are more interested in outdoor stereo systems and televisions or movie systems. Over 45% of landscape architects rated stereo systems among the most popular outdoor design elements in ASLA’s survey, and nearly 44% included outdoor televisions and movie systems.

“With Colorado’s mild weather, and just the outdoor mentality here, … people want to sit around a fire pit on a cool evening and have the Bronco game on,” Dusty Gorski, senior outside sales consultant for ListenUp, noted.

ListenUp is a Denver-based audio-video company, with multiple locations in Colorado and New Mexico. The firm’s technicians are experts in network control and wireless application protocols, and can integrate a homeowner’s entire lighting, security and entertainment systems to be controlled by a phone or tablet.

Begin wireless planning early

While wireless connectivity is clearly important to homeowners, Gorski pointed out that “wireless doesn’t work unless you have a fair amount of wiring in a house.”

Planning for wireless needs in the home should start early, Gorski said. “We come in typically right after the electrician, but I love to get involved with any projects during the blueprint stage.”

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By working with the builder and client at this early stage, Gorski can get more insight about how the finished system will fit into the client’s lifestyle, and make sure that the systems he installs will integrate cosmetically into builders’ and landscapers’ finished projects.

That means asking some “silly questions that builders might not think are important, like do [the homeowners] grill outside a lot? Are they outdoor people?” Homeowners who love the Colorado lifestyle and want to spend every night in their outdoor kitchen will have different needs from those who barbecue once or twice a year.

Even if a client wants speakers and a television outside, that doesn’t mean that everything will be outside. Gorski needs somewhere to store the amplifiers and cable boxes that power and control outdoor equipment, and to provide ventilation for those tools.

By partnering early with a homeowner’s other contractors, like landscapers and smart home professionals, builders can make sure those needs aren’t overlooked.

Gorski sometimes comes into a project as a “sub-sub-contractor,” he said. “We’ve really come together with the landscape companies that will reach out to us early on to get a bid to include as an option when they’re working with a builder.”

Built for the long term

Regardless of the size and scope of a project, the primary goal is a happy homeowner.

“Being able to determine a form for the space that is functional is the first step in doing a good job,” Ivy Street’s Booth said. She compares a functional space to a team, where each element of the design serves a purpose.

“A design is like a team, and every component on that team has a job to do,” she said. “The fireplace has a job to do; the kitchen has a job to do in creating a cohesive whole.”

One skill that distinguishes an experienced designer is his or her ability to address grade changes, she said.

“How to use steps and walls to respond to the existing conditions on the site and enhance the value of the outdoor living space – that’s often overlooked by novice designers.”

Mosaic’s Hashman said that his goal when designing a project is to build something that homeowners won’t need to call him to come out and fix.

“I want to build a project, and I don’t want to hear from them again until they want to add an outdoor kitchen or a pergola,” he said. “I want them to 20 years from now pretty much have the same project that they do today.”

Materials matter

On decks, Hashman’s team uses a proprietary steel frame system called Forever Frame. “We came up with it about 10 years ago. We put together a bunch of different steel products and engineered a system,” he explained, noting that Mosaic offers a lifetime warranty on the Forever Frame system, he said.

Most builders use treated wood under composite deck board, he said, which can lead to wavy decks when wet wood starts to shift and buckle.

Hashman also favors wrought iron railing over composite, despite the extra expense, because “you can get any look you want, and once it’s powder coated, you can get 20 years out of it.”

Booth said that classic materials like stone and brick are still popular hardscape materials, but she’s seeing growing interest in porcelain tile as the “hot, new product.”

“There is a wide range of porcelain tile products that are outdoor-rated, which are pretty popular right now,” she said. The options for concrete products are getting better as well.

Something she’s not seeing much of anymore are large water installations. “In the ’80s, ’90s, early 2000s, giant waterfall features were popular. Those seem to be less popular as people have become more eco-conscious.”

Booth acknowledged that while she’s not a real estate expert, she hears anecdotal evidence, at least, that well-designed outdoor living spaces add to the value of the home.

“Backyard [and] outdoor living is a popular feature, and we definitely hear back from our clients, ‘It was that cool outdoor living space that helped us sell our house,’” she noted.

Hashman has heard similar feedback. A well-designed outdoor living space gives a homeowner “very unique square footage compared to anyone in your neighborhood,” he pointed out. “At the end of the day, that’s what sells a lot of these houses.”


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