The best time to start planning your outdoor living projects

Articles & Interest

Across the country as we get into the longest stretch of winter, it might seem like an odd time to start thinking about your outdoor living projects for next summer. But by taking care of the design, planning, and logistics now, you’ll be able to enjoy your new outdoor space as soon as possible when the weather warms up.

Project planning

“Most people don’t realize the significant amount of planning and preparation that goes into creating outdoor living spaces,” says Paul Ritchie, sales and marketing manager for Ultimate Homes & Renovations in Calgary, a company that was a two-time finalist in the 2020 CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence in the Exteriors category. “If you wait until spring to get started, your project won’t be done until the fall.”

Step one is to get some estimates for the work you want done. To do your due diligence, you should get at least three quotes for the project, ideally from a list of reputable Renomark contractors in your area who are committed to a Code of Conduct for superior service.

Once you’ve settled on the contractor you’re going to use, there are a number of planning and logistical steps that can be taken care of during the mid-winter freeze. For starters, you’ll want to finalize the scope and design of your new space so that your contractor can get started on the project plans.

Is the project a relatively simple deck or patio? Or are you looking for a fully functioning outdoor living space complete with hot and cold running water, a mini fridge, a retractable TV screen, an outdoor fireplace, and more? All these added features will, of course, impact the total budget, but will also impact the timeline before shovels can break ground.

Outdoor Gazebo by RenoMark Member Ultimate Renovations in Calgary

This outdoor retreat by RenoMark member Ultimate Homes & Renovations maximizes the space in an inner-city Calgary backyard.

Your project may also need a building permit if, for example, it incorporates a deck that is more than two feet above grade. You’ll need finalized blueprints to submit with your permit application. The application process itself can take weeks or even months to complete, particularly if you need to get approval for “minor variances” from the municipality first.

Depending on the size of your lot your outdoor living space may encroach on zoning setbacks – the distance a project is from the property lines. In order to get exemptions (the minor variances) for those you’ll need to make a presentation to the municipality, and hope that no neighbours show up to the hearing to object to your proposed project. (Forward-thinking homeowners can avoid unexpected surprises at these hearings by going door-to-door to notify neighbours ahead of time about the scope and purpose of the project.) These minor variances must be approved before the building department will issue a building permit. “That [process] alone can take up to three months,” says Ritchie.

Once the permit is approved, you can select the finishing materials, and start ordering those along with the fixtures (lights, appliances, patio heaters, etc.) that you’ll be incorporating in the project so that everything is on hand when the crew is ready to start your project.

COVID Chronicles

COVID-19 has impacted virtually everything in our lives, including how and where we spend our time. “Outdoor living spaces have become hugely popular” in the wake of the pandemic, says Ritchie. With various municipalities across the country limiting or prohibiting indoor gatherings with anyone outside of the household, outdoor spaces where friends and family can gather socially distanced have been increasingly coveted.

“After an outdoor living project is completed I’ve had clients tell me, ‘We still feel like we can entertain,'” says Ritchie. That extra demand will mean quality contractors will be booked earlier than normal.

With lumber mills shutdown for part of the year and a surge in demand for outdoor living projects, certain building materials were in short supply in 2020, most notably pressure-treated lumber. So, again, the sooner you can get your orders in, the better.

Exterior and Porch Renovation by Allenbrook Homes in Calgary Alberta
The front of your home can also offer additional living space, like this front porch by RenoMark member Allenbrook Homes.

You should also factor in that with many showrooms shutdown and home shows postponed or forced to go virtual, you’ll need to budget extra time to source your project materials.

Finally, outdoor living spaces, particularly those with kitchens, can be somewhat complicated to complete. “There are a lot of moving parts,” says Ritchie. These projects often require running wiring, plumbing, and gas lines for the various fixtures. With COVID-protocols in place, each specialized trade will be required to come in on separate occasions.

Which all adds up to the sooner you have everything lined up, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy your outdoor space next space.

Looking for a RenoMark renovator in your area? Find the list here.