8 Tips for a Successful DIY Backyard Renovation

8 Tips for a Successful DIY Backyard Renovation

When we first bought our home, we were destined to do a backyard renovation. The backyard had a funky layout–a concrete slab was coming off the back of the house. Which was too small to safely use as a seating area but too big to functionally use the rest of the yard.

For a traditional American home, our backyard is tiny. For a southern California backyard, we are fortunate. It opens from our main living space, provides our family with quick and private access to the outdoors, and, while small, is still functional. 

So last summer, we looked into renovating the backyard to make it functional for our family. We knew we needed to expand that concrete patio, so we contacted local professional companies. After receiving numerous quotes over $15K, we started researching how to get things done ourselves. Thankfully, we have a dear family friend who is extremely handy and always willing to help with a project. 

After weeks of hard work by my husband and our wonderful family friend, we had a functional and beautiful backyard space. They expanded our deck and put in artificial turf. I found some great pieces of furniture for us all to use and toys for the boys to enjoy.

I am so thankful for the work put into this backyard, which saved us so much money. While renovating our backyard was hard work, we are proud of the progress. But we learned some lessons that I would love to share with you. Here are some tips for you if you’re considering renovating your backyard.

landscape designs for a backyard renovation

Plan your design

Before you start getting quotes or begin your DIY renovation, take some time to plan out your strategy. Consider the size and shape of your backyard and any existing features such as trees, flower beds, or patios. What features are important to you? Planning things out can save time and money in the long run. If the turnaround time for furniture is longer than expected, you can focus on a different yard area.

We drew out our backyard and played around with a different scenarios to see what fit best. I put a large piece of paper on our wall, and we wrote down any idea that came to our heads, no matter how crazy it seemed. A hot tub, in-ground pool, succulent wall, play table, and a giant connect four game were just a few things that made the list. Even if we didn’t do everything on our list, we at least got all of our ideas out of our heads and onto paper. After letting these ideas marinate for a few weeks, we knew we were ready to move ahead with the renovation.

person typing into calculator and writing down notes

Create a budget

Renovating a backyard can be costly, so creating and sticking to a budget is crucial. Consider what features are most important to you and allocate your budget accordingly. We made our budget before consulting professional companies. So, it was very easy for us to choose the DIY route because there was no way we were paying $20k for an extended concrete patio and some turf. We did this renovation on our own for less than $5k. We saved over $15k by DIYing our backyard. Did it take more time? Absolutely. Was it worth the savings? You bet!

Another thing to consider is materials. Since we did a DIY patio extension, we chose a material different from concrete because the cost of concrete in our area was insane. We also felt like we needed more confidence to do DIY concrete work. Instead of wood or concrete, we used composite deck boards to expand our patio. It looks like wood but is more durable and requires less maintenance.

We put a large rug over the area where the concrete and deck composite meet and you can’t tell that two different types of material are used.

composite deck with railing next to a driveway and grassy lawn for backyard renovation

Choose low-maintenance materials

When selecting materials for your backyard renovation, consider choosing low-maintenance options such as composite decking, stone pavers, or artificial turf. Our backyard gets some harsh sunlight during the summer, making it challenging to maintain natural grass. So, we opted to put in turf to cut down on maintenance and water usage. It is so liberating to let the boys place in the backyard without worrying about them getting mud all over the furniture or trekking it into the house.

As I stated before, our decking material was much cheaper and easier to install than concrete. And much more durable than natural wood. We don’t have to worry about weathering issues that a natural wood patio would face. The turf and decking material was costly upfront. Still, the durability and low maintenance will save us time and money in the long run.

string lights on a fence

Incorporate Lighting

Outdoor lighting can enhance the beauty and functionality of your backyard. Add string lights, spotlights, or lanterns to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. We added string lights around the yard’s perimeter and spotlights at the base of the trees. And we’re currently working on a plan to put string lights across the yard. In the evenings, the lighting is relaxing but allows the space to be functional when the sun goes down.

Our new lighting cost us a few hundred dollars, but it looks like we spent thousands. Do you know how a new paint color can really enhance a room inside your home? Lighting is the equivalent of your outdoor space. A few lights here and there can give an outdoor space a beautiful facelift.

rectangle pond surrounded by plants and a concrete walkway

Add water features

    A water feature such as a fountain or pond can create a peaceful backyard ambiance. Just be sure to consider the maintenance requirements before installing.

    We have yet to add any water feature, but it’s on our list of things to do. We are still looking for the perfect relaxing piece that can be protected from the boys playing around. If you have any recommendations, send them my way.

    back patio with couch, overlooking pool and lawn

    Create different zones

    Consider creating different zones within your backyard, such as a dining area, a lounging area, and a play area for kids or pets. These zones make the space more functional and enjoyable for everyone.

    Half of our yard is turf, where the boys can play, wrestle, and enjoy. The other half is the patio where we can sit on the sectional, the boys can do an activity at the table, or we can grill out.

    Creating these two separate zones makes the space functional and clean.

    backyard with plants and flowers and paver walkway

    Choose plants wisely

    When selecting plants for your backyard, consider the amount of sunlight and water they require and their maintenance needs. Choose plants that are well-suited for your climate and thrive in your backyard.

    Whoever originally planted plants in our backyard gave little thought to the landscape. Many of the original plants in our yard cannot survive well because of the hard sunlight.

    I recommend you be picky about plants because they may require some maintenance and can be costly. We are STILL picking plants for our backyard. We’ve kept about 50% of what was originally planted because those plants have been thriving. Other plants were sick, not thriving, and did not work well in our backyard. We’ve been visiting local nurseries to find plants that we like but will also thrive in our yard.

    Create a space that is functional for your family

    Whether you want to create a peaceful getaway in your backyard, a playground for your kids to explore, or somewhere in between. Choose furniture, landscape design, and details that work for your family.

    Our space needed to be relaxing for my husband and me and entertaining for our kiddos. Our focus was comfy, modern furniture for us and games for the kids. I wanted a space where I could hang out while keeping an eye on the boys. But also gave them the independence to explore, play, and grow. Check out this list of outdoor items we’ve used for our space.

    Remember that renovating a backyard can be a big project, so take your time, do your research, and enjoy the process. Whether you hire someone to renovate your backyard or do it yourself, remember that your final vision will come together piece by piece. You will probably change your mind about a dozen things as you work through the process, but remember, have fun with it all.

    26 thoughts on “8 Tips for a Successful DIY Backyard Renovation”

    • We’ve been thinking about overhauling our garden but struggling with where to start. These tips are amazing and just what I needed to get me started with creating our perfect garden. Thank you!

      • It can feel so overwhelming, but you’ve got this! Start with your list and go from there.

    • Thank you for sharing your valuable tips for a successful DIY backyard renovation. Your tips will undoubtedly help me as i am looking to renovate my backyard. The ideas of planning out a design, creating a budget, choosing low-maintenance materials, incorporating lighting, and adding water features are especially helpful. Your experience in saving money by DIYing the backyard renovation and using composite deck boards instead of concrete is inspiring.

    • Wow, I really enjoyed reading your article on DIY backyard renovation! The tips you provided were practical and easy to follow, and the pictures you included were inspiring. I can’t wait to start my own project now!

    • There are a lot of gorgeous ideas here. My backyard could use some updating! I will keep all of these tips in mind.

    • Great tips. I really enjoy designing layouts and it is so good if you can keep to a low budget for your garden and do the work yourselves. It is so satisfying!

    • Ahh I cannot wait for summer. We’ve already started on our spring cleaning..it’s so nice to get outdoors again and be able to enjoy the yard. Great tips for a little diy!

    • This is what I need when I want to renovate my backyard but have no idea where to start. These are pro tips for thrifty, smart yard renovations. Thank you

      • Start with a list and it will get the ball rolling. We sat with our list for quite a while before taking action. You’ve got this!

    • Ive always wanted to renovate my yard and host some parties. I dream of an elaborate built-in barbecue, but maybe my budget can’t accommodate it 🙁 DO you have any tips?

      • We would love a built-in-BBQ too, but it just won’t work for us. We’ve used our grill and set up a little spot for eating outside which has made a big difference.

    • Yeah, budget is the first thing to consider when you want to renovate your backyard. These are some cheap options.

    • We were so busy last summer, I neglected my backyard. I would love to do a little overhaul like this! Definitely using some of these ideas.

    • It’s that time of year again – time to do our garden! We are actually planning this year, and had completely overlooked lighting! Thank you so much for this article, it’s so helpful in renovating our backyard for the summer!

      • Lighting makes all the difference at dusk and into the evening. Share with me what you choose to do, I’d love to see it!

    • These are some really useful and doable tips! I’m working on improving my backyard this year, despite a small budget, have quite a few things planned – and having a plan really helps

      Laura x

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