Prior to a recent makeover, Eric Schrumpf says the space behind his Big Ridge home "was the most hideous yard you've ever seen."
So Schrumpf contracted Barrett Fischer Landscape Co. Inc. to create an outdoor living space in the area and today he says his family spends as much time as they can in the formerly unused space.
"We literally were never out there," Schrumpf says. "Now, we are out there every day."
One of the biggest trends in housing is creating outdoor living spaces. According to Professional Builder magazine and the American Institute of Architects, requests for outdoor living space increased by 46 and 56 percent in 2010 and 2011.
Prior to 2008, General Shale, which has more than 50 stores nationwide, including one in Chattanooga, sold mostly brick and block for new construction. Today, about 15 to 20 percent of its business involves outdoor living kits such as pizza ovens, fire pits, fireplaces and water features, says Justin Greaser, a General Shale district sales manager in Chattanooga. The company also sells block for building retaining walls and brick and concrete veneer pieces used in landscaping.
He says the economic downturn in the last five years has caused home values to drop, so more homeowners are choosing to stay where they are. But to do that, many want to improve what they have, and they want to be outside.
"The economic downturn did two things," Greaser says. "It has made people less inclined to sell, and those that are buying are underbuying, which is the opposite trend of 10 or 15 years ago, where people were overbuying and getting too much house."
In Schrumpf's yard, Barrett Fischer Landscape removed trees, leveled some areas, brought in 30 tons of gravel and some AstroTurf for a play area. A 1,000-square-foot deck and another 600-square-foot stone-paver patio also were built and a fire pit and a water feature were installed.
Schrumpf declines to say how much he spent on the project.
Fischer says more and more of his business these days involves creating outdoor living spaces for people. The options include not only the requisite grill, but pizza ovens, ice makers, refrigerators, sinks, fireplaces and fire pits. Manufacturers have jumped on the trend and now many of those items can be purchased as a kit.
Some of the kits sold by General Shale can be put together by do-it-yourselfers, while others require a professional contractor. The DIY kits come with everything you might need except the sand and gravel used for the foundation, which his company has in stock, Greaser says.
"If you have a shovel, a tape measure and a level, you can create the foundation and put together a fireplace," Greaser says. "It will usually take longer to dig out the foundation than to build the kit. One person can put them together in most cases, and they are a weekend project."
The fireplace kits start at $600 and can go up to $3,500, he says.
Greaser says he recently build one in his own backyard and, like the Schrumpfs, his family now uses the space all the time.
"We are naturally spending more time outside and doing things together," he says.
Fischer says hiring a contractor is advisable for larger projects, especially those that involve moving large amounts of earth or irrigation issues.
"Every house is different and you can have gas line issues or power lines, septic issues and even access can be a problem," he says.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6345.