Evaluate Your Yard for a Patio

Evaluate your yard for a patio by understanding costs, the shape of your property, and variables such as sun and shade.

If you love the great outdoors, you’re not alone. Outdoor living is one of the fastest-growing segments of the remodeling market. In fact, the entire “outdoor leisure lifestyle” industry is now a $6.2 billion business--up 5.4% since 2002, according to statistics from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.

One reason that outdoor living is so popular is that it expands living area at minimal cost. Leading the way to this low-cost pursuit of leisure is the patio. With new home construction costs averaging $95 per square foot, and decks coming in around $33 per square foot, an all-brick patio averages only about $15 per square foot.

In addition to helping expand usable square footage, patios add to the salability and curb appeal of your property, according to the American Society of Landscape Professionals. An attractive and functional landscape that complements the home and adds function increases value, too.

Mack Strickland of Strickland Appraisal Services, Inc., in Chester, Va., pegs patio recovery costs at anywhere from 30% to 60%, depending on the region of the country and material choices. “In general, the less elaborate and costly the improvement, the better your return on investment,” he says.

A $2,000 investment in a 12-by-12 foot brick patio, therefore, might roughly return an average of $900 at resale.

Here’s how to assess whether a patio makes economic and functional sense for your yard.

Study Your Lot

Get to know the characteristics of your yard. Watch patterns of light throughout the day to determine patio sites best suited for most shade, sun, or a combination of both. Also consider convenient access to the house, especially from the kitchen or family room, for seamless entertaining and maximum usage.

Evaluate locations that offer privacy from neighbors. Also, determine a realistic size for a patio. Estimate the number of people you typically entertain and make sure there is enough space for them to maneuver.

Envision furniture and other future amenities, such as grills and service bars. Be careful not to skimp. A 12x12-foot patio should be roomy enough for a dining table and chairs for six people, with plenty of room for a 42-inch wide grill, according to David McCullough, a landscape architect in San Diego.

Lastly, consider your lot’s grade and how best to deal with any slope issues. Sometimes adding steps leading to a flatter, lower level is a less expensive alternative than re-grading or adding fill. Building two smaller patios rather than one larger expanse can keep costs for contouring your yard to a minimum.

Related: Patio Shade Ideas Under $300

Check Neighborhood Restrictions and Permits

Become familiar with current setback requirements, zoning concerns, neighborhood covenants, homeowner association CC&R’s (codes, covenants, and restrictions), and local building regulations and permits. These are available by visiting your city’s local planning department or website.

“When evaluating your yard, take into account any possible obstructions,” notes Chris Fenmore, principal with Southern California-based Garden Studio Landscape Design. “This may include existing or old irrigation or drainage lines, or live electrical, gas, and sewer lines. If needing to navigate over these, it's important to hire a professional.

“Also, before starting construction, enlist your local (free of charge) ‘dig alert’ agency that will mark important underground utility lines,” stresses Fenmore. In some locales, “call before you dig” telephone numbers are listed at the beginning of the phone directory. In most U.S. regions, you can begin the process by calling the national underground utility hotline at 8-1-1.

Determine Your Budget

Expect to pay $1,500 to $2,500 for a professionally installed, 12x12-foot concrete patio. This includes removal of obstructions, such as shrubs and old walkways, miscellaneous cleanup costs, and the cost of the concrete and installation at $8 to $12 per square foot. To add stone or brick, figure a total of $15 to $20 per square foot.

“While demolition costs may differ slightly depending on the lot, there is always some form of removal that takes place, whether it be an existing patio, obstructions on the land, or just leveling of an area for a flat surface,” says Fenmore.

Because 40% to 60% of the cost of a professionally installed patio is labor, do-it-yourself homeowners can expect to save hundreds of dollars, depending on materials. You'll realize substantial savings even after paying $300 to $500 for a dumpster that holds roughly 10 yards of debris.


Andrea Nordstrom Caughey

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey has been writing about home and garden stories for more than 20 years. Her specialty is outdoor living topics. A Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism graduate, Andrea lives in a coastal cottage.