Patios serve as an organized space that combines the best of the outside with the comforts found in homes. They can be something as simple, like a few square feet of bricks set with a small table and chairs, or they can be rambling constructions with pools, walkways, gardens and a host of amenities to rival the best living room.
Patios come in a bewildering range of styles and costs, and renovating an existing space or creating an entirely new one can mean a large layout of cash. Or does it? Like redecorating any living space, a homeowner or renter can save money by being creative and ambitious, rather than throwing money at the challenge.
We've got five ideas that could save you money, and maybe even expand your creative vistas.
Use Salvaged and Natural Material for Pavers
Hitting construction sites and local construction projects can be a gold mine for some natural stone. Approach the foreman of the site and ask for permission to harvest a small amount of stone for your patio. Have firm numbers in hand and be willing to be flexible on when you can pick it up, and how much you can get; generally, this means at their convenience, and how much they want to give.
At the same, time pick up a stone chisel, hammer, safety glasses and gloves. The gloves, hammer and chisel can be pre-owned, but always buy new safety glasses, and always keep them on when you're working. Make a trip to the library or search the Internet to learn the basics of dressing stone. The addition of a brick chisel will allow you to cut bricks to size.
Natural stone can be used to reduce the amount of salvaged bricks and pavers you need. If you cruise the want ads, be ready to move at a moment's notice, so have a truck, gloves, safety glasses and free time handy.
Diligent work over the span of a few weeks can net a surprising amount of material. Pile the material as close to the site as you can and organize into types, something like a hardscape palette. Keep a loose tally of the surface area the piles could cover. The next step is to make a paper layout of what the patio surface will look like -- and then it's time to get to work.
Make a Mosaic
Mosaic tiling remains a popular form of decoration, and has sustained its popularity through more than 2,000 years of history. At its simplest, mosaics are pieces of colorful glass, tile, ceramics and even curios, arranged in a pattern and set in plaster or cement, horizontally or vertically. The process is simple and straightforward, needing only materials, time, patience and planning.
While many companies sell mosaic tiles in a wide range of colors and textures, the simplest source is thrift shop ceramics. Browse through their selection and choose the flattest plates and servers you can in a wide variety of colors, designs and textures. Use online and book photos for inspiration.
Once the materials are sourced -- get about half as much as you think necessary -- use your hammer to break them into smaller pieces somewhere between and inch and two inches. Before smashing place the piece in a stout plastic bag to keep shrapnel at a minimum, and remember: Wear safety glasses and gloves.
Once the pieces are collected and smashed to size, bring them out to the patio and the space where you want to create the mosaic. First, do a dry layout until the design is to your liking, and then snap a photo for future reference.
Pour out your concrete and let it set until it's a little thick (but not dry). Set your mosaic pieces in the concrete, trying to keep everything as level as possible.
If your mosaic is larger than you can comfortably reach across, it may be worth your time to make it in sections. If you used a mold for concrete pavers, simply make more pavers at your leisure, each bearing a part of the design. When they're in place, set the pavers in the patio.
Soften the Hardscape with Plants
Plants are an excellent and inexpensive addition to any patio. The hardest part is figuring out what you want to add. You could go with a flower selection, vegetables, plants that will attract butterflies or birds, exotic additions, or even just a section of grass amidst the pavers for the dog to roll in.
Again, before making any additions to the patio, plan what type of plants you want and where you want them to go. Also, spend time watching the sun track across the patio, and consider the amount of light and shade it gets. Why would you want to see sunshine plants in the shade? Also, take into consideration how you'll maintain and water the plants. Is there a spigot nearby, or will you have to walk the water to the plants? Can you plant directly in the soil, or do you need containers? If so, how much soil will you need? How will you get this? Where will you store the fertilizer, watering cans and small tools?
Once these questions are answered, you can start looking for containers. Thrift shops are good locations, as well as Internet want ads and yard sales. Don't pass up the odd, either. Maybe that old baby buggy would look good with a few potted plants nestled inside. An old, metal baker's rack can be set in a corner, and you might fill the shelves with plants and maybe some tacky knick-knacks.
Light the Night
Your patio can take a entirely different dimension after the sun sets, and adding lighting can enhance the experience. While custom-created and installed systems are available, it's just as easy, and less expensive, to create your own.
One of the best ways is to purchase old strings of white and colored Christmas lights, specifically the ones with the tiny bulbs. String these through trees, in plantings, even around the patio itself. The strings can be dressed up in a number of ways. Many people use small plastic bottles as covers for the lights. The lights are inserted through the bottle's mouth, and floral tape is used to hold the assembly together. The bottles can be cut in a design, and markers used to add color and visual texture.
Another way to light the night is with a fire bowl. Check if you need a permit to use one first. Also check the area above and around where the bowl will go -- you don't want errant sparks setting off a fire. A cheap fire bowl can be made by removing the legs from an old charcoal grill and setting this firmly on a set of stone or bricks. They can also be made from old steel restaurant mixing bowls or the drums from large truck brakes. Look around for anything that can take the heat from the fire without melting or igniting.
Make the Patio Your Own
A patio is, first and foremost, and extension of the home. Therefore, try and make it as homey as possible by giving it your personal stamp.
- Select good furniture that can withstand the elements. Yard sales typically have outdoor furniture at inexpensive prices that need only a sprucing-up to be serviceable.
- Add color when you can.
- Leave a section of the patio open for chalk art if you have kids, or mount a section of plywood nearby on a fence or wall, and paint it with chalkboard paint as an impromptu art area
- Use empty picture frames hung from branches, or on posts, to "frame" a particular plant or view.
- Add a wind chime made from something you're interested in. If you cook, for example, make it from old kitchen utensils and hammered-flat flatware.
- Make a garden hose fountain with plantings around it.
- Hide surprises in the area, like ceramic frogs picked up for cheap, older Christmas ornament hung from trees, or a garden gnome hidden in the bushes.
The general idea is to make your patio space your own. This is, hopefully, a place you'll use for most of the year, and it should be comfortable for you, your family and your friends.
Patios may take a lot of work, but they don't have to be expensive. Take the time to make them right, and they'll last a lifetime.
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- Sangwin, Chris and Chris Budd. "Analemmatic Sundials: How to build one and why they work;" Plus Magazine: June 2001. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://plus.maths.org/content/os/issue11/features/sundials/index
- Sonderegger, Helmut. (Oct. 22, 2011) http://web.utanet.at/sondereh/sun.htm