5 DIY Backyard Renovations on a Budget

Transform a difficult backyard with the right materials and some sweat equity.

U.S. News & World Report

5 DIY Backyard Renovations on a Budget

An herb garden provides both visual appeal and ingredients for healthy food dishes.(Getty Images)

While you may love the idea of updating your patio to embrace your outdoor living space, it's clear that the backyard needs a bit more work than outdoor furniture can fix.

Spending on home improvement has increased by as much as 17% in the last year, according to the 2019 HomeAdvisor State of Home Spending report. Costs are generally rising for both labor and materials, but if your budget doesn’t allow for spending even more on home improvement, you may want to look at which do-it-yourself projects fit with your skill set and schedule.

“In terms of the overall cost of anything, the labor is still overwhelmingly the most expensive part,” says Mischa Fisher, chief economist for ANGI Homeservices, a digital marketplace for homeowners to connect with home service professionals, of which HomeAdvisor is a subsidiary.

An outdoor DIY project may seem easier than trying to remodel a room inside, but don’t forget that you should always use materials that won’t deteriorate when they’re exposed to the elements. While a DIY project may save you from having to pay for professional labor, renovating your backyard is not the time to scrimp on the right wood, hardware or plastics.

“Don’t look at DIY as something that’s going to be a minimal project with minimal materials cost,” says Chip Wade, a master carpenter best known for his roles on HGTV shows like “Ellen’s Design Challenge” and “Curb Appeal: The Block,” and a consultant for Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Even when cutting out labor costs, completing home improvement projects is becoming more expensive. Especially if you’re hoping to renovate your backyard in a way that will increase its appeal to future buyers, expect to spend more than you may have planned. Read on for DIY projects that can revamp your backyard – and what it costs to complete them.

Here are five ways you can renovate your backyard with a DIY project:

  • Pavers or stone pathway.
  • Raised herb garden.
  • Private patio area.
  • New landscape.
  • Spa space.

Pavers or Stone Pathway

Break up large portions of grass and connect different seating areas by creating a pathway. Especially in the backyard, there’s no need to pour concrete and build a permanent walkway when paving stones and bricks do the job with far less effort and cost.

But there is some work involved. To properly secure paving stones, some digging is required so each stone is partially beneath the surface, and you may even need to add a base layer of sand to help even out the surface. If you have an irrigation system in your yard, be careful not to puncture any hose lines, and you'll want to call 811, the universal phone number for homeowners to request buried utility lines, if you plan to dig more than a couple inches beneath the surface.

How much will it cost? Your bottom line depends on the size, style and material of paving stone you prefer, as well as how big the walkway is. Prices range from $1.58 per stone to more than $15 per stone. Sand is fairly cheap, costing less than $3.50 for a 50-pound bag at Lowe's.

Raised Herb Garden

An herb garden adds visual appeal to your backyard, not to mention the herbs, fruits and vegetables it can potentially yield to save you money and help you eat healthier.

Building raised garden beds may require more woodworking than you're used to, but ultimately it's a fairly simple project that consists of proper measuring and leveling, cutting wood and nailing or screwing boards.

How much will it cost? Some garden experts express concerns about pressure-treated wood for a garden bed because chemicals may be able to leach into the soil. Cedar wood is more expensive, but it has natural oils to prevent rot and ensure it will last years. A 2-inch by 6-inch by 8-foot Western Red Cedar board costs $17.72 at Home Depot, as of late June.

Private Patio Area

If you’ve been trying to spruce up your patio area for a while but can’t achieve the look you want with decor, consider adding a partial wall that can help distinguish one sitting space from another, as well as provide some additional shade for part of the day.

Wood pallets can be bought or even salvaged, and you’ll want to find a couple that measure at least a few feet on each side to be able to build a wall with enough height and depth for privacy. You’ll also need additional pieces of wood – measuring the full height of the planned wall to secure the pallets, plus some shorter pieces to serve as feet and add stability.

How much will it cost? You could get wood pallets for free from a store or company that uses them for shipping, or even online through Craigslist or a local flea market, though they’re popular and you may find them hard to come by. Uline sells pallets in various sizes and groupings, including a minimum of five 48-by-48-inch pallets, at $30 per pallet for a total of $150.

New Landscape

Whether you live on a hill, on uneven ground or next to a stream that collects neighborhood runoff, the slope of your backyard may cause you more problems than you expected when you moved in. If an incline toward your house is causing flooding in your basement, or you’re simply seeing puddles remain for longer than they should, you may need to do some work to help the water drain properly – and ensure it drains away from your house.

Grading your yard is a labor-intensive process – especially because you may need to use heavy machinery like a digger or dump truck. To get it right, you may want to consider hiring a professional, at least for part of the project. Wade recommends looking at what parts of a larger project are best done by the pros and what parts you are capable of doing yourself. “Every professional project – or even a DIY project – is a hybrid,” he says.

How much will it cost? Leveling your lawn can cost anywhere from $400 to more than $5,000, depending on the severity of the slope, according to HomeAdvisor. If your yard work requires new dirt, expect to pay between $8 and $15 per cubic yard, though you may be able to find free dirt on a site like Craigslist or Nextdoor from neighbors who are doing a project that requires getting rid of excess dirt. All these costs come before resodding and landscaping the space again.

Spa Space

If you don’t already have a pool or hot tub in your backyard, trying to create an outdoor spa space may be more costly – or not work at all – but for yards with an existing water feature, it can provide an added level of elegance.

If you already have a pool or hot tub, your DIY project can be focused on creating a space that looks cozier and encourages relaxing not just in the water, but around it as well. Erect a pergola over the hot tub or portion of the pool for added shade. This is something you can even build yourself, although keep in mind that you’ll either need to bury corner posts or otherwise anchor them to the ground.

Another option to increase the usability of your backyard spa area is an outdoor shower – especially if you have frequent guests who use your pool. The construction of a shower stall can be simple enough, though you may want to enlist the help of a professional for the water hookup and proper draining.

How much will it cost? HomeAdvisor notes that using the proper wood is an important aspect of having a pergola that will last a long time. The home improvement information company estimates the cost of cedar wood for a pergola is around $3,000. Houzz reports that a hot-and-cold water hookup outside will likely be less than $1,000, excluding the materials selected to build out the space.

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