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General Information

Let’s Get Started
In the quest for more living space, there's one spot we often overlook and that’s outside. What better way to take the heat off interior traffic than to bring the outdoors in, while framing dramatic views? Your outdoor room might be classic and formal or fluid and naturalistic. You may be yearning for an inviting entertainment space, a remote private refuge, a restorative spa area, or simply for a flat spot for sunbathing and stargazing. Or maybe you want it all. You needn't settle for that boring slab concrete. Interior design ideas are migrating outdoors and with new shapes, and colours your Patio whether open or enclosed can be a very comfortable addition.

Patios lend an unmatched sense of permanence and tradition to a formal garden or house design. You might choose an open design for a relaxed informal area or the screened or glass enclosed style for a more protected structure. These styles can be design with the standard flat roof or the gable roof that is growing in popularity. Or, why not combine both the flat and gable in one multifaceted design?

And since summer is always just around the corner, isn't now the time to get started?

As fun as it is to daydream about the new outdoor living space you are going to create, careful planning is what will make the dream become reality. To choose the best site, you'll first need to study your property's orientation, its topography (view from the top), and its weather patterns and produce a base map.

Comparing various options in design will help you visualise what you want; our experienced consultants will help with this process.

The path to a comfortable new patio begins right outside your door. We take a look at basic site strategies and consider some important weather factors. Then we show you how to make the best of your properties area.

What are your options?
Many people regard a patio as a simple rectangle off the back door. But why not consider a succession of patios and level changes connected by steps, or a secluded "getaway" deck to make use of an attractive corner of your property? Perhaps you could even reclaim a forsaken side yard. Some of the possibilities are discussed below.

L- AND U-SHAPED SPACES: A house with an L or U shape almost cries out for a patio. Surrounding house walls already form side enclosures; a privacy screen and a decorative structure overhead (such as Shade Blades, Pergola, or even a simple Roof) complete the "outdoor room." Often such a site can be gracefully accessed from several different parts of the house.

WRAP AROUNDS: A flat lot is a natural candidate for a wraparound patio, which enlarges the apparent size of the house while allowing access from any room along its course. If there's a gentle grade, rise above it with a slightly elevated wraparound patio.

DETACHED SITES: Perfect for serving as a quiet retreat, a detached patio can be built on either a flat or a sloping lot and looks very much at home in a casual cottage-garden landscape. Create access to it with a direct walkway or a meandering garden path. A patio roof, privacy screen, or small fountain can make such a space even more enjoyable.

MULTILEVEL PATIOS: A large lot, especially one with changes in elevation, can often accommodate patios on different levels, linked by steps or pathways. Such a scheme works well when your outdoor space must serve many purposes.

ENTRY PATIOS: Paving, plantings, and perhaps a trickling fountain enclosed by a privacy wall can transform an ordinary entry path or front lawn into a private oasis. If local codes prohibit building high solid walls, try using a hedge, arbor, or trellis to let in light and air while screening off the street.

SIDE- YARD SPACES: A neglected side yard may be just the spot for a sheltered outdoor sitting area to brighten and expand a small bedroom or master bath. And what about a container-grown herb garden or sunny breakfast patio off a cramped kitchen, accessed by way of French or sliding doors? If you're subject to fence height restrictions, a patio can be the perfect structure to protect privacy.

INTERIOR COURTYARDS: If you're designing a new home, consider incorporating a private interior patio with light panels. This form of design automatically becomes an enclosed patio using existing walls and giving an indoor/outdoor feel to the new room.

BUGS AND WEATHER: Where summers swelter, the patio still evokes a traditional kind of indoor-outdoor living. In bug country, however, screened or enclosed patios make a lot of sense. Some patios can be opened up when the sun shines and battened down when hard winds blow.

RECLAIMED DRIVEWAYS: Your driveway can double as a patio. Concrete turf blocks can support car traffic but yield a softer appearance than plain asphalt or concrete; planting small spaces between pavers achieves the same result. Enclosed by a gate, the front drive becomes an entry patio.


Weather Factor

How's your weather?
Your site's exposure to sun, wind and rain, can limit its potential as an enjoyable outdoor room. Microclimates (weather pockets created by very localised conditions) can also make a big difference. Studying these might prompt you to adjust the site of your proposed patio, extend its dimensions, or change its design. You may be able to moderate the impact of the weather with the addition of an overhead structure, walls, screens, or plantings.

Basic Orientation
In general, a site that faces south is cold because it receives little sun. A north-facing patio is usually warm because it gets daylong sun. An east-facing patio is likely to be cool, receiving only morning sun. A west-facing patio can be unbearably hot because it gets the full force of the afternoon sun; in late afternoon, it may also fill with harsh glare.
The sun's rays strike your property at predictable angles, depending on the time of year and where you live. A south-facing patio gets minimum sun and heat; a northern site is warmer.

Seasonal Paths of the Sun
Another factor to consider is the sun's path during the year. As the sun passes over your house, it makes an arc that changes slightly every day, becoming higher in summer and lower in winter. Changes in the sun's path not only give us long days in summer and short ones in winter, but also alter shade patterns in your yard.

Dealing with the Weather
If, in assessing your climate, you learn that winter storms generally blow from a particular direction, you may want to locate your patio or deck where it will take less of a beating from the weather—perhaps on the opposite side of the house, where it will be partially protected by trees or a roof overhang.
If you live in an area where brief summer cloudbursts frequently occur, you can extend your patio's usefulness by correct positioning so you can sit outdoors during warm-weather rains.

Wind and Cold Spots

Understanding Wind
Having too much wind blowing across your patio on a cool day can be just as unpleasant as having no breeze at all on a hot day. Check your lot in relation to three types of air movement: annual prevailing winds localised seasonal breezes (daily, late-afternoon, or summer), and high-velocity blasts generated by stormy weather.

Chances are that air currents around your house are slightly different from those generally prevailing in your neighbourhood. Wind flows like water—after blowing through the trees, it may spill over the house and drop onto your patio. Post small flags or ribbons where you want wind protection and note their movements during windy periods. You'll soon see where you need to think about screening. If you decide to build a screen or fence to block wind, remember that a solid barrier may not necessarily be the best choice. Sometimes angled baffles, lattice-type fencing, or appropriate plantings disperse wind better.

Identifying Cold Spots
Probably no one experiences exactly the same temperature as the weather bureau. If there's a 15- to 30-kilometre-an-hour breeze, a person in the shade of a patio will feel that the temperature is about 17 degrees C.

Remember that cold air flows downhill like water, "puddles" in basins, and can be dammed by walls or fences. If you build a sunken patio or one enclosed by your house and a retaining wall, you may find yourself shivering while higher surroundings are less cold. Note any spots where cold air settles and frost is heavy.

Keep in mind, too, that certain materials reflect sun and/or heat better than others. Light-coloured masonry paving and walls are great for spreading sun and heat (though they can be uncomfortably bright) and dark masonry materials retain heat longer, making evenings on the patio a little warmer. Strategically placed barrier plantings can help block wind, while allowing some breezes through. Deciduous trees can shelter a patio from hot sun in summer, yet admit welcome rays on crisp winter days, when their leaves are gone.

Mapping It Out

Making a Base Map

Even if you've lived with a landscape for years, mapping it can be a way to make some interesting discoveries about what you thought was familiar territory. Use your observations about your site to produce a base map like the one shown below. Later, slip the base map under tracing paper to sketch designs to your heart's content.

You can save yourself hours of measuring and data-gathering by obtaining dimensions, gradients, and relevant structural details from your house plans, or a contour map of your lot. If you don't have these, see if they're available through your local council.

The following information should appear in one form or another on the base map.

Boundary Lines and Dimensions: Outline your property accurately and to scale, and mark its dimensions on the base map. Indicate any required setback allowances from your lot lines. Also note the relation of the street to your house.

The house: Show your house to scale within the property. Note all exterior doors (and the way each one opens), the height of all lower-story windows, and all overhangs. Mark the locations of all downpipes and any drainage tiles or drainpipes.

Exposure: Draw a north arrow, using a compass; then note on your base map the shaded and sunlit areas of your landscape. Indicate the direction of the prevailing wind and mark any spots that are windy enough to require shielding. Also note any microclimates.

Utilities and Easements: Map the placement of water taps and show the locations of all underground lines, including the sewage line or septic tank, power, telephone or gas lines or any overhead lines.

Gradient and Drainage: Draw contour lines on your base map, noting high and low points (here's where the official contour map is helpful). If drainage crosses boundaries, you may need to indicate the gradient of adjacent properties as well; to be sure you're not channeling runoff onto your neighbour's property.

Existing Plantings: If you're remodeling an old landscape, note any established plantings that you want to retain or that would require a major effort or expense to remove or replace.

Views: Note all views, attractive or unattractive—the outlook will affect your enjoyment of your patio. If appropriate, you can use a ladder to check views from different elevations. Consider whether a patio might block a favorite view from inside the house. Also take into account views into your yard from nearby houses or streets.

Code Concerns
Before you launch into the design phase, check with your local building department to find out whether you need a building permit and learn what codes affect a potential structure's design and placement. Local codes and ordinances can govern the height of an outdoor structure, its maximum footprint, the materials from which it is built, its setback from boundary lines, and even the material its construction requires.

Also check your property deed for possible building easements or restrictions that might affect your project's location or design. Note any relevant code concerns on your base map.

Guides To Good Designs

Meet Your Needs
Your design should be able to accommodate your family's favourite activities, from relaxation and casual gatherings to children's games, barbecues, and entertaining.

Protect Privacy
As an extension of your indoor living space, your patio should offer the same feeling of privacy as interior rooms do, but with no sense of confinement. Do you need to add screens, or plantings to remedy the problem? Could an ivy-draped wall and a trickling fountain help buffer unwanted noise?

Be Aware of Safety
Adequate lighting is need during the night.

Think Transition
A patio should entice people outdoors. So be sure to consider the transition from the inside of your house to the outside. Wide French or sliding glass doors make the outdoors look inviting and also make the interior space expand psychologically.

Try to create attractive transitions between different areas of the patio and between these and the rest of the garden. The use of edgings, borders, steps, and railings can make or break your design.

Defining Use Areas
Focus on your family's needs and activities. Think about the way you live, making a list of what's most important to you (if you have children, get their input, too); then, if you need to compromise, you can compromise on the less important things.

Next, review your yard's assets. Can your plan capitalise on a fine view? Perhaps your design can take advantage of a sunny southern exposure or an impressive garden tree.

Consider also your yard's handicaps. Is your lot on a steep slope? How much of the lot is exposed to street noise or a neighbor's view? If you're thinking of replacing an existing patio, ask yourself whether it opens off the wrong room, gets too much sun or shade, or lacks sufficient space.

Are you locating a children's play area in full view of your living area? Is the small, private sunning spot you envision easily accessible from the master bedroom? Do you really want a patio designed for entertaining guests to be located next to the recycling bins?

What components do you need to include creating your own ideal outdoor environment? Which materials would work best in your situation?
As you begin to firm up your design, account for the following structural elements:

  • Concrete or paving materials
  • Retaining wall for hilly or sloping areas
  • Walls, fences, or screens for privacy or noise control
  • Overhead structures or cables
  • Steps or formal stairs for changes in level
  • Walks and footpaths linking use areas
  • Edgings where appropriate
  • French or sliding door for access from the house

Although some finishing touches, such as outdoor benches and planters, can be added later you might want to add lighting or perhaps a sink or wet bar to your outdoor living area later, plan now for the necessary wire or pipe runs.

  • Trellis
  • Gazebo
  • Garden pool, fountain, waterfall, or stream
  • Spa
  • Barbecue area or kitchen facilities
  • Storage cabinets or shelves
  • Built-in benches or other furniture
  • Outdoor lighting (240-volt or low-voltage)
  • Protected electrical outlets
  • Outdoor heater or fireplace
  • Hose junctions
  • Raised beds for plants or built-in planter, perhaps with built-in drip irrigation

Circulation Patterns
Consider foot-traffic connections between use areas, as well as from individual areas to the house and yard. Will too much traffic be channeled through areas meant for relaxation? Can guests move easily from the entertainment area to the garden? Can the lawn mower or garden cart be moved from the tool shed to the lawn without disturbing someone's repose?

One way to improve access to and from the house is to add a door. But if you have to open up a wall to improve circulation, be sure you won't end up producing a traffic pattern that runs through the middle of a room.

When planning pathways, steps, and other parts of the route, you'll need to allow at least the established minimum clearances.

Observing the Lay of the Land
Whenever you can fit any landscape element into the existing topography with little or no disturbance of the soil, you save time, effort, and expense.

However, that isn't always possible. Sometimes the existing topography has inherent problems, or you realize you must alter it in order to accommodate your ideal design. Then you must grade the site—reshape it by removing soil, adding soil, or both. In most cases, it's best to consult a landscape architect or soils engineer.

If your property lies on a slope so steep that without skillful grading and terracing it would remain unstable and useless, consider constructing one or a series of retaining walls. The safest way to build a retaining wall is to place it at the bottom of a gentle slope, if space permits, and fill in behind it. That way you won't disturb the stability of the soil. Otherwise, the hill can be held either with a single high wall or with a series of low walls forming graceful terraces.

Always route water away from the house. If your landscape is nearly flat, it must have adequate surface drainage—a minimum slope of 2.5cm per 2.4m of paved surface, or nearly 75cm per 3m of unpaved ground. Steeper gradients are better for slow-draining, heavy soils.

Where property slopes toward the house, you may need to shore it up with a retaining wall and slope surfaces to direct runoff to a central drain, like a "bathtub."

Poor subsurface drainage can be a problem where the water table is close to the surface. Plastic drainpipes or dry wells can be the answer in many situations. But a major problem calls for a sump pump. To plan and install a drainage system for a problem hillside, get professional help.

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