Outside Opinion – Home Curb Appeal

HGTV’s Carson Arther joins our local experts to offer advice on how to create beautiful outdoor living spaces and boost your home’s curb appeal

For most of us, our home is our biggest investment – and new studies are showing that the best way to increase our home’s value is by focusing on its exterior. Creating beautiful, functional outdoor living spaces and sprucing up siding, yards, and walkways is on the agenda for many Nova Scotia families this season.

Carson Arthur, host of HGTV’s Green Force and Global’s Room To Grow, says he’s seeing a huge increase in outdoor renovations and projects.

“Curb appeal has become the buzzword for this year. It’s always been important, but this is the year everybody seems to be really focusing on it,” says Arthur. “It’s become the benchmark for where you can improve your home’s value and see the biggest return on your investment.”

Even if you’re not planning to sell your home anytime soon, Arthur says every component you add to your front yard will impact at the eventual point of sale. Landscaping, walkways, and driveways have been proven to hold their value long-term.

“People think first impressions are made at the front door or in the front hall, but they’re actually made the moment somebody sees you home,” says Arthur. “Realtors say the first impression is actually made on the MLS listing, so if people don’t like the look of your house, they don’t want to see it.”

“If your yard looks messy and unkempt, people assume the inside of your house looks that way, too.”

Are you ready to overhaul the exterior of your home? Here are some tips from the experts:

Give a warm welcome

Arthur says it’s key to make your front yard appear “welcoming,” because it’s an extension of the house itself.

“You want to invite guests to enjoy the space, even if they’re just walking along the path to the door,” says Arthur.

Many of his clients are surprised when Arthur makes a strong case for seating in the front yard – even if they only plan to entertain in the back yard.

“The front yard is not necessarily the most private place to sit, but by creating a seating area, you’re making an inviting and welcoming space,” says Arthur.

Build a colour scheme

Another benefit of putting seating in your front yard is that it gives you a spot to place decorative pillows. Arthur recommends changing them seasonally, and choosing colours that coordinate with other yard accessories.

“If you have planters, you can match the planters with the pillows, and tie everything together in a pleasing way,” says Arthur.

He explains that paint colours are big right now, and it’s important to choose ones that are complementary to the neighbourhood.

“Take a look at the other homes on your street. The colours don’t have to be the same, but you don’t want to be the one home that stands out,” says Arthur. “You want something that works well with your neighbours’ homes.”

He suggests choosing three different colours: one colour for the exterior, a second colour for trim and shutters, and a third colour for the front door.

“Right now I’m loving tan houses with olive green accents and purple doors,” says Arthur. “It’s very easy to pull the right shades of purple, the deeper blue tones.”

Define each space

Arthur believes it’s important to create a separation between your property and the public space by marking the edge of your front yard by using gardening, stone, or fencing.

“Fences are also working their way back into the Canadian landscape – cedar fences, white picket fences,” says Arthur. “A fence says ‘This is your space, and this is my space.’ It defines everything.”

Arthur says the impact of a front walkway is “huge,” because it helps to define the space and gives your guests a tidy pathway to the front door.

“I’m always telling people to do a front walkway, so people don’t have to get into the front door by way of the cars,” says Arthur. “Nobody wants to brush against a dirty car in the winter months, just to get to the door. You need to think about how people are accessing your home.”

Use stone and concrete to modernize the space

Kevin McGinnis, Manager of Innovation and Product Selection at Shaw Brick, says gravel walkways tend to look “dated,” but they can be easily updated with concrete pavers.

Stone is one of the hottest looks in home design, and McGinnis says Shaw Brick carries products that can be added to your home’s exterior to freshen it up.

“If someone wants to bring their exterior siding up to date, we can add a stone veneer to modernize it,” says McGinnis. “We can also wrap stone around the bottom of your posts.”

If your yard is hilly, McGinnis says you can “reclaim the land” by adding a retaining wall and an area of pavers. He says these materials are strong and durable, and will remain a good, long-term investment once they’re properly installed. These upgrades also have the benefit of being flexible.

“A grouping of pavers doesn’t have to be a permanent solution. You can always change it or move it or add to it,” says McGinnis. “It has the flexibility to be as mobile as you need it to be.”

Determine when – and how – you want to spend your money

Arthur says decks and patios hold their value – even outweighing kitchens and bathrooms as the best home investments – because they allow families to enjoy the backyard together.

But which option is right for your budget? It depends on whether you’d prefer to send more money up-front on a low-maintenance structure, or spend less up-front but continue to shell out for maintenance.

“A patio is always more of an investment than a deck, but they last the longest. They can impact a space for 25-30 years,” says Arthur. “Wooden decks require more care and maintenance, but they’re less of an initial investment.”

Another option is a composite deck, that can be put in almost any location, and will last 10-15 years without any care of maintenance.

“They’re made from recycled garbage, which is really cool,” says Arthur.

Focus on “usable space”

The grass is always greener on the other side, but doesn’t everybody want a nice, sprawling green lawn? Arthur says we may be conditioned to think that way, but it isn’t necessarily the best choice.

“I’m always hearing people say that they want to keep a big lawn for their kids growing up. Well, they’ll play on it for a few years, and then what?” says Arthur. “Unfortunately, people often make a commitment to their backyard space that limits what they’re going to do going forward.”

Arthur says backyards should focus on “usable space” over grass, because it will always have a purpose.

“The space has to grow with you and your family.”

Blend function with design

Thanks to global warming, Canada is experiencing rising temperatures with each passing year. Arthur says it’s more important than ever to make shade a priority.

“Don’t underestimate the value of shade. Nobody wants to sit in a backyard that’s 800 degrees,” says Arthur.

You can buy various umbrellas in all of the big-box stores, and Arthur recommends the models that tilt, swivel, and shift to adjust the shade as the sun moves.

If umbrellas aren’t enough to keep you and your guests comfortable, you may want to try a breezy, beach-y approach by using the cooling properties of water.

“You can keep the temperature cooler by using water features,” says Arthur. “The flowing fountain acts as an air conditioner.”

Another functional-yet-fabulous item for any backyard is a fire pit, which creates ambiance while doing double-duty by keeping the bugs at bay. If your area doesn’t allow fires, there are gel candle options that will get you the same feel.

Consider the investments

Investing in a professional landscape design will show you what you can afford to complete now, and how you can complete the design over the course of 5-10 years. And getting a quote on a screened-in patio or sunroom might inspire you to save up your extra cash for a backyard haven.

Maurice Meagher, owner of Archadeck, says more and more Nova Scotians are realizing the importance of investing in outdoor living spaces.

“It’s an extension of their entertaining space and family space, and it’s really one of the most cost-effective ways to expand that space,” says Meagher, who notes that kitchens, bathrooms, and outdoor living spaces are the top three best investments a homeowner can make.

“A backyard used to just be a spot to park the BBQ, but now people are more focused on entertaining outside, and incorporating lights and fire pits and screen rooms,” says Meagher. “In Nova Scotia, the warm-weather seasons are short, so people want to take advantage of that time when it’s here. It’s a worthwhile investment.”

Don’t overestimate your gardening abilities

If you struggle to keep a houseplant alive, you’re not doomed to having nothing but concrete slabs in your yard. Arthur suggests working in areas you feel comfortable. If you have a black thumb and despair of ever keeping a flower or shrub alive, planters are a great alternative to a full-fledged garden.

“Planters are less of a commitment, but you get a shot of colour and the essence of a garden,” says Arthur. “If it doesn’t last, you can take it out and start over again.”

Arthur says a lot of homeowners spend exorbitant amounts on beautiful landscaping, but then don’t provide the care it needs – and their yard winds up full of wilted, dying plants.

“It’s all about understanding what you’re capable of, and what your lifestyle is,” says Arthur. “There are so many options that you can really pick and choose, and find something that works for you.”

If you don’t have the cash for a professional landscape design, Arthur recommends snapping a few photos of your neighbours’ yards and bringing them into a garden centre.

“You and your neighbours are going to have the same type of soil and sunlight, so look at what’s growing best in their spaces,” says Arthur. “Don’t be afraid to ask the experts if something is easy to look after. They’ll help you find something that’s right for you.”

Once you’ve made the decision to proceed, don’t forget to include the equipment you’re going to need to look after it. Many homeowners underestimate – or leave out altogether – the cost of buying or replacing items like mowers, trimmers, gardening tools and other maintenance equipment. This can add up, and should be included in the overall plan for any landscaping project.

If you’re ready to upgrade your tools this spring, Carson Arthur recommends choosing tools with interchangeable lithium batteries “to make life easier.”

“When you can swap your batteries between different tools, it makes life so much easier,” says Arthur. “You’re not messing around with gas or oil, and you can always have a few charging – so when you’re in the middle of a project, you can just pop in a new battery and keep going.”

Keep your side yard tidy

It’s easy to forget about those side yards. They don’t have much of a purpose, other than maybe storing the garden hose. Arthur says side yards are typically just “pass-through” areas, so you should keep them low-maintenance.

“Too many people plant gardens in their side yard because they feel they have to, but then it often causes more problems because they don’t maintain it,” says Arthur. “I’m all for making it functional, but still look good. Add a little gravel or a path, and then move on and focus on where you want to spend your time – the back yard.”

Bring the outside in

If you love the summer sunshine, but prefer to keep your distance from bugs and strong winds, a screen room could be the perfect solution for your yard.

Andrew Delorey, the owner of Patio Screen Room, says his clients call their rooms “the best investment they’ve ever made.”

“We have clients who plan to sell their home in a few years, but never do because they love their new room so much,” says Delorey. “It’s something they enjoy so much, and it makes their house stand apart. It makes it look like a million-dollar home.”

Delorey says because Nova Scotia’s population is aging, and many older people are hesitant to travel because of health insurance requirements. Many of his clients tell him that they no longer want to travel, because they’re happy to enjoy the outside in their screen room.

“It’s called ‘taking the outside in,’” says Delorey. “You can hear the birds and enjoy the fresh air, and you’re not chased back inside by wind or pests.”

Choose furniture wisely

All furniture looks much smaller when it’s set up in a store, because your eyes are tricked by the gigantic space all around you. And that could cause a problem when you’re trying to wrestle that enormous set of lounge chairs onto your modest-sized back deck.

“Most people underestimate the size of patio furniture. They’re just eyeballing the set in the store, without anyone sitting there,” says Arthur. “Today’s patio furniture is getting bigger and chunkier. We used to think a 10×10 deck was reasonable, but with today’s bigger furniture, you need to start at a 12×12 deck – and that’s just to fit a table for four people.”

When you’re looking at a potential set of patio furniture, Arthur says you actually need to add 3-4 additional feet around the set, in order for people to comfortable fit around the table and get in and out.

Learn the value of storage

From gardening tools, lawn mowers, and rakes to bicycles, sports equipment, and toys for the sandbox, a good shed is key to cleaning up clutter and getting organized.

But the placement of that shed is just as important as what you’re storing inside.

“People often make the mistake of putting it too far away from the house, but you have to think about the winter months – you’re not going to want to trudge to the corner of your yard in the winter,” says Arthur.  “You want to have access to your shed 365 days a year – not just in the summer.”

Connect your spaces

Since outdoor spaces often connect to the house’s kitchen – often through a sleek set of French doors – Meagher says there needs to be a continuous feel.

“Everything needs to flow together, so that when you’re entertaining, your guests flow from one space to the next,” says Meagher. “It’s almost like the open-concept idea within the house.”

Meagher says some homeowners like to have a screen porch or sunroom that flows to a deck, which then flows onto a patio level.

“It’s nice to create different functional areas – an area for dining, an area to sit around the firepit, an area to take advantage of sun or shade,” says Meagher.

The entire outdoor living space should maintain the same decor style as the interior of your home, because Meagher points out that curb appeal doesn’t just apply to the front of your house – the backyard is part of the overall look, too.

“These days, we have nicer kitchens, nicer bathrooms, and our homes have more of a high-level of finish,” says Meagher. “Our outdoor spaces should complement that. They should reflect the architecture and character of the house itself.”

Keep up the maintenance

Once you’ve painted, constructed, installed, decorated, planted, trimmed, and defined your outdoor living spaces, Arthur says it’s critical to keep up with the maintenance – especially if you’re thinking about selling your home.

“People will base their first impression on your front yard, so you need to take the time and effort to really maintain it,” says Arthur. “It doesn’t mean you have to spend all day, every single Saturday. If you break it into manageable components, it can be half an hour here and there after work.”

“It becomes less of a chore and more of a hobby.”

Heather Laura Clarke

Heather Laura Clarke

Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist whose work regularly appears in many Atlantic Canadian newspapers and magazines, including The Chronicle Herald, Metro, Hub Now, Business Voice, Dugger's, Progress, East Coast Living, Bedford Magazine, and Southender Magazine. She also has several corporate clients.