What does it take to create the ultimate backyard? Well, that depends on how you want to use your outdoor space. For many homeowners, it’s a place to relax, get together with friends and family and have a good time.
However you plan to use it, we’ll walk you through the key components. The following is a collection of our favorite backyard ideas, projects, tips and tools to help you build your ultimate outdoor space this season.
Define a place to gather
Whether it’s a deck or stone patio or even a patch of grass, defining a place to gather is a must, even for small backyard designs. In this project, we’ll show you how to build a platform deck in just three days. (Yes, you read that correctly—three days!) Since it’s not connected to a house and sits just inches above the ground, it’s an inexpensive, quick-to-build alternative to standard decks and patios. Check out the full plans for this project here, so you can build this platform deck in your backyard.
Pro tip: Your deck can be any size. But if you’re using 2×6 framing material, place footings no more than 5 ft. 11 in. apart, and limit joist length to no more than 6 ft. 8 in.
Best tools for building a deck
A deck is especially easy to build if you have the right tools on hand. The editor’s picks above helped to bring the platform deck to life quickly and easily. Click on the images to get your hands on all three of these go-to deck-building tools now. Also consider using this Makita impact driver, this DeWalt 12-in. sliding miter saw and this Tajima chalk line to pull off the project.
Easy deck add-ons you can DIY
Once your deck is build, add shade, lighting and more to enhance your gathering space. Here are some of our favorite ideas (with free project plans!):
Shade ShelterYou don't have to let the blazing sun or drippy weather drive you indoors. One of our favorite DIY deck ideas, this simple covered pergola, will keep you comfortable long after your neighbors with unsheltered decks have given up and gone inside. Get full plans for building this shaded pergola here.
Deck LightingPlan and install a low-voltage lighting system to light up your deck. No electrical skills needed; you simply plug the system into an existing outlet. It'll highlight deck features without glare and is safe and easy to install.
Under-Deck RoofOne of our readers, Rune Eriksen, sent us photos of his design for a home-built deck drainage system, and we were impressed enough to check it out. His low-cost, easy-to-build system catches the water that drips through the deck boards and redirects it to the outside of the deck. Now Rune can use the area under the deck as a covered patio, where he can enjoy warm summer rainstorms without getting wet. Several commercial systems are available to create a dry space under a deck, but Rune’s seems to be just as effective. And it’s inexpensive and easy to build using materials found at any home center. Here are the details in case you’d like to build your own version. Thanks, Rune!
Custom Post CapsOne of our favorite customizable DIY deck ideas is to make your own post caps. We’ll show you how to get a perfectly square cut on the end of a 6×6 post, cut notches and shape deck posts with your circular saw. The decorative touch will give your deck a professionally built feel!
Built-In PlantersPlanters make a striking addition to any deck, and also create more privacy, making the outdoor space feel almost like a separate room. Get full plans for building these amazing deck planters here.
AwningCool deck ideas make you think of shade! A canopy patio awning is a fabric-roofed structure supported by a freestanding, rigid frame that’s bolted to your deck. The frame becomes a permanent part of your deck, and you can either leave the fabric up year-round or remove it seasonally. The fabric should last about 15 years. Learn more about different types of awning options for your deck here.
Railing-Mounted PlanterIn a little under an hour, you can make this simple railing-mounted planter. All you need is some standard gutter parts. Get the plans for this deck planter here.
Refresh Deck PostsOne way to spruce up posts is to cover them with a maintenance-free material. AZEK makes a PVC Column Wrap that's super easy to install. Simply glue together three sides, slide them over the post, glue and clamp the last side in place, and then never worry about painting or staining again. AZEK Column Wrap is available for 4x4, 6x6 and 8x8 posts. Order it at home centers and lumberyards that carry Azek products.
Outdoor Storage and SeatingIt’s just a box made from four frames with legs that wrap around the corners. The panels that fill the frames are plywood with waterproof fabric stapled over them. Covering the plywood seat with foam and fabric is something even an upholstery novice can manage. This bench is easy to customize, too: You can change the dimensions; choose fabric to complement other patio furniture, and stain the wood to match your deck or paint it to match your house. Here are the full plans.
Move-Anywhere UmbrellaThis moveable umbrella is one of our favorite reader-submitted DIY deck ideas. "I needed a stand for the large shade umbrella I bought for our patio," says reader Brenda Barnes, "but all the ones I could find were designed for use under a patio table. Then I had a brilliant idea. I bought a large resin flowerpot and filled it about a third full with concrete. While the concrete was wet, I inserted a short length of PVC pipe that was just slightly larger in diameter than the umbrella pole. I covered the bottom of the pipe with duct tape so it wouldn’t fill with concrete. Then I drilled a few drainage holes above the concrete, filled the pot with potting soil and planted some shade-loving plants. Now I have a windproof umbrella stand and a beautiful pot of flowers in one!"
String LightsThere's nothing quite like the twinkle of outdoor lighting on a cool summer night. To get you inspired, we've rounded up 10 of the most breathtaking outdoor lighting looks to take your backyard oasis to the next level.
And for a Little Warmth...A fire table is a beautiful addition to your outdoor living space—and an invitation to gather around. It's also a stylish centerpiece that gives you a great opportunity to showcase your DIY prowess. Click here to find out how to build it.
The Whole ShebangThis deck isn't huge—about 16 ft. wide x 18 ft. deep plus bays and stairs—but it's big on features. The upper deck is just the right size for entertaining small groups—spacious but intimate. It has cantilevered nooks on both sides that provide space for seating and barbecue storage. The pergola shades the upper deck and the home's interior from the sun, and it offers a space for hanging or climbing plants. The lower deck is a great place to hang out in the sun, while the cascading stairs flow into the yard and provide lots of space for planters and pots. Get the full details, and learn how to build them into your deck. There's no need to learn how to build a covered deck when you can easily build this deck with pergola using our project plans.
Nurture a lush lawn
Amazing backyard ideas often include vibrant, green grass. And it’s a lot easier than you might think to grow and maintain a barefoot-worthy lawn yourself. It just takes a little bit of patience and know-how. Check out our best solutions for improving your grass if you:
- Have a weedy, patchy lawn
- Have a thinning, brown lawn
- Want to start over and reseed
- Want to start over with sod
Lawn mowing tips all homeowners should know
After all the effort you put into nurturing your lawn each season, don’t blow it with mowing mistakes. Click here to learn how to mow for better grass, sponsored by Cub Cadet.
Watch the videos above sponsored by Cub Cadet to see some must-know mowing tips in action and to learn about the latest zero-turn mowers.
Add a spark of interest
Providing something to gather around such as a fire pit or charming outdoor table will take your backyard to the next level. This DIY modern outdoor fireplace looks expensive (and really heavy)—but it’s not! It’s actually one of our favorite backyard ideas on a budget. Click here to learn how easy it is to make this outdoor fireplace yourself. Place it by your deck one day and then move it somewhere else in your yard the next.
Pro tip: This outdoor fireplace uses the same components that fuel a typical gas grill.
Patio heaters we love
Go beyond the flame of an outdoor fireplace and add even more warmth to your ultimate backyard with one of these patio heaters:
Hiland Electric Umbrella HeaterA great option for evenings around the patio table, this electric umbrella heater from Hiland warms up to 15 square feet and is designed to work under patio umbrellas. With three burners and a variable temperature control, it's a great way to stay warm once the sun sets. Buyers noted it was easy to install and remove when you need to put the umbrella away. Yet another reason why we think this is one of the best outdoor patio heaters. These 15 ideas for outdoor string lights will make you want to live outside. Buy it now on Amazon.
Fire Sense Propane HeaterThis propane patio heater from Fire Sense comes in several colors and offers 46,000 BTUs. It has an auto shut-off tilt valve and can be assembled for you by an expert for an additional fee. While this is advertised as a commercial heater, many homeowners use it to heat patios and porches. "My husband and I purchased two of these, but so far we've only needed to turn on one, even though we have a relatively large backyard. These lamps are very sufficient with heat output. My husband assembled them alone, without any issues. He said the assembly was simple," said one buyer. Check out these 15 perfect patio designs. Buy it now on Amazon.
Art to Real Infrared Wall-Mounted Electric HeaterGreat for the porch, this infrared wall-mounted electric heater from Art to Real will warm up your space quickly. It has a timer and a remote, and is safe for use on patios, pergolas and in the garage and shed. It offers 1,500 watts of power. Need more patio chairs? This DIY-friendly design is classic and easy to build. Buy it now on Amazon.
Hiland Propane HeaterWith 40,000 BTUs, this propane heater from Hiland is stylish and functional. The heater is 89 inches tall and has a two-piece quartz glass tube that will complement any outdoor setting. One reviewer noted, "Used it all last summer with no issues. Very easy to use and starts almost immediately." Follow these tips to renew your concrete patio in just two days. Buy it now on Amazon.
Sunjoy Propane HeaterGreat for those who may want to move the heater from one spot to another, this propane heater from Sunjoy has wheels for easy transport and mobility. It heats an area with a radius of 9.5 feet and has a safety shutoff valve in case the heater tips over. "The heater feels very sturdy and well-made. We can't wait to enjoy those cool California nights out on the patio this winter," said one buyer. These are the 10 best patio ideas for small spaces. Buy it now on Amazon.
Sundate Electric Infrared HeaterA great option for use on the patio, porch or under a pergola, this electric infrared heater from Sundate is easy to operate, complete with remote function and a 24-hour timer. The carbon fire tube has a lifespan of up to 5,500 hour and users noted the heater's temperature control is easy to use. Build this DIY stone-top patio table so you'll have a spot to place your drinks and snacks. Buy it now on Amazon.
Thermo Tiki Propane HeaterStylish, efficient and great for your next patio party, this tiki propane heater from Thermo has a dancing flame in a pyramid-style column which produces radiant warmth. It has an output of up to 45,000 BTUs and has a built-in safety valve if the unit is tilted or tipped over. Reviewers noted instructions were easy to follow. Create a backyard oasis with these DIY projects. Buy it now on Amazon.
SUND Electric HeaterWith three power levels, this electric heater from SUND is great for barbecue areas, patios, gardens and garages. "It is very nice outdoor heater and it perfectly works very well for the parties at my backyard in winter," said one buyer. Partial assembly is required and the heater uses three halogen fire tubes with a lifespan of 5,000 to 5,500 hours. Build a stone or brick patio that is perfect for entertaining. Buy it now on Amazon.
Geek Heat Oscillating Electric HeaterGreat for smaller spaces, this water-resistant oscillating electric heater from Geek Heat offers 1,200 watts of power and is safe for indoor use as well as out on the patio or deck. It has a two-heat setting and 120-degree oscillation for heat distribution. "Don't expect a furnace like heat, this definitely is not for large rooms, but it does heat up a small area fast and works quietly," said one reviewer. Don't even think about building a backyard fire pit without doing these things first. Buy it now on Amazon.
AmazonBasics Propane HeaterAlthough it is described as a commercial heater, this propane patio heater has many reviewers who note they use it at home with much success. "This is a great product. Inexpensive, easy (and actually kinda fun) to assemble, and it works better than products that cost many times more," said one buyer. With 46,000 BTUs, it can heat up larger spaces and has wheels for easy mobility. This is what you need to build a DIY backyard movie theater. Buy it now on Amazon.
Blumfeldt Radiant HeaterWith a 24-hour timer, three heating levels and 1,500 watts of power, this radiant heater from Blumfeldt can be used out on the patio or porch, or inside, when needed. It's safe, user-friendly and compact so you can easily move it from room to room. "We have it outside in our screened in porch and it does a great job with putting out some heat. Level 3 actually is a bit too strong, had to turn it to level 2. The heat can be felt from several feet away. Looks nice as well. Really does not take up a lot of room. The animals seem to enjoy the heat as well," said one reviewer. Plan the ultimate backyard barbecue with these 12 tips. Buy it now on Amazon.
Donyer Power Ceiling-Mounted Electric HeaterThis ceiling-mounted electric patio heater will heat a space up to 65 square feet with its two heating modes. It heats up quickly and is easy to install. One reviewer noted, "The heater is very good and energy-efficient. Works great for the cold winter so far. Recommend it to anyone who wants some warmness!" Check out these 10 inspiring outdoor bar ideas. Buy it now on Amazon.
Mr. Heater Portable Propane HeaterThis 9,000 BTU propane heater from Mr. Heater makes it easy to stay warm wherever you are. It heats spaces up to 225 square feet and is approved for both indoor and outdoor use. In addition to using it out on the patio on chilly nights, reviewers noted this heater is great for camping and hunting trips. These 10 pretty porch swings will make you want to be outside all summer long. Buy it now on Amazon. Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. [skyword_tracking]
Provide a path
As you incorporate gathering places, gardens and other backyard landscaping ideas throughout your space, a great way to tie everything together (and make it easier to get around) is to create paths. Check out this extensive how-to guide for creating a charming backyard path that doesn’t break the bank.
Click here to learn how to build the flagstone path shown above. It’s a lot easier than you might think. Then be sure to check out the tough plants we recommend for growing between stones to create a finished, natural-looking path.
If you’re ready to bring your backyard ideas to life but do’t know where to start, check out My DIY University. You’ll find loads of easy-to-follow online classes for projects that will help you transform your outdoor space.
Landscape lighting dos and don’ts
Don’t forget to light up your paths and gathering spaces, so you can enjoy your ultimate backyard even after the sun goes down. These are the outdoor lighting tips you need to know:
Don't Focus on Outdoor Landscape Lighting FirstWhile your mind is on landscape lighting, you actually shouldn't focus on lighting up your pathways and other landscape features, like your trees, first. In fact, you should begin with the primary focus of your outdoor lighting—the most prized part of your property. But what's that? If you're new to landscape lighting, check out these DIY outdoor lighting tips for beginners.
Where to Place Landscaping Lighting: Do Focus on Lighting the House FirstSurely, the most prized, and expensive, part of your property is your home. Without it, what would landscape lighting even mean?! That's why you should first put your attention on lighting your house using the right type of outdoor light fixtures that illuminate your home and provide safety and security at night. You should position lighting fixtures so that they highlight walls of the house as well as architectural features. Check out these breathtaking outdoor lighting looks for your yard.
Where to Place Landscaping Lighting: Don't Overdo ItWhen it comes to landscape lighting, don't group too many fixtures in one space. While your thought might be to create optimal lighting of a certain object or space, you're merely drawing more attention to the lights themselves. Here are 14 outdoor lighting trends for 2018.
Where to Place Landscaping Lighting: Do Take Advantage of Multiple LayersIf you want to really create a bright spotlight, avoid grouping a lot of fixtures and instead position several spotlights with different angles toward the object, like a garden statue or topiary, that you want to illuminate. This will reveal silhouettes and layers that make for a dramatic effect. Don't forget about your deck! Here's how to install deck lighting.
Where to Place Landscaping Lighting: Don't Place Lights in a Straight LineDoing this creates a really bland appearance, like an airport runway, rather than a warm and inviting pathway to walk along. Here's what's new in outdoor path lights.
Where to Place Landscaping Lighting: Do Get Creative With Pathway LightingSo if you can't put your pathway lights in a straight line, what can you do? Get creative! While you don't want to create too unique of a look that comes off as busy or distracting, you can do something like stagger the lights, or place them so they shine down the pathway. Check out these affordable garden path ideas.
Don't Choose the Wrong BulbsWe can't talk about landscape lighting without discussing energy efficiency. Incandescent bulbs are energy suckers, and won't last as long as you'd like. Furthermore, bulbs with 40 to 75 watts are ideal for outdoor fixtures, and should work with the fixture you're using. Using light bulbs with more wattage than needed can actually create an ugly glare that is less than inviting for your guests. Here's helpful information on outdoor low-voltage lighting.
Do Opt for LEDsGone are the days when LED lighting meant a harsh blue light. If you want a warmer tone, there are plenty of LED options to choose from now. And besides, you'll use much less energy than with incandescent bulbs. And to avoid any of that unwanted glare, use soft, downward-focused lighting. You might find this guide on how to install outdoor lighting and outlets helpful!
Where to Place Landscaping Lights: Don't Ignore the Small or Out of Sight SpacesWhether it's the second floor of your home, or that dark space in the corner of your yard, your oversight of these second-thought locations could keep you from truly taking advantage of the safety, security and beauty of landscape lighting. Speaking of safety and security, check out this motion sensor security lighting that is built to last.
Do Use Accent LightsUsing even just a small accent light can work wonders for the dark corners around the yard. Not only will it create even more beauty, it can also help keep away potential intruders who seek out dark places to stay unnoticed. Check out these 15 outdoor string lights that may make you want to live outside. [skyword_tracking]
If you like to cook outdoors, a grilling station is an essential piece of an ultimate backyard. It can be as simple as building this folding grill table to accompany your charcoal grill or as complex as creating an entire outdoor kitchen. Take it up a notch with these additional landscaping ideas for a grill master.
Must-have grilling tools
No backyard grilling station is complete without a few cool toys. You’ll definitely want to add the three grilling tools above to your wish list this season. Click on the photos to buy them on Amazon now.
Bring the Indoors Out
Just as with any living space inside your home, adding storage and a few indoor comforts to your outdoor space is a must. Get plans for this easy-to-build outdoor storage bench here. They may look like high-end furniture pieces, but these outdoor storage benches are easy and inexpensive to build. Check out 40 more of our favorite outdoor woodworking projects that can be incorporated into any simple backyard landscaping ideas.
Pro tip: This project is really just a plywood box dressed up with solid wood slats.
The ultimate backyard beckons friends and family to hang out, so be sure to include lawn games, barbecue supplies and anything else that encourages fun and conversation. In the videos tutorials above, learn how to make your own cornhole boards, additional seating and side tables.
Backyard ideas from DIYers like you
Family Handyman readers know a thing or two about creating the ultimate backyard, too. Check out some of their inspiring outdoor projects:
Elevated Vegetable Garden Planter
Grand Garden Shed
Massive Backyard Stone Fireplace
North Woods Bench in White
Safe, Stylish Railing
Private Studio Space
Outdoor Wood-Fired Oven
Backyard Putting Practice
Backyard Stone Fireplace
Envious Tree House
Patio and Pergola
Starfighter Play Set
Fancy DIY Fire Table
Reclaimed Lumber Decking
Green Garden Shed
Ultimate Dog HouseReader Corey Hosick built the ultimate shelter for his two German Shepard dogs. It's equipped with so many bells and whistles for his fur babies. Check out all of the great photos from Corey here.
Have you created an amazing backyard project? We want to see it! Share it with us, and we may post it on our website or social media channels.
Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.