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Geoffrey McAllister, Deseret News
Kim Nielsen relaxes at her friend Paul Vieweg's recently added covered living space. The area has a built-in grill, a gas fireplace, television, sofas and other amenities.

Three months after starting work to upgrade his backyard, Paul Vieweg said he now has an at-home retreat that rivals the atmosphere of his Idaho cabin.

It's relaxing. And inviting. And he doesn't have to spend money on gas to get there.

"I love my cabin, but if I can't make it up there, I've got my own private Idaho in my backyard," said Vieweg, who lives in the Salt Lake Valley. "It's really a nice place to kick back and not have to think."

He's not alone. Local builders and retailers say more and more Utahns are choosing to spend time and money in their backyards, making

upgrades to increase property value and creating outdoor living spaces to relax and entertain.

The economy is a top contributor to the trend, according to Travis Curtis, president of Oasis Construction and Design. People want to invest in their homes and properties instead of spending on a vacation.

His company, which designs custom and semi-custom homes in Salt Lake and Utah counties, has had a 40 percent increase this year over last in its remodel division. That includes anything from finishing a basement to building an outside structure such as a pergola or deck, Curtis said.

Steven Dailey, a custom builder who designed and constructed Vieweg's home and recent outdoor additions, said he believes the backyard is becoming just as important as the family room for people building a new home or looking to woo a potential buyer.

"People want an outdoor space they can spend time in, really any time of the year," Dailey said.

One of the top trends in outdoor living is furniture and other accessories made to look as if they belong indoors. Patio chairs have oversize cushions and deep seating, while outdoor rugs are made of thick material that is promoted as easy to clean.

Stores such as Lowes and The Home Depot sell accessories ranging from ready-made pergolas and gazebos, to outdoor chandeliers that hold citronella candles. Fire pits are another popular item, in addition to colorful grills.

Justin Weathers, assistant store manager at The Home Depot in downtown Salt Lake City, said he believes there are hundreds of options for people looking to fix up their backyard or create an outdoor living space. A person could just add bark to their garden and purchase a couple of patio chairs, and that would change the appearance of their yard, he said.

"Your house is your biggest investment," Weathers said. "Why not doll it up a little?"

For Chris Hale and his wife, Amy, extending their backyard patio was a way to increase the value of their Clinton home and also create a space for outdoor living.

They spent two Saturdays digging out dirt and sod, and then Hale and a friend poured concrete for the addition. It cost about $750 for the materials. This past Saturday, the Hales bought a furniture set for the patio.

They may also install an above-ground fire pit.

"We spend a lot of time out there, ourselves and our kids," Hale said. "I feel like it will be an upgrade, because most homes only have a little small slab poured when the home is built."

Tarra Zeeman, manager of the Lowes in downtown Salt Lake City, said she believes a person could do an easy makeover to their backyard for under $1,000, including the purchase of new furniture, canopy, rug and fire pit. As a woman, she said she would even consider doing an upgrade by herself, with no backup support from family.

"It's very easy and I think you can do it over a weekend or have it be a weeklong job," Zeeman said.

For Vieweg, his addition has already paid off.

He said he enjoys relaxing on his patio with a cup of coffee, checking out the changes to his backyard, including the addition of five mature trees, new plants and flowers, and a pergola for shade.

It's a place where he can get away from the busyness of life.

"It's a favorite little spot in my backyard," Vieweg said. "You just get a warm feeling when you come out here. It's really cool."

Tips and trends

Local retailers and builders say outdoor living spaces are becoming a critical part of home design and resale value. Here are some tips to create your own backyard oasis:

• Add new flowers and mulch to your gardens. It makes the area look fresh and can add a festive touch.

• Decorative stones can be added to your yard as an accent piece or can be used to create an eye-catching retaining wall.

• Remember to plan your additions. Do you want a gazebo or pergola? Do you want a new deck or a paved courtyard?

• Check with your city for any zoning requirements.

• Set the mood for your outdoor party by adding solar lighting to backyard paths and patio areas.

• Add a fireplace or fire pit to provide warmth on those cool autumn nights. Just remember to keep the fire pit off your wood deck.

• Create an area where your kids can do crafts and store supplies in easy-to-access containers on the porch.

• Keep the mosquitos away by adding citronella candles or other lighting that keeps the bugs away.

• Care for any furniture or accessories properly to ensure they last.

Sources: The Home Depot, Lowes, SC Johnson, Oasis Construction and Design

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