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  • Back Deck

    Watch this overgrown backyard transform

  • New Patio
  • Rotted Deck
  • image title
  • Side Yard
  • Fire Pit

Outdoor Living Space Transformed on a Tiny Budget

I bought my first house at the very end of 2007.  The housing market was just starting to wobble.  Very soon after, values started to plummet.

I had spent every penny I had, and bought the most house I could afford.  Even then, it was just a small two bedroom fixer-upper.  As one repairman told me, it had lived a “maintenance-free life.”

As the mortgage payments were eating me alive, and the market was tumbling, I still had to turn my house into a home.  That’s when my DIY spirit, and money saver mindset showed their true worth.

This is the story of turning a rotted wood deck, and overgrown backyard into a beautiful outdoor living space.  (Click any photo to open a larger image.)

Replacing a deck
My backyard was overgrown and unusable. (That’s a cinderblock step from the sliding glass door to the rotted deck.)


Making a Plan

After cutting back or ripping out the overgrown shrubs, pressure washing and water sealant gave a couple more years of life to the deck.  This made the space usable while I saved up money and considered my options.  I finally started the project in the summer of 2010.

Cedar deck refinish
Pressure washing and water sealant gave the existing deck a few extra years of life.


Initially, I thought I wanted a stamped concrete patio.  By removing the deck, the usable space would be lowered by a few feet, effectively making my fences seem taller, and offer just a little more privacy from the neighbors.  But, when the first quote for concrete came in over $30,000, I didn’t even bother pursuing that option further.

I also looked into pavers, and flagstone, but costs and site preparation work were prohibitive for such a large area.  Gravel seemed to be the most cost-effective solution, but I didn’t want pebbles getting spread all over the yard.

While browsing a garden forum one day, I came across a product called Klingstone Paths.  It’s a binding product for rocks, that creates a hard surface, but still allows water to flow through.  Cost effective and environmentally friendly.  This was my solution.

Out with the Old, In with the New

To start, I removed the existing wood deck.  As I pulled off the decking boards, I could see how badly rotted the beams underneath had been.  This project was getting done just in time.  The debris was hauled away by a local junk removal company.

Once the deck was gone, I leveled the space with just a rake and a shovel.  Since I was going to be installing a water-permeable surface, the grading didn’t have to be perfect.


I took a measurement of the perimeter of the new patio space to the home improvement store.  Once I chose an edging stone, I used this measurement to calculate how many edging pavers to purchase.  (Total perimeter length ÷ Length of each paver block = Number of pavers needed)

The pavers were set by digging out the ground slightly.  I left them sticking up enough to contain a bed of about two inches of gravel.  I was careful to put them in straight and level to each other.

patio edging
The patio area was smoothed, and edging stones set in place.


Next came a truckload a pea gravel.  With help from my mom and the dogs (of course), we moved this in a seemingly endless number of trips with the wheelbarrow from the front yard to the back.  We raked it out smooth.


Adding Privacy

My neighbors are good people.  But one of them used to stand on his back deck, and peer over the fence to see what I was doing on my back deck.  Adding pergolas at either end of my new patio created a tiny bit more privacy.

My mom and I built these with a few 4×4’s and some 2×2’s, with a plan to train climbing plants across them.

DIY pergola
Pergolas were added at each end of the new patio to give extra privacy from neighbors.


Building Steps

Three steps were needed to get from the sliding glass door to the patio level.  I created a tiered design, with angled corners, to allow easy access to the whole space.

My mom and dad both pitched in to help build this design.  A contractor friend also added some finishing touches.  We used wood framing, and engineered decking boards.  The engineered boards were a splurge, but it was a great decision.


Sealing the Surface

Once the building work was done and the gravel was smoothed, it was time to apply the binding product.  I don’t have any pictures of this process, because I did it all by myself one evening.  It was a little harder than I expected, but still doable.

First, I rented a lawn roller and filled it with water.  I used this to compact the gravel.  Then, following the manufacturer’s directions, I used a watering can to spread the binding product.  (it didn’t work quite as easily as I imagined it would, and I had to run out to the store to buy another plastic watering can mid-project.  The watering can is unusable after being used for this.)

Working in sections, I completed the process in a couple hours.  The binder needs to cure during a period without rain, so I had to choose my timing carefully around the Seattle weather.

The finished surface is solid like concrete, so the pebbles don’t get scattered all over the yard.  It’s also easier to walk on than loose gravel.  The best part is that water flows right through, so I never have to worry about drainage.

Creating Outdoor Living Spaces

Excited to make the most of my new space, I found a swing for $10 and hung it from one pergola.  At the other end of the patio, I hung a colored glass lantern over a table and chairs.  These became perfect spaces for reading a book, and enjoying a summer meal.


At the side of the house, there is a perfect little nook for a fire pit.  It’s now fun place to roast marshmallows with the family.  Colorful potted plants soften and brighten the space.

outdoor fire pit
Once lost to weeds, this space is now perfect for roasting marshmallows on a summer evening.


Outdoor Living Idea GuideTransforming a bleak space into something beautiful is the best part of the project.  There are so many fun ways to make your yard both pretty and functional.

Get more tips and ideas to steal with our Outdoor Living Idea Guide.  You can download it for free for a limited time.



Project Budget

From prying up the first deck boards, to finally relaxing at the fire pit, this project took a couple months to complete.

Here is the cost breakdown:

Wooden Deck Debris Removal: $420.00
Edging Pavers: $174.39
Gravel (4 cu. yds.): $186.15
Steps & Pergola Materials: $745.42
Klingstone (30 gal.): $1,122.74
Lawn Roller Rental: $14.00
PROJECT TOTAL: $2,662.70

Compared to a $30,000 concrete patio estimate, this DIY patio project was done on a dime. And the result is fantastic.

Outdoor Living Idea GuideDon’t forget to download your copy of our Outdoor Living Idea Guide.  It’s free for a limited time.

Packed with practical and affordable tips and ideas for improving your outdoor living space, it’s the perfect resource to help create a space you’ll love.



Several years later, a climbing wisteria vine is starting to fill in across the pergola.  It adds shade and more privacy to a beautiful outdoor living space that gets a lot of use.

Pergola with climbing vine
Climbing wisteria adds beauty and function to the space.


Beautiful and affordable diy backyard makeover

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9 comments on “Beautiful and Affordable DIY Backyard Makeover”

  1. Holy savings, batman! I’m impressed by it all, but what a find on the $10 swing! And good call on the added privacy–your neighbor may be nice, but that seems incredibly creepy to me.

    • Yes, the swing was a great find. My local home improvement store has a discount section where they often have good deals. Always shop the bargain bins!

  2. I’m glad you posted this in the comment section at AT- this is an awesome budget transformation. Your outdoor space is gorgeous now, and I second the comment about that awesome $10 swing!

  3. Wow. I’m SO impressed! I have been looking for a backyard solution for a year. I LOVE that this is permeable too! I rarely wear shoes around my yard so a gravel patio was not an option, but pea gravel is soft so this sounds like a great idea. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Carrie! If you do a good job of compacting it, you should get a barefoot-friendly surface.

  4. I love the re-do, the choice of color for the home, the little rooms which were created outside of the home for relaxing.
    In looking at the “overgrown” trees and shrubs, with new knowledge of saving branches and planting them, I would say there was and is a lot of income to be earned from this property….

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