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Phasing The Construction of Your Outdoor Living Space: How To Do It Right

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Many times we are approached by clients looking to “phase” the construction of their new backyard or outdoor living space. In other words, they are looking to break up the construction of their project into smaller parts.

Most often, the motivation behind this thought is to make the project more cost effective by paying gradually, while enjoying smaller parts of their living space as they are completed. We agree--this is a nice idea. In reality however, approaching a project in this manner is unrealistic, generally inefficient, and can be even more costly in the long run.

Phasing VS Piecemealing

When homeowners imagine phasing their project, they often describe it to us as building their backyard over time, paying for each aspect of the project as they go. In their minds, they are envisioning allocating money for a completed deck, then installing a patio with completed pergola, then creating a fire feature or space to place a hot tub, and so on. This way, they believe they will be able to pay for the smaller projects as they go along, without renovating the entire space at once. Clients often refer to this idea as “phasing”.

Unfortunately, what is being described in this approach is not as much a correct phasing approach as it is a piecemealing approach to backyard renovation. While great in theory, in practice, sectioning out the renovation of your yard in this way is impractical, costly, and comes at a detriment to the final design.

Here’s why:

Spending Money Twice:

What many clients don’t realize about separating their project in this way is that piecemealing each part of the space will often lead to overlap in the construction process. This leads to clients spending the same money twice. For example, instead of demolition being done all at once, clients will pay many times to have separate parts of their yard demoed, graded, hardscaped, etc. In the long run, this leads to unnecessary spending and can raise the price of the project overall.

Contractor Consistency

If you are choosing to split your outdoor space into multiple separate projects, it can almost be guaranteed that multiple areas of the space will require work by different skilled trades. Skilled tradesman while alway consistent in their styles of installation have quirks and practices that are different than other skilled tradesman in the same trade. If you were to ask two skilled bricklayers to build the same size and style wall with the same materials both would have intricacies that would cause the installation to look a little different than the other. Now take this idea and apply it to carpentry, paver work, natural stone, stucco installation.

Because people change jobs and change companies regularly, it can't be expected that once phase one is completed, the same skilled tradesman will still be with the company when it is time to implement phase two. This will ultimately lead to different parts of the design not coming full circle when it comes to the details that really make the space pop.

Inconsistent Material Supply Lines

COVID-19 has impacted many areas of outdoor design, but one of the largest impacts it’s made can be seen in material supply lines. Now more than ever, material supply lines are compromised and this can quickly become an issue if you phase your yard incorrectly.

Imagine you are using a material for your deck or patio. You complete the first project, and then come back several months later to begin work on the next section of your space, which requires many of the same materials used in phase one. However, you’re informed at this point that the material you need is no longer available or in stock or has been discontinued all together. Now you’re stuck waiting to continue work until the material is available again, with no end date in sight. This type of headache is exactly why we do not recommend that our clients approach their projects in this way. Many popular products today won't be popular tomorrow. Unpopular materials that some people love are regularly replaced with a new product that will hopefully gain a wider interest.

Interrupts Design Flow:

Phasing projects in this way is a disadvantage not only monetarily, but does a disservice to the overall design of a client’s space as well. Water and Earth thinks of our designs as completed units, with each element built to flow seamlessly into the next. By breaking up the installation and completion of different elements of a design, you are fracturing the continuity of the initial plans. Contractors are forced to work to try and connect two separate entities that originally existed as one idea.

Unnecessarily Inefficient:

When all is said and done, perhaps the biggest disadvantage to breaking up your project in this manner is that it's blatantly and unnecessarily inefficient. While you may feel as though you are handling the creation of a dream outdoor space in a way that make sense to you financially at the time, you are also creating opportunity for more issues, ongoing disruption to your yard and home, and accepting that a space will likely take more time to complete than is necessary.

How To Phase a Project Correctly

This said, there is a way homeowners can phase their project. It just may not look the way that they’re imagining. To understand proper phasing it may be helpful to think about a more familiar process: baking and decorating a layered cake.

If applying the piecemeal logic to this process, a baker would mix, bake, frost, and decorate each layer of their cake individually. In theory, this may seem like a quick or time efficient way to arrive at a finished product. But the reality of the situation is different.

At the end of this process, a baker will be faced with the dilemma of how to piece together each decorated layer into a cohesive final vision. They’ll be forced to re-execute the same mixing, baking, and frosting process many times over. And at the end of the day, they may end up revising or completely redoing layers they thought they had already completed.

However, if a baker thinks about phasing differently, then they can avoid all of these potential issues. Instead of thinking of phasing as a process executed in individual layers, apply the phasing mentality to overall steps. In this kind of phasing, phase one becomes preheating the oven, phase two is measuring and mixing batter for each layer, then baking each layer, and then assembling and decorating them as a whole, and so on.

The same logic can be applied to completing backyard renovation in this way.

Correct phasing of a backyard takes into account the design as a whole, and views each part of the design as integral to completion of the neighboring element. In this process, step one is completing demolition of the entire space. Step two would be grading and step three would be installing footings, bases and conduits to support future construction. While much more cost effective, this approach isn't going to get a project into a usable state until about 50%-75% completion.

Phase Your Financing, Not Your Project

While there remains a “right” and “wrong” way to think about phasing, at the end of the day, neither of these options are terribly efficient or realistic for most homeowners. Thus, while the Water and Earth team are not financial advisors, we can offer some good perspective on how to afford your dream space.

Instead of phasing your project, phase your financing.

Begin by committing to the idea of completing a project, and then saving in phases to arrive at your desired execution point. Arriving at an all new outdoor space is a step by step project, and the very first step should always be ensuring you have the funds to fully complete your space.

Without this assurance, the type of phasing you choose ceases to matter--ultimately, your final product is likely to be delayed, or your space will remain unusable until you have the funds to continue through the following stages of construction.

To avoid conflict, headaches, and overall inefficiency, we believe it is in the best interest of clients to wait to begin a project until they can afford to see it through until the end. While this may be hard for some homeowners to accept, we ultimately believe that best design experiences stem from a seamless process.

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