Designing Sustainable Outdoor Living Spaces

Our world was radically changed about three years ago at the start of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. With people spending most of their time at home, working remotely, and being more cautious in general, the demand for outdoor living increased significantly.

My career has revolved around enhancing outdoor living practices. During my time working with Trex, a composite decking company, we developed solutions for effective rain drainage on and under the deck, along with preserving the deck framing.

In recent times, people have come to cherish their outdoor spaces, viewing them as essential extensions of their living areas. They also want to make design choices that are sustainable and environmentally responsible. Fortunately, there are now many convenient and budget-friendly options to create a stunning and environmentally responsible backyard.

Outdoor Living

According to the Outdoor Living Report from Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens, a vast majority of Americans said they were interested in updating their outdoor areas. Decks, yards, patios, and porches all ranked high among their preferred outdoor fun and entertainment places.

Designing outdoor spaces in a way that respects our environment requires innovation and creativity. How do you construct a sustainable sanctuary outside and appreciate nature – and make it convenient to use?

Sustainable Decks

Building a sustainable deck is a good start. Choosing a recycled material, like aluminum or Trex composite decking, reduces the need for raw materials and energy in manufacturing. Trex composite, for example, is made from 95% recycled materials, including plastic and reclaimed wood. It retains its attractive appearance, is durable, and lasts a long time. Trex’s sustainable composite material is also designed to be low-maintenance.

In 2021, Trex reduced Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 33% compared to 2020. Trex additionally prioritizes the communities where they operate, helping to collect plastic waste in hundreds of retail locations through one of the largest plastic recycling programs in the country. In 2021, through its NexTrex program, Trex rerouted over 1 million pounds of plastic from landfills.

Although some homeowners may choose to use wood, I’m confident that composite decking pays off when you weigh all the ecological factors.

deck
Photo credit: Trex Protect and Trex RainEscape

If you choose to use wood, look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label. This certifies that the wood has been sourced responsibly with limited impact on natural resources. Check for locally sourced wood from forests near you, if possible, to reduce the emissions associated with shipping lumber thousands of miles.

Certain wood types are preferable due to their sustainable sourcing and durability. Woods like ipê (Brazilian handroanthus) and bamboo are nature-friendly choices, as both last a long time.  Bamboo is a renewable resource that grows quickly, which helps minimize its impact on the environment.

Natural Water Features

Installing water features, such as a solar-powered fountain or a self-sustaining pond, can provide a relaxing atmosphere without excessive electricity usage or adverse environmental impacts. The peaceful sounds of flowing water can be soothing after a long day, especially when they contribute positively to your backyard’s ecosystem. These options also lend themselves to healthier, moisturized air.

water feature
Photo credit: Trex Protect and Trex RainEscape

Planting Ideas

Speaking of the air we breathe, incorporating plants can enhance the surroundings of your yard and deck areas. Determine the USDA hardiness zone of your region to help you select plants that will do well where you live. Some plants will thrive in cooler or dryer weather, where others flourish in humidity and lots of sun. Native plants can help support local ecosystems and pollinators. The addition of natural elements like rocks and water features, in addition to being relaxing for you, may make your yard a haven for wildlife.

Light It Up!

Shining some light on your deck and yard at night shouldn’t be expensive, nor energy intensive. LED lights are easy on the environment, are durable, and last a long time. Soffit lights, which are installed in the area underneath the roof overhang, can create dramatic lighting, but are also perfect for softer hues.

Lighting in outdoor living space
Photo credit: Trex Protect and Trex RainEscape

Do you need lights in dark places? No problem, these lights can be used like floodlights or to spotlight an unlit corner. If you’re looking for recessed lighting, soffit lights can be installed under the deck. They can even be installed in a pergola.

Also, consider illuminating landscape features or a walkway using LED or solar lights. Utilizing lights in conjunction with plants to intensify the visual effect of your yard at night makes for a beautiful and stunning display.

Backyard Conservation

Sensible stewardship of your outdoor space isn’t just about picking the right materials, it’s also about intelligent design and effective conservation strategies. The story of Trex, and my own journey in manufacturing our products, illustrate how this can be achieved.

To begin with, we have always been committed to integrating environmental conservation into our business. Our drive towards sustainability extends beyond the product to how we influence outdoor space management.

One example of this is our approach to water conservation. If your yard tends to collect water, we recommend installing a robust drainage system. This protects your deck from water damage, prevents soil erosion, and reduces sediment build-up that could harm local waterways. Notably, it also lessens the chances of a mosquito infestation as well as water-related structural issues.

Take a holistic view of outdoor space management and consider getting professional input. We encourage homeowners to consult design professionals who can assess your landscape and recommend solutions tailored to your unique situation. The solutions might include installing a French drain system, creating a rain garden, or other context-specific interventions.

We are ardent advocates for using water wisely. Our approach emphasizes strategies that reduce water usage and promote sustainability. For instance, we encourage homeowners to collect rainwater to hydrate their plants, select drought-resistant plants, and even let their grass go dormant when necessary.

From my personal experience in construction, I believe that responsible stewardship of our outdoor spaces should not be an afterthought but a guiding principle. As such, we aim to design products that not only respect the environment but also help homeowners reduce their environmental impact.

Design for the Environment

While there are many solutions we can make use of for building a healthy ecosystem in our yards and on our decks, it’s important that we consider all the things that we do, both good and bad. Though we don’t mean to, some activities we partake in can be detrimental to the earth. With a little effort there are ways to counter or reduce negative impacts, and to swing the effects in nature’s favor.

When keeping sustainability in focus, there are several things you can do to ensure your backyard or deck is harmonious with the environment.

Build with ecologically beneficial material. Certain woods are more environmentally friendly than others. Composite decking, like Trex, is also a prime example of an ecologically responsible material.

Take advantage of nature’s bounties. Use the shade from your trees or the sun’s natural path to help plan your patio – or to plant your garden.

Finally, consider refurbishing furniture or utilize sustainable décor for your deck. Remember, the key is to reduce your carbon footprint by recycling, repurposing, and reusing whenever possible.

Dave KileAbout the Author

Dave Kile is the owner of IBP, LLC, the company behind some of the decking industry’s most successful innovations, including Trex® RainEscape® , Trex® Protect™, and Trex® Seal™. Over the past three decades, he has achieved incremental success by immersing himself in the industry, listening to customers and bringing new products to market that improve efficiency and effectiveness.