7 Backyard Remodeling Ideas for Homeowners on a Budget

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Want the backyard of your dreams, but need to stick to a budget? There are plenty of backyard renovation projects that don’t break the bank — and add value to your home. We’ve rounded up seven low-cost, high impact backyard remodeling ideas to totally transform your outdoors:

Jump to a project: 

  1. Lay a paver pathway from the patio to the side yard
  2. Bring some heat with a fire pit
  3. Create instant luxury with a water element
  4. String up patio lighting for added ambiance
  5. See great returns on basic yard maintenance
  6. Add some low-maintenance plants for visual appeal
  7. Design a simple outdoor kitchen

Pavers used in a backyard remodel.
Source: (toinane / Unsplash)

1. Lay a paver pathway from the patio to the side yard

Average project cost: $1,700 – $4,000
Average project duration: 4 – 10 days

Build a stone paver pathway from your patio to a side yard entrance for a visually impactful hardscape. Paver pathways are affordable to install, costing $8 to $25 per square foot, and require little maintenance to upkeep. According to a Remodeling Impact Report by the National Association of Realtors, a stone paver path has an astonishing 105% return on investment.

There are three main types of pavers to choose from:

  • Natural stone pavers are the most expensive option but arguably the most beautiful.
  • Brick pavers are manufactured from compressed clay and dyed to look like brick. They’re strong and durable, so they work well for paths.
  • Concrete pavers are highly durable and easy to install. To avoid their main quirk — rapid color fading — it’s best to seal them after installation. Sealing costs around $50 for DIY materials or $150 to $300 for professional labor.
A fire pit used in a backyard remodel.
Source: (Taylor Heery / Unsplash)

2. Bring some heat with a fire pit

Average project cost: $100 – $3,500
Average project duration: 1 – 2 days

Picture you and your besties around a fire pit, sipping something refreshing in the summer or huddling in flannels with warm mugs in the fall. Sound picture perfect? You’re not alone in your thinking. 54% of top real estate agents rank fire pits among buyers’ most desirable outdoor features.

“In my experience, they’re one of the most popular outdoor elements,” shares Lynn Childers, a top real estate agent with 15 years of experience helping homeowners beautify their backyards in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

“For many buyers, little compares to the experience of evenings around a fire.”

For the most bare-bones of setups, you’ll be looking at $100 to $600 on a basic metal fire pit. If you want a more elevated look, a custom masonry fire pit costs up to $2,000 for the pit alone (not including a patio or seating). Still, with a 67% ROI, a beautiful fire pit is a solid choice for homeowners set on a high-end, custom look.

A fully functional, cozy fire pit doesn’t have to cost you much, however. Budget-friendly fire pits like this 20-inch cast-iron chiminea or this round fire pit from Hampton Bay are durable and attractive for the price.

If you don’t already have a solid base for your fire pit, create a budget-friendly hangout with pea gravel, which costs less than concrete or pavers and is easy to install.

At an appropriate depth for a high traffic backyard area, pea gravel costs around $5 per square foot, or about $300 to $400 for a 200 square foot patio. Hiring a contractor costs an additional $2,000 on average, but you can easily go the DIY route for less.

A fountain in a backyard that is being remodeled.
Source: (Alexandr Popadin / Unsplash)

3. Create instant luxury with a water element

Average project cost: $60 – $5,000
Average project duration: 1 day

Water features like classic fountains and backyard fish ponds add visual interest and tranquility to any space, and they don’t have to break the bank.

“It’s hard to pin down the worth of a fountain because the value it brings is often intangible,” Childers says. “They’re simply something to look at, but they contribute to the overall vibe and put a finishing touch on a luxury house.”

Among the good vibes a water element brings? Positive effects on mental health, according to a study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Beyond that, fountains or ponds with waterfalls can mitigate noise from neighbors or busy nearby streets, bringing peace to your outdoor space.

Water features come in a variety of styles, which range in price depending on their water source:

  • A portable water feature like a birdbath or small fountain will cost between $60 and $300. Portable fountains are easy to set up, but you’ll need to periodically replace the water with a hose and clean out algae often. Portable fountains also work best near outlets, as they’re typically powered with a cord.
  • For a professionally installed backyard fountain or waterfall, expect to pay $2,700 on average. While these features cost more to install, they require less maintenance and cleaning because they circulate freshwater, which interrupts algae growth.
  • A koi pond costs $3,000 to create on average and is one of the most labor-intensive water features to install because it requires professional excavation, lining, and filtration equipment.

Lighting used in a backyard remodel.
Source: (Patrick Tomasso / Unsplash)

4. String up patio lighting for added ambiance

Average project cost: $100 – $200 (for a 50-foot strand)
Average project duration: 1 day

Stringing patio lights from your pergola or across your yard from light poles gives your backyard remodel a dreamy glow.

String lighting is highly affordable, and your options for styles are wide. Check out these top picks for beautiful and cost-effective outdoor string lighting:

Mulch used in a backyard remodel.
Source: (Patrick Tomasso / Unsplash)

5. See great returns on basic yard maintenance

Average project cost: $100 – $300
Average project duration: 1 day

“Never underestimate the value of small aesthetic upgrades. Small projects like adding a bit of fresh mulch can really make a home pop and boost curb appeal,” Childers shares.

If you have limited funds, avoid landscaping which requires extensive monthly maintenance. “It’s not always a smart financial move,” Childers warns. Instead, focus on low-cost outdoor improvements that promise a high return on investment. The two most cost-effective renovations? Fresh mulch and basic lawn service.

Adding fresh mulch to your beds is a small upgrade that makes a huge impact. Not only will it make your home look primped and polished, but it also prevents pesky weeds from popping up.

Expect to pay about $179 for fresh mulch and recoup 126% of project costs, according to HomeLight’s data.

Basic lawn care service has a stellar 352% ROI and an average cost of $268 — that’s $1,211 in added value, simply by sprucing up what you’ve already got.

Flowers in backyard that's been remodeled.
Source: (Patrick Tomasso / Shutterstock)

6. Add some low-maintenance plants for visual appeal

Average project cost: $100 – $7,000
Average project duration: 2 – 3 days

For as little as $100 and a little bit of sweat, you can add color and value to your home with low-maintenance plants. Just be sure to do some planning before you start digging holes.

“Too many scattered shrubs, flowers, and trees without any ground plan can quickly look cluttered,” Childers warns. “It’s important to start with a design.”

Childers recommends working with a landscape designer for a customized look. That can add up, though — averaging as much as $7,000. If that isn’t in your budget, Childers recommends referencing a landscape design book to DIY your garden like a pro.

For example, rather than scattering individual shrubs throughout your lawn, one common design technique is to create a layered aesthetic by planting clusters of the same plant together for unity and flow.

“That way, it doesn’t look so haphazard,” Childers comments.

He recommends balancing out your hardscaping with shrubs that are visually impactful and easy to care for:

  • Virginia sweetspire
  • Oakleaf hydrangea
  • Summersweet clethra
  • Catmint
  • Beautyberry
An outdoor kitchen in a backyard.
Source: (Patrick Tomasso / Shutterstock)

7. Design a simple outdoor kitchen

Average project cost: $5,476 – $21,892
Average project duration: 3 weeks – 4 months

Outdoor kitchens bring outdoor entertaining to the next level and have a 71% ROI, according to the National Association of Realtors. While you could easily spend a fortune on a luxury outdoor kitchen, the budget version will turn your patio from a reasonably accommodating hangout to the ideal place for prepping and sharing meals in three seasons.

“It’s an extremely popular addition,” Childers observes, “And a lot can be achieved on a budget — for some, it’s as simple as a grill that’s plugged into a natural gas supply.”

At its most basic, a full-service outdoor kitchen will include a built-in natural gas grill, an outdoor kitchen sink, a counter for food preparation, and some form of pergola or sun coverage. You can save money by going with a propane grill instead.

If you don’t already have an outdoor dining set, invest in a patio set. For $200 to $500, small patio sets are a great budget option for building a functional lounging and dining space.

To make your outdoor kitchen feel high-end, match design elements, such as the wood or cushions on your chairs or the finish on your counters, to other outdoor design elements, such as your siding or deck.

“Some of the best designs I’ve seen are crafted in masonry that matches the house,” Childers remarks. “That level of detail is an investment, but it’s an attractive touch that adds distinction.”

Header Image Source: (Zac Gudakov / Unsplash)