Published On October 15, 2017 | Last Updated August 14, 2020
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Beautiful and affordable backyard makeover

Looking for some cheap DIY backyard makeover ideas to make your landscape and patio more functional and beautiful?

I was,too.

When I bought my house, the backyard looked like this:

How to replace a rotting Deck
My backyard was overgrown and unusable. (That’s a cinderblock step from the sliding glass door to the rotted deck.)
Overgrown yard
The side yard was choked with weeds.
Wood deck makeover
Overgrown shrubs were taking over the usable space.

Overgrown shrubs, plenty of weeds, and a rotting deck.

Money was tight, so I carefully researched options for a cheap backyard makeover. Plus, I did some creative planning.  After some serious DIY, I ended up with this:

Alternative to concrete patio
The rotting deck was replaced with a patio.
DIY pergolas
Overgrown shrubs were cut back to make room for outdoor living.

See how I turned my overgrown backyard into a beautiful oasis.  Get inspired to makeover your own yard, and create a space you’ll love.

BEAUTIFUL AND AFFORDABLE DIY BACKYARD MAKEOVER

MATERIALS FOR A DIY BACKYARD UPDATE

GRAVEL PATIO

  1. Edging pavers – I used pavers similar to these
  2. Pea gravel – Actual amount will depend on the size of your patio
  3. Wheel barrow
  4. Shovel
  5. Rake
  6. Lawn roller – You can also rent one
  7. Klingstone Paths binding agent
  8. Watering can to apply Klingstone

PERGOLA

See the separate post for detailed instructions to make your own pergola.

FURNITURE & ACCESSORIES

  1. Hanging porch swing
  2. Bistro set
  3. Fire bowl

Out with the Old

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

old rotten deck
The old deck was badly rotted.
house with rotten deck removed
The whole thing was carefully removed and hauled away.

Initially, I thought I wanted to replace the deck with a stamped concrete patio.  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 spreading 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.

In with the New

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.

Next, I planned out the perimeter.  The patio would have a different footprint than the deck.

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

After digging out the ground slightly, I set the pavers in place, sticking up enough to contain a bed of about two inches of gravel.  I was careful to put them in straight and even to each other.

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

With the edging 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.

Installing gravel patio
Moving pea gravel from the front yard to the back.
Making a gravel patio
DIY projects always go better with the right help.

Adding Pergolas

Adding pergolas at either end of my new patio created a tiny bit more privacy, and added interest.  I built one at each end of the patio before sealing the gravel surface.  Then I planted climbing wisteria, and trained it across the top.  After a couple years, this is my favorite spot in the yard.

DIY pergola

If you want to make a pergola for your own yard, be sure to check out how I made a Simple DIY Pergola for the Patio.  It has step-by-step instructions, and a full materials list to help you build something just like this.

Building Steps

To get from the sliding glass door to the patio level, I created steps with 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.

tiered steps on patio
Steps made from a wood frame and engineered decking.
Tiered steps to patio
The tiered design makes easy access to the whole patio.

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 Klingstone 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.)

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.

For more details on the patio, check out my post on Concrete Alternatives and the steps that I took for my backyard makeover.

Concrete alternative gravel patio
The finished patio is a solid surface that still allows water to flow through.

Creating Outdoor Living Spaces

Excited to make the most of my new space, I hung a swing from one of the pergolas.  At the other end of the patio, I hung a colored glass lantern over a table and chairs bistro set.

These became perfect spaces for reading a book, and enjoying a summer meal.

hanging porch swing
A hanging swing perfectly completes this outdoor living area.

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

Outdoor fireplace
Once lost to weeds, this space is now perfect for roasting marshmallows on a summer evening.

Transforming a blank 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.

Project Budget

From prying up the first deck boards, to finally relaxing at the fire pit, this project took a couple months to complete. And it cost under $3,000.

Here is my backyard makeover 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 definitely a makeover done on a dime. And the result is fantastic.

If you like this, you should check out my front yard makeover using no mow lawn alternatives.

Real Life Outdoor Living

Outdoor living idea guide

My budget was extremely tight, but the final result was everything I had hoped for. Cutting back the overgrown shrubs, and installing the patio made the space usable. But it’s the extra touches like pergolas, blooming plants, colorful pots, seating, a swing, and a fire pit that really make the space special.

This patio is the perfect solution for a standard suburban home, where we can’t all afford massive outdoor kitchens and tiered concrete patios. This is a project for real life outdoor living.

Don’t forget to download your free copy of our Outdoor Living Idea Guide to help inspire your own backyard transformation.

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17 Comments on Beautiful and Affordable DIY Backyard Makeover

  1. BRAVO!!

    Pretty and thoughtfully done, I hate gravel which sticks in the soles and spoils the floors inside the house. What a good solution.

    • Thank you, Erica. Not only does this keep the gravel outside where it belongs, it also prevents the stones from getting into the lawn. Don’t you love pretty and practical?

  2. Just jumping in to say “Thank You” for posting this in Houzz, this is such a wonderful inspiration for my on-going project. My husband is disabled and can’t walk on lose rocks so I’ve put down horse stall mats in our patio, under deck area and one of the walkways. The mats in the large patio area are shifting a bit and the Klingstone product you used might just work for us in that area better. I’m up on Fidalgo Island and also understand the need for rain water drainage.

    • Hi, Sheri. I’m glad you found the project useful. It really has been a great concrete alternative for me, and it’s been holding up well for several years now. Feel free to drop me a line through the Contact page if you have any questions.

      • I’m so surprised that I haven’t heard of the product and treatment being used more. So many properties up here are required to keep up to 35% of their property/lot pervious. I’ve shared your post with a few others so you might hear from some folks in the future!

        • Super! Thanks for sharing. I’ve seen a similar treatment at a park in Everett, and also spotted something like it at the Home Show. Hopefully it starts getting more use than concrete.

  3. I just love this project. I wonder if I can find the equivalent of Klingstone in Ireland! If I can it would solve a problem for me as I too do not want to spend a fortune on a concrete patio for our BBQ area..

    • I’ve seen similar products available on Australian websites. Maybe there’s also something in Ireland. Good luck with your project! Let us know how it turns out.

  4. What was your total square feet for the pebble treatment? Trying to figure our costs for the small backyard of my sister… that needs a complete overhaul. She has roughly 400 sq ft to do, so I’m wondering how many 5 gal buckets of klingstone. Thanks – looks lovely.

    • Hi Jolan,
      My entire gravel area was about 450 sq. ft., and I bought six of the 5 gallon buckets. The company was great in helping me figure out how much product I would need, telling me the coverage is typically about 15 sq. ft. per gallon. They also sent me a free sample before I placed my order.

      Good luck with your sister’s project. Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  5. Hi Jenny,

    How do you order the Klingstone product and how much was it for the 5 gallon bucket? Their website has very little info 🙁

    • Hi Stacy,
      In the table above, you can see what I paid for 30gal + shipping, but that was several years ago. I suggest you call or email Klingstone for the latest information. Their contact info is on their website. Good luck!

  6. This a great idea and is something that I will consider for my own backyard. I like the steps down to the ground level patio. A similar product is available locally-EkoFlow Permeable Pebble Binder. I live in Calgary. Do you think that would work for a patio?

    • Hi Debbie,
      I’m not familiar with that product, but the company that makes it should be able to give you some guidance. Let us know how your project turns out!

  7. Do you need a concrete base under the pea gravel and binder or can you do it over a slag base? Or tamped down dirt base? Thanks.

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