Adding Ambiance To Our Backyard Using *Only* Solar Lights

Adding Ambiance To Our Backyard Using *Only* Solar Lights

Some people are surprised to hear that we illuminate our entire pool area using nothing but solar LED landscape lights. As in: the sun provides free evening ambiance with zero effort on our part. Nothing has to be plugged in. Our electric bill feels zero impact from softly illuminating this entire area of our house. So today I wanted to share the 3 solar products we use in case you want to give your own outdoor space a literal glow-up.

Technically we have a porch light and in-pool lights too, all of which use traditional electricity, but we almost never turn them on. Honestly, they’re a little blinding and we like a soft glow that doesn’t block out our view of the stars. Instead, day-to-day (or night-to-night?) we just rely on our solar-powered LED lighting for that oh so charming come-hither glow.

I used to think solar-powered landscape lighting was a lackluster substitute for traditional, wired landscape lights (which, btw, we found very easy to install ourselves at our last house). But now we’re huge fans of solar lights, and I’ll tell you why.

Why We Love Using Solar Lights

One common reason for using solar lights is to avoid the wiring necessary for plug-in or electric-powered lights. And honestly, that’s one of the reasons we initially used them here – almost as a placeholder until we had time to install a more permanent lighting plan.

But since adding them, we’ve discovered there are TONS of pros to relying on solar lighting in your yard:

  • Easy to install: No wiring necessary! Just find a sunny spot for your solar panel.
  • Placement Flexibility: You’re not constrained by wires or proximity to a plug, put ’em anywhere!
  • Affordable: They’re not very expensive to buy and they’ll never add to your electric bill.
  • Set & Forget: They’re dust-to-dawn, so there are no switches or timers to worry about.
  • Eco-Friendly: Renewable resources FTW!
LED Solar Pathway Lights Along Retaining Wall Near Backyard Pool

I even filmed this short little time-lapse video to show you how our pool area automatically transitions from day-to-night, without us having to do a darn thing!

Note: You can also view this video on YouTube.

Now, of course, the main drawback to solar lights is that they rely on sunshine, so they don’t glow as long on cloudy days – but generally they have surprised us by shining longer than we’d think they should on especially gloomy days (they might come on at dusk and shine until 11 or 12 instead of 3 or 4 like they do on a normal sunny day. Very occasionally if we’ve had a string of gloomy days they might only glow a tiny bit or not at all, but in those cases we always have that porch light and our in-pool light if we really need them.

Typically whenever we have friends over after dark, we hang around our firepit area or upper deck anyways, both of which are illuminated by plug-in LED outdoor string lights. So that pool ambiance you see in the video is mostly enjoyed by mom & dad in the hot tub, where it easily provides enough light to make sure nobody misses a step getting in, but not like a search-light level blast of light like a UFO is above us trying to beam us up.

The 3 Outdoor Solar LED Lights We Use

I’ll talk about each of these in a bit more detail, but for a quick rundown, here they are:

  1. Solar Pathway Lights (4 pack is currently $50 – so $12.50 each)
  2. Solar-Powered String Fairy Lights (2 pack is currently $15 – so $7.50 each)
  3. Solar Patio Umbrella Lights (Single pack is currently $24)
Grid Of Three Solar LED Backyard Products

They all include the necessary solar panels, so you don’t need to buy any extra equipment. Everything is ready to go right out of the box. They are also all WARM WHITE, which helps them put off a pleasing glow, not a harsh fluorescent-colored light or anything too weirdly blue.

Solar-Powered Pathway Lights

Sherry has mentioned these solar pathway lights a ton on Instagram and I feel like they’re already building up quite a voracious following – and for good reason! So many of you have sent photos of them in your yards, and from seeing them in snow or other tropical places or just lining a front walkway in the suburbs or the city, they always look great. They’re attractive during the daytime and SO easy to install (just turn the switch in the cap on, stake them into the ground, and you’re done). The solar panel is built right onto the top of the light, and those starburst reflections shine down on the ground around them when they glow.

Brown Chihuahua Sitting Among Solar LED Patio Walkway Lights In Bushes

At dusk they automatically come on, casting a surprising amount of light that creates this cool pattern on the ground. Almost like rays of the sunshine beaming out onto your patio, path, driveway, or wherever. We’ve actually got them on all sides of our house – probably about 16 in total! We get asked if they work in the snow and colder climates and have definitely heard from people who have them and love them there – our only advice is don’t put them somewhere that gets zero sun – because, duh, they’re solar. So like under an awning that’s always shaded won’t work nearly as well as out in a garden, along a path leading to the door, etc.

I haven’t created an Excel spreadsheet to see how long they last every night to provide you with the mean, median, and mode (doesn’t that sound like something I’d do?) but the important part is that most of them are still on by the time we go to bed – so they’re functional for the time we need them to be functional. And I say “most” just because one or two of ours behind our pool wall don’t get as much sun thanks to the plants overhead, so they might fade a little faster.

Thankfully they collectively cast more than enough soft light for us to get around out there and soak up that ambient glow until around 11 or 12, we’re usually inside & sound asleep by then. There are definitely nights when Sherry’s randomly up at 3 or 4am for a glass of water or whatever and says she still sees them glowing softly out there after a sunny day.

Note: when you get them, turn them on under the cap. They have two brightness settings there as well, so you can experiment to see which one you like best. We have ours on the brightest setting and it’s still very soft and not harsh or in-your-face at all.

Solar-Powered Fairy Lights

Last summer we decided to give these solar fairy lights a try and I’m so glad we did. We didn’t really have a plan for them at first, but quickly decided to run them under the eave of our house and along our fence.

They too are easy to install. It just tacked in some small nails along the fence and wound the copper wire tightly around each nail. And instead of staking the solar panel into the ground, it literally just sits on top of the fence collecting all that beautiful free electricity from Mr. Sun. Can’t even see it from the ground (I’m standing up on a ladder for this shot).

Small Solar Panel Sitting On Top Of Fence For LED Solar Lights

One strand is 33 feet long, which worked out perfectly for us. We have two, and each strand starts on either side of the gate (which is how we were able to make sure the gate still swings open freely). So the one on the right side of the gate opening runs along the fence, while the one on the left of the gate opening runs the other direction across the house.

Detail Of Solar Fairy Light Wire Wrapped Around Nail In Fence

The solar panel on the other end of that strand that runs along the house just sits unceremoniously on the corner of our roof. You can’t really see this one from the ground much either from most angles, thanks to some greenery that obscures that corner and the inherent over-your-head factor (I’m up on a ladder to get this shot too).

Small Solar Panel For LED Fairy Lights On Metal Roof

You can see what I mean about the greenery in that corner that obscures the view of the solar pad on the roof here (it’s in that far left corner that you can’t see):

The LEDs don’t give off much heat, so a lot of people also use them more “organically” in bushes or other landscaping. They’d also be great for outdoor holiday decorations, like bunched up in a jack-o-lantern or as part of a Christmas display. Oh and if you’re hosting a disco dance party they also have various lighting modes – like flashing, twinkling, or fading in and out. We just use the solid “on” setting.

From certain angles it’s hard to see the ones under the house (thanks to the gutter) so it’s sort of like an under-cabinet glow that washes down the side of the house – and we often catch them in the pool reflection, like in the photo above. Actually, the reflection of these lights are one of my favorite things about them! Speaking of which…

Solar Patio Umbrella Lights

After the success of the fairy lights, I sought out some other places to add them. That’s when I came across these umbrella fairy lights specifically designed to go on the spokes of a patio umbrella.

Instead of a strand of lights that run in a straight line, these fairy lights are laid out almost like an octopus – with 8 shorter lengths of wire spidering off from a center ring. This makes it perfect for any umbrella with an 8-rib design, between 7ft – 10ft in length. We actually have this 11ft umbrella, so the lights don’t technically go to the ends, but you can see when you scroll up or watch the video it still looks really charming.

Underside Of Patio Umbrella With Solar LED Lights At Night

The kit comes with a bunch of small zip ties to hold the fairy lights in place on your umbrella. We also chose to wrap ours around the spokes too, because I found it required fewer zip ties (we just have one on each end) and holds the wires in place when we put the umbrella down and back up again.

Underside View Of Patio Umbrella With LED Solar Lights Attached With Zip Tie

The listing shows the solar panel mounted on the outer edge of the umbrella, but that made the umbrella lean a little to one side. So we just clip ours near the top of our umbrella instead – to that loose fabric around the top vent. The panel is literally like a giant chip clip, so you’ve got a lot of options for where you want to put it.

It doesn’t give off a giant amount of light (I wouldn’t be able to read a book by it, for example), but that’s not our goal here. We generally like enough light not to fall into the pool or hot tub and be able to see if we drop something but there isn’t “evening reading time” under the fairy lights. They just layer more glow into the backyard and reflect beautifully in the water of the pool.

Overall, we have found this assortment of solar-powered outdoor lights to be the perfect mix for us. We take evening hot tub dips a few nights a week (hot tubs are the best at night!), and we love that these lights offer a zero-effort, electricity-free way to make the backyard look cozy and inviting.

Oh, and one more thing, because it’s also solar. But it’s in a totally different area of our house:

BONUS: Solar Motion-Activated Flood Light

I’m switching gears a bit, I couldn’t tie up this post without mentionig the 4th type of solar light that we love: these motion-activated flood lights (a 2 pack is currently $30). They’re not really going to add any ambiance, but boy are they surprisingly bright for being solar-powered!

Solar powered flood light mounted above parking area

We put them in a couple of dark corners of our yard, including near our driveway to give us some extra light after dark if we’re getting out of the car and we’ve been really impressed by them. We’ve got ours mounted on trees and, since every part of the device pivots, you can adjust it to make sure it’s detecting motion where you want AND shining in the right direction. Again, they’re surprisingly bright!

Solar Flood Light Shining On Car At Night

Just be sure to order these warm white ones we’ve been linking. They sell a cool white version and, well, you know my feelings about light bulbs that are too cool looking.

So we hope this post encourages you to give some solar-powered lights a try somewhere in your yard or patio. And if you’re looking for some other outdoor updates you can do yourself, here are a few ideas:

Note: We get a lot of source questions, like “where did you get those lounge chairs by the pool?” or “what’s the link to that porch lamp?” so we created a spot with all that info (and our paint colors!). This page has any and all sources for things that are outside or inside our home.

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

62 DIY Projects To Transform Your Backyard

62 DIY Projects To Transform Your Backyard

The ultimate roundup of outdoor DIY projects to transform your yard space

Blooming flowers and fresh rain can only mean one thing: spring has definitely sprung! That means summer will be here before you know it. If getting your backyard in order is on your to-do list but you’re having trouble getting started – don’t fret! You don’t need a total landscaping overhaul for your yard to feel refreshed and inviting. Sometimes it’s just a matter of hanging up some string lights or creating a simple fire pit. We’ve rounded up 62 outdoor DIY projects to get you excited to be outside again as the weather warms up. From plants to playhouses, keep scrolling for more inspiration!       

What ways do you want to transform your backyard? Let us know in the comments!


62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Pallet couch
Photo: eHow & The Merry Thought

1. Pallet Couch: Doesn’t this space look inviting? The good news is that it’s made from free pallets and a few cushions!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Summer hammock
Photo: Design Sponge

2. Summer Hammock: Nothing says “ahhhhhhh” like a gently-swinging hammock. Get ready to relax in the fruits of your labor with this DIY.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Lawn chair transformation
Photo: Curbly

3. Colorful Chair Makeover: There are no rules to how bright colors can be outside. See how these once bland lawn chairs got their day in the sun.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: DIY porch swing
Photo: A Beautiful Mess

4. DIY Porch Swing: As Liz Lemon says, “I want to go to there!” Swinging in the spring breeze is a total DIY reality with this project from A Beautiful Mess.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Fringed hammock
Photo: The Merry Thought

5. DIY Fringed Hammock: This hammock brings boho to the backyard with the addition of fringe.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Macrame hammock chair
Photo: eHow

6. Macramé Hammock Chair: I can”knot” get over how gorgeous this hammock chair is! 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: DIY outdoor cushions
Photo: Curbly

7. DIY Outdoor Cushions: Update your existing patio furniture by stitching up some of these quick and easy DIY outdoor cushions. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Easy outdoor bench
Photo: eHow

8. Easy Outdoor Bench: Emphasis on “easy!” Instant seating comes to life with wood beams, concrete blocks, and a bit of paint.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Modern outdoor sofa
Photo: Fix This Build That

9. Modern Outdoor Sofa: This number is so sleek I might want to bring it inside my house! The good news is it’s built to withstand the elements, which means you can make your back deck super classy.


62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Simple grilling cart
Photo: Home Depot via C.R.A.F.T.

10. Simple Grilling Cart: Grillin’ on the go! With a built-in drink cooler, what more could you ask for out of an outdoor DIY project?

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Outdoor bar
Photo: The Merry Thought

11. Outdoor Bar: If you’re not really the grill master type, but more of a whiskey woman, why not make a drink bar for your backyard?

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Wall-mounting serving station
Photo: Live Laugh Rowe

12. Wall-Mounted Serving Station: Want to entertain but don’t have space for a full outdoor kitchen? Go vertical by building this simple serving station with drop-down tabletop! 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Built-in beer cooler table
Photo: Domesticated Engineer

13. Built-in Beer Cooler Table: Woah Nelly, what is this ingenious contraption? Never get up from your chair again with this DIY.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: S'mores station centerpiece
Photo: Curbly

14. S’mores Station Centerpiece: Acting as both a lovely centerpiece and a warming station for marshmallow and chocolate, party guests are sure to be impressed by this s’mores machine (made from glass dishes!).

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Cinder block bar
Photo: Design Sponge

15. Cinder Block Bar: Combining two awesome things (plants and booze), this bar provides an easy builder’s solution.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: DIY grill countertop
Photo: Our Fifth House

16. DIY Grill Countertop: Basically like having an outdoor kitchen, this brick counter space built around a grill surely makes outdoor entertaining a breeze.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Drink cooler stand
Photo: Eddie and Steph

17. Drink Cooler Stand: If you’re constantly entertaining outside, or if you just enjoy having a cold beverage available whenever, this drink stand provides a classy solution to the standard cooler.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: IKEA outdoor bar cart
Photo: Runaway Chef

18. IKEA Outdoor Bar Cart: This entertaining station falls under the category of “why didn’t I think of that?” 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Built-to-last concrete fire pit
Photo: Man Made DIY

19. Built-To-Last Concrete Fire Pit: With a little elbow grease, you can build your own fire pit that you can enjoy for many summers to come. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Minimal fire pit
Photo: The Brick House

20. Minimal Fire Pit: If clean lines are more your style, explore this fire pit put together by The Brick House.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Upcycled fire pit
Photo: House & Fig

21. Upcycled Fire Pit: I don’t want to pick favorites, but this outdoor DIY project is high on the list. See what unusual upcycled material this flaming beauty was made from!


62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Bug-repelling citronella candles
Photo: One Little Project

22. Bug-Repelling Citronella Candles: These outdoor lights do double-duty by providing light and shooing away unwanted pests.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Fire column
Photo: Curbly

23. Fire Column: Nothing says “class” like fire in glass. Shed a little light in your outdoor dining space with this simple DIY project.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Pendant light
Photo: Design Sponge

24. Pendant Light: This DIY might make you want to eat outside for every meal! Create a classy dining nook by hanging some proper light fixtures. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Ping pong ball lights
Photo: Created by V

25. Ping Pong Ball Lights: Maybe the easiest outdoor DIY project on this list, these ping pong ball lights instantly add charm to any space.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: String lights hanging poles
Photo: City Farmhouse

26. String Light Hanging Poles: If you want to hang string lights outside but don’t have anywhere to put them, City Farmhouse has an easy solution that also involves plants!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Portable fire pit
Photo: Design Sponge 

27. Portable Fire Pit: This flame is on the move! Which is perfect if you are an renter or apartment-dweller.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Recycled bottle tiki torch
Photo: Gerardot and Co.

28. Recycled Bottle Tiki Torch: Old wine bottles get new life as mounted tiki torches with this outdoor-friendly DIY!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Tin can lights
Photo: Die Landfrau

29. Tin Can Lights: This project is a classic, and couldn’t be left off the list! If you need a quick, easy, and cheap solution for your outdoor lighting situation, grab some tin cans, tea lights, a hammer and a large nail, and get to punching!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Mason jar lamps
Photo: Orchard Girls

30. Mason Jar Lamps: Another classic, these jar lights are a simple and sweet way to brighten your backyard.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Pool noodle luminaries
Photo: Create Craft Love

31. Pool Noodle Luminaries: Even if you don’t have a pool, you can set these floatable candles off in a large container of water to add ambiance to any space. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Flower pot fire pit
Photo: The Blue Eyed Dove

32. Flower Pot Fire Pit: Who says fire pits can’t be cute? Beautiful in blue, this outdoor DIY project only requires a flower pot, stones, and a little flame.


62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: DIY trellis with planter box
Photo: Deuce Cities Henhouse

33. DIY Trellis with Planter Box: Give crawling plants somewhere to go by building them a trellis. This project is also great if you’re looking to fill visual space in your patio or deck area!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Hose housing station with built-in planter
Photo: DIY Candy

34. Hose Housing Station with Built-In Planter: Gardening hoses are hard to keep neat and pretty. This project solves that solution by keeping the hose hidden! Plus there are flowers involved, which is always a bonus.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Homemade flower beds
Photo: A Beautiful Mess

35. Homemade Flower Beds: Bump up your home’s curbside appeal by installing these flower beds you can make on your own.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Window boxes
Photo: Deuce Cities Henhouse

36. Window Boxes: Aren’t these just the sweetest? Deuce Cities Henhouse (local gal to us!) has tips on creating the perfect window boxes.

62 DIY Outdoor Projects: Vertical planter
Photo: Helpful Homemade

37. Vertical Planter: Take your plants a step up. Perfect if you’re low on space but big on greenery!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Plant chandelier
Photo: A Beautiful Mess

38. Plant Chandelier: Ooh la la! Who needs lights when you can have leaves?

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Succulent letters
Photo: House & Fig

39. Succulent Letters: Say it with succulents! Create “wall art” to hang in your outdoor space.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Tapered cedar planter
Photo: Jen Woodhouse

40. Tapered Cedar Planter: Giant planters are not cheap, but with a little woodworking you can craft your own from cedar. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Geometric cinder block planter
Photo: Little Miss Momma

41. Geometric Cinder Block Planters: Cinder blocks are at it again! With a simple paint job, you can create a modern-looking planter to house all kinds of greenery.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Wooden plant stand
Photo: Shanty 2 Chic

42. Wooden Plant Stand: If you’re looking for ways to add visual height to your plant-scape, Shanty 2 Chic has the plans to build a wooden plant stand. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Gardening table
Photo: Design Sponge

43. Gardening Table: Got a green thumb? You’re going to need a place to work! Learn how to make your own gardening table, courtesy of Design Sponge


62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Colorful patio tiles
Photo: A Beautiful Mess

44. Colorful Patio Tiles: I can’t get over what a simple and transformative idea this is! If you can’t commit to painting your patio, try chalk for a temporarily colorful time!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Painted patio
Photo: A Beautiful Mess

45. Painted Patio: If you’re looking for a way to bring bold to the backyard, this paint job takes the cake.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Stenciled concrete
Photo: Jen Woodhouse

46. Stenciled Concrete: This stencil job mimics the look of a rug with the low-maintenance factor of concrete! Try this look on for size if you’re trying to create a more intimate outdoor living space. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: DIY rug from drop cloth
Photo: DIY Network

47. DIY Rug from Drop Cloth: Personalize the patio by making a rug from a drop cloth. It’ll withstand the elements, too!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Pallet walkway
Photo: Funky Junk Interiors

48. Pallet Walkway: A couple of pallet boards bridge the gap in this DIY. Totally doable, and totally cheap!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Painted outdoor rug
Photo: Curbly

49. Painted Outdoor Rug: Most outdoor rugs are “blah,” but painting them is easy enough. See how with our tutorial for this modern and simple design!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Pea Gravel Patio
Photo: City Farmhouse

50. Pea Gravel Patio: Want to build your own patio? Pea gravel makes it easy to create a patio space without all the pavers. 


62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Tree swing
Photo: Momtastic

51. Tree Swing: How sweet is this swing? Even if you’re grown, there’s nothing quite like swaying under a tree.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Circular rope swing
Photo: Dukes and Duchesses

52. Circular Rope Swing: If you’re working on your balance, try this swing on for size!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Sandbox with lid
Photo: Ana White

53. Sandbox with Lid: It’s a gross reality, but if you have cats, you have to have a sandbox with a lid. Ana White has the plans for how to build one of your own.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Sandbox with seating and awning
Photo: Ana White

54. Sandbox with Seating and Awning: Keep the kiddos safe from the sun by adding an awning to your sandbox. Plus these plans come with adorable seating!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: DIY bungalow playhouse
Photo: That’s My Letter

55. DIY Bungalow Play House: With chalk board panels, this playhouse can be imagined into any space. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Play tent
Photo: Make It Love It

56. Play Tent: Can I move in? This cloth tent is also collapsible, so it’s easy to move inside and out!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Hula hoop hideout
Photo: Alanna George

57. Hula Hoop Hideout: Give each kid their own special space with some fabric and a few hula hoops. 

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Recycled Tire Teeter Totter
Photo: Sugar Bee Crafts

58. Tire Teeter Totter: Alliteration aside, this teeter totter is adorable. Plus it’s made from recycled materials, so it’s good for the kids and the earth.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: DIY tether ball
Photo: Simply Kierste

59. DIY Tether Ball: This DIY feels like a throwback! Do you guys remember playing tether ball long into the afternoon? Turns out it’s pretty easy to make one of your own for you or your offspring to enjoy!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Mini bowling lane
Photo: Handmade with Ashley

60. Mini Bowling Lane: How adorable is this?? Bowling never looked so cute, plus it’s small so it doesn’t take up a lot of space!

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Giant four-in-a-row
Photo: Home Depot

61. Giant Four-in-a-Row: Everything better when it’s bigger. Fair warning: you may end up being house-party-central if you build one of these.

62 DIY Projects to Transform Your Backyard: Giant jenga
Photo: A Beautiful Mess

62. Giant Jenga: Last but not least, this thrilling game is the perfect addition to a summertime backyard party.

Bonus! Author Christina Pfeiffer is sharing What to plant for more drought resilient containers

By their nature, containers require more frequent watering than plantings in the ground.  Smaller containers in full sun can need watering twice a day during hot spells.  Go large when choosing new containers to save on time and water demands.

Choose a group of plants that are compatible in looks and culture.  Match up their needs for light and water first, then play with combining colors and texture.  


These perennials are my first ‘go-to’ s for drought tolerant containers.  They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors with blooms that benefit pollinator insects and ask for little in terms of water and fertilizer.  Most will overwinter and also combine well with other drought tolerant plants.

Herbs for garden and kitchen

Culinary and ornamental herbs are another group happy in well drained soil and sun.  Those with variegated foliage are stunning accents planted solo in a container.  Among my top favorites are:

Variegated lemon thyme
Sages that are edible and ornamental: ‘Berggarten’, ‘Aurea’, ‘Purpurescens’ and ‘Tricolor’
Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ trails beautifully out of hanging baskets and into the marinara sauce.

Perennial favorites

These garden perennials make a successful leap between garden beds and containers and back again:

Coral bells, Heuchera ‘Green Spice’, ‘Peppermint Spice’ and ‘Moonlight’
Geranium x ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and other hardy geranium
Oxalis tetraphylla ‘Iron Cross’
Dusty Miller –
Sunrose, Helianthemum ‘Wisley Pink’ and ‘St. Mary’s’
Hardy fuchsia
Cape fucshia

Add these grasses and grass-likes for contrasting texture

New Zealand Flax, Phormium and  variegated  iris both offer tall, strappy, striped leaves.  
Low growing glack mondo grass has dramatic dark foliage and and small white or purple flowers.
Variegated lily turf, Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’, ‘Silver Dragon’ and ‘Sunproof’  all have white edged leaves and purple blooms.

Annuals that can take the heat (and a bit of drought)

Many of the popular annuals used for seasonal color do best with regular water and fertile soil.  Be sure to keep these birds-of-a-feather together.  Here are some great annuals that don’t like as much water and fertilizer and that combine well with other types of plants listed in this article:

African daisy, Osteospermum Symphony series
Sweet allysum, Lobularia maritima
Coreopsis tinctoria
Dwarf snapdragons, Chinese Lantern series

Ready to get your backyard in order? We've rounded up 62 outdoor DIY projects to help you get out in the sunshine
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A Beginner’s Guide To Pressure Washing (It’s Affordable, Simple, & So So Satisfying)

A Beginner’s Guide To Pressure Washing (It’s Affordable, Simple, & So So Satisfying)

We’ve mentioned how we use our pressure washer to revive various things around the house – like outdoor furniture and even an indoor rug – but we still hear from people who fear that it’s complicated to set up or expensive to buy or hard to control… and the good news is that it’s none of those things. So this post is a comprehensive start-to-finish guide for anyone who’s finally ready to get their pressure washing feet wet (maybe even literally).

Pressure washing is an easy, affordable, and TOTALLY AWESOME way to keep your outdoor spaces looking fresh. So I’m walking you through everything from setting it up and turning it on, to where and how we use ours. It makes such an insane difference every spring, I’d even call it a DIY VIP.

John pressure washing pool deck patio with Ryobi electric power washer

We were a bit intimidated the first time we tried pressure washing nearly 10 years ago. The cumbersome gas-powered machine we rented for a day was so big it didn’t even fit in our car! So I TOTALLY understand anyone with PWH (pressure washing hesitation).

But that all changed when we found a GREAT pressure washer that’s super compact and easy to use – this $99 Electric Pressure Washer from Ryobi. Both Sherry and I use it regularly – and neither of us have any issues controlling it or having enough power to get every single task on our list done. It’ll make a pressure washing convert out of just about anyone. We bought it many years ago with our own money and love it – so nothing about this glowing review is sponsored in any way.

Before And After of upper deck with half pressure washed railings and Trex decking

A Beginner’s Video Guide To Pressure Washing

We’ll cover all three of those topics in text & photos below, but if you want to see ALL of it in action and in real-time, the video below is for you. Oh yeah and there’s lots of that sweet sweet pressure washing footage that everyone’s eyeballs can’t help but love. And more importantly, several cameos by our dog Penny.

Note: You can also view this video on YouTube.

Setting Up Your Electric Pressure Washer

Again, we currently own this $99 Electric Pressure Washer from Ryobi. We bought it for our beach house in 2018, and when we moved we opted to bring it with us instead of an older/larger version we had before – just because this one is so compact and reliable and (most importantly) GOOD AT CLEANING. There are definitely more powerful (and more expensive) options out there, but this pressure washer has always met our needs. Always. In fact, we don’t even use it on it’s highest setting. That’s how adequately powerful it is. Plus it’s pretty much the most affordable option out there and we especially love that it’s compact and easy to use. So unless you have a special need for something more intense, this is a fantastic option.

Ryobi 1600 PSI Electric Pressure Washer Parts Diagram

The box includes everything shown above, you just need to supply water (via a garden hose) and power. And, as we show in the video, set-up is pretty much as easy as just connecting those two things!

Step 1: Assemble Your Wand

We typically store our wand and trigger handle assembled, but coming fresh out of the box you’ll need to lock these two pieces together with a simple twist.

Step 2: Connect Your High-Pressure Hose

The high-pressure hose is what carries the pressurized water from the machine to the spray wand. Each end has an identical black threaded collar. One end connects to your trigger handle, the other to the brass connection on the pressure washer. Just hand tighten until they’re both secure.

Screwing high pressure hose to side of Ryobi Electric Pressure Washer

Step 3: Connect Your Garden Hose

On the opposite side of the pressure washer, there’s a black threaded connection that fits a regular garden hose. Attach your hose tightly just like you would screw it onto your home’s hose bib.

Attaching Pocket Hose To Ryobi Electric Pressure Washer

Step 4: Select & Attach Your Nozzle

This pressure washer comes with 3 nozzle options that offer different levels of pressure for different applications (you can also purchase others as needed). There’s a handy guide on the top of the device that explains the differences between the three, along with holes to store them in.

Pressure Washer Nozzle Guide On Side of Electric Pressure Washer

As we describe in the video, we almost EXCLUSIVELY use the middle (medium pressure) orange nozzle. It’s kind of the Goldilocks of options, giving us the “just right” amount of pressure for cleaning patios, decking, outdoor fabrics, and more. Plus, you can always adjust the pressure you’re applying by simply holding your wand closer or farther from the surface you’re cleaning.

The distance matters – so try to watch the video above whenever you can to see more of what we mean. Held too close to something, even the medium pressure nozzle can strip paint or stain off of wood – but spraying with adequate distance can mean zero removal of anything but dirt and grime – which is SO satisfying, and leaves lots of surfaces outside looking like new.

To attach your selected nozzle at the end of the wand, you just pull down on the brass collar and place the nozzle into the opening. Releasing the collar locks it into place.

Changing spray nozzle tip on Ryobi electric pressure washer

This completes all of the water connections you need to make, which means you can now…

Step 4: Turn On Your Hose

With your water connections secure, you can now turn on the water at your hose bib. It’s a good idea to open that sucker ALLLLLLLL the way to be sure you’re getting the fullest flow possible from the hose.

Turning on water at outdoor hose bib for pressure washing

You also want to check your hose for any kinks, leaks, or other knots that might prevent the water from flowing freely to your pressure washer. It’s also a good idea to squeeze the trigger on your pressure washer for several seconds to make sure the water is coming out steadily before proceeding.

Unkinking pocket hose for use with Ryobi electric pressure washer

You may notice that we’re using one of those expandable “pocket hoses” that shrink up when it’s not full of water. We love these hoses because they’re less bulky and cumbersome than traditional hoses, but some may dissuade you from using them with certain pressure washers (we’ve personally never had any issue using ours).

Step 5: Connect Your Power

With your water good to go, now you can plug in your pressure washer. Ours comes with a SUPER long cord, so you probably won’t need an extension cord, but you can always use one if necessary.

Plugging in Ryobi electric pressure washer to outdoor outlet

If you are connecting an extension cord, just be sure to elevate the connection point of the two plugs (like on a table, chair, or bucket) to prevent water from dripping toward the plugs.

Step 6: Turn On Your Pressure Washer

Turn on the pressure washer using the black button on the top of the machine. You will immediately hear the device engage and you may see your high-pressure hose stiffen as pressurized water fills it up. If this does not happen, try pressing the test & reset buttons on the plug or on your GFI outlet. Those can be common culprits for your power not working.

Pressing power button on Ryobi electric pressure washer

Now your pressure washer is set up and ready for use!

Before You Start Cleaning With Your Pressure Washer

We cover a lot of tips along the way during the video (watching that is truly the best way to get a full primer on pressure washing), but here are a handful of things to keep in mind before you start your first pressure washing adventure.

  • Wear close-toed shoes and pants to help protect your feet and lower legs from any accidental pressurized spray. A direct, close-range spray can sting or even break the skin.
  • Clean top to bottom. If your to-do list includes multiple surfaces, start with the higher ones (railings, patio umbrellas, etc) and work down to lower ones (decks, patios).
  • Start slow and test in an inconspicuous spot first. It’s always good to start in a hidden spot (like the back of a pillow or the area of your deck that’s under your outdoor sofa). If it’s your first time pressure washing a particular material or surface, start with low pressure and gradually increase it as needed (by bringing your wand closer or changing nozzles) to make sure you’re not damaging the surface. Don’t start by blasting something with the nozzle mere inches away ever.
  • Beware of sensitive materials like windows, soft woods, & vinyl siding that can be easily broken or damaged with too much pressure. We generally tend to stick to cleaning concrete, outdoor stone or tile, Trex or wood decking, brick paths or patios, wood or metal railings, and outdoor furniture/pillows as well as outdoor AND indoor rugs (more on that here). You obviously want the nozzle further away from fabric than, say, concrete.
  • Mind your cords. This pressure washer is super light and portable, but keep an eye on your power cord and water hoses as you move it to make sure you’re not kinking anything or creating tripping hazards.

What We Clean With Our Pressure Washer

We typically break out our pressure washer 2-3 times a year to keep our various outdoor spaces looking fresh and clean. Between all of our trees, our clay/sand road, and the salty beach air, things can get grimy – so we usually do a pretty thorough cleaning in the spring to wash off the dirt, pollen, or mildew that collected on things over the winter. Then we might do some quicker “touch up” cleanings as needed in the summer and fall.

Rainbow created by overspray during pressure washing railings on deck

We use it on a variety of surfaces, but here are the primary ones that we’ll cover today:

  • Composite Decking
  • Painted Railings
  • Outdoor Fabrics
  • Stone Patios

Composite Decking

We have Trex decking on our porches and we’ve found the pressure washer to be a great way to get dirt, dust, and sand build-up off of them. The woodgrain texture on the Trex catches a lot of grime and we hadn’t cleaned our upstairs deck in a while, so it had quite the layer of black tree dirt. That made the job super satisfying though…

Spraying Trex Deck With Ryobi Electric Pressure Washer

Doing that large upstairs deck was pretty tedious because we had to be slow & systematic so we didn’t miss any boards (sometimes it’s hard to see what’s still dirty once everything has gotten wet). So before doing my downstairs decks I bought this $40 surface cleaning attachment for electric pressure washers that a bunch of you have recommended for doing larger “floor” surfaces faster. Boy was it a game-changer!

12 Inch Surface Pressure Attachment For Ryobi Electric Pressure Washer

It attaches to my spray wand just like any other nozzle does, but provides a much larger 12″ cleaning surface, which made pressure washing my decks SO. MUCH. FASTER.

Underside of 12 Inch Surface Attachment For Ryobi Electric Pressure Washer

Not only was it faster, but I didn’t worry as much about leaving “streaks” if I missed a spot or only cleaned part of a particular board. You can see below that our decks can get a lot of sandy footprints and settled sand on them. But they look much fresher now!

Side by Side Before And After of Pressure Washed Trex Decking


Another area that we hadn’t cleaned in a while was the upstairs deck railings, which had a build-up of tree dirt on them just like the Trex decking.

Pressure Washing White Painted Railings On Deck

These railings are painted wood, and you should always use a bit of caution when pressure washing painted surfaces because the pressure can cause the paint to chip or flake. Also, if any areas have started to rot beneath the paint, the pressure washer can make the situation worse.

We just always keep a close eye on the surface as we clean, and lessen the pressure (step back!) or skip a particular spot if the paint isn’t holding up. If your biggest nightmare is some flaked paint, I’m also here to assure you that a few paint touch-ups aren’t a big deal. We’ve done them and they’re never detectible once it’s dry.

Before And After of upper deck with half pressure washed railings and Trex decking

Outdoor Fabrics

We’ve definitely extended the life of more than a few outdoor pillows and cushions thanks to our pressure washer. It’s just especially important with fabrics to take it slow because too much pressure can cause the fabric to tear or fray. So start on the back and with low pressure, especially if it’s the first time you’re cleaning that material.

Spraying Outdoor Pillow With Electric Pressure Washer

Also, keep in mind that the process may not be perfect. Some stains may only get lighter, not disappear entirely. So you may need to attack certain spots with an outdoor cleaner or fabric cleaner to finish the job. But for us, we find the pressure washer does the bulk of the work getting our outdoor fabrics ready for spring. Hot tip: put them in the sun to dry. That does a great job of lightly bleaching some more stubborn stains than if you set them out to dry in the shade.

Side-by-side Before and After of Pressure Washed Outdoor Swing Cushion

Stone Patio

Pressure washing is a great way to get patios, driveways, sidewalks, and even some decking to look new again. This was the first season we used it to clean the stone patio around our pool, which had collected a lot of green scum in some of the more shaded areas of the yard (under and behind the lounge chairs for example).

Spraying Pool Patio Stone With Electric Pressure Washer To Remove Scum

The video shows how satisfying this really was, but the before & afters below give you an idea as well. It’s a bit hard to tell because the stone itself has some darker shell “spots” in it (and the surface is wet in the after shot), but this whole area looks totally redeemed.

Side by Side Before And After of Pressure Washed Pool Patio Stone
*Everything except the left corner of the patio was cleaned in the photo above – see that line of darker scum?
Such a difference.

When you’re cleaning patios or other stone surfaces, just be mindful of any polymeric sand (or regular sand) that you may have between the cracks. The pressure washer may blow that loose and you’ll need to refill it.

We also get asked very often about whether or not we add some sort of soap or cleaner to our pressure washer. While the machine DOES come with a way to wash with soap (it includes a hose that you can attach and connect to your bottle of soap), honestly, we’ve never used it. We just spray outdoor cleaners on certain items (mainly stubborn fabric stains – for example, we use this fabric cleaner) by hand and then pressure wash them to move those suds all around and rinse them away.

Soap Injection Hose Attachment nozzle on side of Ryobi Electric Pressure Washer

The last thing to keep in mind when cleaning outdoor fabrics is to make sure you have a sunny spot to let them FULLY dry. Otherwise, you may just encourage more mildew build-up.

Other Uses For Your Pressure Washer

While those are the ways that we currently use our pressure washer, there a TONS of other ways they can be useful around the house. Here are some previous posts we’ve written about other pressure washing adventures:

Putting Your Pressure Washer Away

Once you’ve finished your cleaning, disconnecting and storing your pressure washer is even easier than setting it up. You’re basically reversing the steps:

  • Turn it off and unplug it
  • Turn off your water
  • Spray the wand for several seconds to release the water pressure (it will make disconnecting the hoses easier)
  • Disconnect your garden hose
  • Disconnect your high-pressure hose from the pressure washer (we leave it attached to our spray wand, but you can disconnect that end too)

Once everything is disconnected, there’s a handy velcro strap on the handle of the machine to help you wrangle all of your cords and hoses. It’s one of our favorite features because it makes storing it so much easier! You can see it in action in the video 😉

Securing cords on Ryobi electric pressure washer with built in velcro strap

So, there you have it. All the info I can possibly think of on the topic of pressure washing. I hope it leaves you feeling confident that you can tackle this project yourself (you can!). I’m ridiculously glad that we tried one out many years ago and have never regretted owning one since!

Sidenote: we finally better-categorized and updated our Amazon shop to include a lot of the more recent things we have been loving – like Sherry’s beloved robot vacuum, some new favorite family board games, our tried and true beach gear, favorite recent reads, etc – so that’s all right here.

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

Our New Kitchen Porch

Our New Kitchen Porch

Finally took the photos and videos for this post and I can’t wait to share it because it changed our house in such a major way. Introducing… the area that we affectionately call our kitchen porch. Aka: the grillin’ spot with all the greenery.

If you followed along on Instagram Stories for the last few months, essentially this side porch always existed, but after we closed off doors number 7 and 8 from our bedroom which led out here (yes our bedroom had 8 exterior doors & still has 6 of them – more on that here), it was just a floating porch without any door leading to it. Here’s an old photo to show you what we essentially were starting with (this is after the exterior stairs came down from the upper deck, but before we painted the house, got new railings, etc, etc).

See that window on the porch in the photo above? That looks into the kitchen. And the double doors you see on the left side of the porch in the picture above are the old bedroom doors we terminated so we had the best spot for our bed & gained a nice big closet.

And here it is now. I can’t tell you how much more functional it makes things for our family. We can step outside and grill just a few steps from our kitchen (literally, the grill is maybe 5 steps from the kitchen counter inside) and we have a parking spot out here that we like to use because it’s closer to the house (so bringing in groceries just got a lot faster & easier, because we can bring them directly into the kitchen via a much shorter route).

We also have a nice safe fenced side yard over here, which we were excited about for Burger to get to enjoy. Now that he’s gone, that part of this setup hurts our hearts a little because he didn’t get to use it for very long, but he liked it a lot while he was here, and we think it’ll be handy when we have another dog (Burger is absolutely irreplaceable, but we’d love to rescue another dog and give them a loving home when we’re ready).

If you fast forward a little from the dark brown before shot (two photos up) and pause before going all the way to the after above, you’d be at this phase:

The photo above is after we terminated the doors from the bedroom side (we drywalled right over them and frosted the glass so it didn’t look too bad from the outside – but we knew it was only a temporary solution). We also painted the deck out here with porch & floor paint just to clean things up a little, but jumped at the chance to add the same Trex as the rest of the house during this phase of the update. We have Havana Gold trex upstairs on the deck up there and on the front porch as well as the side steps right near this deck that lead to the firepit, so finally getting the door permanently patched from the outside and redoing the decking with matching trex along with adding that door to access this porch right from the kitchen made it such an upgrade.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kitchen-porch-vertical-shot-sunny-768x1024.jpg

If we had a magic wand we’d have made this deck a wee bit wider, but we’re right up against a lot’s setback so we have to embrace what we have, and all that means is that when we use the table we scoot it out a little for more sitting/eating space (the picture below was us taking this porch on its maiden we’re-eating-out-here voyage). See how the table is scooted out a bit more from the placement in the photo above? Also look how happy Burger was about the new kitchen porch. I’ll wait while you zoom in. That, my friends, is a real smile.

If you toggle back and forth between the photo above of us eating and the one below, you can see that when the table isn’t in use we just tuck it closer to the house. Also we hadn’t added the tin roofing yet in the photo above, but more on that in a second.

That Big Daddy Fig on the right in the photo below looks like he might graze our grocery bags, but we’ve both run through here with our arms loaded with like 7 bags (isn’t everyone’s toxic trait trying to carry all the grocery bags in one trip?) and not one time did that fig get in our personal space. We have a little video walk-about for you guys later in the post that’ll help you get more of a feel for what it’s like to walk around this side yard. So… get excited. Actually John made some interesting editing choices. So there’s that to look forward to.

The other upgrade we added to this area was a watertight metal ceiling over our heads. The upper deck is actually above this porch, and rain came right through those deck boards and onto this space before – but not anymore (we hired the same pro who added the door for us and waterproofed the siding where our bedroom door was to add this tin, and it was money very well spent).

Now we can grill and eat out here, rain or shine. When our friends come over with their kids, our group can easily balloon from 4 to 8 or even 10 – and thanks to our indoor table seating 7 in a pinch (3 fit on each long side and someone can pull up a chair on the end) and now adding this outdoor table that seats 4 more, we officially have seating for 11! Which we have tried out already (so far we adults like claiming the outdoor table by the grill while the inside one becomes one big kids table).

Speaking of the grill… one of our friends raved for so long about this grill that we had to buy one ourselves. Their glowing review, coupled with the online ratings for it and the fact that there is a little peekaboo window in the lid that allows you to see how everything is doing while you cook without opening it… well, we were sold. And so far we love it. We’ve made everything from burgers to chicken and even pizza on this thing. Delicious. Five stars. Would recommend.

Also, in all of the homes we’ve ever owned, including the beach house and duplex, we’ve never had a grill this close to the kitchen. Zero steps to go down! No walking around various rooms & patios carrying all the food and supplies! It is GREAT! We use it so much more this way. Feels extremely lucky to end up with this setup. Especially in a spot with nice enough year-round weather that we could grill outside 365 days a year.

The photo above is the new door we added that connects to our kitchen (the dishwasher is to my left as I stand here and take the photo) and look how close the grill is. Literally five steps. Maybe four if you’re John “LongLegs” Petersik. As you can see, I cannot get over this fact. I might meet you on the street and you’ll be like “I read your blog!” and I’ll be like “that’s so nice, did you hear that our grill is like five steps away from our kitchen?!”

If you look to the left beyond the kitchen deck you can see where we put the hanging tent we got the kids last year (you can read more about that here). They end up on that thing every time their friends come over or whenever we make s’mores (I’ve shared some videos of it swinging at night on Instagram Stories since it cracks me up that they always gravitate there like it’s magnetic).

If you pan a little more to the left, that’s where John hung his beloved paddleboard (it’s the same one he got years ago for Cape Charles, and it’s still going strong). They no longer sell exactly the same one, but this one is similar.

This is that little side area to the left of the kitchen porch when you step back and face it, and I want you guys to stare at those three trees behind the tent swing in this photo:

These are the same three trees! I know it’s a terrible photo (it’s actually a still shot from an old video I made in the rain) but isn’t it wild how much a fence can add to a formerly streetside zone? It gives us so many spaces to fully use (the fire pit area is on the other side of this fenced-in yard as well) and the weird floating parking space is now defined by the fence and landscaped, complete with crushed rock underneath it. It feels so much more legit, and oddly a lot bigger. Like each side of the fence feels like the size of the entire area before the fence went up. I have no idea why that happens, but my guess is that defined spaces can appear larger and more functional, versus amorphous ones without any visual boundaries.

Since we’re playing the Stare-At-Those-Trees game, look at the group of 3 big trees below. See how that one sort of elbows off to the left and swerves right again?

This is almost the same view now. I realized after I took this that I should have stepped about 5 more feet to the left to get exactly the same tree angle, but you get the gist. The space in the photo above just felt like… I don’t know… streetside nothingness…? And now it’s a legit fenced yard with stepping stones that lead to a parking spot, a fire pit area is off to the right, there’s a hanging swing to the left, and a brand spanking new kitchen porch at the other end of those stepping stones. And have I told you the grill is five steps from the kitchen?!

Behold, night time glowy deliciousness. I think this angle of the house wins most improved in my head. I mean look at her. She’s modern. She’s warm. She’s functional. She’s welcoming. She’s nestled in the trees.

Here she was before. In the words of Kevin McAllister: “Buzz, Your Girlfriend. Woof.” Don’t get me wrong, we both knew she was a STUNNER from the moment we laid eyes on this house, but it sat on the market for something like 265 days (in a location that’s under a five-minute walk to the Gulf of Mexico!). Might have been the fact that there wasn’t working plumbing and there were holes in the floor that also deterred people…

Why are we talking about anything other than these GLORIOUS FIDDLE LEAF FIGS THAT CAN LIVE OUTSIDE HERE?! I know, my mind is blown. We had one up on the deck for a full year and it was straight up happy-go-lucky about being outside. So we went all-in on a few more (I even planted one in the ground to see if it’ll grow up to be a huge tree someday- will keep you posted on how that goes).

Another best supporting character of this makeover: the string lights. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Get yourself some string lights. Put them on a timer so they go on for a few hours each evening. They’ll draw everyone out like a moth to a flame. Literally, it works every time.

Oh and check out that little metal plant hanging bracket we got! It’s so fun to add something green up there in the corner out of the way of heads that gather ’round the table. Right now I have a fern there, but I might try my hand at some intensely drapey flowering annuals next spring. How awesome with a waterfall of hot pink flowers look?!

Here’s the view if you step back a few squares on those stepping stones (they’re these $6 ones from Lowe’s) which lead to our parking spot behind the gate.

I feel like we need to circle back to this table while we’re praising things I love out here because it’s so affordable and adds such warmth to this entire seating area. I sprayed it with two coats of this clear matte sealer based on some recommendations in the reviews, and so far it has been a champion. Drinks have already been spilled and morning dew happens even with a metal roof overhead and it looks like new so far.

This is the view from the gate that leads to our parking spot (the gate is open here – that’s the greeny-gray post where it latches closed on the right side of this picture):

You can sort of see where the stepping stones lead to the gate (which leads to our favorite parking spot) from this shot. Although that big bossy fig is kind of obscuring it. The fence jogs forward towards our house (that’s where our parking spot is) and the gate is on that run of fencing when it jogs towards the house.

This shot is really about the fig in the foreground, but I sense that you might not want to talk about plants as much as I do, so I’ll draw your attention to the rattan table behind the grill. That, my friends, is a streetside trash find. There are literal treasures just abandoned on the curb here, and my neighbor laughs at me about once a week because she catches me dragging something like this home.

Here’s a better shot of it from overhead. I think it used to have a piece of glass along the top and it broke so someone tossed it but I love it just the way it is. It’s currently holding a big shell full of other shells (naturally) and a potted plant (again, naturally) – but it could just as easily hold a tray with plates and serving stuff to have near the grill whenever that need pops up.

Oh and it’s hard to tell from this angle, but the steps that lead down to the fire pit area from our bedroom come off the house at an angle – so they would never have lined up with the stairs we added to the kitchen porch (which also called for fewer steps). So instead of running the new kitchen steps end to end and having them smash into the bedroom steps very awkwardly, we made them nice & wide (4.5 feet) but left room for planting beds on either side of them. Because, PLANTS. Need I say more?

This picture is just in here just because look at that grill gleam. Me-ow. And my fig is absolutely working the lens.

I might never get over the fact that the view of this side of the house from the kitchen used to be this…

… and now there is a big full-glass door that lets us gaze at this whole scene. The second they started cutting the hole for the door we were like OMG THE VIEW!!!

I mean, look at all that lush green stuff that we get to glance over and see while loading the dishwasher or prepping a meal.

And at night when the lights are glowing… it’s pretty freaking magical.

In summary: I love plants, the grill is five steps from the kitchen, and WE LOVE THIS FREAKING PORCH SO MUCH. John wants to write a big meaty post about what happened on the kitchen side of things (we made a few new updates in there too when this door was going in) so stay tuned for that.

Also I want to add up all the exterior square footage that our house has in decks/patios/porches, because I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more than our 1400 interior square footage! If you include the stone patio around the pool (along with the front porch, upper deck, and our new kitchen side porch) it definitely is I think! And we’re so grateful to have it because we spend so much time outside. It truly helps our house live a lot bigger. When in doubt, make a bunch of come-hither zones outside, and add string lights and figs. All the figs.

Ok, as promised, here is a video of the entire space so you can walk around with us. It transitions (a few times) from day to night because John took some liberties while editing to spice things up. I love a man who could have just added a fade-wipe between day footage and night footage but decided to do some day-to-night-to-day transitions that are timed to that foot-tapping beat.

Video Tour

Note: You can also watch this video on YouTube.

And if you want to see what this fenced-in outdoor area looks like from above, you can actually catch a good long peek at it towards the end of this video that we recently shot of our family room & upstairs deck. You see the fire pit area as well as the stepping stones leading to the gate and the kitchen porch (although it was before we got our grill):

Note: You can also watch this video on YouTube.

Ok, that’s the end. Happy Monday, and may you all find something to love as much as I love plants and hitting the same joke about 4-5 times in the same post. Goodnight and good luck.

P.S. If you’ve somehow missed our Annual Gift Guide (you might even be messaging me to request that we do one at this very moment) – we did it and shared it last week! Here’s the link!

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

Putting In A Pool: The Process, The Cost, and All The Before & After Photos

Putting In A Pool: The Process, The Cost, and All The Before & After Photos

It’s been a full year in the making, but OUR POOL IS DONE*! Here’s where I imagine someone saying “and the crowd goes wiiiiild” (and the crowd, in this case, is the five members of our household – including Burger shaking a tiny pom-pom). Today we’ve got one HUGE post full of info about the entire process, the budget, and, of course, the finished result. We’re also answering some of the most common questions we got throughout this project.

*Well, mostly done. More on that later

Neither of us have ever lived in a house with a pool or even in an area of the country where residential pools are very common. So this was totally new territory to us, and the luxury of being able to have our very own backyard oasis is not lost on us. We’re incredibly grateful to get to enjoy this space with our family – and one of the key ways we identified it as being something we’d all love and appreciate is that for the last 5 years or so, we’ve been renting houses in Florida for spring break with backyard pools. We even followed that trend with our Costa Rica trip and we LOVED it and spent tons of time floating and swimming and doing all the pool-centric things.

We even noticed that we love to eat meals out by the pool, which has continued to be a theme now that we have one of our own. Picture this table full of pizza or PB&Js or even hot mac & cheese (I know that sounds weird, but the kids scarf it down – even on a warm day). So as cute as that demure little bowl of oranges that Sherry put here for this photo is, this table has already handled quite a few meals (hence Sherry’s favorite purchase: these shatterproof bowls & plates).

If you followed along with our move to Florida last year, you know that having a pool or the space to add one was high on our house-hunting list, just due to those aforementioned spring break trips. Pools are common in our area, but the particular house that we fell for didn’t have one, which kinda felt like a bummer at the time – although not all was lost because the lot was perfect for adding one. The real estate listing even called out that there was “room to add a pool!” or something to that effect. And in retrospect, we’re grateful to have been able to design the exact space we envisioned because we all love what we ended up with (and my dragon wife got her beloved hot tub).

The Before & Afters

Here’s the space in April of 2020, courtesy of a video that our contractor sent us (hence the graininess). It was so bare and uninteresting – basically just an unused area full of mostly weeds – that we realize in hindsight we don’t have that many before photos of it. It wasn’t much to look at.

Before photo of white house with dirt and weedy yard

Here’s another photo he sent us about a month before the photo above. This was before the house was painted white and before the interior hallway and pool door was added for direct access to the future pool area. Sadly, you can’t see as much of that beautifully weedy yard in this pic. But don’t worry, I’ve got in another angle three photos down that shows the rest.

Before photo of house brown with same empty backyard

And here’s the AFTER. Goodbye weeds, hello little backyard paradise.

Here’s a before picture looking the other direction, towards the back of our neighbor’s existing fence (that’s the darker brown one) and the new fence that we put up along our property line soon after we moved in (the lighter horizontally planked one). This is before we painted them both a muted green color (SW Halcyon Green) which you see in all of the afters (we got our neighbor’s blessing to paint the back of their fence). I’ll talk more about the fences a little later in the post, but like we said, the yard itself was mostly just weeds upon weeds.

Weed covered yard with two brown fences in the background

And now it looks like this:

If you pull back a little further and view it straight on, here’s what you see:

Curved edge pool with seating area in the background with green fences

chairs / white pillows / lounge chairs / striped pillows / umbrella / umbrella stand / similar table / wall scuppers / solar path lights

To get a better feel of the space, here’s a quick video walkthrough that we took during the daytime and at night. There’s no narration, so if you’re somewhere that you can’t watch it with sound, that’s just fine – but there’s a 2-minute dose of audio zen for you if you can. Also, see if you can spot Burger making a cameo at the very end. It’s extremely subtle.

NOTE: You can also watch the video above here on YouTube.

There’s obviously a lot to take in, and a lot to say about this process, so I’ll do my darndest to cover it all. Who am I if not extremely long-winded?

Planning Our Pool

A big inspiration for our pool was this Balinese-inspired house that we stayed in during our vacation to Costa Rica back in January of 2020. We really liked the entire vibe of this little hideaway of a pool, from the lush greenery to the small white house with a tin roof. And yes, that was definitely some foreshadowing.

Inspiration photo of small tropical pool next to white house and child in swing

We’ve learned from those various vacations over the years that our family doesn’t need a huge party pool to have a good time, which is nice because most of the lots in our neighborhood – including ours – don’t have room for massive swimming spaces. Many are just smaller hangout pools, which are sometimes called cocktail pools, lap pools, or plunge pools – and of the four pools nearest to our house on the same street, our modestly sized pool is actually the second biggest (thanks mostly to our house being shifted over on our lot, which is why our listing boasted that “room to add a pool” feature).

John in small freeform pool against stone accent retaining wall under palm plants

It really is all relative, because in another neighborhood or area our pool could be described as tiny, but at this point I think you know what we don’t really subscribe to the “bigger is better” philosophy. This has been the perfect size for us so far, and trust me, we’ve tested it by having 10 people in it (with floats and balls) and it works great. So while “supersized” wasn’t one of our pool goals, here are the things we did want to gain:

  1. Enough swimmable area for our kids and a few of their friends to play (which is why we skipped big tanning ledges or sunshelves)
  2. Room for us to float around, sometimes with friends and cold beverages (we’ve had 6 semi-massive floats in this pool and it was ridiculous and fun)
  3. A spa/hot tub area (since my hot-water-loving wife misses the jacuzzi we had at our old beach house)
  4. Something that sounds tranquil and soothing (enter the word “scuppers”, stage left)

Side view of pool accent wall with fountain sprayers and round spa in background

Because our yard wasn’t huge, we enlisted the help of a local landscape architect to help us make the most of our pool design (she knows all the local setback rules and code requirements, so she helped us navigate those parameters). She had previously helped one of our neighbors plan his pool, which is how we got her info – and she ended up suggesting several features that we really appreciate, like the curved edges around both the pool & the patio. She also suggested incorporating a retaining wall into the pool as a fountain element (those three sprayers you see below are called “scuppers” – which conjures up an image of a fisherman on a boat smoking a pipe to me for some reason). Having someone to bounce all of our ideas off of and add in her suggestions was HIGHLY HELPFUL. And she charged by the hour and spent something like 4 or 5 hours on it, so it was not expensive by any means.

Its exact size is a bit hard to describe because it’s a “freeform” pool with some organic curves, but the longest side is around 20′ long and the widest part in the other direction is about 14′ wide. Again, there are some curves in there, plus an integrated hot tub, so the swimmable area isn’t that exact dimension. But deciding on a layout was just the beginning of getting this project going…

Our Plaster, Pool Tile, And Patio Stone Picks

Most of the pools in our area are made of concrete covered with plaster, which tends to do well in our environment which has extremely sandy soil (there aren’t many fiberglass or vinyl liner pools here), so we got to skip that debate that some homeowners go through. But we did spend A LOT of time considering the color of the plaster that we wanted since it’s the material that establishes the color of your water. Although, as we learned, lots of things affect exactly how your water looks (more on that in a second).

The majority of pools in our area go for a bright blue look, and our pool builder said the three bracketed colors below (Blue Quartz, Cool Blue, and Blue) are his most popular plaster colors. Note: These are all Diamond Brite colors, which is his preferred plaster.

Screenshot of DiamondBrite Plaster color options with popular colors highlighted

However, we wanted something a little less bright blue that skewed a little lighter and a bit more blue-green, like our inspiration photo of the pool we loved in Costa Rica (that pool was all tile, btw, which isn’t really done with pools of our size because it would be incredibly expensive – hence most people doing plaster with waterline tile like ours in our area). Looking online, our eyes immediately went to sandy-colored options like Pearl and even Mojave Beige, but after seeing some samples in person, we realized they were either darker or more speckled/busy than we had envisioned, which means the entire floor and walls of the pool would look like that. Many of them also didn’t look as good with our tile picks. So…

  • Rule #1: Don’t trust the chart online! See them in person because they’re different.
  • Rule #2: Bring your tile picks to see how they look with your plaster – and get them all wet to see if they change because they’re all going to be wet all the time

In the end we chose Ivory (circled above) because a) it looked best with our selected tile & stone, b) it would keep the water looking light, and c) that entire column of colors felt more on the green-blue side versus just bright-blue like the column next to it. Obviously the water color gets darker as the water gets deeper, but you can see how bright and unspeckled our plaster looks below:

Detail photo of pool color getting darker as water gets deeper at steps Ivory DiamondBrite

The color of your water is also impacted by your tile, the time of day, cloud cover, and even the landscape it reflects (green trees, blue sky, houses, fences, etc). You’ll probably notice it changes throughout this post – including the photo above vs the one below – and even the spa looks different than the pool if the sun is hitting them differently. It will also probably skew more green as more of our landscaping fills in over time. So, point being, water color is a bit of a moving target. But we really like where we’ve ended up so far.

Angled view of small freeform pool with stairs at one end and bench across one end showing Ivory DiamondBrite plaster

You can also see from the photo above that the plaster color sort of melts into the border tile that runs around the waterline, so it’s not a big harsh line there, which is why we wanted to choose a plaster that wasn’t too speckled or dark (which would have made for more of an obvious and less smooth transition).

Here’s another shot so you can see how the plaster choice and our waterline tiles tie into the retaining wall stone and the spillover stone on the hot tub (which is also along the top of the retaining wall). And speaking of the water changing colors, see how the hot tub looks lighter and more greeny-blue than the pool in the photo below? It’s the shallower depth in the hot tub (as well as along that ledge on the left side) that does that. It’s actually pretty fun to watch things change with the depth and also with the brightness/time of day.

View of curved tile accent retaining wall covered in stone with fountains into pool

chairs / white pillows / lounge chairs / striped pillows / umbrella / umbrella stand / similar table / wall scuppers / solar path lights

The second thing most people obsess over is their tile. Some pools have lots of different tiles going on, but we just had two to pick out: our waterline tile and our retaining wall tile.

Waterline tile, as it sounds, goes along the waterline of the pool. This is to keep your water from getting a ring around the edge if/when the water ever gets scummy. Again, we went with something neutral and sand-colored to keep the vibe feeling light, relaxed, and organic. It’s called Stratos Avorio 2×2 Mosaic. We purchased it at a local tile store, so that’s just a random link I dug up. The 2×2″ size was important so it could fit around all of the curves of the pool (big tiles are great for a clean rectangular pool, but curves mean that a smaller tile is easier to maneuver in those areas).

Detail photo of accent wall stacked natural stone tile and neutral waterline tile

We wanted the wall to also have a natural look to it, so we chose a subtle stacked stone that looks more like a natural rock than some of the colorful glass mosaics that you see in a lot of pools these days. We’ve seen some really fancy pools with them, but we were aiming for a neutral tone-on-tone effect that we hoped would look calming and unified. That way the sparkling water, green fence, and landscaping could add the color. Our retaining wall tile is called Travertine Splitface, and it’s the 7×20″ size (meaning it’s a sheet of irregular sizes, rather than uniform 2×4″ or 1×4″ tiles). Ours is the Ivory color.

The last major material choice for our pool was the patio material. Some people do a different material for their coping (the border around the pool) and the surrounding patio, but we went with the same 12×24″ travertine throughout. Again, we got this locally but here’s the exact same stuff that we used.

You may have noticed we used the same material on the top of the retaining wall with the fountains and on the curved spillover between the hot tub and the pool. Some people choose different accent materials in those spots, but we were trying to keep it all tone-on-tone and layered. We really like how they look together.

Detail photo of shellstone travertine patio tile used along the side and top of tile accent wall

We did seal the patio (and the hot tub spillover and the stone that runs across the top of the retaining wall) after installation, just to be safe, and it has been great. We’re actually planning to do a whole post about that process sometime, because we tried a newer product that has been working really well so far. And it’s useful for lots of different outdoor surfaces beyond a pool patio.

The Pool Building Process & Timeline

I’ve mentioned it has taken us more than a year to get here (and we’re not 100% done – still waiting on some back-ordered spa fittings so our hot tub jets can actually bubble) so we thought it might help someone else out there to share our timeline. Especially with pools being in high demand these days (we heard they were backed up with a year-long waiting list in Richmond, VA! Like a year until you can even dig, and longer than that for completion!).

Lots of interest in pools = many pool builders who are stretched thin, and many materials that are often scarce. Heck there was even a chlorine shortage which led to a salt shortage (because people switched their pools from chlorine to salt when they couldn’t get chlorine and then people couldn’t get salt!). Thankfully it all seems to have calmed down a bit from the shortages that abounded a few months ago, so hopefully anyone embarking on a pool build won’t have as many roadblocks and missing pieces, which could definitely speed up your completion time.

June 2020: Got a quote from a local pool builder, but they only did speckled blue plaster which wouldn’t yield the water color or seamless plaster look we wanted.

July 2020: Consulted a landscape architect to help with pool design and attempt to find another pool builder who would be more flexible about plaster options.

September 2020: Hired a pool builder and submitted our final design for county approval and our building permit.

Weed covered yard with two brown fences in the background

We were feeling good at this point. Almost like we might actually have a pool before the end of 2020. In fact the pool builder said by December 1st we should be in the pool! Then we hit a HUGE delay thanks to an error with the permit submission via our pool builder (it basically sat pending for months instead of being in line to be reviewed, unbeknownst to anyone). So our story picks up in…

February 2021: Permit finally issued, material selections made, and build finally scheduled.

March 2021: The action begins and this is a busy month! First, the pool hole is dug in just a few hours.

Large dirt hole dug in backyard where pool will be constructed

Still March 2020: Then the area is framed out with wood, then rebar, and plumbing is run.

Pool hole framed out with wood and John in background with measuring tape

Still March 2020: Next came shotcrete (more on what that is here), which is applied to create the basic form of the pool. We also begin our relationship with the gross water that collects here for the next few months.

Sherry standing in concrete pool form

Things kind of ground to a halt after that. The shotcrete has to cure for several weeks before the tile can be applied. So nothing happened on the pool front for over a month, apart from us independently having a new section of fencing installed and painted so that the area would be fully enclosed to meet code. We also took care of some other code things like putting alarms on the doors and windows that lead to the pool, etc. Pool construction picked back up again in…

May 2021: The tile is completed around the waterline and along the retaining wall.

Concrete pool with tile applied around waterline and across accent retaining wall

Also May 2021: Then the coping, patio, and stone retaining wall are installed and we began to landscape around it (more on this in a bit).

Travertine coping and patio installed around concrete pool form with John sitting in unfinished spa

June 2021: Pool equipment (heater, pump, filter) is installed. The pool is plastered and we can officially fill it with water! The plaster cures better underwater, so you fill it almost immediately (within a few hours of the plaster being applied). It felt like a big moment. We even had our friends over to celebrate “The Official Turning On Of The Hose”

Note: That’s red duct tape holding a washcloth over the end of the hose, which the plaster guy added so the metal end of the hose didn’t scrape or stain the new plaster.

Sherry dangling hose into plastered pool form to begin filling with water

July 2021: The three fountains (aka: “scuppers”) that we added to the retaining wall are finally plumbed. The heater is also able to be turned on for the hot tub. You have to wait 30 days after plastering because lingering dust coming off the plaster can hurt the heating coils (see how rough and dusty the plaster looks in the photo above? Over time it gets brushed & smooths out to look a lot more uniform, which also removes any lingering dust before the heater’s turned on).

August 2021 (Present Day): Like I said above, we’re still awaiting a couple of back-ordered parts, like the fittings to make our spa jets bubble, but for most of our purposes it’s fully complete (the hot tub is still very nice when it’s hot, even without the bubbler fittings being in yet).

Completed small freeform pool filled with water with curved edges and tropical landscaping

So that’s a very rough sense of how things progressed over the last 13-ish months. At times it was thrilling and the process felt remarkably fast (our retaining wall and patio got done in 2.5 days!) and at other times it felt like the worst possible time to add this (at least ten items necessary for a pool were back-ordered throughout the process, some longer than 6 months, which is why we likely won’t have those missing spa bubbler fittings until Jan or Feb of 2022!). In every sense of the word, it was a roller coaster, but all of that makes us that much more grateful that it’s 99.9% done, and we do not take it for granted even for a second. We’d do it all again in a heartbeat. But please don’t make us.

Landscaping, Furnishing, And Other Unsung Heroes

As much as the pool itself is the centerpiece of this space, we’ve realized that many of the OTHER decisions surrounding the pool also helped this area of our home transform the way it did. So let’s dive into some of those.

Widest view of full pool with round spa stone accent wall with fountains and tropical landscaping DiamondBrite Ivory plaster


One of our favorite things about this project was doing the planting beds. We did it all ourselves, just using input from pros at the garden center when we dropped in to buy stuff (Sherry also swears by an app called PictureThis to plan which plants like certain lighting/water conditions and helps her identify local things that do well that we can then track down and plant ourselves). We had a few large Chinese Fan Palms delivered to gain some immediate lushness and tropical vibes, but everything else is just smaller plants that we loaded into our car across many trips to the garden center – like star jasmine, foxtail ferns, stonecrop, and red ti plants. We took about 8 trips to buy plants, gradually filling empty spots as we went.

Round pool patio area surrounded by tropical plantings Chinese palms oleander jasmine stonecrop foxtail ferns

chairs / white pillows / lounge chairs / striped pillows / umbrella / umbrella stand / similar table / solar path lights / plates

All of the smaller plants have noticeably grown since we started planting back in the spring (as soon as the patio went in we got to work) but the progress that we’re the most excited about is the jasmine along the back wall. Our neighbors already have it growing over the fence from their side, so we thought we’d join the party and train some of our own up our side. You already know we love jasmine (it grows really fast here), so we’re hopeful that by next spring this will be a big leafy wall full of flowers that smell so good that time of year.

Close up of star jasmine planted in retaining wall along fence with stonecrop foxtail ferns red ti

And that light green fluffy-looking plant is stonecrop that we planted between the jasmine, which should spill down down the retaining wall eventually too. Stay tuned to Sherry’s Instagram Stories for plant progress reports (it’s one of her favorite topics).

Retaining Walls

Speaking of the retaining walls, they were necessary due to the slope of our lot versus the others around it. The pool had to be built at the same level as our house and, as you can tell from the photo below, that put it a few feet lower than the existing ground and the bases of the fences on those two sides. Our neighbor’s houses are both on slightly higher ground than ours, so the retaining walls essentially keep dirt and debris from flowing downhill into our pool.

John standing next to framed pool hole with large dirt pile and higher fences behind him

But again, knowing a retaining wall was in our future is what birthed the idea of the accent wall with the fountains in it, so it was a lemonade out of lemons situation. The running water sounds calming and the kids love pretending they’re running a smoothie shop with different “flavors” coming out of each spout. We can turn them on and off whenever we’d like, but usually just leave them on all the time (they just recirculate the pool water like the filter does). Also you can see in the picture below how the functional gray block retaining wall that runs around those two fence sides meets the pool’s decorative fountain wall to create a huge raised planting bed for that side of the house.

Gray stone retaining wall terminating into back of stone tile accent retaining wall

We tried to be really strategic about what plants would drop the least in our pool and surrounding area, and so far everything we picked has been super low maintenance. More Chinese Fan Palms give us that enveloped tropical feeling and will grow about double the size for more privacy and coziness over time.

Small freeform pool with accent stone tile retaining wall flanked by gray block retaining wall

You might notice from the picture above that the fence appears to subtly slope down as it moves left to right. That’s because it does! Call it our one regret of this whole area, but when we had that fence installed last summer, they just followed the gradual slope of the ground (one of our other neighbor’s fences does that too, so it’s pretty common). In retrospect, we wish we had instructed them to keep the fence slats level – even though that would’ve meant incorporating a step-down at some point along the fence (maybe further up, hidden by the house). Every other fenced area that we added after that is level, and it’s just so pleasing to the eye. So you live and you learn. Luckily, it’s not super noticeable in person because there’s so much to look at, and we’re confident it’ll be even more obscured as our fan palms grow in.


As I mentioned, we were more careful to keep everything level when we had the other sections of fencing added (including the one around our bedroom fire pit area) and the one along the left side of the pool below. And since we “inherited” the fence in the back from our neighbors, it was nice to get their blessing to paint the back of it the same color as our fences (SW Halycon Green) to help unify things.

Two gray green painted wood fences surrounding pool at different heights

We actually kind of lucked out with the placement of this newest section of fence. We connected it from where the neighbor’s fence changed height (see above) to where our outdoor shower poked out from the corner of our house (below). We could’ve gone a foot higher with it (it’s only 7 feet tall) but we wanted it to connect to the outdoor shower in a logical way instead of poking up another foot in the air next to it, and we really like how it turned out.

Horizontal slat gray green wood fence around pool area with gate near house

And by some miracle – I would love to say we planned this – this fence is almost perfectly parallel to this side of the pool. Maybe that doesn’t sound impressive, but our entire house sits skewed at an angle on our rectangular lot (which is one reason we added curves to our pool’s design to hide the skewed angle of the house a lot more than something rectangular would have). So anytime something lines up like this it feels like a small miracle.

This new fence also gives us some nice privacy and really helps to define the boundary of our “oasis” back here. Plus Sherry earned another landscape bed, which is basically her currency.

Pool fence with horizontal slats and gray green paint with planting bed in front

For reference, here’s what it looks like from the other side. That beautiful huge live oak tree that holds our kids’ swing is everyone’s favorite tree on our entire lot, and it’s thankfully well in front of where the pool area spans so we didn’t have to worry we were hurting the roots with our pool dig. And those are just large stepping stones from Lowe’s that we plopped down to lead to the pool gate and the swing, but we’ll likely add a more permanent path someday. And those light sand lines coming in diagonally from the bottom left of this picture on the pine needles are tire marks from living on a sand road. Sometimes we park the car in that front area (more on living without a garage and parking in pine needles here).

View of gray green horizontal pool fence from outside with live oak tree in foreground

Aaaaaand while we’re on this side of the pool fence, let’s drop in a wider before & after. The photo below is from February of 2020, when we first laid eyes on our house. All of the bigger trees that you see in the background of our future pool area are behind it on our neighbor’s lot (they’ve since constructed a house there – you can see some glances of that here in this post).

Before photo of house with empty backyard covered in dead leaves

And here’s the same angle now! Things are obviously much greener in August than February, and some things REALLY GREW IN. That tree near our garbage can is nearly double the size! And yes, we left our dusty garbage can in the picture. #keepingitreal

After photo of house from street with green fence in the background

Hopefully that wider shot above shows you how cozy and insulated the pool area feels back there. It’s like a lush woodsy vibe on the front side of the fence…

…and then you pass through the gate into our little tropical paradise.

Small freeform pool enclosed by green fences with DiamondBrite Ivory plaster and shellstone travertine

Seating Area & Furniture

Gaining this seating area has been awesome! We debated a dining table or four lounge chairs, but so far the mix of two more upright chairs with a coffee table plus two lounge chairs has been great. Both chairs and one lounger stay in the shade of our 11-foot umbrella nearly all day, leaving that last lounger in the sun for anyone looking to warm up or dry off. We also have had a lot more than 4 people hang out here (a few kids can sit on the loungers sideways for a snack and even along the edge of the pool with their feet in) so it’s nice and flexible.

Sideview of seating area with umbrella lounge chairs and small coffee table

chair / white pillow / lounge chairs / striped pillows / umbrella / umbrella stand / similar table / plates / pitcher

This area took a little adjusting until we got it “right.” We originally tried a 9′ umbrella that didn’t provide as much shade (it also was extremely difficult to put up over time because the fabric shrunk in the sun, which was so weird, but they let us return it because I guess that happened to a bunch of other people?). This new 11-foot version has been worlds better all around. And this is the free-standing umbrella base we got for it.

We also purchased these solar LED fairy lights that are designed to go under a patio umbrella. In fact, all of the lighting here is solar powered (apart from the pool light and one sconce on the house). You can see it better in the video, but here’s a screenshot below. We’ve got our go-to solar pathway lights surrounding the patio and some more solar fairy string lights along the fence. All of the solar lights go on automatically each night, so it’s glowy back there without any effort.

Small freeform pool at night with pool lights and solar lights on

We also originally had some fabric cabana-style chairs in place of these wood & wicker ones, but they got black mildew all over the wood in under a month and we learned it was because although they were made for the outdoors, they didn’t come sealed (?!?!). We tried to pressure wash them back to looking good so we could seal them ourselves, but no dice. So these chairs – plus some outdoor pillows from Pottery Barn – have been MUCH better all around (the lounge chair pillows are also from PB). The coffee table acts as the perfect place to prop up your feet or eat a poolside lunch. I wish I could link it, but we literally bought the floor model because World Market had discontinued it! Here’s a similar table though.

Patio area in background of small freeform backyard Florida pool with round spa and curved scupper wall

We also have one more chair on the other side of the pool, since this area becomes shaded by the house in the afternoon. It also gives us another seat we can drag over if we want an extra one in the main seating area. Someday we may get a bigger, maybe egg-style chair for this area, but this works for now.

Matching wicker chair sitting on opposite end of pool among potted plants and hook towel storage

This shot is actually a great transition to talk about…

Pool Organization

The photo above is taken behind the hot tub (that’s the back of the fountain wall in the bottom corner). Note all the hooks in that picture. You literally cannot have enough hooks when it comes to all the wet bathing suits and towels that living close to the beach and having a pool creates. Along with the five hooks that you see in the picture above, we also have two in the hallway leading out to the pool (you can see that in the video we shared earlier) as well as three more around the corner of the house. And frankly, I think we could still stand to add some more!

Hook towel storage along white shed and pool skimmer hanging on hooks on house siding

You can also see our little wall of pool “tools” hanging on the side of the house in that photo above. Those are just some garage hooks that keep our brushes, pole, and skim net neatly wrangled. The gate in the background leads to where all of our pool equipment is installed. The gate also hides some ugly stuff like our generator, gas meter, and A/C unit.

Back in this corner, we’ve also got a spot for toy & float storage. Sherry DIYed a float holder using a plant pot full of white rocks with a leftover PVC pipe from the pool guys that juts out of the rocks like a submarine viewfinder and keeps them from blowing around. We learned that lesson the first day it was windy and the tubes had a pool party of their own.

Pool floats organized on PVC pipe stand behind retaining wall

Most other pool things – like towels, sunscreen, a Bluetooth speaker, etc – we keep inside in our laundry closet. Since we don’t have a big covered awning or some other totally waterproof/weatherproof area back here, it just felt like a losing battle to try to store all of the pool stuff out by the pool in some sort of bin where they might get damp or musty. Thankfully it’s a quick walk to the laundry closet from the hall that leads to the pool, so it has been fine. We duck in to use the bathroom, get snacks, etc – so it’s just as easy to grab the speaker or some towels when we need to. Speaking of Bluetooth speakers, we got this one and so far we really like it.

Miscellaneous Pool FAQs:

Do you have a foot wash or outdoor shower by the pool?

We have an outdoor shower that we love (seen here) but it’s not accessible directly from the pool (you go out the gate in the photo below and it’s to your left – which is also where we have a hose for easy foot-washing). We thought it might be annoying to have it behind the gate, but so far it hasn’t been an issue for us, mainly because we tend to head out here from inside the house (where we aren’t sandy or in need of a rinse before going into the pool). And if we return from the beach and want to go in the pool, our routine is to return our beach chairs and beach toys to the bin on the front porch – so it’s easy enough to use the outdoor shower that’s right there and then just walk to our pool sand-free and ready to swim.

Outdoor pool shower area in corner of white house with exposed pipes

We originally had plans to add a foot wash, showerhead, and/or hose bib inside the pool area itself in that corner that you see above. The plumbing for the existing outdoor shower already runs down that corner of the house (it’s the copper pipes you may have noticed in the above photo) and we figure it would be extremely easy to tap off of those. But now that it hasn’t been much of an issue we might never do that. Time will tell.

Do you have a salt or chlorine pool?

We went with a saltwater system since it’s the standard around here (almost every new pool near us is built the same way ours was and has a saltwater system). One interesting thing is that it had to be chlorine for the first month because salt can hurt the plaster while it cures. But exactly 30 days in, our pool guy arrived and literally just dumped bags of salt into the pool (which is food grade, he said you can eat it, but like… don’t be weird and drink pool water).

The main reason saltwater is standard for our area is pretty simple: a) because it’s more eco-friendly and involves fewer chemicals, b) because it’s less harsh on eyes and skin (it’s not like a salty ocean experience where your eyes burn – it’s a much lower amount of salt) and c) there is zero smell, unlike the chlorine smell we had for the first month. It’s also much less harsh on bathing suits/towels. You can read more about the differences between chlorine pools & saltwater pools here if you’re interested

What are you doing for pool safety?

Pool code here requires a fence around the pool, complete with latches that are high up so smaller kids can’t open them and self-closing springs so pool gates close firmly behind someone walking in. It also requires loud blaring siren alarms on any doors and windows that lead to the pool from inside the house. We also added a camera to our pool area that senses movement (specifically of humans, not squirrels – technology is pretty amazing) as an extra precaution. It sends an alert to our phones in the event of someone walking into the area (we temporarily disable it when we’re all out there). It’s a great safety feature as well as a security feature that gives us a lot of peace of mind. Many camera systems have this human-sensing technology now, like Ring outdoor cameras for example, if you’re looking to add more safeguards to your pool.

Are you maintaining the pool yourself?

Since we’re first-time pool owners, we’ve enlisted the help of a professional pool pro who comes weekly to vacuum the pool, balance the salt levels, and maintain the pool equipment. He has already been SOOOO helpful in making us feel knowledgeable about our system and troubleshooting a few minor issues that have popped up. We were on the fence about hiring someone at first, but are so glad we did. He also said he’s happy to teach us to do it ourselves if we ever want to take over entirely. So it’s always an option down the road. Maybe in year two of pool ownership.

Paver pathway leading to green fence gate concealing pool equipment

What kind of pool equipment do you have?

We’re still new to the world of pool systems and we largely just went with what our pool builder suggested and what we heard recommended by a few neighbors. Everyone said the same thing: go with a variable speed pump, which is a bit more expensive up front but more energy-efficient and eco-friendly over time. So that’s what we have, and it’s not very loud, works well, and we’ve been very happy with it so far. Our equipment is by Hayward too if that helps.

Is your pool heated?

Yup! We have a spa (aka: a hot tub), so heat is an important element. Otherwise, it would be a cold tub. Har-har. Almost every pool in our area, even the ones without hot tubs are heated since no one in our area “closes” their pools for the winter season like they do further north. We’ve only used the heater a few hours in the evening for the hot tub so far, since the main pool has stayed 87-91 degrees naturally from the sun. We’ll have a better sense of the cost of heating the pool once we get through the winter, but the Energy Star sticker on our gas heater estimates a cost of $8/month. We’re thinking ours might even be lower since it’s not a large pool.

Round 6' spa at the end of a small freeform heated Florida pool with DiamondBrite Ivory plaster

Is your pool “smart”?

Every pool has a controller, which is essentially a box they mount right onto the wall (or the fence in our case) near your pool equipment. Think of it like an electrical panel box, but it has all of the buttons to operate your pool, turn on the lights, turn on the spa, adjust the temperature, turn on the fountains, etc). Our controller has an antenna that allows us to operate it with a remote. The remote is also on backorder (insert my best Homer Simpson “D’OH!” here) but we bought a special receiver as a workaround that allows us to control it using an app on a smart phone. So it means that everything from the heater to the lights and the fountains can be turned on or off from our phones. It is GREAT. Highly recommend it.

The Budget

All said and done, our pool cost was roughly $45K for everything the pool builder did (so that doesn’t include the fencing, landscaping, furniture, etc) and our initial pool estimate from the other company was in the same range. While sharing our progress on Instagram Stories, we learned firsthand that pool prices can vary widely – depending on everything from the location, the size, the soil type, the chosen materials, how easily accessed the yard where you want to put the pool is, etc. The second Sherry said “the pool is costing around 45K” her DMs filled with people saying “in Texas my quote was $100K!” and “I’m in Arizona and it was $150K!”

There are definitely regional factors as well as other things that make the cost of a pool vary widely, and I think a lot of the factors that helped to keep our costs down a bit more than it would be in some other areas were location, soil, access to the dig spot, and pool size. There’s a large number of pool builders here, so many tend to price themselves competitively compared to a spot that has just one game in town (which means they can jack that price right up). Our soil is also sand (like literal beach sand), so it takes just a few hours to dig the hole. Pool builders don’t find themselves blasting away deposits of subterranean rocks, which we heard is a common thing in areas like Texas and Arizona, which quickly skyrockets the price (and can take a lot longer).

John standing next to frame pool hole during backyard Florida pool construction

We also lucked out that the area where we were adding the pool was extremely easy to access (you could drive an excavator right up to it from the street, so it wasn’t one of those situations where parts had to be craned over a house or dug by hand because a truck couldn’t fit). I’m sure the relatively modest size of our pool helped keep the total down too, just because it means less wood for framing, less shotcrete, less tile, less plaster, etc.

After photo of children playing in small freeform Florida pool with small white house in the background

So that’s ALL THE WORDS AND PICTURES about our pool build, from start to finish (well, almost finished).

Not counting whole-house renovations like our beach house or our duplex, this pool is the longest and most expensive project we’ve experienced in our 15 years of homeownership… so thank you for indulging us in this SUPER long post, and forgiving us as I’m sure we’re going to show and talk A LOT about the pool for the foreseeable future.

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