Small Lot, Big Enjoyment

Creative thinking and teamwork were the keys to creating an enjoyable outdoor space for a house located in a historical neighborhood of Austin, Texas. The team was limited by various codes, including impervious coverage restrictions, as well as a structure that didn’t relate well to the outdoors.

“If you’ve seen the before pictures, the space was unusable. It’s actually a beautiful and functional backyard now,” says Danny Scott, project manager, CG&S Design-Build, Austin.

The homeowners are an active family of four who wanted a pool and to use the outdoor space for entertaining. A master bedroom originally was located on the first floor at the back of the house with a small deck to the outside. The house had no public connections from the interior to the exterior spaces.

“Because of site issues, our only options were to build a second floor. We started by finding our design parameters. We added a second floor and reorganized the first floor. We moved the master bedroom upstairs and put the living room in the back of the house. The second floor is primarily a bedroom level, and the first floor has living spaces and one guest bedroom and bath,” says Marsha Topham, AIA, senior project architect, CG&S Design-Build.

Because the home was located in a historic neighborhood, the homeowners wanted to maintain a traditional appearance from the street. On the inside, however, it features a modern design. “They prefer a modern style, but they didn’t want to impose that on the neighborhood,” Topham adds. “The back has more clean lines, somewhat modern, which flows with the inside interior style.”

One of the biggest challenges of the project was the city of Austin’s impervious coverage restrictions. “Instead of using stone or other material that is impervious to water, we chose a deck because it allows some water. The way the city of Austin calculates impervious coverage, decking only counts to 50 percent,” Topham says.

Impervious coverage was an issue throughout the site, Scott says. “We took out the sidewalk in the front of the house, stairs on the side and concrete in the backyard to meet the impervious coverage code,” he adds. “When you add any coverage, you are required to meet those standards.”

The site’s impervious coverage was so close to code that removing two air conditioner pads helped CG&S Design-Build meet the requirements. “We could not have installed a concrete patio; we would have never met code,” Scott says.

Shield from the Sun

Durability and maintenance were two major considerations in material selection. In a city like Austin that receives long hours of sunshine, the team wanted products that could handle that much UV exposure without requiring a lot of upkeep. To meet those goals, they turned to ipe, Western red cedar and steel.

“Ipe has a lifespan of 30 to 40 years. The posts are Western red cedar and will require some maintenance. Otherwise everything can withstand the UV rays. We don’t have a lot of severe, damaging environment other than the heat,” Scott says. “[Ipe] wears well, and most people allow it to turn gray like cedar. It’s strong and termites leave it alone.”

Using ipe, however, required more attention in the construction phase than other decking materials because the boards have to be predrilled. “You have to lay out all the boards, mark each screw hole and then sand off the pencil marks,” Scott says. “You can’t put a screw through ipe without it breaking. It takes twice as long to complete an ipe deck versus a deck using other materials,” he adds. The deck includes 2 by 10 joists on 16-in. centers.

The trellis provides shade from Austin’s hot sun. “The trellis was a big part of making the space usable,” Scott adds. “If you didn’t have any shade, you would never go back there.”

Outdoor Ambiance

The above-ground pool helps with transitions from the deck. However, the pool did create some challenges. “Getting the steps to flow into the yard and to the pool and connect to the storage building was a design challenge,” Topham says.

A barbecue area was added to the outdoor living space, enhancing the entertainment atmosphere. The main circulation cuts between the barbecue and the deck’s table. This barbecue design included steel panels. “It was helpful to have the homeowners’ input to make sure they were happy with the steel plates around the barbecue,” Scott adds. The homeowners were very involved in the project, visiting the site several times a week.

The project’s success is due to quality subcontractors and teamwork, says Scott. “Coordinating with the pool people was easier than I expected,” he says. “Working with a quality pool contractor made our life easier.” In addition, the exposed electrical posed a challenge, but Scott says it was overcome by working with a good electrical contractor.

Initially, Topham expected the layout to be a challenge, but it came together more easily than expected, she says. “Once the layout to move the bedrooms upstairs came together, particularly the connection to the backyard, it ended up being much easier than anticipated.”

Maureen Alley writes about remodeling and design from Madison, Wis.