Outdoor living is part of today's lifestyle, and many homeowners are turning their outdoor areas into attractive and relaxing extensions of their homes during the warmer months of the year. This can be as simple as a sitting area for the family, or include a combination of decks, patios, walkways, gazebos, gardens, pools, ponds and fountains.

When planning a deck or a patio, professional renovators can offer valuable advice to help you get the most out of your property and your budget.

Be creative

The sky's the limit when it comes to design. Explore ideas, browse through magazines and look at what other homeowners have done. Discuss your plans with a professional renovator, and ask for suggestions on design, materials and details.

Be realistic about size

How do you see yourself living on your deck or patio? Do you need a cooking and eating area? Will you be entertaining? How much furniture do you plan to put there? Stake out the space you think you need. Will everything fit in comfortably? Don't scrimp on size-adding a few extra feet is less expensive at the planning stage than later.

Be aware of sun, shade and wind

If the deck or patio will be bathed in sun the entire day, you may want to create a shaded area. Consider awnings, lattice walls, roof structures covered with plants or fabric…there are many options to suit any style and budget. Or think about planting a tree for shade. Don't forget to check the prevailing wind - you may also wish to build a windscreen.

Add in light and water

If you plan to spend evenings outside or are concerned about security, make sure your plans include outdoor lighting fixtures as well as electrical outlets. Install an outdoor faucet for easy watering of flowers and shrubs.

Plan for storage

Will you be able to put things away easily and conveniently? If not, consider built-in benches with storage room, or an adjacent shed.

Look for easy maintenance and longevity

You want to spend your time enjoying your outdoor living space, not maintaining it. A professional renovator can advise you on the best construction methods, materials and finishes to protect your investment and your leisure time.

Eliminate potential problems

Experienced renovators can explain how to avoid any structural problems that could arise from attaching a deck to your house. For instance, it is important to prevent water penetration where the two are joined, or you could face moisture problems and rot later on.

Know the regulations

You, or your renovator, need to check with your municipality on regulations that could affect how you design and use your outdoor living space. For instance, how close can you build to property lines? Will you need a railing for your deck? If you need a building permit, make sure to get it before any work begins.

Integrate your outside spaces into an overall design

Depending on the size of your lot, you may want to develop a number of different "areas" on your property - flower beds and a vegetable garden, a gazebo or private sitting areas, a fountain, a pond or a pool. You may also want play areas for children, a clothesline and storage areas for tools, toys and bicycles.

* Even if you don't do all the work at one time, develop an overall plan. Map out traffic flow and walkways from one area to another. Consider fencing for privacy, safety and looks. Think about plants, shrubs and trees for the long term - how large will everything grow in 10 years, and how will that affect space and sun patterns?

On a small lot, you can blend many different areas together with the right choice of materials and colours. There is a wide range of new materials on the market for walkways, patios, decks, fencing and more. Ask your renovator for information.