Even in an area like Chicago that experiences cold winters, the outdoor living movement, as Jason Newsom calls it, "is the hottest thing."
"The amount of square footage that homeowners are devoting to outdoor living spaces is getting larger and larger as people attempt to take full advantage of the outdoors whenever they can," said Newsom, sales manager for Belgard Hardscapes. "And many people are choosing to replace old solid concrete slab patios and wood decks with pavers, which do not crack like the slabs do and which need less maintenance than most decks."
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In business since 1995, Belgard is North America's largest manufacturer of concrete pavers and retaining wall blocks that look like natural stone.
"We try hard to make our products mimic Mother Nature, but since they are man-made, they don't have the height and size variations that you would get with true natural stone, so they are easier to install and their look is more uniform," Newsom said.
"Segmental paving has been around since the Romans used it to pave their roads. But it has been particularly popular with homeowners for the past 35 years because people know that with the proper sealing, maintenance and care, it can last virtually forever," he said.
Polymeric sand that is now installed between the pavers is designed to retard the growth of weeds.
Each year, new products are added to the line, adding new sizes, colors and textures, and the manufacturing technology is further perfected, Newsom said.
In the Midwest, Northeast and even the Northwest, Americans tend to gravitate to odd-shaped paver stones that look like natural flagstone, lannon stone, bluestone and Chilton, he said. On the other hand, those in Florida and Arizona, as well as some other Southern states, prefer smooth, brown and coral-colored tiles. Homeowners in California prefer natural stone pavers with a European look involving lots of rectangles and squares.
But no matter where they live, American homeowners want to utilize outdoor spaces as much as possible. That is why those in cooler climates are incorporating outdoor fireplaces and fire pits to take the chill off on cool days and nights, and it is also why many homeowners all over the country are upgrading from just having grills, to having full or partial outdoor kitchens and bars. These outdoor areas can come complete with sinks, cabinets, refrigerators, grills, smokers and even brick ovens where homeowners can entertain and cook their meals.
In fact, Belgard has teamed up with Harmony Outdoor Living to make these options more affordable for people, Newsom said. Harmony uses Belgard products to construct modular outdoor kitchen pieces in their factory, which are then transported to a home and quickly and economically installed.
Gone are the days when a mason would have to spend weeks on site to construct a custom fireplace. Now it can be done in the factory and installation on site, which only ties up a homeowner's yard for a day and a half.
Harmony constructs brick ovens, fireplaces, fire pits and even grill-and-bar islands in their factory and sells them through Belgard distributors.
"People now consider their outdoor spaces to be extensions of their homes, places where they can entertain guests and create memories," Newsom said. "So instead of taking elaborate vacations or moving to a larger home, we have found that they are adding to the value of their home and enjoying their at-home time even more."
Consequently, Belgard sales have been steadily increasing as homeowners increase the size and opulence of their outdoor spaces, either in a one-time expenditure or in phases over several years. Both approaches are popular, Newsom said.
Incorporating both fire and water elements into an outdoor living space has also become all the rage. Vertical spillways, which let water run into a catch basin below and then repeatedly recycles it, give an outdoor space the novelty and soothing sound of running water.
Many times homeowners choose to have these installed very close to their fireplace or fire pit so that they have the fire and water elements in proximity, he said.
When it comes to outdoor kitchens, brick ovens are particularly popular. Newsom said those who have had them installed spend hours baking everything from pizzas and cookies to stuffed peppers, burgers and brats while their guests observe with fascination.
"It is all about the experience with brick ovens and people just love using them and eating the food baked in them."
Anyone who would like to see a Belgard/Harmony Outdoor Living brick oven and possibly taste some food baked in it can do so from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 9, when the Belgard mobile showroom is parked at Aspen Valley Landscape Supply, 13148 W. 159th St., Homer Glen. It has a working brick oven on the back of the truck and a showroom of Belgard products within.
For more information about Belgard Hardscapes and to find a local contractor, visit www.belgard.biz.