National studies show that people of the Midwest spend more on outdoor living products than people in any other area of the country, said Mike Haumersen, outdoor living specialist with Belgard Hardscapes.
"I have to think that that is true because we only have about six months of the year to enjoy the outdoors, so everyone wants to utilize that precious time to the fullest," Haumersen said.
Belgard is a leading manufacturer of paver stones and blocks, as well as outdoor elements made in a factory using those blocks and pavers -- like fire pits, water features, outdoor kitchens and outdoor fireplaces -- that are then installed by a homeowner's landscape design firm.
Regional Sales Manager Jason Newsom agrees Midwesterners take pride in their yards.
"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," he said. "And many people are choosing to replace old solid concrete slab patios and wood decks with pavers that do not crack like the slabs do and which need less maintenance than most decks."
Belgard has been manufacturing concrete paver stones since the early 1970s but only brought them to the United States in 1995.
"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.
The company first began marketing its pavers in the southern states, then expanded to the Chicago area and the rest of the Midwest in 2003.
"During the 1980s and early 1990s, everyone around here had a deck. It was a phenomenon. But they required a lot of maintenance," Haumersen said. "More recently there has been a gradual transition to paver patios with planters and seat walls, which are functional and aesthetically pleasing. In fact, today it is rare to put in a patio in the Chicago area without any retaining walls for additional seating."
And most people choose to make their paver patios look as much like natural stone as possible, choosing natural-looking tans and grays -- not the vibrant terra cotta reds and browns that people prefer in Arizona and Florida.
Outdoor living is so popular now that homeowners are generally able to see a 100-percent return on their investment in outdoor amenities like patios, fire pits, fireplaces, water features and outdoor kitchens, Haumersen said.
"People now consider their outdoor spaces to be extensions of their homes, places where they can entertain guests and create memories," Newsom added. "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."
That is why those in cooler climates are incorporating outdoor fireplaces and fire pits to take the chill off on cool days/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, complete with sinks, cabinets, refrigerators, grills, smokers and even brick ovens, where they can entertain and cook their meals.
"It used to be that you invested in updating your kitchens and baths if you wanted to get the best return when you sold your house. Now you get the best return when you expand your home to outdoor living spaces. Ours is an industry that continued to grow, even during the downturn," Haumersen said.
Consequently, Belgard sales have been steadily increasing as homeowners enhance 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.
For more information about Belgard Hardscapes and to find a local contractor, visit www.belgard.biz.