Hardscape Lighting Ideas

November 6th marks the end of Daylight Saving Time, when it’s once again time to turn the clocks back an hour. With darkness falling earlier in the evening, it’s time to explore a variety of outdoor lighting ideas that add ambiance, increase safety, and most of all allow you to get more use out of your outdoor living spaces. Whether you’re lighting an existing outdoor living area or planning a new one, here are a few ideas on how to light up your space.

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This lovely outdoor living room uses lighting techniques inspired by nature. The focal light emanating from the fire is enhanced by votive candles and low-voltage hardscape lighting that’s built into the walls of the outdoor fireplace. In the surrounding landscape, ambient in-ground lighting reflects throughout the picturesque waterfall. Uplights used for the shrubbery and trees add an ethereal glow.

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Fire can be used in a number of creative ways. This outdoor living room uses a European style fireplace and fire bowls that are all operated off of gas and can be turned on remotely. For additional fire elements, tiki torches are placed around the backyard to add a festive design element that coordinates with the “fire” design scheme.

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This design incorporates a variety of antique brass light fixtures, including attractive pathway lights in the planter beds and coordinating low-voltage hardscape lighting along each wall.

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Columns lights will both dress up a wall and provide additional lighting, as illustrated with the seat wall pictured below. This design also includes hardscape and overhead lighting in the bar area that allows for increased visibility behind the bar, without overpowering the fire pit area.

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Strategic use of pathway lights adds both character and an element of safety for a walkway or patio. The color of the light fixtures selected below incorporates complementary tones to those in the pavers, creating a cohesive design.

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In the poolscape below, low-voltage hardscape lighting was installed in a pattern that complements the sweeping arches throughout the design. To improve the safety, lights are installed on all steps and elevation changes, in addition to the seat walls. All lights in the hardscaped areas face downward, with upward lights facing the trees. The combination creates a subdued and cozy atmosphere.

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Belgard Elements, like the Bordeaux Grill Island pictured below, can be ordered with low-voltage hardscape lighting pre-installed, which adds to the look of the piece and also fulfills a utilitarian purpose.

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String lighting can be a festive way to add additional lighting and comes in a variety of styles to complement a wide range of design schemes. The outdoor pavilion below incorporates simple string lighting that creates a festive atmosphere without detracting from the richness of the rustic design elements. Additional lighting comes from pendants, sconces and hardscape lighting.

Outdoor Fireplace and Fire Pit Maintenance Tips

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Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits constructed with Belgard hardscapes are designed to last for the life of your home. However, as we begin to move into the outdoor fire season, it’s important to properly prepare and maintain these fire features to ensure safety and functionality, both this season and for many years to come.

Keep it Clean
Regular cleaning of your fire feature is important for both safety and functionality. For gas units, debris and spiderwebs can clog the burners and cause malfunctions. For wood-burning units, accumulation of water or leaves can cause sparks and floating embers that could become a fire hazard. Be sure to remove any old ashes, coals, and water, and blow out any debris and spiderwebs prior to lighting your fireplace or fire pit. It’s also a good idea to purchase doors for your fireplace or a cover for your fire pit. This will help reduce the amount of debris and water accumulation, in addition to keeping out snow and ice in colder climates.

Hardwood is Better
Although many people like to just gather any type of limbs from the yard for burning in an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, this can be a safety hazard. Green wood and softwoods, such as pine, can hold a lot of water, which will create a lot of smoke and sparks as it burns. This is particularly dangerous for fire pits, which are more open and allow sparks to shoot out in multiple directions. For cleaner and safer fires, stock up on dry hardwoods, like oak or maple. To keep the wood dry, do not store it directly on the ground where it can pull moisture from the earth, in addition to attracting critters like snakes and termites.

Gas Starter Retrofitting and Maintenance
All wood-burning Belgard Elements fireplaces and fire pits are designed to allow for gas retrofitting — either with a gas starter system, or a full gas burner. Log igniters are particularly popular and typically last about 8 to 10 years before beginning to rust and requiring replacement. Remote controlled ignition systems are also popular. These can be designed for operation from inside of the house or from a mobile app. However, they often require additional maintenance, as wires and batteries can corrode due to exposure to the elements. For best long-term results, use a simple push-button igniter, similar to the ignition system on a standard gas grill. With fewer working parts, this simple system will typically last more seasons than a remote system.

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Fire Pit Design Tips & Trends

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Fire pits continue to rise in popularity, and it’s no wonder. There’s just something about gathering around a fire that’s inherently human. A fire pit instantly becomes everyone’s favorite gathering spot. It’s the ideal place to relax, unwind, tell stories, and get to know one another on a deeper level. If you’re thinking of adding a fire pit to your backyard, there are a lot of options to consider before you begin.

Decision 1: Mobile or Built-In

Many people opt for a mobile fire pit that can be moved around to various locations. Movable fire pits are certainly less expensive than a built-in pit, come in a wide variety of designs, and have the added benefit of portability. The primary drawback, however, is that a movable fire pit tends to only last a season or two before the materials begin to deteriorate.

An in-ground fire pit can be a cost-effective option.

Decision 2: In-Ground or Above-Ground

An in-ground fire pit can be cost-effective, however above-ground pits are more common. One trend is to create a “sunken living room” design for an above-ground fire pit. This offers the added benefit of built-in seating. In addition, the surrounding wall can act either as a wind barrier or a heat reflector, creating a warm and cozy room.

Decision 3: Gas, Wood or Hybrid

There are a number of benefits to a gas fire pit. It’s easy to start, there’s no mess, there’s no smoke, and it can be placed closer to the house. For purists, however, burning wood is one of the primal reasons to even have a fire pit. For the best of both worlds, consider a wood-burning fire pit with a gas starter. One popular trend is to install a gas starter with a switch that can be operated either locally, from inside the house, or with a mobile app.

Decision 4: Placement

An above-ground pit becomes a focal point of your outdoor living design. Be sure and place it where it balances with other large design elements. A gas fire pit can be placed just about anywhere, but a wood-burning pit will need to be at least 10 feet away from any structure. Before putting in a permanent fire pit, check for wind patterns that may cause potential smoke issues. Also, remember to leave ample room for seating around the pit.

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This sunken fire pit room uses a combination of natural stone and manufactured hardscapes.

Decision 5: Materials and Shape

Above-ground fire pits can be constructed from a variety of materials. The most popular options are brick, natural stone and concrete blocks, such as Belgard retaining wall products. Although design options are endless, most fire pits are either round or square. One reason has to do with the shape of standard fire pit liners. Fire pit liners are highly recommended and may be required by your local municipality. In addition to adding a finished look, a steel liner keeps excessive amounts of heat from absorbing into the surrounding stone. By reflecting the heat up and out, it adds to the life of the stone and creates a safer environment. It also increases the feeling of warmth for those around the fire.

Decision 6: Seating Options

Built-in seating is currently one of the top trends in outdoor living and makes an excellent addition to a fire pit design. Some people like to place seat walls four feet away from the fire pit, which allows for walking room. Others prefer a three-foot distance, which can allow you to prop your feet on the ledge of the pit. If using seat walls, consider leaving one or two sides open. This will allow for the option of furniture placement, which softens the look and adds interest to the design. To add comfort and color to seat walls, use a variety of throws and outdoor pillows.

The combination of built-in seat walls and open seating provides ample seating space an accommodates those who want to control their seating distance in relation to the fire.

The combination of built-in seat walls and open seating provides ample seating space and accommodates those who want to control their seating distance in relation to the fire.

Fore more fire pit design inspiration, visit our “Fire Pit Ideas” Pinterest board. To discuss your ideas with a Belgard authorized contractor or dealer near you, visit our contractor and dealer locator page.

Wood-Fired Cooking is Catching on Like Wildfire

Some Italian restaurants like Chicago’s legendary Spiaggia have been cooking with wood for decades. Why? Because that’s the way it’s done in the old country. And if you want that authentic old-world taste, cooking with wood is the way to go. It infuses each dish with a flavor you just can’t get any other way.

In more recent years, chefs across the country have embraced wood-fired cooking for anything from roasted root vegetables to grilled calamari. And brick oven pizza joints seem to be popping up all over town. You can smell the wood-fired ovens for blocks, drawing people in with the enticing aromas. With the continued trend of gourmet cooking at home, it was only a matter of time before wood-fired cooking would become the next outdoor living phenomenon. Enter the residential brick oven.

Several years ago, Belgard anticipated this trend and partnered with Chicago Brick Oven to create a line of brick ovens clad in Belgard hardscape products that would blend seamlessly with other Belgard product lines to create fabulous outdoor kitchens with the added option of a matching wood-fired brick oven.

SRA_STOCKTON_RES_BEL2015_Patio_OutdoorKitchen_MegaLafitt_BristolPizzaOven_001B_previewBristol Brick Oven

Constructed with Weston Stone® wall block and accents of Urbana® Stone pavers, the Bristol Brick Oven makes a statement and adds major flair to wood-fired cooking. With a built-in wood box and large capacity oven, the Bristol oven is the outdoor chef’s dream and coordinates with other pieces from the Belgard Elements Bristol Series, including a grill island, fireplace, and various modular outdoor bar and kitchen pieces. Color options include the warm tones of Gascony Tan (shown) and cool gray tones of Cotswold Mist.

NFD_E_RES_BEL2015_Patios_Steps_Walls_OutdoorKitchens_Urbana_MegaArbel_Bullnose_Celtik_MegaBergerac_BordeauxElements_MidnightCopingBordeaux Brick Oven

The Bordeaux Series of the Belgard Elements line offers a smaller footprint and is clad with the contemporary stacked-stone look of Lamina® Stone veneer. The Bordeaux Brick Oven also includes a built-in wood box and is trimmed with accents of polished Cordova Stone™, available in either the Midnight (shown) or Buff trim options. Other coordinating pieces from the Bordeaux Series include a grill island and a fireplace with optional matching wood boxes. Both the Bristol and Bordeaux ovens can include optional low-voltage hardscape lighting.

MLR_RES_BEL2014_Patios_OutdoorKitchens_Urbana_WestonWall_AnchorHighlandWall_BullnoseCoping_ChicagoBrickOven_001_previewCounter Top and Mobile Ovens

With four versions to choose from, the counter top brick oven can easily turn any outdoor kitchen into a gourmet cooking space without the time and expense of a full custom installation. The counter top oven is available in copper or silver finish with either a dome (shown) or pyramid roof line. Durable steel carts are also available to convert the counter top model into a portable oven that can be re-positioned as needed around your outdoor living space. Hybrid models are also available that allow cooking with either gas, wood, or a combination of both heat sources simultaneously.

TailgaterHero-e1412618458661Tailgater Brick Oven

Take your passion for wood-fired cooking on the road with Belgard’s towable Tailgater package, making it possible to take the unmatched experience of wood-fired cooking and entertaining to collegiate and professional football games, motorsport events, music concerts, festivals, and more. The Tailgater brick oven is available in both the wood-burning model and the hybrid gas/wood model .

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For more information, contact a local dealer or installer or visit the brick oven page on Belgard.com.

Outdoor Living Trends in New Home Construction

For over a decade, the gradual trend has been for homeowners to transform the formerly open backyards of existing homes into definable “outdoor living” spaces. In new home construction, however, this phenomenon has grown exponentially in more recent years to the point that outdoor living has becoming a standard feature at just about any price level. Although upgraded outdoor living spaces are more common at higher price levels, new construction home buyers at all levels want to know that they’ll be able to live in and enjoy their outdoor spaces. According to builders, realtors and landscape architects, some definable trends have emerged as being “highly desirable” to potential buyers.

Indoor/Outdoor Convergence: For several years, the trend has been to create outdoor living areas that mimic indoor living. This has evolved in a way that with many new home designs, there is no distinct separation between the indoor and outdoor spaces, but more of a fluid separation between the two areas. These types of designs might incorporate floor-to-ceiling retractable glass walls, stackable doors or floor materials that contribute to that sense of flow. For example, Belgard Porcelain Pavers were designed for outdoor use, but coordinate with a line of interior porcelain tile, which allows for the same flooring aesthetic to be used both inside and outside of the home.

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Multiple floor-to-ceiling glass doors and Ardesie porcelain pavers make this porch feel like a continuation of the home’s interior living spaces.

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Fully Functioning Kitchens: Although this trend is more typically seen in higher priced homes, smaller homes are jumping on the outdoor kitchen bandwagon, even if on a smaller scale — like with a simple built-in grill. But for mid-level homes and above, buyers want an outdoor kitchen with all the conveniences of an indoor kitchen, and then some. In luxury homes, the outdoor kitchen often costs more than the indoor kitchen, with amenities that incorporate everything from dishwashers to brick ovens. In many cases, the outdoor kitchen also functions as an outdoor bar and includes items like roll-top beverage coolers, kegerators and wine refrigerators.

This well-appointed outdoor kitchen and bar includes seating, outdoor refrigerator, kegerator, Bristol Brick Oven, built-in grill, sink and storage.

This well-appointed outdoor kitchen and bar includes seating, outdoor refrigerator, kegerator, Bristol Brick Oven, built-in grill, sink and storage.

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Integrated Audio/Visual and Lighting: New homes of every price range are incorporating outdoor televisions and sound systems, even if on the smaller scale of an outdoor-rated bluetooth speaker system. Mid-level homes and above are taking the trend to the next level with outdoor sound systems that are integrated with the interior of the home so that the same music can be played inside the home as outside, which follows the indoor/outdoor convergence trend. With the rapid advance of smart phone technology, this can be taken to an even higher level with systems that can operate off of a mobile app to control every electronic aspect of the outdoor living space, including TVs, sound systems, lighting, fire features and pool equipment.

Every electronic aspect of this outdoor living area is controlled by the homeowner's mobile app, including the fan, lighting, TV and the gas starter on the fireplace.

Every electronic aspect of this outdoor living area is controlled by the homeowner’s mobile app, including the fan, lighting, TV and the gas starter on the fireplace.

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Intimate Outdoor Spaces: Home buyers are interested in having a relaxing outdoor living area where they can socialize and unwind, creating a trend towards more cozy seating areas, often incorporating a fireplace or fire pit. Some experts relate this trend to the fact that there’s typically a TV in every room of the house, so a cozy outdoor space away from a TV can be a place to escape. Unlike expansive outdoor kitchen spaces, which may be limited to luxury homes, an “outdoor retreat” can be created on a smaller budget and appeals to buyers at all levels. In fact, a cozy outdoor space can easily be created by adding a freestanding wall or two. With the help of a few staged furnishing, potential buyers can get a feel for how they would live in the outdoor space.

The Bristol Fireplace serves as focal point for this intimate gathering spot.

The Bristol Fireplace serves as focal point for this intimate gathering spot. This same sense of intimacy can also be created with the use of a freestanding wall, which can help define the space and create the illusion of an interior room.

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Sustainable Design: According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, this year’s top trends in landscape design include both rainwater harvesting and the use of permeable pavers. Although a standard permeable paver installation simply allows water to filter through the paver joints into the ground below, a permeable paver system can be designed to also harvest and recycle rainwater, converging these two trends into one and allowing the reclaimed water to be used for garden irrigation and other uses. Current top landscape trends also include native plants and low-maintenance landscaping.

A permeable paver system, like this Subterra Stone® patio, can be designed to include a collection cistern and a pump to harvest water for reuse with water features, irrigation or other greywater uses.

A permeable paver system, like this Subterra Stone® patio, can be designed to include a collection cistern and a pump to harvest water for reuse with water features, irrigation or other greywater uses.

Build Custom Outdoor Kitchens and Fireplaces with Less Hassle

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Custom outdoor kitchens and living rooms continue to gain in popularity all across the nation. The modular design of the Belgard Elements collection allows you to create a custom look in a fraction of the time and for significantly less cost than building from scratch on site. Couple that with the fact that homeowners can spread the cost out over time with Belgard Preferred Payment same-as-cash options, and designer outdoor living spaces suddenly become much more affordable for a wider range of homeowners.

Belgard Elements are built in a controlled factory setting and shipped in pieces on pallets and install in a matter of hours, once the footings are in place. Constructed with Belgard pavers and walls and coordinating Echelon Masonry, the Belgard Elements line blends seamlessly with Belgard patios and poolscapes to create beautifully cohesive outdoor living designs.

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But, don’t just take our word for it! See what contractors across the country are saying:

Clint Tucker, Sugar Hill Outdoors – Auburn, GA

“Belgard Elements are easy to move with a forklift. You pop two stones out, run the forklift under the base of the fireplace, or the log boxes, take them to where you created the footing, set it into place, and they’re ready to go. On one project, we installed a fireplace with matching woodboxes, a very nice grill island with a stainless steel grill, and a brick oven with a log box underneath. Had we done this with a more traditional masonry product, it would have taken close to a month. All of that would be out of most people’s price range if it was done in true masonry.”

John Brightenstine, The Paver Company – Rancho Cordova, CA

“Belgard Elements really add a wow factor. And because they’re made with Belgard products, they coordinate with other Belgard hardscapes to tie everything together.”

Andrew Vear, PaverCrafters – Reno, NV

“So often with a lot of custom construction projects, everything takes two weeks. Installing an Elements fireplace takes about two hours because the modules are prebuilt. It looks exactly as it does in the catalog. You just can’t build anything like that by hand. And, I don’t have to go shopping for any other materials. Everything that I need is right in the kit.”

Rod Trahan, La Pavers – New Orleans, LA

“Outdoor kitchens are gaining popularity in our area. The Elements line has the potential to go through the roof. It’s faster, safer and cheaper to install and ties in with the pavers. Building this project by hand would have taken at least three or four times longer. Plus this way, the customer knows exactly what they’re getting.”

For more on the benefits of Belgard Elements, check out our Belgard Elements Outdoor Kitchens blog.