Backyards are often overlooked when it comes to home improvement, but the opportunities to expand your living space beyond the back door have never been more exciting. From easy additions to investment upgrades, homeowners across the country are taking on backyard design projects to not only increase the value of their homes, but to also create the ideal living space for themselves and their families.

To learn about today's most innovative and creative techniques in backyard design, we interviewed three home improvement, design and real estate professionals for their insight on impactful (but approachable) outdoor design projects.

Which of these ideas are you adding to your backyard?

Functional Living Spaces

Functional outdoor living space with outdoor kitchen and dining area.

Spending time in nature has been shown to have phenomenal benefits on the human body and brain, so why not bring parts of your home outside? The shift toward functional outdoor living spaces allows homeowners to spend more time in the fresh air to recharge their mental and emotional batteries.

Consider investing in things that you'll use on a regular basis, such as an outdoor kitchen, entertainment or audio system, weather-proof furniture or dining sets, lighting and temperature control items. Things like fire pits, fireplaces or tiki torches can add natural lighting, warmth and dynamics to spaces large or small.

Andrew Thron, DIY home improvement specialist, likes to add decorative, yet functional lighting to his projects. "Incorporating lighting on your deck railing and stairs can make your deck look more `high end` and can also improve the space for gatherings after dark," he says. "By adding furniture, fire tables, decorative lighting, etc. to a backyard, you can functionally extend the usable living space in and around your home and provide opportunities for relaxation and entertainment."

Sustainability and Environmentally-Friendly Designs

A variety of native plants and flowers are being used in this sustainable backyard design. The plants will help attract pollinators, reduce the need for watering, and improve the environment's overall health.

For many homeowners and design experts, sustainability is becoming a priority for their backyard designs, especially now that they don't have to sacrifice style for environmentally-friendly additions. While there once was a time that sustainable designs weren't exactly visually pleasing, today's eco-friendly design options are stylish, modern and adaptable.

Instead of building a traditional in-ground swimming pool, consider a natural pool that uses the environment to thrive sans chemicals. Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, says he dreams of adding a natural pool to his backyard that's "designed to blend with the landscape and use plants for filtration instead of chemicals."

Clayton's sustainability philosophy extends to landscaping as well, favoring more low-maintenance designs that don't require as much water or care. “As we become more ecologically conscious, creating green spaces that respect and support our local environment will continue to be important,” he says. "Trends like overly manicured, high-maintenance landscapes may wane due to their environmental impact and high maintenance needs." For a more natural and "wild" look, consider a method called meadowscaping that thoughtfully allows the native plants and flowers to thrive in their home environment.

When it comes to choosing plants and flowers for your backyard, lean on flora that's native to the area for greater environmental impact. This is a strategy James Judge, designer & Realtor, loves to incorporate on his many projects across the country. "I love to use native plants. I think that these are so important for the environment, but they are also low maintenance as well, so we can spend more time enjoying our outdoor living spaces and Hot Spring® spa instead." Clayton agrees with this approach and mentions pollinator-friendly options such as coneflowers and sunflowers to help bees and other important insects thrive.

Finally, consider reclaimed or natural materials throughout the backyard, including furniture, pathways and decor. Use gravel or rocks for walkways, recycled wood for furniture or flowerbeds, or stones and clay for a firepit or kids' sandbox.

Wellness-Focused Design

A woman is enjoying a soak in her Hot Spring Spas hot tub in an outdoor backyard setting. The hot tub is surrounded by lush greenery. The woman is relaxed and content, enjoying the peace and quiet of her backyard.

The wellness “trend” is here to stay, and homeowners are investing in their well-being to help them live happier, healthier lives every single day. As you consider backyard design ideas, think about how your plans could benefit your wellness goals, providing easy access to mental and physical health tools in your very own space.

Hydrotherapy is a proven wellness method, and regular hot tub use has been shown to ease muscle aches, reduce joint pain, improve sleep, and more. Hot Spring® Spas offers products with purposefully placed jets to deliver unparalleled massage exactly where you need it. Spa owners can control the direction and power of the jets for a personalized massage that hits the desired muscle groups. Regular hot tub sessions can also help reduce stress and provide an opportunity to connect with loved ones sans technology, which contributes to better mental health for the entire family.

To round out the hydrotherapy category, homeowners are also investing in pools and cold plunges for exercise, relaxation and recovery. While traditional concrete pools can be quite the investment, in-ground container pools are becoming a desired option that's cheaper and more approachable for the average homeowner. (Or choose a natural pool, as previously mentioned!)

Cold plunges have risen in popularity with athletes like Andy Murray and JJ Watt being seen sitting in ice baths to improve circulation and stimulate recovery. While a simple stock tank and dozens of ice bags will do the trick, companies are now making sophisticated cold plunge tubs with filtration systems, temperature control and lighting.

If you prefer to take a more inward approach to wellness, invest in privacy and sound-blocking additions. Practicing meditation or yoga, for example, is better done with peace and quiet - and not your neighbor's dog barking at you during your upward dog position. Thron says he would "add a privacy screen, paneling, pergola with sides, etc. to make the experience more private."

Creating Designated Areas

Outdoor backyard designated living area with comfortable seating.

Judge is a big fan of having specific areas in your backyard that provide purpose for certain hobbies or intentions. "I'm personally a big believer in having designated spaces outside because without walls, it's important to create a sense of purpose," he says. "This can be achieved by having a designated dining area, a designated living area, and a designated lounge area. When these have some separation, it makes your outdoor living areas feel so much more functional and larger too!"

This design idea can easily be applied to the above idea of wellness or workout "zones". Creating a private, designated space for your exercise equipment can be all the motivation you need to fulfill your health and fitness goals right in your backyard.

Define these spaces with vertical gardens, trees and plants, outdoor furniture, pathways or fencing.

Whether you choose to incorporate one or all of these design ideas into your backyard, you and your family are sure to benefit from them for years to come. Show us your projects on  Instagram by tagging @hotspring_spas!