Great outdoor spaces help sell homes, but in production housing, they’re often skimpy or neglected altogether. It makes sense: The builder has to provide a house with as many features as possible at the most affordable price. You have to deliver a house—but a yard, not so much.

In the interest of affordability, lots are narrower, so there’s the issue of drainage and grading between houses. To avoid potential litigation, many err on the side of caution. Instead of the side yard being used as an amenity, it’s used for grading and drainage.

The outdoor space is made with what’s left over, after the value box was created. It’s cut off from the rest of the house and is below floor level, requiring a landing and steps.
Courtesy DTJDesign The outdoor space is made with what’s left over, after the value box was created. It’s cut off from the rest of the house and is below floor level, requiring a landing and steps.


The first drawing is a house my firm did years ago; the open space is near the garage. Line up a few of those backyards and there’s little or no privacy between side yards.

Fast-forward 15 years: Same size lot, same bedroom count. But here, the outdoor space was an integral part of the plan from the get-go. Through easements that extend the open space the length of the lot, we combined two side yards into one usable space. The house is essentially one-room deep, enveloping the outdoor room. Every room touches the outdoor space or looks out onto it. Even circulation to the master bedroom is a light-filled hallway that offers views of the courtyard.

This plan takes up the same square footage as before, but the outdoor space engages all of the rooms in the house.
Courtesy DTJDesign This plan takes up the same square footage as before, but the outdoor space engages all of the rooms in the house.


Yes, there are drainage issues. But you have options, and none are cost-prohibitive. Recess the joists into the foundation and lower the floor a foot. Design a deck with drainage underneath, or pave your outdoor spaces with an offset drainage tunnel that flows along the side of the adjacent house. Rocks and plants can disguise those workings.

Outdoor spaces improve everyone’s quality of life. Making them a focal point punts you ahead of the competition.