Since the pandemic, the estimated $10 billion residential annual hardscape market has been on fire—growing nearly 30% annually on average.
"We've never seen anything like it," said David Smith, technical director for the Interlocking Concrete Paving Institute. "It was stupid crazy growth during COVID."
Of course, much of that growth has spilled over into the pool and spa market, along with the general trend toward homeowners wanting to turn their backyards into staycation oases.
"For a backyard room, you don't have heating or air, so it's valuable because you can add additional space for a lot less," Smith said.
Pool and spa pros with hardscape know-how can take advantage of that sales point—and grow business—by offering customers hardscapes to go with their pools and spas. Hardscape manufacturers even offer high-quality "lookbook" magazines to show customers what's possible. "They're really elegant," Smith said. "It's almost like looking at a Vogue magazine."
But it's helpful to go into any discussion with an understanding of the latest trends. So, just what are today's homeowners looking for in backyard hardscapes? Smith laid out six trends pool and spa pros need to know:
1. Large is in charge
Homeowners want their backyards to be calming areas. So, they are opting for larger concrete pavers up 24' x 24', which create a visual space that is more soothing to the eye than a bunch of smaller pavers. Depending on the size and type, typical concrete pavers run $2–$3 per square foot.
2. Porcelain isn't just for dishes
In fact, Smith said more high-end clients are opting for this unique hardscape option, which is durable and doesn't scratch. Finishes can be polished or hammered and often are complimented with an equally pricy and eye-catching aggregate. The cost is typically $6–$8 per square foot.
3. Old concrete is new again
Simply overlaying existing concrete decks with concrete pavers can make the old feel new again. Manufacturers also make bullnose coping in various styles to add to existing pools and create an even pool-to-deck surface for a professional, finished look.
4. Walls go up
Hardscapes aren't just horizontal—they can also be vertical in the form of retaining walls. Segmental retaining walls use modular blocks for vertical grade change applications. The walls are designed and constructed as either gravity retaining walls (conventional) or reinforced soil retaining walls, according to the National Concrete Masonry Association. Smith said the walls can be up to 4 feet tall before requiring engineering, though different states have different rules. Always check with your local jurisdictions. Along with traditional uses of retaining soil, the walls can also be used to create raised patios, giving a backyard space a focal point.
5. The cast is set
Segmental retaining walls are often just the "bones" of retaining walls. To really make backyard settings special, hardscapes apply over the top a cast of concrete designed to look like stone. Two types of casts can be used: dry (which uses less water) and wet (which uses more). Smith said wet-cast veneer is currently popular because it allows for more finishes and a more natural stone look. "It's gorgeous," he said. "You can have the look of stone at concrete prices."
6. Space is reclaimed
Many homes already have raised wooden decks, but often the space under those decks goes unused. The new trend is to reclaim that space with hardscapes under or near the deck, providing new space and a shady area for when the sun is too much.
Trends aside, Smith stressed that it's crucial for pool and spa pros to certify themselves in hardscape installation techniques. While it may seem simple to lay pavers, "it can get complicated," he said.
He also said pros can partner with hardscape installers for a team approach that ensures experts in the field. Finally, Smith urged pros to jump into this market no matter how they do it.
"These products have helped expand other industries such as outdoor kitchens, countertops, lighting, grills, fire pits, fireplaces, furniture, trellises, fountains, pizza ovens, ponds and hot tubs," he said. "From the homeowner's perspective, the return on investment into this backyard leisure-topia is 100% or close to it when selling the home. So, 100% enjoyment with 100% return resonates as a worthwhile deal for homeowners."