19 "Zero Dollar" Upgrades for Your Outdoor Living Area

Between furnishing, lighting, and decorating your patio, porch, or deck, outdoor ambiance is anything but free—unless you DIY it. Complete one of these 19 upgrades to make an everlasting impression on your outdoor living area without making a dent in your wallet.

  1. Favorite Hangout

    DIY Hanging Chair

    Snag extra seating in a pint-sized yard by installing a hanging chaise on your porch, deck, or patio. This lightweight lounger, comprising a canvas drop cloth supported by wooden dowels and natural rope, is perfect for basking in the sun—yet doubles as a swing for family fun.

    Related: DIY Ideas to Steal from 5 Easy Porch Makeovers


  2. Let There Be Light

    DIY Paint Can Lights

    Make light work of illuminating outdoor spaces with these paint can lanterns, created by drilling a personalized pattern onto the faces of empty paint cans. Coat the cans with primer and paint, and then place a tea light inside of each to illumine the night with color.

    Related: 10 Things You Didn't Know a Paintbrush Can Do


  3. Unlikely Luminary

    DIY Outdoor Light Stand

    A too-small yard with no room for trees poses a puzzle: Where to hang the string lights in your outdoor oasis? When cleverly situated at the perimeter of the yard, natural equivalents like plant pots and branches serve as portable architecture from which to drape string lights—evoking an even more spacious sanctuary.

    Related: Goodbye Grass: 7 Inspiring Ideas for a "No Mow" Backyard


  4. Screened Out

    DIY Painted Drop Cloth Privacy Screen

    Installing a privacy screen on the porch or patio is a simple way to screen out unwanted attention. Here, a painted canvas drop cloth is sandwiched between grommets and hung from a hook in the porch ceiling to attract the attention of neighbors—while keeping prying eyes out.

    Related: 11 Ideas for Better Backyard Privacy


  5. Turn Up the Heat

    DIY Flower Pot Space Heater

    Unused terra cotta pots offer an inexpensive way to heat a cold corner of the deck. Place lit scented candles in a glass bowl, covering them with an upturned plant pot. As the candle burns, the pot will diffuse heat into its surroundings, creating an ambiance as aromatic as it is warm.

    Related: 14 New Uses for Old Candles

    Youtube via ICEEUVisuals

  6. Island Fever

    Spray Paint Faded Outdoor Furniture

    If an island getaway is beyond your budget, bring the Caribbean into your backyard by repainting your old patio furniture in tropical tints. Spray-paint furniture in vibrant oranges, complementing them with electric blues and calming yellows for side chairs and tables with flair.

    Related: 10 Doable Designs for DIY Outdoor Furniture


  7. Crafty Cushions

    Make Outdoor Cushions with Placemats

    Why throwaway timeworn placemats, when you can upcycle them into throw pillows for an outdoor bench! Using a seam ripper, tear the seams of a dual-layer placemat. Fill the case with bargain craft stuffing, and stitch the opening to fashion eye-catching cushions for a budget-friendly porch.

    Related: 21 Totally Free Ways to Upgrade Your Home


  8. Strong Stumps

    Use Tree Stumps as Outdoor Tables

    If your small outdoor space is a few tables short of a furniture set, look to Mother Nature for extra surface space. Tree stumps and upturned wicker baskets can be repurposed into attractive side tables, and when adorned with home-grown planters, they evoke a truly rustic retreat.

    Related: 9 Double-Duty Favorites for Tiny Outdoor Spaces


  9. Flower Power

    Upgrade String Lights with Tissue Paper

    String lights aren’t the only option for elevating an outdoor space on a shoestring budget. These DIY florets, cut from tissue paper and stitched together with a needle and thread, create a luminous lantern effect when hung directly from light cords.

    Related: 7 Ways to Transform String Lights from Holiday to Every Day


  10. Stencil It In

    Paint Your Floors with a Stencil

    You don’t need pro painting skills to recreate this pallet wood deck that dazzles. Create personalized stencils with Silhouette Portrait, or print out pre-designed stencils. Then, using the stencil, paint the pattern over a portion of the deck to create a colorful welcome area for guests.

    Related: 18 Design Ideas to Make Your Deck a Destination


  11. Block Party

    Stack Cinder Blocks for Easy Outdoor Seating

    Due to their light weight, negative space, and neutral tone, cinder blocks instantly add flavor and function to a garden. When stacked and topped with wood boards, they can provide support for you and a bevy of friends.

    Related: 9 Creative Ways to Build a Backyard Hangout


  12. Made in the Shade

    Hang Up an Old Curtain or Sheet for Outdoor Shade

    Shut out harsh sunlight and bugs, and create a clearly defined outdoor space by erecting a minimalist shade over the porch. Simply secure an old curtain or bed sheet to hooks attached to your home's exterior to create a chic canopy above dining and reclining areas.

    Related: 7 Ingenious IKEA Hacks for Your Backyard


  13. High Lights

    DIY Mason Jar Chandelier

    Bring the regal look of a multi-tier chandelier outdoors with these mason jar luminaries. Filled with pebbles and tea lights, and wrapped with twine, the jars can be tied to a fallen branch and secured to the eaves of the porch roof to create an intimate al fresco setting.

    Related: 8 New Ideas for DIY Outdoor Lighting


  14. Spare Surface

    Wrap an Old Tire in Rope to Make an Ottoman

    Got an old tire you're ready to kick to the curb? Upcycle it into a coffee table for your outdoor living room. Nail symmetrical plywood rounds to the top and base of the tire, followed by four feet to the base. Once the table has been covered in rope, its humble beginnings will go undetected!

    Related: 9 DIYs to String Together with Twine


  15. Uplifted Seating

    DIY Cinderblock Stools

    For an elegant and economical twist on a drab dining set, swap ordinary chairs for these weatherproof cinder block variants. These crafty stools, spray painted in one or two tones, then topped with a foam cushion wrapped in fabric, serve up a stunning seating option in a pinch.

    Related: 8 Great DIY Ways to Use Cinder Blocks


  16. Boosted Decor

    DIY Hanging Branch Candle Holder

    Who said table centerpieces had to be on the table? These hanging vases, suspended with rope from a tree branch, and secured to the porch ceiling, leave ample table room for the main course. 

    Related: Design Ideas to Steal from 10 Amazing Outdoor Kitchens


  17. Less is S'More

    DIY Soda Can S'More Roaster

    Skip the flint and steel, and create a miniature backyard bonfire with this DIY soda can stovetop. Cut the bottoms of two cans before adjoining them with sealant. Then, add a fuel, like alcohol, into a hole in the top of the can to ignite the stove, and get the s’mores cooking!

    Related: 7 Camping Favorites Destined for Your Home

    Instructables via Von Malegowski

  18. Cutting Edge

    Grow Plants from Cuttings

    Grow your garden without forking over any green by propagating plants—that is, growing new plants from existing ones. Cut the stems from houseplants at an angle, removing the bottom leaves and placing the cuttings in a moist pot to encourage their growth into hardy sprouts.

    Related: 11 Age-Old Gardening Tips to Ignore Completely


  19. Nautical Star

    Paint a Dropcloth for a DIY Tablecloth

    Life is a beach with this nautical-themed tablecloth, made by adhering painter’s tape to canvas drop cloth and stippling white or colored paint onto the exposed cloth with a foam brush. Remove the tape and let the cloth dry, then set the design with an iron for a perfectly fun finish.

    Related: 11 Ways to Elevate Your Boring Balcony


  20. Simple Living

    Simple Living

    You don't have to spend a fortune to get great style and function in your outdoor space. With a few of these creative ideas, you'll have the coolest backyard on the block.


  21. Don't Miss!


    Want to step inside old, new, bold, beautiful, weird and wonderful homes around the world? Subscribe to the House Lovers newsletter today!