The wide variety of backyard structures, ranging from decorative gazebos to utilitarian storage structures, allow homeowners to customize backyard spaces. Functional buildings have specific practical purposes. Decorative backyard structures are used primarily to make yards more pleasant and congenial. Other backyard structures, such as playhouses or sun rooms, serve essentially as outdoor rooms and expand the living space available in a primary dwelling.
The simplest backyard structures are often those devoted to storage. Small garden sheds are common and protect gardening supplies from the elements. Boathouses and garages serve mostly to protect vehicles but commonly contain storage space or shop facilities as well. Some storage structures are constructed of very basic and inexpensive materials while others are more elaborate and are designed to blend in with primary structures. Even inexpensive garages are often covered with the same exterior material as the houses with which they are associated.
Other utilitarian backyard structures serve a specific purpose. Greenhouses can be installed to allow the growing of plants during months when outdoor cultivation would be impossible and range in size and expense from small personal greenhouses to large, semi-mechanized models. Other backyard structures conceal specific pieces of equipment such as fuel tanks and pool equipment. Some small agricultural structures, such as chicken coops, are built in backyards in communities where they are permitted by zoning laws.
Many backyard structures are designed to enhance the visual appeal of an outdoor space. A pergola is an open framework of beams, at ceiling height, that offers both shade and space for plants to grow and climb. Gazebos are small backyard structures designed for entertaining and relaxation. Their broad windows allow breezes to pass through, but they offer shelter from sun and insects and facilitate comfortable backyard living.
Structures such as ornamental or functional bridges can be used to enhance a backyard design, and homes located in close proximity to other structures may benefit from privacy screens. A backyard layout that makes use of screening structures can provide the feeling of seclusion even in a crowded urban setting.
Some backyard structures are essentially outdoor rooms. Playhouses for children may be little more than sheds with some additional decorations but may also be elaborate structures, complete with many of the amenities of actual houses. A sun room or screened porch can be built onto a house or attached to a home by a covered walkway. These structures serve as rooms in their own right for several seasons or year-round, depending on climate and construction.