Did you recently move into a home that has this wonderfully big backyard, but all the contractor installed was a little three-foot by two-foot slab of concrete just outside the back door. What use is that? Where do you put the chairs or a barbecue?

There are several approaches you can take to creating a usable space. First, you can take the easy road, and that is to hire a company and have them design something for you. Then, you can pay them to build whatever they create. This way is costly, but if you have more funds than time then go ahead and take that route. They will produce something spectacular for you.

However, if you are short on cash and willing to work then one of the next two approaches might be for you. One, you can go the way of building a deck out of treated decking boards, or two, you could pour another concrete slab. Let's talk more about this concrete slab. Concrete involves a lot of physical labor, but if you take your time and work at it—instead of going to the gym—you might produce something the whole family can use instead of just sweat. To get started, you need to make sure you have a good shovel, rake, and a pick-spade.

To create the best concrete slab, you need a level base. Some would say you can pour the concrete directly onto the grass, but grass has a way of growing up through concrete. We recommend removing the turf from the areas you plan to build your new porch. You will need enough two-by-six boards to frame the entire area of the new porch. You want the top of the board to be level with the top of the concrete, so you need to remove the dirt so you have four inches of the six-inch board clear. You can pour the cement without any reinforcement, but you risk it cracking. At your DIY store, you will find four-foot by five-feet four-inch wire mesh to cover the dirt. Using this method is a lot easier than using standard lengths of rebar.

Now to the concrete. There are two methods, and your area will determine which is the least expensive. You can buy the cement from a ready-mix company, or you can purchase the sacks of premix from the hardware store and rent a mixer. In either case, you will need to determine how many cubic feet of concrete you will need: Do that by multiplying the length of slab times its width times its depth (this should be a minimum of four inches). If you have experience laying concrete, then you can get your brother-in-law or a friend to help you and you should able to mix and lay a 15-foot by 23-foot slab in about four hours.

Once the concrete has completely dried, you can put chairs, a table, and the barbecue on it. One further suggestion would be to find a self-standing gazebo that you buy in a box and put together yourself. If you're in a wind-prone area, bolt it into the concrete. These free-standing gazebos range from $200 to $1500.

Now enjoy your great backyard!