Backyard Warm-Up: How to Turn Your Outdoor Space into a Three-Season Retreat

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Have you noticed that the days are getting shorter already? As dusk sets in a little earlier each evening your thoughts may be a little wistful about the end of the outdoor season. A little cool nighttime air doesn’t have to mean you’re closed off indoors, though, especially if you try one of these techniques to add warmth to your outdoor space.
Whether your budget is tiny or unlimited and whether you rent your home or own it, you can find away to get a few more months out of your backyard or balcony and have the option of getting outside a little earlier next spring.
Outdoor warm-ups
• One way to use your outdoor space more is absolutely free: find a way to orient your space to the sun. If your backyard is shaded, especially in the late afternoon, it can cool off faster than other spaces. To counteract that cooling, look for an opportunity to create livable outdoor space on the side or in the front of your home that gets more sun. Another possibility is to look at your landscaping to see if you can trim a tree to expose more of your yard to the sun.
• Don’t forget about the power of warm beverages to keep you toasty inside. Hot chocolate, cappuccino, coffee and tea work well, but so does a little brandy for you and your adult friends.
• For a little bit of money, invest in some comfy blankets and an outdoor trunk so you can store them within your fingertips. This trick is used by restaurants in some cities around the globe to get diners to linger longer in the evening at their outdoor seating even after autumn sets in and the sun sets earlier.
• Add some extra lighting to your outdoor space. While lights won’t add warmth, they do help you use your space later on a moonless night. You can find inexpensive solar lighting in your local hardware store and rope or even holiday lights can be strung along a fence at any time for a cheery ambiance.
• Fire pits are a hot home accessory these days and easy to find for as little as $37 at Walmart. A wrought iron and ceramic tile fire pit can cost under $200. You can spend a lot more for a fancier one, too, but you can also make your own fire pit with paving stones, bricks, pebbles and sand – or get creative and make one from an old steel tire rim or even a recycled washing machine drum. Decide if you want a wood-burning or gas fire pit and make sure you follow all the regulations set by your homeowner association and local government for using your fire pit to keep you, your family and your neighbors safe.
• A patio heater is another option to let you linger outdoors longer. Small tabletop versions can be found for less than $100 while taller versions go up to $400 or $500. Before you buy a heater, think about where you’ll store it when you’re not using it and how much space you hope to heat. While a small heater is less expensive, it may not do much good in a large backyard. At the same time, you don’t want to clutter your precious outdoor space and its natural beauty with a cluster of heaters that you’ll only use occasionally. If you have storage space and can easily move your heater into place when you want it, that could be the best option for enjoying your yard in all three seasons.
• The most expensive and yet most luxurious option for year-round outdoor pleasure could be a hot tub. You’ll need the space for the tub with a solid platform underneath to hold its weight, electrical power, a cover and a lock for safety and perhaps you want it under an overhang to protect it from snow, rain and ice. You’ll need to hire an electrician for proper installation and you should expect to spend $2,000 to $15,000 or more for the tub itself plus several hundred dollars a year for electricity to run it. You can get a smaller hot tub for two or three people or a larger one that holds eight to ten people at once. Think of your hot tub as a small swimming pool – which will need maintenance and safety precautions to prevent accidents. On the other hand, dashing through crisp autumn air into a warm bubbling tub could be the perfect way to enjoy your outdoor space almost all year.