Outdoor Living

Outdoor Accessories

Taking indoor comforts outside

When you're inside your house, you've got everything you need right there - a TV, a fully-equipped kitchen, a fireplace and built-in heating and cooling systems. Outdoor rooms are quickly catching up to indoor rooms in this respect: everything is designed to be taken outside. An outdoor room just isn't complete without at least one accessory to make it more comfortable in the cooler months, or to get rid of pesky summer flies.

On this page you'll find information on outdoor accessories, including:

It may be hard to justify spending money on accessories that stay outside and could potentially be stolen, but how much you buy depends on how much you're going to use your room. If you live in a climate that permits you to lounge outside year round, then you'll be getting a lot of use out from your outdoor accessories. If not, then the accessories will encourage you to use the space and prolong your summer fun.

It's become a trend to integrate outdoor garden decor with indoor-looking furnishings, to create a blend of nature and man-made beauty. Subsequently, water features are a great way to add a splash of character to your outdoor room. You might choose a small tabletop fountain or add a spa complete with a waterfall. Water not only cools the air, it also provides a soothing sound to help you relax when you're lounging on a soporific summer day.

Appliances, while not considered strictly accessories, are in this category because they're considered optional for outdoor kitchens. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you might want to cook and eat a lot of your meals out there. Outdoor refrigerators, dishwashers and stoves allow you to move the whole kitchen into the open air, and let you store food and wash dishes without having to haul them back and forth from the house.

If you spend a lot of time and money on an outdoor room, chances are that you want to get the most you can out of your investment. This is where outdoor heating and fire features come into play. During the cool fall and winter months, you can spend time reading a book on your sofa or cooking a char-broiled steak for your family without being bitten by the cold air. Patio heaters provide a constant stream of warm air into the space, while fireplaces can be used in winter to really take the chill off.

Lighting is an integral part of using an outdoor space - when the sun goes down, the lights go off. Providing unique and efficient lighting systems will allow you to party until the sun comes back up. Outdoor lighting can be solar or electronic, and it can come in many different forms, such as strings, lamps, porch lights or candles. Even with solar powered patio lights you'll be able to create a romantic atmosphere with the right outdoor lighting, and even use it as security for potential intruders.

If you're a couch potato, you're missing out on the beautiful outdoors when you're stuck inside watching TV. Never fear - with outdoor electronics, you can bring the game to you and kick back in the open breeze. Outdoor electronics can be hard-wired into the ground or they can be wireless, like wireless tvs. The only thing you'll have to remember is to check if the electronics are safe to leave outdoors. If they are, make sure they are securely stored so you can keep enjoying them for years to come.

Water Features

A cool splash that's more than just décor

An outdoor room should be trendy, decorative and modern, but it should also reflect the yard that it's built in. It's easy enough to bring nature into your room, and even easier to add a little water. Water features cool the air and bring peace to an outdoor living room or bedroom. You can probably imagine how relaxing it would be to lie on a comfortable sofa and listen to the quiet splashing of a fountain nearby. In fact, water features are so popular that you often find them on office desks and indoor tables as well.

Water features include ponds, fountains and waterfalls, but if you don't have the space to build a full-fledged water garden complete with channels, multiple pools and bridges, you can still bring the water plants and soothing H2O into your space. Container water gardens are getting quite popular among those who don't have the space or the money to build their own pond, and they're an excellent decor option for an outdoor room. Simply purchase the necessary water gardening supplies and a container at a garden nursery and set up your pond. And when the weather turns cold, they're small enough to move indoors.

If you want to integrate a fountain or waterfall into your outdoor room, you can add one to your container water garden or build it into an existing spa or pool. It's advisable to hire a licensed contractor or someone experienced in building water features to do this, because pumps run on electricity and obviously, water and electricity don't mix. If you don't know what you're doing, you can put yourself and others at risk of electrocution. Keep it safe and enjoy your water feature every time you lounge outdoors.

When building a water feature, keep these things in mind:

  • Placement. Water features create an interesting sense of decor and relaxation in a room, but they also attract animals and insects. If you don't want to be plagued with potential pests, keep your water feature in an area where there are garden fences or screening, preferably also away from your outdoor room.
  • Keeping the water moving. With the threat of West Nile virus, stagnant water is a risk for breeding mosquitoes. Keep your family safe and add a water wiggler or spitter to any bird baths, ponds or container ponds that you might have. Keep those mosquitoes out of your yard!
  • Are you going to have any fish in your pond? These will require some care and attention, and you'll have to take them inside when the winter comes.
  • Safety. Children and pets are at risk for drowning when there's an unfenced water feature in the vicinity. Put up a fence around your ponds and waterfalls and make sure that any fountains are kept out of reach of young children and pets. Check your city's bylaws for more information on what you should do.
  • Use the correct outdoor outlets. These should be equipped with GFCI, or ground fault circuit interrupters. They should also be protected with a cover to keep the rain and snow from getting inside the outlets.
  • Always make sure that any pond equipment you buy is made to go underwater and has the correct electrical hookups for this. When plugging in your pond pump, make sure you are completely dry and standing on a dry area before you do so.

Outdoor Kitchen Appliances

Making your outdoor meals a breeze

Although an outdoor kitchen consists of just a barbecue and a table, many of these kitchens can rival the functionality and technology of the ones found indoors. If you like to cook and host a lot of parties, then a fully-equipped outdoor kitchen may be for you. The choices for appliances are numerous and you may feel overwhelmed, but careful planning and consideration will help you decide what outdoor kitchen appliances you want in your outdoor space.

Before going appliance-shopping, consider:

  • Your budget. Outdoor appliances, while very functional and chic, are also quite expensive, running from $2,000 just for an icemaker. If you really want to build an outdoor cooking paradise, but don't have the money to buy everything at once, pick out what you think you'll need and then add a different appliance every year. If you would really like to stretch your money, you can also attempt to find discount outdoor kitchen appliances.
  • How much you cook. If you prefer eating takeout food, chances are you won't need a fully-equipped kitchen. But if you cook a lot, you might want to add other grill accessories like a rotisserie and warming drawers. You may also want to buy some storage for your food and dishes.
  • How many people you cook for. This will mainly refer to the size of your grill - the bigger your grill, the more people you can feed at once. If you're going to throw a lot of parties, you should also consider seating options so that everyone has a chance to relax and not crowd around you at the barbecue.
  • The amount of space you have. This factor will help you decide whether or not to get full-sized appliances or a grill island with spaces for some smaller ones. Sometimes the smaller, space-saving appliances can be more expensive, but you may be able to find deals if you buy the whole kitchen (grill, island and appliances) at once.
Outdoor Appliance Options

Outdoor appliances don't just stop at the grill or stove. You can find virtually any appliance these days that's outdoor-ready. A basic outdoor kitchen will include a grill, a refrigerator and an outdoor sink, but you can find kitchens that are bursting with icemakers, gas woks, dishwashers, pizza ovens and wet bars. What you buy all depends on your space, usage and budget.

Refrigerators, Freezers and Coolers

Outdoor fridges fit right under your counter, saving space on your patio. They're normally plated with stainless steel so that they can stand up to the weather. Most are the size of bar fridges, but if your outdoor kitchen is secondary to your indoor kitchen, then most leftovers, condiments and meat can fit nicely inside. If you find you need more space for your food, consider getting an outdoor freezer. You can also find outdoor fridges that act as kegs or beer coolers, which have a spout on the top for easy dispensing. All of your cooling appliances should be drained, cleaned and stored in a sheltered spot during winter to protect them.

Sinks and Dishwashers

If you really don't like the idea of taking dishes in and out of your house every time you have a party, you might want to consider building a sink or dishwasher into your outdoor kitchen. You can fix it so that both hot and cold water are delivered to your outdoor sink, but remember to install an indoor shutoff valve so that you can turn the water off in the winter. Outdoor dishwashers, like refrigerators, fit nicely into your grill island and provide that extra bit of clean-up convenience when your barbecue wraps up.

Cooking Accessories

Everyone's used to the grill, but if you really love to cook, you might be interested in some of the accessories that also hook up to your gas line. You can buy a wok for outdoor Asian cooking, a rotisserie and oven for cooking and roasting poultry and pork, warming drawers, smoker drawers and much more. After all, the heart of the outdoor kitchen is the grill, so the more you can do, the more delicious food you'll produce for your guests.

Fireplaces

The heart of your outdoor room

Outdoor rooms have it all - comfortable seating, easy outdoor cooking, and even acclimatized conditions. However, all outdoor rooms need a gathering place for your family and guests. Nothing is better than cuddling in blankets around a fire when the sun drops down for the night. Outdoor fireplaces do the double duty of providing a nice heated place to sit through the colder months and a focal point around which you can arrange your outdoor furniture and accessories./p>

Outdoor fireplaces have changed from the crude stone-ringed campfire on your lawn. Now you can install a fireplace that looks like it belongs in an indoor living room, and it's relatively easy to do. If you prefer a more rustic look, you can get other fire options that include chimineas, firepits and outdoor stoves. Whatever the decor of your room, you can find a fire element that will work with it. An outdoor fireplace provides a central spot for conversation, warmth and cooking.

Outdoor Fireplaces

An outdoor fireplace is built out of masonry, but you don't have to hire a mason to put it in. Many models come already built, and all you have to do is install it in your outdoor room. You can choose to have a chimney or not, but remember, the smoke from outdoor fires can get irritating. If you choose not to have a chimney, you may want to arrange seating so that the smoke won't blow in someone's face. Your fireplace can be wood-fueled or you can buy a gas insert. Outdoor fireplaces must meet all codes and must be properly vented for your safety. They also have the added benefit of being weatherproofed, so you'll never have to worry about the hearth's decor being destroyed.

Chimineas

These Spanish chimneys are actually small front-loading stoves with a bulbous "belly" where the fire is. They're great because they are portable and don't take up a lot of space on your patio. They're traditionally made of terra cotta, but they also come in cast iron and other materials. They also don't produce a lot of smoke.

Firepits

A variation on the campfire, outdoor room firepits are no longer bound to their ring of stones. You can build a firepit anywhere on your patio or deck with round and customized grates. If you want to make sure that your children can't reach into the pit and burn themselves, you can buy a high-sided grate. If you're looking to save on space, why not buy one that fits flush against the deck railing? You can even find grates that have silhouettes cut into them, which will cast a dancing figure on surrounding surfaces when the fire is lit. Firepits are less expensive than outdoor fireplaces and can be wood or gas-fueled.

Patio Heaters

Take the chill off the air

Traditionally, the patio was closed when the summer ended. All the furniture was brought indoors and stored, the barbecue was cleaned and covered, and the family headed inside to keep warm while another winter came upon them. With the new trend of outdoor rooms, you don't have to pack up and get in when the air grows colder. Patio heaters allow you to be outside for as long as you want to be without getting chilled while you're trying to enjoy your outdoor space.

Patio heaters resemble scaled-down versions of street lamps and run on propane. They're mostly freestanding, but you can get heaters that will hang from the ceiling and cast a fair amount of heat onto a table or seating group below. Many people use more than one to heat an outdoor room - in fact, you find them in many professional establishments when local restaurant have a dining patio or smoking corner that might be open for longer than the hot weather lasts.

Some patio heaters work by using infrared technology, meaning that they'll heat the people and objects around them, but not the air itself. This is beneficial when the air is just a little cooler than normal, but still tolerable enough for people to sit outside. These are a little more expensive, but are more versatile and use less energy than traditional heating methods.

You may even find that patio heaters can be customized, blending in with your choice of decor in a variety of metal colors and finishes. They don't even have to resemble the traditional "street lamp" design - some look like indoor radiators, which can be tucked away into corners and inconspicuous places. This ensures that your heaters won't interrupt the flow and theme of your outdoor landscaping.

Patio Heater Safety

Acclimatizing your outdoor room will allow you to enjoy it for longer periods of time, but when you set up patio heaters, especially around children, you need to be aware of the safety hazards. Like any other heating element, a patio heater can be a fire hazard when used in the wrong way.

Take care and follow these safety tips:

  • Never light or use a patio heater in an enclosed space like a tent or marquee. If you set your heater up in the vicinity of a patio umbrella, make sure that the smoke and heat escaping the heater doesn't touch the umbrella in any way.
  • If you use your patio heater under an awning, make sure that you check the manufacturer's instructions so that you won't cause a fire.
  • Don't ever move your patio heater when it's lit. You could be severely burned or cause an accident.
  • Always check the hose and parts of the heater to make sure that they are in good working order. If they appear cracked or split, then discontinue heater use and replace them. Get your heater serviced at the appointed times.
  • Set up your heater in a sheltered area to ensure it doesn't blow out, but make sure that the smoke and other combustible byproducts don't irritate you or your guests.

Outdoor Cooling

Keeping it cool while the heat is on

It can be the best feeling in the world to sit in an outdoor room, enjoying some freshly cooked barbecue, but when the air is too hot or humid, sitting outside can be like sitting in a sauna. Not exactly the most comfortable way to enjoy a room that can cost as much as 10 percent of your home's value. Luckily, there are acclimatizing options for cooling as well as for heating your outdoor room so that you can sit as comfortably there as you can in your house with air-conditioning.

Outdoor Misting

Outdoor cooling methods are unique, since there is really no way to contain the cool air in an open-sided room. One such method is misting, which cools the air to 85 F for comfortable sitting. Contrary to some belief, misting doesn't increase the humidity in the air. The nozzles release a stream of water so thin that it's actually one-tenth the size of a human hair. This creates a comfortable "fog" that evaporates immediately, leaving the air cool and refreshing.

Misting is most commonly used in amusement parks and other professional capacities, but it's starting to be installed in residential homes. The effect is very much like air conditioning. The only downside to misting your outdoor room is that your furniture and floors could be covered in light, very tiny water droplets. But if you've weatherproofed everything or have waterproof furniture, this won't be a problem. The water isn't uncomfortable, either - it will evaporate quickly in the warm air. The best placement for an outdoor misting system is along the edges of your outdoor room, so that it creates a sort of "curtain" against the heat of the day.

The system attaches to an outdoor shelter and incorporates many well-designed nozzles to provide a continuous cool spray for however long you want to sit outdoors. It's perfect for parties when your outdoor room may have a lot of people in close proximity to one another.

Outdoor Fans

Outdoor fans are another cooling option for outdoor rooms. They attach to the ceiling of your pergola or shelter and keep the air moving so the heat isn't felt so much. Fans can also be attached to an outdoor umbrella, and in fact some commercially sold umbrellas actually include an outdoor fan option. You can also buy a freestanding outdoor fan to cool certain spots of your outdoor room, like a sofa or a hammock. They run on electricity and even make a difference in rainy conditions, when the heat might be lowered but the humidity can be overwhelming.

For safety's sake, be sure to install your fan away from children and high traffic areas.

Outdoor Lighting

Illuminate your room's possibilities

Outdoor lighting can make or break your outdoor room - in order to truly enjoy the work you've put into your space at night, you need proper lighting to illuminate the accents of your room. Outdoor lighting does more than allow you to see what you're doing at night. It also generates a certain mood and creates light and shadow that can give your outdoor room a very different look.

It doesn't have to be difficult or expensive to light your outdoor room in an attractive, functional way. Remember, you don't want to light every inch of your space - too much lighting can look garish and wash out the details that you've worked so hard to achieve, like your beautiful flower garden. You can create enough light to see by while still making sure that your outdoor room makes an impression on your guests.

You can choose from solar or electric lighting. Solar lighting is sometimes more expensive to buy at first, but will allow you to light your room without relying on your home's electrical supply. Therefore, solar lighting presents a functional green alternative to your outdoor lighting needs. Electric lighting comes in two varieties - low voltage or standard voltage. Low-voltage lighting will save on your electricity bill and is widely used in outdoor lighting. Standard voltage is used for security and widespread lighting.

Here are some tips for outdoor lighting:

  • Illuminate the focal points in your yard. If you have an especially beautiful sculpture or a colorful plant, you can spotlight it by installing recessed lighting. When your guests visit your outdoor room, their eyes will be immediately drawn to the best of your garden's decor.
  • Use lights in ponds and other water features. Not only does this create an absolutely breathtaking effect, it also serves as a safety precaution. If guests can see where your water feature is, they can avoid accidentally stepping or falling into it.
  • Decide what kind of effect you want in your garden. If you want bold shadows and sharp effects, place your lighting in an open space on your lawn so that there is no reflection from the light fixture to the focal point. If you want to create a more shadowy, muted result, place your lighting amidst grasses or leafy plants so that the light will bounce off the surfaces and create a diffused effect.
  • Use textured lighting, like frosted or colored lenses, to create dramatic effects in different parts of your yard. You can even accentuate the decor of multiple outdoor rooms with different lighting.
  • Use the highest quality lenses and fixtures that your budget allows. The better the lighting, the longer it will last and the more options you will have.

If you're lighting an outdoor living room, you'll want to tie in your fixtures to the decor you already have set up. You can buy outdoor lamps that look very much like indoor lamps, or rig fixtures onto a pergola or an awning to create an overall downlighting effect. If you're looking to illuminate a pool or pond, you can buy waterproof brick lighting that will shine underwater. Strings of lights are inexpensive options for a party or other event and look quite festive. White Christmas lights can create a beautiful effect on trees and hedges around your outdoor room.

Whatever you choose, the play of light and shadow will ensure that your room will always look like a masterpiece.

Outdoor Electronics

Technology for the outdoor couch potato

For those who adore their Sunday afternoon sports, an outdoor room doesn't really hold a lot of attraction - until now. Outdoor electronics suddenly make a lazy afternoon seem a little more palatable, and definitely gives new meaning to "getting some fresh air." With the advent of weatherproof speakers and wireless TVs, it's never been easier to spend time outdoors, since there's nothing drawing you back in.

Outdoor electronics are made out of weatherproof material that allows them to be placed in your backyard; however, some outdoor electronics aren't made to be placed in the open and should be stored when you're finished with them. If you're a party animal, you might consider buying some high-quality speakers to place around the pool or a sound system that can be accessed from your outdoor room. If you can't afford to automate your whole yard, you can hook up your speakers to your indoor sound system and pipe the music out into your yard. Speakers don't have to resemble the traditional black boxes either; an outdoor electronics aficionado can find sub-woofers shaped like rocks or speakers that double as planters that blend in around their garden.

Wireless TVs are great for watching the game outdoors, but should come inside when you do. There isn't really a TV on the market right now that can actually be left outside, but if you buy a waterproof cabinet, you can store it there until the next time you need it. You're not limited by your choice of outdoor TVs - they can rival those found inside, and you might even find a high-definition screen mounted above an outdoor fireplace in some higher-end outdoor spaces.

If you're going to install some speakers or AV equipment outside, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Extension cords and outlets should be located far away from any water source. If your AV equipment is permanent, the wire should be grounded or buried to minimize accidents.
  • Speakers should be pointed towards your house or outdoor room. Not only will you hear better, you'll also be respecting your neighbors who may not appreciate your taste in music at 10 o'clock at night.
  • Make sure you follow all the directions involved in setting up your outdoor speakers or wireless TV, and if you need any electrical work done, hire a licensed electrician.

Store or disguise your equipment to minimize theft. If you think those electronics are pretty cool, chances are someone else might too. You can invest in an outdoor security system to give added piece of mind.