Outdoor FireplacesFun on the patio or back porch shouldn’t end just because the days grow shorter and the evenings dip into the cooler temperatures. For many homeowners, an outdoor fireplace offers an enticing means of spending clear autumn evenings under the stars, warmed by a relaxing, romantic glow.

Different Outdoor Fireplaces, Different Fuel Sources

Just like their indoor counterparts, patio and outdoor fireplaces are available in wood-burning, natural gas, liquid propane, and pellet-burning configurations. Another, smaller class of fireplace – really a cross between a fireplace and a coffee table – is known as a firepit. These innovative, typically gas-powered outdoor heating sources work great for smaller patios and backyard decks. Their fuel sources sit concealed inside their base. Meanwhile the top often features a cover to convert the firepit surface to a normal table area.

Knowing Where to Put Your Outdoor Fireplace or Firepit

The base you need for your outdoor fireplace depends on what kind of floor or foundation you currently have in place. Though exact specifications will vary according to model, many outdoor fireplaces and fire pits need a stone or concrete surface on which to sit. This gives them a solid base and reduces the risk of fire or burning of wooden or bare-ground surfaces.

Making Sure Your Fireplace Is Ready For The Great Outdoors

Fire PitsIt’s important to remember that outdoor fireplaces are a special class with a different construction than traditional, indoor fireplace models. In fact, most indoor and dual-sided fireplaces are not qualified for outdoor use, as normal humidity and precipitation can seriously damage their components. If you’re planning to use a fireplace outdoors, it’s therefore vital to choose an outdoor fireplace.

How Big An Outdoor Fireplace Do You Need?

When choosing an outdoor fireplace, consider the area of the space you want to warm, but also whether you need the fireplace or firepit for decorative purposes more than warming. If you’re shopping for something to warm an outdoor area, carefully study the BTU capacity of each model, and also its fuel efficiency (also called burn time.)

Storage ShedsPortable canopies and tents, and storage sheds and playhouses, can add entire new dimensions to your backyard and property. They provide shelter, storage space, and dozens of decorative opportunities. For parents determined to provide a safe environment for their children, they also present some unique challenges. But more importantly, they provide chances to teach your kids important lessons while enjoying their company.

Canopies and Tents in the Yard and Away

The most important fact to remember – and, not surprisingly, among the most obvious – is that canopies and tents are not toys, and they are not playground equipment. In fact, children climbing on canopy frames can seriously damage the legs and support trusses and tear the canopy material. Even canopies with weight bags, ground stakes, and other anchoring systems can capsize if a child hangs from or climbs the legs. Under no circumstances should a child sit atop the canopy cover while the canopy is deployed.

On a more upbeat note, setting up and taking down a canopy or tent is a great way to teach children the importance of caring for their possessions and to help improve their motor skills. Placing children in charge of the assembly before an event, or letting them take care of the maintenance afterwards, gives them a character-building task that’s not too complex or that requires elaborate physical exertion.

Canopies also make good central, outdoor meeting places during lawn-keeping projects or for times when too many trips indoors for glasses or water or sunscreen would eat up too much time. Just deploy the canopy in an area of the yard and use it to shelter a water cooler, towels, sun protectant, and other supplies.

Canopy Care Involves the Whole Family

CanopiesAs an ongoing practice, parents should always dismantle and store the canopy away when it’s not in use. This will protect children from possible injury but also make sure the canopy stays in top condition for as long as possible. For a complete guide to family canopy safety, click here.

Backyard Storage Sheds Bring Something for the Entire Family

One of the modern storage shed’s greatest advantage lies in its variety. Suitable for dozens of purposes, storage sheds are also available in a giant array of sizes and styles. They’re constructed from vinyl and metal as well as the traditional wood, and some wooden models feature decorative elements including cupolas, window shutters, front porches, and decorative eaves.

But for all the external variety, the storage shed isn’t necessarily just for storage. Sheds also make great centerpieces for flowerbeds and other landscaping. Families can also renovate their interiors, as well, making them display spaces for collections or for holding household items and supplies (off season holiday decorations, extra linens and clothes, et cetera) that need the extra storage space. Many storage sheds include floor kits as optional extras, making the shed more like an “outdoor closet” than a separate, exterior storage container.

Shed Safety and Preservation

A properly maintained storage shed can last as long as your house itself. And like the house, it should be kept safe from the elements. Follow all instructions in the owner’s manual, and remember to keep the interior clean and free of insects and small animals.

Proper maintenance will vary according to your shed’s particular construction. Vinyl and plastic sheds will need little more than an occasional washing and rinsing to remain in good condition. Wooden storage sheds, while more attractive, will often require more care and preventative treatment.

Storage Sheds and Family Safety

Storage ShedsEven though their low roofs may offer an irresistible climbing temptation, parents should keep their children from using the sheds as climbing or playground equipment. This is also true of the exteriors of playhouses, and even (perhaps especially) the frames and support beams of swing sets and play sets.

If sheds are used to store hazardous equipment – such as lawnmowers, power tools, and saw blades – the shed should be kept locked whenever not in use. Remember at the end of tasks to lock all entries to the shed, including any opening windows. Use a heavy-gauge padlock or combination lock, mounted high up on the doors, to prevent children from simply snapping the doors open.

Storage Shed Decoration and Renovation

Storage sheds and playhouses also present incredible opportunities to teach children about renovation, including painting and landscaping. Read about the best – and most cost-effective ways – to renovate and beautify your wooden storage shed by reading our complete guide here. For additional details on adding flowerbeds to your storage shed, read our easy how-to tutorial.

Children’s Playhouses Are Fantastic Dreams Come True

PlayhousesSimilar in size and scale to the storage shed, children’s playhouses represent probably the ultimate in children’s toys. Large enough to become a “house” of their own, they are available in many different styles and themes, from fanciful cottage to frontier schoolroom. They’re sturdy enough to last all childhood long, too, and assemble from a prefabricated kit that comes with complete instructions.

Much like storage sheds, playhouses present incredible opportunities to teach children about renovation, including painting and landscaping. For a complete guide to renovating a shed or child’s playhouse a fun project for the whole family, see our guide elsewhere on this blog.

Storage ShedsIn some ways, it’s tempting to think of the storage shed as any home’s “branch office.” A storage shed provides valuable sheltering space and can increase the beauty of your yard or property. It can also serve as recreation or entertainment space for parties and other backyard events.

With the wide variety of choices available to consumers looking to add a storage shed to their backyard landscape, it’s important to understand several areas of interest.

Storage Shed Materials and Construction

What do you picture when you imagine a storage shed?

For many, the popular image remains that of the no-frills vinyl or metal shed propped against the back of a house or barn. All the same, larger wood- and cedar storage sheds provide greater amounts of storage and recreation space while also offering powerful decorative potential.

Other varieties of storage shed include plastic, plastic resin, metal (usually aluminum), and special canopy-style sheds that use a flexible tarp stretched over a rigid – again, usually aluminum or stainless steel – frame.

Many storage shed models are listed as “wood prepped-for-vinyl,” or a similar term. This means that the shed’s walls are prepared for mounting vinyl sides across their exterior. The walls may themselves be constructed from particleboard or oriented strand board (OSB.)

Storage Sheds and Weather Protection

The materials used to make the storage shed will determine its potential resistance to the elements. Many models of shelter, regardless of their materials, will list their weather resistance certifications and qualifications as a central part of their features. Such features often play a great role in determining a shed’s cost. For example, higher snow load and wind resistance sheds and portable shelters sometimes cost more than less fortified models. This is largely because the materials used to make them are more expensive and harder to manipulate during production.

Storage Shed Functionality

Storage ShedsRegardless of their weather resistance, the functions of a storage shed are limited only by the imaginations of their owners. Many owners simply choose to employ the storage shed as a kind of “backyard closet” that holds landscaping and lawn care equipment. Others use their shelters to store additional or surplus household supplies such as clothes and linens, or extra furniture or appliances.

Storage sheds, especially those that are sealed against the elements, can provide ideal shelter and display space for collections, memorabilia, and family keepsakes. Qualified electricians can rig many models for electric light, adding to their display potential.

Choosing the Right Size

The answer to any size question remains purely subjective. Nevertheless, when shopping for a storage shed, remember to leave “room to grow.” By buying a larger shed than you need right now, you give yourself the blessing of extra space to store equipment and other goods you acquire in the future.

Wood Storage Sheds’ Decorative Potential

Storage ShedsSome wooden storage shed models include “real” house decoration features including wooden floors (either optional or standard) and glass windows and shutters. Others include gable windows, eaves and shingled roofs, and fenced or semi-enclosed porches.

Standard and optional decorative features vary – often wildly – among manufacturers but also from model to model. When deciding which storage shed to purchase, it’s important to carefully understand what comes as a basic feature to each shed and what must be ordered at additional costs.

Sunroom and Greenhouse Storage Sheds

These versatile shed models combine the horticultural advantages of greenhouses and sunrooms with the storage functionality of the basic storage shed. Several such models are available from a variety of manufacturers.

Children’s Playhouses and Cottages

Similar in shape and construction to storage sheds, children’s playhouses – also called children’s cottages – offer any child a wonderful playtime destination. They’re available in a variety of motifs and themes: cottage, schoolhouse, country church, and many others. Like storage sheds, they’ll require assembly and decoration, including painting. They also include the same range of options as many storage sheds.

How To Build The Shed: DIY vs. Contractor

Storage ShedsStorage shed kits are built for relatively quick assembly using basic carpentry tools. However, to the novice builder these instructions can appear complex and hard to understand. Local contractors and woodworking professionals (carpenters, handymen, et cetera) may be available to complete the assembly for shed owners reluctant to risk time-consuming setup mistakes. As with any construction job, an estimate of all costs should be obtained before an agreement is finalized.Shed owners should also feel free to ask for references when making their contractor selection.

Schools bells ring, baseball season winds down and football season warms up. The end of summer draws near, with autumn and winter coming right behind it. After 2012’s record setting heat wave summer, homeowners should take extra precautions when getting their backyard, patio, and lawn ready for the cold weather months.

Listed below are seven tips to help everyone make sure their yard and patio get through the snow, rain, and sleet with a minimum of hassle and damage.

Make Sure Your Storage Space Is Suitably Weather-Resistant

Storage Sheds

A plastic resin storage shed

Especially for homeowners in parts of the country with a lot of snowfall, choosing the right storage shed or portable garage or shelter is an absolute must. Learn your shed or shelter’s snow resistance level, and find out what steps you can take to augment its weather resistance.

Caring for your storage shed, no matter what its construction type, is much like performing routine maintenance on your house. Make sure the roof and foundation are in good condition, that the windows and doors do not leak, and that the entire structure is free of pests, rodents, and termites. Perform the checks in autumn, before the cold weather complicates inspection.

Cover Your Swimming Pool – And Protect Its Machinery – Against Freezing

Both in-ground and aboveground pool owners should cover their pools with manufacturer-recommended tarps. Also, lower your pool’s water level so that it is below the skimmers’ entrances. This will prevent damage if the pool water freezes.

Take precautions to protect the pool’s pumps, pipes, and other machinery against damage from freezing. Such steps can include blowing water out of pipes and draining water from the filters and wrapping the pipes with insulation. You may also want to cover exposed machinery with a weather-resistant tarp. Remember that freezing conditions can occur even in the Deep South.

Protect Your Lawn With Mowing, Over-Seeding, Aeration, and Fertilization

Greenhouses

Store fragile plants inside a greenhouse

You’ll keep a greener lawn all winter long by over-seeding it  with grass that thrives in cold weather. Experts recommend over-seeding about six weeks before the first expected hard freeze.

Mow your lawn frequently during the fall. This will shred fallen leaves, helping them feed the grass. However, rake up any excess shredded leaves as they’ll block sunlight and encourage rodent and insect growth. Try to keep your grass at about 2.5 inches in height.

A late-autumn fertilizing will help give your lawn the food it needs for a healthy hibernation. Take precautions, however, when dealing with these potentially dangerous chemicals.

Aerating involves making small holes in your lawn, the better to let in oxygen and fertilizer nutrients. The aeration process is simple and time-efficient, and the tools are available from most hardware and hardware rental stores.

Remove Dead and Dying Plants From Your Flowerbeds

The debris and decaying matter left behind as annuals and dying plants decompose can block sunlight, nutrients, and rainfall from reaching healthier and perennial plants. Though it’s tough to know when to pull the plug, some judicious culling can help nurture your hardier plants. Greenhouses can help store plants, but remember to keep them free of snow pileup and other weather hazards.

Give Your Fences, Decks, and Wood Structures A Fresh Coat of Sealant

Shade Sails

Make sure any backyard canopies are water-permeable, or take them down for the season.

Sealants (also called water proofers) protect your wood fences, decks, and structures from both weather and damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. To test your sealant’s effectiveness, just splash water across its surface. If the water is quickly absorbed into the wood grain, it’s time for a recoating.

Experts recommend sealing wooden decks once a year, ideally in the late summer and early fall when temperatures are relatively mild. This keeps the sealant at its freshest – and most effective – during snowfall and hard freeze months. Fences should be recoated every two to three years, as the foot traffic that wooden decks endure helps to rub off their sealants at a faster rate.

Remove all furniture or decorations, and give the wooden surface a thorough cleaning first. Allow the wood to dry for two to three days before applying the sealant.

Safely Store All Equipment and Machinery

Storage Tents

Storage tents and shelters can serve dozens of purposes.

Don’t forget that your yard and garden equipment, tools, recreational vehicles and machinery are all subject to the cruelties of Old Man Winter. Storing them in a weatherproof or weather-resistant shelter will help protect them against the elements and humidity.

For additional protection, enclose your recreational vehicles (motorcycles, four-wheelers, bicycles, et cetera) in specially designed sleeves and slipcovers.

 

Pack Away All Unused Lawn and Garden Furniture

It’s true that many lawn and garden furniture sets and pieces are engineered and treated to resist the elements. But there’s no reason not to preserve them even more by giving them additional shelter. Putting your tables, chairs, and other pieces away inside a storage shed or portable shelter, ideally wrapped inside weather-resistant covering, will help to keep them looking like new.

Before storing away your yard and garden tools, give them all a good cleaning and polishing with machine oil. This will help against rusting and other elemental damage, and work to keep them like new until you need them again in springtime.

CanopiesThe summer of 2012 isn’t done with us yet! As record temperatures continue bedeviling much of the United States and the rest of the world, the cooler, refreshing temperatures of autumn seem to take longer and longer to arrive.

The blazing heat may have you staying indoors and away from the backyard and patio you’ve worked hard to renovate and enjoy. But the dog days of summer don’t have to keep you penned up. Take some cool relief from the ideas and tips listed below.

Give Your Patio A Shade Sail Cover

Shade Sail CanopiesShade sail canopies combine the functionality of traditional canopies with the versatility of a portable canopy cover. The finished result is a beautiful, elegant canopy that can block most (if not all) of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays while still providing some much needed sun blockage. If you live in an area with a lot of rainfall – those daily showers that only seem to make things steamier – make sure you get a water-permeable canopy. Their specially-constructed fabric allows rainwater to pass through without pooling atop the sail’s surface.

Most sail shade canopies come with installation hardware included, and can be hung over patios, decks, and swimming pools in only minutes.

Cover Your Backyard With a Portable Canopy

CanopiesCreate a shade oasis in your backyard with a portable canopy. Modern portable canopies are easy to set up, block virtually all sunlight and UV rays, and assemble and break down again in minutes. They’re perfect for backyard parties, get-togethers like barbecues and garden parties  - especially wedding receptions and birthday celebrations. They’re also incredibly handy to keep around for everyday use.

Set one up in the middle of your backyard and give yourself a place to rest while completing yardwork, an area to sit while the kids enjoy the backyard, or just a place out of the sun to enjoy some fresh air.

Canopies also come ready to take on a wide array of accessories, too, including anchor kits, weight bags, sidewalls, and headbands.

Stay Fresh And Cool With A Misting System

Misting Tents

Doesn't that look refreshing?

The misting systems that you’ve enjoyed at outdoor festivals, concerts and amusement parks are now readily available to the public. Some even run on city water pressure, meaning there’s no need to buy a pump. Sold with canopy tents or by themselves, misting systems deliver a fresh, refreshing spray of cool water, letting you recharge and relax when the sun gets too hot to handle.

For additional water pressure (meaning additional refreshing power), consider buying a medium- or high-pressure misting tent or misting system.

Screen Out the Heat With A Screened-In Porch

Patio EnclosuresPatio enclosures keep you shaded and protected from mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and other flying pests while remaining easy to install and take down. Their weather-resistant roofs mean they’re ready for years of long life, and you can even match the roof’s color to your house’s paint color or decorative plan. They’re big enough to enclose all of your back porch or deck of just a portion of it.

If your home doesn’t have a back porch, don’t worry. There’s a huge variety of screen houses that give you all the benefits of a screened, enclosed relaxation area but remain freestanding anywhere in your yard. To protect your entire backyard from flying pests, install a mosquito magnet and watch your yard’s flying pest population dwindle to nothing – fast.

Pergolas and Gazebos Are Elegant, Permanent Heat-Stopping Solutions

Pergolas

A cedar pergola

Besides remaining one of the most elegant decorative elements you can give your backyard, the pergola also makes a great frame for shade sail coverings, sun-blocking (and sun-welcoming) vine and liana growth, and as a shelter for your patio furniture and fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. The rugged, handsome pergola frame will beautify any patio, porch, or deck, helping to your home’s comfort (and property value) while helping shield you from direct sunlight.

Of course, you can give your entire backyard a gorgeous new centerpiece by installing a gazebo. Whether built from scratch or from a kit, gazebos bring undeniable ambiance all by themselves or when decorated with flower beds, LED lights, and patio furniture. And they make great places to relax, hang out, and spend time with friends and family.

Use Your Portable Shelter or Garage To Keep Yourself Cool

Canopies

Semi-permanent canopies also make great picnic pavilions.

When you must beat the heat, re-employ the portable or semi-permanent shelter you use to cover boats, vehicles, and other machinery as an oasis. Most modern outdoor canopies and portable garages are built for the long haul against sunlight and severe weather, so they’re more than capable of keeping you and your family cool. They also make perfect temporary coverings for plants and other pets who need some relief from direct sunlight.

Remember too that the transition doesn’t have to be permanent. Just empty out your portable shelter for a day or afternoon, and enjoy its cooling shade all you want before replacing your machinery.

Keep Your House Cool With An Awning

Awnings It’s a sad truth that most people don’t recognize exactly how much direct sunlight affects their home energy bills – especially sunlight that enters through windows and doorways. By installing a retractable or fixed awning, you can block heat uptake that warms your house, while preventing harmful ultraviolet radiation from penetrating window glass and damaging furniture and carpet. There are even awnings specially designed to work with low-overhead doorways, too.

Some modern awnings feature top-flight materials including lightweight aluminum frames and high-endurance acrylic canopy coverings. Many models are also available in dozens of color and style choices.

By the way, remember that protecting yourself from sunburn and other harmful effects stemming from exposure to ultraviolet rays takes more than just a beautiful backyard. Read our guide to preventing sunburns and UV damage elsewhere on this blog.

 

Pool SafetyIt wouldn’t be summertime without a cool dip in the pool. Yet parents need to take extra precautions when letting their children play in the pool and around the pool area, even in public and community pools, at water parks, and natural bodies of water. It’s a lesson that too often goes unheard: the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 90 children below the age of 15 drowned between Memorial Day and mid-July 2012. Of those fatalities, 72 were younger than five years old.

Know the Basics, and Prepare Your Kids

Parental or adult supervision is crucial when allowing children to use pools – even aboveground and relatively shallow pools. Parents or responsible teens should always be present when children use the pool, and situate themselves where they can see all parts of the pool area.

Children four years old and above should complete a licensed pool safety course. Parents and teens should take first aid and CPR courses from the Red Cross or other licensed authorities.

Keep a certified floatation device around the pool at all times; to be absolutely safe, keep several arranged at different points around the pool perimeter.

Making The Pool Area Safe

The CPSC recommends that pools and spas be surrounded by a locked fence at least four-feet high, with vertical slats no more than four inches apart; chain link fences should have link openings no larger than 1.75”. The bottom of the fence shouldn’t rise more than four inches above the ground beneath.

Keep house doors and windows that lead to the pool area locked at all times. Never partially remove a pool cover, and do not allow children to walk or play atop the pool cover.

Keep ladders and gates around the pool locked. Gates should open out from the pool, with a latch that’s above the reach of small arms. Make sure the gate or fence has no openings more than ½” wide within reach of the latch, so children can’t reach through to unlock it.

To prevent life-risking entrapments, keep your children away from drainpipes, drainage gates and other openings that can snare hands, feet, and hair. Children shouldn’t wear loose clothing or jewelry around the pool, and long hair should be contained within a swim cap.

Make sure your pool’s drainage covers are VGB-complaint: that is, that they meet the standards set forth by the 2007 Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Consult your pool equipment supplier if you’re not sure.

How to Respond to an Emergency

Pool SafetyWhen an emergency happens, it’s vital that parents contact 911 emergency response immediately. Keep a charged telephone near the patio or pool area at all times. Trained adults or teens can administer CPR and first aid until emergency assistance arrives.

All parents and teens within the household should be familiar with how to turn the pool machinery on and off. In cases of entrapment or snare, rather than pull the child away from the suction, insert a finger or hand between the suction and the child to break the seal. Keep a pair of scissors near the pool area (locked up) to cut hair free of grates or vents.

Spa Safety and Families

Spas and hot tubs are not typically designed for use by children. Nevertheless, parents need to make sure that, like the pool, all covers and drains are in good working order and remain VGB-compliant.

Remember that children are more susceptible to overheating than adults; their time inside the spa – always under strict adult supervision – should be curtailed to healthy limits. Consult the family pediatrician before allowing children into the spa or hot tub.

Keep the spa or hot tub turned off when not in use, and make sure the cover is securely fastened. Do not allow children to climb or play atop the spa cover.

Bring Better Pool Safety Everywhere

Parents can also become involved in making sure their neighbor’s pools are safe, as well as municipal and semi-private pools in their area. Visit the CPSC’s family pool safety Web page for complete information.

Gazebo

A gazebo surrounded by landscaping

It’s either a moment of frustration or inspiration for millions of homeowners: looking out on the empty or practically-empty expanse of lawn and wondering how to transform a flat square of grass into something worthy of the dream home it surrounds. Fenced-in backyards present a special challenge: they’re enclosed, making them more intimate, but that same limited space can make design and renovation options seem limited, too.

But empty or neglected backyards and lawns are really just “rough clay” awaiting sculpting into something which any homeowner can feel proud to call home. Here’s seven ideas to jumpstart your backyard and lawn’s journey from blah to bravo:

Furniture Isn’t Just For the Patio

Don’t get us wrong, patio furniture is lovely. But there are also dozens of chair, table, and entertainment options available for the backyard itself. Adirondack chairs provide a touch of classic Americana, while hammocks and swings make great places to unwind on a long, lazy summer or weekend afternoon. For the ultimate in mid-lawn entertaining, go with a portable wet bar or fire pit set up out in the grass. Set up a couple of ottomans or cushions to put your feet up, and sit back.

Set Up A Gazebo or Pergola

Gazebos have served as centerpieces and crown jewels of some of finest private landscapes in the world. Modern gazebo kits are remarkably affordable and even come in a variety of styles and designs, the better to suit your own house’s period design. While they function best in larger yards or property areas where they don’t overwhelm the available space, they make attractive design contributions to even medium-sized backyards and enclosed properties.

An alternative to the gazebo that’s growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, the free-standing pergola offers a backyard and patio centerpiece that makes a distinct design statement while staying versatile enough for a variety of design plans.

Cover Your Yard, Pool With a Canopy

Canopies

A sail shade canopy

Canopies are sturdy enough to stand in your backyard year-round, but most modern canopy models are designed to break down in minutes. Canopies are great ways to provide shade and shelter in your backyard, patio, and pool areas, and some come with sidewall accessories to afford you extra privacy when you want it.

Shade sail canopies offer a stylish twist on the usual canopy cover, and work well to provide cover to part or all of the pool or back patio areas. Many are water permeable, meaning they can be left up even during rainy weather.

Light Up The Trees, Fences and Bushes

Much like the strings of holidays lights seen everywhere in December, LED light chains make warm and relaxing accents to backyard decor. Their durable and energy efficient construction makes them ideal for nighttime illumination, and they’re a great way to express your creativity. Just string, twist, and rope them around your trees, across fences, and over and above bushes and shrubbery to get a unique “glittering” effect.

Make An Area Just for the Kids

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably invested in a larger backyard at least partly to give your children a safe place to play and just grow up. As you plot out your backyard renovation plans, you might want to leave room especially for the children. A playset or playhouse will give them years of fun- and imagination-filled adventure, and give you the peace of mind of safe and dependable entertainment for your children and their friends.

Install A Greenhouse or Storage Shed

GreenhousesGreenhouses aren’t just a way to spruce up your backyard. The right greenhouse can supply your family with plenty of incredibly fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices. It’s not every backyard decorative touch that can actually make you healthier while bringing your backyard additional beauty.

Storage sheds take the storage and maintenance pressure off your garage and carport. They make ideal parking places for lawn mowers and other equipment, and for storing seasonal decorations and other family or household items that aren’t needed year round.

Plant Flowerbeds Wherever You Can

Flowerbeds and gardens make great decorative additions to many of the ideas suggested above. Raised flowerbeds are surprisingly easy to build – many can be finished in a single afternoon. (Check out our guide to planting them here.) Come spring and all summer long, you’ll be able enjoy the color, texture, and vitality they’ll bring everywhere a flower blooms.

 

PlayhousesA backyard playhouse is the answer to a child’s fondest wishes. But have you thought about how to make it even more special?

Just like the home, backyard, and patio, a playhouse makes a wonderful “blank canvas” on which to express your best creativity. Of course, you’ll want to give your child the most beautiful decorative plan you can imagine, but have you thought about including them in the decision making?

It’s no secret that children love to express their imagination, and psychologists have spoken for decades about the importance of allowing children to express themselves in a healthy, artistic manner. Studies show such nourishment of a child’s inner mind leads to greater self-esteem, creative thinking, and overall emotional adjustment for many years to come. Including your child in all steps of the creative process is a wonderful way to nurture those creative impulses while bonding with your child amid a fantastic, permanent undertaking.

But there’s more to playhouse renovation than just planting flowers and painting the walls. Consider the following:

Make Plans Together

There’s an old saying among carpenters and wood workers: “measure twice, cut once.” That old adage certainly applies to putting your ideas and plans down on paper, before you and your child commit to the playhouse decoration. Many children love to draw and color anyway, so the planning stage makes a great time to encourage your child to brainstorm different versions of your plans.

Once you both have several different “blueprints” of color and decoration in mind, you can agree which ones look best.

Use the Decorations to Talk About Money and Teach Saving

PlayhousesParents who have a fixed amount of money to spend on decorating the playhouse can use the opportunity to teach their kids about budgets and funding. Explaining to children that different parts of the decorative plan all come from the same amount of money will help them to understand responsible spending and saving. Simply tell the child that there is so much money to spend, and each part of the decorations will take part of that money. Parents might also wish to use visual aids to represent the “funds,” including jelly beans, figurines or other small tokens.

Save money by looking for bargains at local hardware stores and chains, especially during weekends and holiday weekends when bargains and specials are often at their best. Make sure your child comes along – they should participate in every part of the renovation process,

Plan Your Decorations in a Sensible Order

For children, sticking to a decorative plan can sometimes be challenging – it’s tough for kids to keep their abundant enthusiasm focused. That’s when parents need to help their children rein in their energy and focus on one decorating task at a time.

Ideally, the walls of the playhouse should be painted first, followed by any trim such as shutters, porch railings, eaves or other decorative elements. Following the painting, you and your child can begin landscaping and adding other trim. (Check out our guide to adding flowerbeds to your playhouse for more information on playhouse landscaping.)

Once those are complete, you may also wish to begin decorating the inside of the playhouse, too. Remember that interior decor should also come from the same decorating budget you teach your child.

How To Practice Good Renovation Safety

PlayhousesIt almost goes without saying that children shouldn’t be allowed to use lawn or painting tools without careful parental supervision. It’s important, too, to stress that parents should be very clear that children shouldn’t attempt to decorate or renovate without a parent or older sibling helping out. Sharp tools, chemical paint, and even loose soil and dirt can pose risk of injury and illness.

For older children, keeping them away from the work-in-progress likely won’t be an easy task. Parents can avoid such potentially hazardous situations by compressing the total renovation time into a single day or two.

Adding Accessories and Furniture

Besides paint and flowers, accessory furniture makes a great way to personalize and brighten the playhouse interior or front porch. Child-sized furniture works fine, of course, except that children might outgrow it in a relatively short amount of time. Using smaller-scale adult furniture makes an elegant, cost-effective compromise.

Use the Playhouse to Build Character

Once the renovations are complete, the playhouse can become a great opportunity for children to learn the value of proper care and keeping of their possessions. Explain that the playhouse’s upkeep is their responsibility, with all cleaning and watering of plants to be part of their household chores. Ideally, this discussion should take place before the renovations begin, or before the playhouse kit arrives.

While children shouldn’t be held responsible for repairs that might lead them to injure themselves, they should definitely take charge of day-to-day maintenance. In that way the playhouse becomes not just a toy but also a means of learning important lifelong character lessons.

 

Sunscreen ProtectionEven though for millions of people the lure of the summer sun proves irresistible, the threat of skin damage is never something to take lightly. Enjoying the great outdoors means taking ample precautions, for yourself as well as your family.

When to Avoid The Sun, and When to Cover Up

Skin care experts recommend staying out of direct summertime sunlight between the hours of 10 AM until 4 PM, when the most amount of solar radiation reaches the Earth’s surface. When moving around outside, stay to the shade as much as possible.

Wear sunglasses, not just to shield your eyes from the glare but also to protect your eyelids and eye lenses from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunglasses can block as much as 80 percent of harmful rays.

Experts also recommend wearing protective covering, including sleeves, hats, caps and visors to protect as much of the skin as possible. Children and those with very fair-skin are at a higher risk of contracting skin cancer and are encouraged to cover up as much as possible.

Use Sunscreen Early, Use Often

The American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. They also recommend using such lotions, sprays, and other formulas frequently and thoroughly – at least every two hours, and even on cloudy days or when standing on sand or pavement or under shade.

Apply the sunscreen to clean skin about 30 minutes before going outdoors, and immediately after swimming or after profuse sweating. Parents should consult a doctor before applying sunscreen to babies aged six months and younger. People with fair skin or a family history of skin problems should use sunscreens with a higher SPF, as should anyone expecting prolonged exposure to the sun or intense exposure (working outside all day, working near reflective surfaces).

Unfortunately, not all sunscreens are created equal. Make sure to use a broadband (or broad-spectrum) variety that protects against both kinds of harmful UV rays: Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB).

How Do UVA and UVB Rays Affect the Body?

Shade SailsUltraviolet A rays can penetrate skin tissue, leading to wrinkles and age spots. Ultraviolet B rays burn the skin tissue. Together, UVA and UVB rays can raise the risk of skin tumors.

Exposure to UV radiation has also been linked to premature aging, melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, cataracts and other eye problems, and even immune system suppression.

Levels of ultraviolet radiation change daily depending on weather patterns and the Earth’s position relative to the sun. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes a UV index that measures the amount of ultraviolet radiation in local areas on a daily basis. Results range from zero (no danger) to 11+. The EPA’s daily results are available at their UV Index Web page.

What Does SPF Mean? What Does It Measure?

SPF measures protection against only UVB rays, and as yet there’s no reliable means of determining UVA blockage. Researchers determine a sunscreen’s SPF by measuring how long it takes treated skin to burn compared to skin that hasn’t used the tested sunscreen.

Keep in mind there’s no universal agreement about how much or how powerful a sunscreen to use. For example, a SPF 60 sunscreen isn’t necessarily twice as good as a SPF 30, depending on your skin sensitivity, how much you use or how often you use it.

Sunscreens also have an expiration date, usually about three years from the time of its manufacture.

Different Sunscreen Forms For Different People

CanopiesCreams, sprays, waxes and powders all work more or less equally well – so long as they boast an adequate SPF. Water-resistant sunscreens will also help retain protection after swimming or sweating.
Doctors recommend creams for patients with dry skin, and that people who are sensitive to skin care products avoid sunscreens that include oxybenzone.

What Are “Inorganic” Sunscreens?

Mineral-based sunscreens, sometimes called “inorganic sunscreens,” use zinc oxide and titanium oxide to protect the skin without penetrating it. These provide an alternative for people with sensitive skin yet remain as effective as other kinds of sunscreens.

Of course, sometimes the best efforts aren’t enough. Watch next week for our guide to treating and dealing with sunburns.

 

PlaysetsFor most homeowners, the summer months are the prime time to enjoy their backyard. The long days, mild nights and of course the holiday weekends and vacations can make the lure of the outdoors irresistible.

In the summertime, parents and party hosts alike can follow these tips to keep their backyards, pools, decks and patios clean, safe, and healthy.

Make Sure Your Lawn Is Enclosed and Secure

Especially for people living in the outer suburbs or countryside, loose wildlife and stray pets can pose a significant health risk to yourself and your pets. Secure your backyard or property by checking your fence for holes or for burrows along its base.

For areas without fences, use an animal repellent system to discourage stray pets and local wildlife from coming on to your lawn.

Inspect Your Deck, Gazebo, Playhouses and Playsets

The elements and normal wear and tear can leave your wooden backyard areas unsafe. Check foundations and sunken posts to make sure the concrete is secure and that rot and mildew have not eaten into the wood. Also, make sure that no nails, screws, or splinters protrude from the lumber’s surface. Playsets and playhouses should be on level ground and secured to their foundation.

The undersides of railings, eaves, and elevated decks and tree houses are common areas to find wasp and hornet’s nests, and small wildlife like snakes will sometimes nest in the dark areas beneath decks and raised playhouses. Use an exterminator to check beneath such areas, or carefully spray them with pesticide from a safe distance.

Keep Your Grass Clear of Debris, Holes

Storage ShedsLoose trash, rocks, leaves and branches, and small holes or divots can present risks for twisted and sprained ankles, painful falls, and cuts and bruises. Use extra sod or loose dirt to fill any holes, and call an exterminator if the holes persistently reappear. Remember that loose leaf piles and other organic matter can serve as breeding grounds for insects.

When mowing and trimming your lawn, keep children at least 30 feet away from the machinery, and remove all debris before cutting and trimming. Even small pebbles and sticks can become dangerous projectiles when they collide with a mower’s or edger’s blades. Remember to wear long pants and protective shoes when conducting any lawn cleanup or repairs.

Spray for Insects, But Stay Wary of Pesticides

Keep pesticides locked up in the utility room or storage shed at all times. When spraying for pests, keep the lawn closed off from children and visitors for the recommended time found on the insecticide’s instructions.

Mosquitoes and other flying insects can present not just an annoyance but also a risk of disease and other infections. Reduce mosquitoes’ breeding capacity by clearing your property of standing freshwater, especially within shaded areas. Mosquito repellent systems can also reduce local insect populations when used consistently over time.

Keep Your Patio Furniture Looking Like New

Patio Dining SetsIronically, heat and humidity are the natural enemies of patio furniture, leading to mildew and rot that can spoil both good looks and comfort. If you use lawn sprinklers, cover the furniture or move it out of the spray area to prevent standing water from helping mildew spread. Clean vinyl and plastic furniture by using warm water and gentle detergents. (Check the furniture instructions for specific cleaning guidelines.)

Clean your patio or deck floor by sweeping up loose debris and trash. Using or blower or just pushing the stray matter into the backyard only causes small bits of it to get trapped or stuck under furniture and in nooks and crannies. Trash and debris swept into the yard will eventually finds it way back onto the patio floor.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen

Finally, protect yourself in the backyard by using sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing when participating in backyard activities. You’ll prevent sunburn and avoid simple injuries like nicks, cuts, and scrapes. Keep a first aid kit either on the patio or nearby: for example, within the pantry of the laundry room, guest bathroom, or any room located just inside the house.