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.

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.

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.

PatiosStrip away everything that makes a patio a patio, and what’s left? A stretch of outdoor flooring? Maybe an overhang?

Just like your home decor, it’s the design accents that mark the difference between a patio that’s just a wide open space and one that’s a hub of relaxation and entertainment. It’s true that almost any furnishings will help fill space on the patio, but creative home design – the kind that builds that hub – is about so much more than just putting down a few chairs and a table on which to rest drinks. In every way that counts, the patio is really a room in your house – albeit one that has no ceiling.

Choosing the right table and chairs is crucial, but additional furnishings can play a large part in giving your home the patio it deserves. Choose carefully, and don’t be afraid to take your time in finding exactly the right furnishings and elements that suit both your needs and your decorative plan.

Don’t Limit Your Thinking To One-Size-Fits-All

The most traditional, and most common, patio table and chairs are full-sized sets that are essentially just kitchen dining tables constructed for the great outdoors. But such models aren’t necessarily perfect for smaller patios – or rooftop or backyard decks. For those areas, installing a conversation or chat set will still give the area a definite centerpiece but still let you keep the most free space available.

Smaller conversation sets also create a better sense of intimacy than full-size sets, so they’re better for entertaining small groups – or just individuals. They can also go in a corner or off to the center of a patio or deck area, to allow room for other decorative elements.

Use Canopies and Umbrellas, But Keep Plenty of “Airspace”

PatiosFor smaller patios and decks, an over-sized umbrella can swallow too much of the deck space beneath it. Your umbrella shouldn’t be larger than the table it covers, and it should be high enough that guests don’t have to duck down to sit down. Elevate your patio umbrella so that its central ring (the top of its tassels or overhang) reaches about eye level.

Two intriguing alternatives: the shade sail canopy, which hangs overhead when connected to the eaves of your house or a pole implanted in your yard; and the pergola, an upright, free-standing or mounted trellised arch that can shade some or all of your patio or deck.

Decide What Food and Drinks You Want Available

Your image of a perfect patio or deck likely includes a barbecue pit and possibly also a wet bar. Both come in various shapes and sizes, with grills using different kinds of fuel – typically either charcoal or propane – and wet bars with a variety of features including sinks and coolers.

Just like with the patio table and chairs, it’s important to measure our your total floorspace and then allocate the amount you want to setting up your grill and bar. If you’ve got the space, you can install built-in grills and bars alongside your outdoor fireplace or entertainment center. Bars make great corner accents, but smaller and even portable models can go almost anywhere on the deck or even stand at the edge, in the backyard.

How To Use A Large Amount of Space

Patios

A chimenea

On the other hand, if your patio or deck has an wide or expansive floor space, your challenge becomes using that space in ways that don’t make the area look sparse or indifferently furnished.

A pergola (mentioned above) can help divide your patio or deck space into separate, covered and outdoor areas that can serve different purposes or roles in entertaining (underneath for food and drinks, outside for entertaining). Pergolas also make great bases for vines and climbing plant growth

Outdoor fireplaces make amazing patio centerpieces. They’re often situated at the edge of patios, sometimes at an angle that encourages placing furniture around them. Though wood-burning fireplaces are the most traditional, patio owners may find that gas- or electric-powered models save time and money on cleanup.

Smaller patios can install space-efficient chimeneas, which provide plenty of warmth without a minimum of maintenance and cleanup.

Don’t Forget the Plants

The more vegetation you introduce to your patio, the more lush it becomes. Keep your patio tidy by avoiding plants  or vines that spill over onto the patio or deck floor. Remember too that plants need varying amounts of shade and water. Grouping like-functioning plants together will save time in watering and care.

Keep Your Patio Going After Dark

Don’t rely on your backyard’s area lights to bring illumination to your patio or deck. LED lights, light chains (not all that different from those used during the holidays) and outdoor lamps all create atmosphere and ambiance when used to light your area creatively. As a rule of thumb, keep your table and chairs relatively brightly-lit (alternately, use candle light) and try different lighting schemes in the other areas. Judge what works best by walking about fifty feet or so into your yard and taking a look back at your handiwork.

Pergolas

A patio pergola

The hot summer days and nights can discourage you from enjoying the patio you’ve worked to transform into an area of comfort and relaxation. Rather than give in to the heat, follow these simple, cost-effective ways of cooling off your backyard, patio, or deck. It’s your relaxation space, so don’t lose it to rising temperatures!

Increase the Shade with A Canopy

It’s hard to cool off any outdoor area when the sun beats directly upon it. Chill out and cool down your patio by installing a canopy to shelter it from the heat and light. If you’re looking for an additional dose of style, consider installing a sail shade canopy over your dining area, barbecue area, or garden. You might even get a large-sized sail shade canopy to shelter your entire patio.

The advantage of sail shade canopies – besides their sleek look – is their ease of installation. Some sail shade canopies even come complete with the hardware you need to affix it to your house’s roof, overhang, or other supporting position.

Enclose Your Patio with a Screened Porch

Screen PorchesScreened porches offer probably the ultimate in protection from the sun. They also help keep out flying insects and small animals. But their greatest strength can also be a disadvantage: screened porches separate you, at least a little, from the great outdoors. They’re the best choice for homeowners looking to enjoy fresh air and comfort more than the thrill of outdoor relaxation.

Install a Pergola

The timeless beauty of a pergola gives your patio or deck a garden ambience that’s only accentuated when you use it as a trellis for vines and other climbing plants. Pergolas are sturdy, so they’re dependable much like a screened porch, but they still allow for plenty of fresh air and even sunshine throughout their sheltered area.

For complete shade, you can also cover the top of the pergola with canopy cloth, to block the sunlight completely or almost completely. Be sure to use canopy cloth that’s  water-permeable, so that rain can’t pool atop it and cause sagging.

Install a Retractable Awning

You’ve probably seen retractable awnings demonstrated in television commercials. As advertised, they shade your backyard patio or deck when you want, and retract when you don’t. Some models of retractable awnings feature lights to help decorate your patio and increase its nighttime ambience.

Patio Cooler Serve Refreshing Drinks From An Outdoor Bar

Outdoor bars keep drinks nice and cool for you. One of the most important steps to take during the summer months is to stay hydrated. Installing an outdoor bar makes having a refreshing drink much more convenient.

Cool Off with Misters and Fan Towers

Misters deploy a light spray of cool water over a given area. (You’ve probably enjoyed them at amusement parks, zoos, or festivals.) They’re simple to install and operate, but may not be practical in residential areas that practice water conservation during the hottest parts of summer.

Tower fans, like box fans, stir air circulation in a localized area in order to cool that area down. They can be highly effective, but some homeowners may find the white noise the spinning fan blades generate to be a noisy distraction. Fan also possibly represent safety hazards for households with very small children.

Keep Cool – But Keep Insect Free, Too!

Mosquito MagnetEveryone prefers relaxing in shade to direct sunlight. However, that same shade can lure flying insects including mosquitoes and no-see-ums towards your patio or deck. Cleanse your relaxation area of annoying, potentially harmful insects by installing an insect trap in your backyard to lure them away from the patio or deck. Insect traps such as the Mosquito Magnet can drastically reduce insect populations when used regularly.

Party Canopies Memorial Day is just a couple of weeks away, and after the long, lazy days of June comes the excitement and spectacle of Independence Day. If you’re planning on throwing a backyard party for the holidays or just to get some friends and family over, you want the celebration to be the best you can make it.

Renovating your backyard to be the best space it can be is another matter entirely. But despite what you may think, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get your backyard or patio looking party-ready. Simply take the following steps.

Get Your Backyard Into Clean Shape

Just opening the doors and cracking open the ice chest was fine for the parties you threw in college. But as a homeowner, you want your backyard to make the same statement about your sense of class that your house would make during an indoor fete.

Take the opportunity to spruce up your backyard, too. Install a popup canopy to offer a place beyond the patio where guests can congregate. Plant flowerbeds around your storage shed, and use its front porch (if it has one) as a second place to serve drinks and food.

Don’t Skimp On the Decorations

A party is the chance to transform your backyard into a celebration space that your guests won’t soon forget. Decoration schemes for Independence Day are self-explanatory: flags, banners, streamers and other patriotic gear. But you can also use light strings (just like at Christmastime), banners and streamers, and other party decorations throughout the party area. Your gazebo, canopy, storage shed, and backyard deck all make great places to string with lights, banners, and other decorations.

Be Prepared for Unpredictable Weather

Patio Furniture In the event of sudden showers, where will your guests go? If you’re partying in the park, a party canopy makes a great shelter to wait out the rain. On the patio, a sail shade canopy will keep rain off but also protect guests from the hot summer sun, too.

Monitor weather forecasts, of course, but keep your eye on the weather around your party area. It never hurts to have a contingency plan, including asking a group of family members or friends in advance to help you scramble the food and drinks inside when the wet weather arrives.

Remember That Seating Is Essential

If you’re serving food (and let’s face it – it’s not really a backyard party without food) you need to anticipate seating for all your guests. Patio tables and chairs will provide places for some, but for the overflow you’ll need to take special considerations. Borrow chairs from your neighbors, or take the opportunity to invest in new patio furniture that will replace the set you already have.

Some guests will be happy to eat in lawn chairs, so make sure there’s plenty of those available, too. Plastic lawn chairs can be attractive while still lightweight and durable.

Take Precautions Against Insects

Mosquito MagnetsAsk most people their least favorite thing about the great outdoors and you’ll likely hear “mosquitoes” or “bug bites” more often than not. For backyard parties, installing a mosquito magnet can drastically reduce the local mosquito and flying “no see um” population when used continuously. Plan to use the mosquito magnet well in advance of your celebration, to give it time to work its pest-clearing magic.

Sail CanopiesSail canopies, also interchangeably called shade sails and shade sail canopies, have become one of the best values for backyard and patio remodelers. They require less installation time than permanent awnings or overhangs and are more affordable than fixed-frame canopies. Growing more popular by the year, sail canopies still bring a modern, fashion-forward accent to their surroundings.

Many Shapes and Sizes

Sail canopies are available in a variety of colors and shapes. Traditionally the sail shade is either square or rectangular. Nevertheless, the shape of the triangle – the length of its sides, the angles of its corners – varies, sometimes depending on size. The triangular shape gives the sail shade its name, of course, as mainsails have had a triangular configuration for thousands of years. While the origin of the sail shade canopy itself is lost to history, it’s very possible that its origins are at least as old.

The square canopy, owing to the sail’s non-rigid construction, isn’t a fixed “plate” so much as a sail constructed with four equal sides. Typically, the square shade sail is rigged from its corners, though some models may vary.

Grommet Eyelets And GSM: Sail Canopy Terminology

In many cases, sail shades connect to their mounting brackets by grommet loops in their sides and corners. Grommet loops, or eyelets, are the metal or plastic rings set into fabric. (The most common example is found along the tops of shower curtains.)

GSM stands for grams per square meter, the basic unit of measurement for weighing paper. Many kinds of sail canopies are constructed from polyethylene materials, a kind of plastic polymer known for its light weight and flexibility. The greater the GSM, typically the heavier the sail shade. However, in this case “heavier” often means thicker and better at reflecting sunlight and withstanding elements. Finding the right balance of shade and weight is best left to the buyer’s individual preference.

Look for shade sails that are porous: they allow water to pass through them. This will prevent the sail canopy from sagging as precipitation accumulates across its surface. Standing water atop the canopy can stretch the fabric and, in drastic cases, weaken the mounting hardware.

Purchasing and Installing Sail Canopies

Sail CanopiesThough simple in operation, installing the sail canopy isn’t a task to take lightly. Some instruction manuals estimate setup time to take approximately one hour to complete, though some may take longer, especially if anchoring poles need to be sunk first. Also, the installation process is often a two-person affair.

Most sail shade canopies can be installed using conventional household tools. Be sure to check the canopy’s manual before making your purchase.

Buyers are also encouraged to follow the old adage, “measure twice and cut once.” Though cutting the sail shade won’t be necessary, it’s a good idea to measure the area you want covered before you begin shopping. You can then make a more accurate determination what kind of sail shade shape would best service your needs.

Remember, there is no right or wrong answers except what’s best for your patio, deck, or pool area. Once installed, your sail shade canopy will bring years of stylish, comfortable shelter to you, your guests, and your family.

Backyard RenovationThe dedicated homeowner understands that the home doesn’t end at the front and back doors. Decorating and landscaping the backyard doesn’t just give pretty landscaping, but actually extends the living space into the great outdoors.

Backyard renovation – sculpting and transforming your backyard into a showcase entertainment and recreation area – doesn’t have to cost thousands and consume hundreds of weekend hours. Consider the five easy renovation tips:

Start With the Patio and Work Outwards

A great patio will serve as a recreation space through spring and fall and even well into autumn. Keep off the chilly temperatures leading up to winter with an outdoor fireplace. Available in wood-burning, gas, and electric models, an outdoor fireplace becomes a centerpiece to your patio area and a great backdrop to your patio furniture.

If your patio or back deck area is too small (or if you’re looking to renovate your rooftop deck,) consider installing a fire pit. These smaller, typically roundish installations give you the ambiance and comfort of a campfire in a controlled, contained area.

New Furniture Means New Comfort, Fresh Beauty

Patio and backyard furniture have a lifespan. After a while, replacing the tables and chairs reaps the same benefits as updating the furnishings on the inside of your home: a new sense of freshness to their area, an updated sense of style, and a fresh motivation to enjoy staying home.

Getting new patio furniture gives you a great opportunity to experiment, too. You can buy furniture with a new and different motif. You can even install new fixtures (a wet bar, a TV) that take your patio’s entertainment potential to a new level.

Expand your Storage Space with an Outdoor Shed

Storage sheds aren’t just for having a place to stow lawnmowers and snow blowers anymore. Modern storage sheds also serve as a greenhouses, root cellars, wine cellars, and personal “museums” and storehouses for collectibles.

Many storage sheds feature decorative accessories, too, including window boxes and shutters, cupolas and weather vanes. These are usually sold separately but may come included with the storage shed assembly kit.

Gazebos, Arbors, and Pergolas Add Depth, Versatility

Backyard RenovationBeyond the deck or patio, the backyard will benefit from a gazebo or pergola to act as a centerpiece for flower beds, swimming areas, and gravel or brick pathways. The ancient elegance of the gazebo also makes a great place to establish a wet bar or dining area.

Like the traditional garden arbor, pergolas make ideal scaffolds for ivy and other hanging plants. All three backyard structures can be painted (white is the most elegant color), but also look handsome when left their natural wood grain.

Gazebos, arbors, and sheds are available in different wood grains, and many are sold as prefabricated kits. Some manufacturers offer cedar and redwood models as well.

Set Up A Canopy For Fun In the Shade

If you don’t want to commit to a permanent backyard structure, the popup canopy or tent affords shelter from both the sun and rain only whenever you need it. Canopies make great shelters and (with sidewalls) outdoor dressing areas for pool parties and other events. For something a little more sporty, a sail shade lends any backyard a touch of architectural grace while still providing sun-beating shade.

Here’s a bonus tip: control pests throughout your backyard by investing in a mosquito magnet to lure and trap mosquitoes and other airborne pests away from where you and your family and friends enjoy your backyard.