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.)

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.

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.

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.

FireplacesSpring arrives March 20, and with the – possible – exception of a chilly night or two, the cold weather is largely behind us for another year. And with spring cleaning comes the need to clean and prepare your wood-burning fireplace for its “hibernation” over the spring and summer months.

Properly cleaning and caring for your wood-burning fireplace can add years to both usability and beauty. Thoroughly cleaning your fireplace’s flue, removing all soot and especially creosote, makes your home a healthier and more pleasant place to relax and spend time. Just use the following strategies described below:

Cleaning the Chimney

The most important step you can take towards increasing the life of your chimney is to check its brickwork and masonry at the beginning and end of every cold season. Freezing rain can seep into cracks in the chimney’s brick and mortar work, expanding as it turns to ice and breaking the fireplace apart, bit by minute bit. Such hairline cracks and fissures obviously also let heat escape, decreasing your fireplace’s efficiency.

Chimney tops are a favorite nesting spots for many species of birds, and while the sounds of cheeping hatchlings is often charming, the nests themselves present a potentially dangerous blockage to air moving through the flue. Clean out the flue, removing all nests and debris, or contact a chimney cleaning service to make sure the airway is unrestricted.

The Hazards of Creosote

In many ways, creosote is to your fireplace and chimney what rust is to machinery: corrosive, dangerous, and self-perpetuating. A chemical by-product created when burning gasses and oils get trapped in the flue, if left unchecked creosote presents a ventilation hazard that grows noxious when exposed to warm-weather humidity.

Experts recommend scrubbing the chimney once creosote levels reach 1/8-inch thickness; factory-built chimneys should be scrubbed whenever levels become visible to the naked eye.

Cleaning Out the Firebox

Fireplaces

Store extra firewood in weatherproof covers.

Most fireboxes (the area where the wood burns) need only warm, soapy water, a vacuum cleaner, some brushes and plenty of elbow grease to return to their original condition – with two important exceptions. A spray-on creosote remover and wire brush can remove any creosote buildup, and high-filtration vacuum cleaners should be used to vacuum up the residue. This will prevent creosote and ash dust from escaping into the surrounding room.

Glass screens and other partitions should be cleaned with non-ammonia-based cleaners. Fireplace tools can be cleaned with normal household products. Clean brass tools  – without scratching – with Worcestershire sauce and a dry cloth.