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.

Storage ShedsWhen you’re planning to beautify your storage shed or playhouse, there are few better ways than adding a raised flowerbed. Relatively inexpensive but long on color and texture, even the most basic raised flowerbed adds depth and structure to your backyard or garden landscape.

Building a raised flowerbed is not difficult, but it’s a project that takes careful planning and especially good time management. The right tools and supplies also play a vital role in making sure your new flowerbeds bloom and stay healthy all spring and summer long.

Plan Your Garden Before You Dig

Know your soil and your climate before you decide on which plants you’re going to include in your new flowerbeds. Plants and flowers react differently to different soil types, and your soil’s moisture level will vary according to rainfall and time of year.

Assemble the Right Set of Tools

You’ll need the following tools to build a raised flowerbed:

  1. Can of spray paint – bright orange or red works best
  2. Garden rake
  3. Speed shovel
  4. Weed and grass killer
  5. Leaf rake
  6. Bags of Soil
  7. Flower plants from a nearby nursery or garden center
  8. Knee pads, sunscreen, and old clothes

Tip: Save money by borrowing the tools from friends and family. Just make sure to clean the tools before returning them.

Mark Out the Flowerbed Territory

PlayhousesUsing the spray paint, sketch out the shape and contour you want the flowerbed to follow around your storage shed or playhouse, painting a line in the grass to show its outer edge. It’s a good idea to make a diagram first, to act as a “map” for the flowerbeds’ final shapes. As the old saying goes, “measure twice and cut once.”

After the shape of the flower bed is marked off, spray the weed and grass killer everywhere inside it. This will remove the weeds and grass in a couple of hours. Remember to take all safety precautions described on the product’s label.

Get Digging!

Once the grass and weed killer has done its work, it’s time to dig! Use the shovel to dig around the flower bed’s outer edge, to a depth of about six inches. And don’t waste the dirt you dig – just throw it into the center of the flowerbed.

Add Potting Soil and Conditioner

Mix in potting soil, soil conditioner, and compost with the soil you’ve moved from the flower bed’s edge. Ideally, the finished soil mound will rise several inches and then gradually slope down to the outer edge. Use the leaf rake to pulverize larger clumps of dirt and soil, and get a thick topcoat of potting soil spread evenly throughout and around the storage shed or playhouse.

Plant Your Flowers

Storage ShedsRemove the plants from their transport containers and arrange them according to the directions on their label or name card. Start from the outer edge of the flowerbed and work your way in. Tip: you might have to use your garden rake to bust up stubborn clods of earth and soil.

Dig holes for the plants and bury them only up to the top of the roots (the place closest to the trunk.) Be careful to bury all roots, and to spread the soil evenly around the plant base.

Apply Water And Plant Food

Once all your new flower plants are in place, spray some plant food and make sure your plants are thoroughly watered. The water will help tamp down the new soil and help your roots get started in their new settings.

Make sure to water – but don’t over-water – your flowerbeds frequently. See the plants’ directions for times and schedules.

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.

Storage ShedsWooden storage sheds provide ample shelter and maintenance space for any one of thousands of household and lawn items. Yet for the ambitious landscaper, the storage shed’s exterior is an opportunity to bring a centerpiece of beauty to their property’s overall decor.

Many wooden storage shed manufacturers also offer a line of accessories to help beautify their basic storage shed units. Of course, there are many decoration and customization schemes you create and bring to life yourself. Some of them are discussed below, arranged to help you organize your redecorating plans.

Include the Storage Shed In Your Landscaping

It’s no secret that flower beds and gardens amplify the beauty of a house and lawn. Planting flower beds around your wooden storage shed’s base gives it added depth and shape while also boosting its visual appeal. Flowers always present a lively burst of color and warmth to a backyard or property; storage sheds with flower beds demonstrate the owner’s commitment to making every inch of their yard lovely to behold.

Add Exterior Trim to Outside Walls and Windows

Renovating or accentuating your wooden storage shed’s outside walls and windows brings a sense of architecture and design to the overall design scheme. Many storage shed manufacturers, most notably Handy Homes, provide a complete range of window accessories that are compatible with all their various models. These add-on accessories can include flower boxes, window arches, and shutters. Like flower beds, such accessories provide depth and texture to the shed’s appearance, reducing the squarish appearance of its basic structure and giving it a more nuanced silhouette.

You can also paint the shutters and flower boxes, like the storage shed itself, to complement or counterpoint your house’s colors.

Add Design Elements That Decorate, Improve The Roof

Storage Sheds

A Sequoia storage shed with dormer windows

There’s more to maximizing your wooden storage shed’s appeal than just planting flowers and adding window shutters. You can also increase the beauty of the roof by adding a cupola. Sometimes confused with a steeple, cupolas are generally more squat and rounded yet still add height and dimension to their buildings. Cupolas also make great bases on which to add weather vanes. These ancient yet still useful weather forecasters brings a rustic touch to any property, but today feature modern durability and design, as well.

You might also add window dormers to the front of a gabled storage shed roof. This brings a classic, traditional appeal to the shed by giving it the semblance of a second story or attic space. Dormer windows are standard on some model storage sheds but optional accessories on others.

Add A Gravel or Brick Path

Adding a gravel or brick path away from or towards your storage shed demonstrates its stature among your lawn or property decorations. It also reduces the amount of grass to cut while at the same time giving you a safe, comfortable route to travel from the storage shed to other parts of the yard.


Playhouses and Playsets

The "Sunflower" cedar playhouse

The stories of childhood are full of special places. Knights and princesses have castles while superheroes have secret headquarters. Wizards have towers and lords and ladies have mansions. Even animals have enchanted forests. As children grow towards their teens and then adulthood, they identify having a place of their own with having a place in the world.

Adding a playhouse to your backyard (or other property) makes a fantastic addition not just to your outside décor but also gives your children the gift of a lifetime. However, playhouse construction takes a certain amount of skill. Playsets are lots of fun for smaller children, but older kids might outgrow them too quickly.

Choosing between a playset or playhouse – or opting for both – requires a well-thought out investment of time and money. It’s not a time to make an impulse purchase.

Playset or Playhouse?

Playsets are ideal for larger backyards in areas where children don’t have ready access to playgrounds or other equipment to help them get exercise. But if your house is located near a school or church with a playground, buying your own playset is possibly redundant. Likewise, if your children make steady use of swingsets while at school, a playset of their own might also go ignored.

Playhouses give your children a place to be by themselves, nurturing their imaginations. Making children responsible for its upkeep – cleaning and routine maintenance – also helps teach them responsibility. Their downside is largely a matter of time. Children may outgrow playhouses relatively quickly, abandoning them for more “mature” pursuits. That’s when parents have to either re-purpose the playhouse into a storage shed or other facility. Scrapping or selling the unit are also possibilities.

When considering which to buy, the most important questions to ask remain simple. What will do my child the most good? How long do we expect the playset or playhouse to remain useful? What happens then?

Where to Place Your Playhouse

Playhouses PlaysetsPlaysets obviously go in a wide, sunny area of the yard. Playhouse placement can be a little more tricky. The playhouse should go in a sunny area, out from under tree cover (for safety during thunderstorms) and within shouting distance of the main house.

At the same time, children will appreciate having the playhouse in their “own corner” of the yard or property, away from the figurative shadows of the house. When choosing, look for an area that’s close but still far away by children’s standards. Remember that like time, children often perceive distance differently than adults.

Storage Sheds

A Santa Rosa-model cedar storage shed

The simple, simplistic storage shed has come a long way from its utilitarian roots on the grounds of countless American farms. While the storage sheds of yesteryear were often cobbled together from scrap wood and sometimes thrown together without regard to decorative effect (or even craftsmanship,) the modern storage shed is an elegant, weatherproof addition to any home’s main house and carport.

But the great advantage of any storage shed, regardless of its decorative appeal, remains its versatility.There are probably as many uses for storage sheds as there are varieties and models, with a wide range of sizes as well.

Storage Shed Construction

Most modern storage sheds are made from the same traditional materials as their forebears: wood and metal remain perennial favorites, but modern storage sheds also include molded plastic and vinyl models that afford a greater amount of convenience and weatherproof security. Nevertheless, wooden sheds remain the most aesthetically appealing, and many homeowners prefer the rugged durability of cedar sheds and garden buildings for their backyard.

Matching The Building Material To Your Purpose

If you’re looking for a straightforward addition to your property that’s purely functional (for example, storing hardware or landscaping equipment,) you’ll likely want to invest in a metal outbuilding or vinyl coated shed. These will protect your machinery from the elements with a maximum of stability and durability. For more genteel uses, including storing gardening tools and seeds, a wooden or cedar outbuilding offers plenty of enclosed floor space but with greater decorative appeal.

Children’s Cottages and Playhouses

Storage Sheds

A children's cottage playhouse

Closely related to the garden shed is the child’s playhouse or cottage. Essentially, these delightful children’s sets are  elaborately structured and decorated storage sheds, available in a variety of motifs and designs. Some even include porches, flower boxes and interior lofts as accessories, virtually becoming a second “house” on your property.

Some other playhouse sets include churches, fire houses, and schoolhouses. Together or separately, they make great additions to day care centers, Montessori academies, and preschools.

Five Unconventional Uses For Your Storage Shed

Of course, the storage shed has unconventional uses as well, including:

Collection display space: Storage sheds make great display spaces for sports, hobby, and memorabilia collectors.

Wine “cellar:” Oenophiles can weatherproof their choice of wooden sheds, line the insides with shelves and let their collection grow.

Man cave: Larger storage sheds, with a window-unit air conditioner and some furniture, make great places for guys to “hunker down” and enjoy their favorite pastimes.

Family museum: Store family albums, collectibles, mementos and heirlooms without taking up storage space inside the home.

Mixed use: A storage shed or playhouse doesn’t have to have just one use. For example, you may want to combine storage space with a comfortable area for the family pet, or store collectibles along with family heirlooms. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.


West Nile Virus

In experiments, the Asian Tiger Mosquito was found to transmit West Nile Virus

Classified by the Center for Disease Control as part of the Japanese encephalitis strain of flavivirus (yellow fever) and also similar to dengue fever, West Nile Virus first came to widespread public attention in the United States following an outbreak in Queens, New York in 1999 and gained further notoriety during the epidemic of 2002. The virus is transmitted to humans principally through mosquito bites, though it can affect other mammals including horses, dogs, cats, and rabbits (among others) as well as a variety of birds including crows and robins.

Infection, Incubation, and Symptoms

Infection is humans has proven to be largely asymptomatic; the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reports that 90% of people infected with West Nile Virus never present symptoms. Others contract West Nile Fever, a condition which includes feverishness, fatigue, sore muscles and rash.

Some extreme cases develop into one of several neuroinvasive diseases called West Nile Meningitis, West Nile Encephalitis, and West Nile Meningoencephalitis. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain; meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane around the brain of of the spinal cord. Meningoencephalitis is an inflammation of both.


The virus is transmitted from mosquitoes to birds, who act as incubators and who pass the strengthened virus to mosquitoes via further bites. According to the CDC, the disease is not transmitted from human-to-human contact, although one documented case involved a mother passing it to her infant child through breast milk. People older than 50 and patients with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of becoming seriously infected.

In 2009, U.S. health officials recorded 663 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus infection among humans. Of these, less than one percent of those infected contracted one of the neuroinvasive diseases.


Mosquito Magnets

An electronic microscope image of the West Nile Virus

The CDC recommends applying EPA-approved insect repellent to both skin and clothing, or wearing long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants (not shorts) when weather permits. Insect netting should be placed over children’s cribs and strollers.

Homeowners can reduce the presence of mosquitoes in their home and on their property by installing window and door screens to keep mosquitoes from getting into the house. As mosquitoes tend to congregate around standing water, draining all flower pots and pans, storm drains and gutters will also discourage mosquitoes from lingering around the house and yard. Finally, a variety of mosquito traps are available which act to replicate human breathing and temperatures, working to divert mosquitoes from attacking human targets.

Where to Get More Information

Additional information is available at the CDC’s West Nile Virus information page

Mosquito MagnetsIt’s sometimes said that the female of the species is deadlier than the male, and that’s certainly true of mosquitoes. Despite common knowledge, it’s only the female mosquito that bites – and only when she’s pregnant.

But mosquitoes breed often and in large amounts, so managing their population is a goal that needs constant attention. Unfortunately, many homeowners are slow and confused about what steps to take.

Every breath we take: mosquito behavior

Mosquitoes and other airborne insects are always annoying but many are sometimes dangerous: many carry potentially deadly diseases including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and several strains of encephalitis. Worse still, mosquitoes are attracted to humans by the scent of carbon dioxide. We attract mosquitoes, in other words, every time we breathe.

Bad news for the Southern United States

Mosquitoes typically congregate in low-lying areas near still water or areas prone to high humidity, the same areas that are often the sites of suburban and semi-rural housing developments. It’s not uncommon, especially in the Southern United States, for suburban residents to find themselves seemingly besieged even in their own backyard. An old joke describes the mosquito as “the state bird of Louisiana.”

Treating mosquito bites: alternate solutions

Given the mosquito’s almost universal presence, it’s no wonder that a number of folk remedies find new generations of fans every year. Some of the more common include rubbing toothpaste or vinegar on stings, while other people prefer to apply ice directly to the stung area of the body to slow swelling and numb the nerve endings.

Mosquito magnets and other defenses

Mosquito MagnetAnother solution involves installing mosquito magnets, which use propane to chemically mimic human CO2 exhalation as well as heat and moisture signals. These relatively small and lightweight machines are often electrically powered and can safely protect most backyards regardless of time of year or number of people.

Mosquito MagnetKnowing the right places to set up your mosquito magnet can make a huge difference in the comfort and safety of your backyard or other outdoor area. Mosquito magnets attract and trap mosquitoes and other flying pests anytime and wherever they’re used, but strategically placing them in certain areas can greatly boost their performance.

Get ‘Em Where They Live

Mosquitoes, black flies (sometimes called no-see-ums) and other flying pests tend to congregate in areas of standing water and thick grasses and vegetation, and out of direct sunlight – for example, around ponds and in the woods ringing most suburban developments. These pests also breed where they live, with females actively seeking blood only when they’re pregnant.

Placing a mosquito magnet in these high population-density areas will deploy its trapping capacity where it can do the most good, using its human-mimicking humidity and carbon dioxide-replicating technology to catch the most number of mosquitoes.

Keep Your Mosquito Magnet Close – But Not Too Close

Mosquito Magnets

The Anopheles albimanus mosquito

Another strategy is simply to place your mosquito magnet near wherever you and your family and friends will spend the most time outside. The backyard patio, deck, or around the family swing-set and gazebo are all potential sites, as well as the swimming pool, community baseball diamond, and tennis courts.

Simply place the mosquito magnet thirty to forty feet away from the area you plan to use, in an open area upwind of the protected site. This will help to keep the insects away from you and others, so that the insects don’t attack you instead. If possible, place the mosquito magnet in the shade, as mosquitoes tend to shun direct sunlight.

When You Should Expect Results

Most mosquito magnet models significantly reduce local mosquito and other flying insect populations within seven to ten days. In many cases, after four to six weeks the female population of the coverage area will have almost completely disappeared. Remember to regularly change its attractant cartridges, replace its power supply, and to clear out its trap container to keep your mosquito magnet operating in top condition.