Chill Out: 10 Cool Ways to Beat the Heat Outdoors

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Summer doesn’t have to send you and your guests clinging to the comforts of air conditioning, especially if you’re willing to make your backyard a little more inviting with the addition of some welcome shade, air movement or maybe a splash of water. By incorporating one or more of these cool features into your outdoor space, you’ll find yourself spending more and more time enjoying your extra square footage outdoors.
mediterranean exterior by Evan Travels Photography

1. Gazebos. Think back to that clubhouse you had a kid; gazebos are like clubhouses for adults. Serving both as shelter and focal point, a well-situated and thoughtfully designed gazebo is sure to become the star attraction of your outdoor gatherings, luring you and your guests out into the landscape.

While building a gazebo might seem like a big to-do, a well-designed one is like the cherry on top of a sundae. Design yours to coordinate with the style of your home, and be sure to give it enough space to allow for open views.

tropical porch by D for Design

2. Porches. If your style is to stay closer to home, consider the porch. Front porches face out and open up to the world and are ideal for reading the morning’s news or enjoying sweet tea at sunset, while back porches are for parties and barbecues.

You can utilize your existing porch or make modifications if you already have one, or you can build one out as an addition. You can easily dress up an underused porch with comfortable seating and side tables, along with a set of planted hanging baskets. More ambitious projects can include adding gingerbread trim, a tin roof or new wood flooring.


contemporary patio by Stout Design-Build

3. Pergolas. Though traditionally planted with vines to cover walkways in the garden, many pergolas today are used as architectural elements and are given the same pride of place in the garden. Materials run the gamut from rustic and naturalistic willow branches to the wood or metal seen in modern interpretations like this modern oceanfront design.

If you do decide to grow vines on your pergola, choose strong and woody vines that can support much of their own weight. A professionally installed pergola can handle a much heavier load than one installed from a kit.

mediterranean landscape by orlando comas, landscape architect.

4. Shade trees. The easiest and most cost-effective way to add shade to your outdoor space is to plant shade trees such as the live oak trees (Quercus virginiana, zones 7 to 11) pictured here, and they certainly do their part to add beauty and charm to the neighborhood.

The biggest downside is that they take time, but a quick fix is to buy balled and burlapped trees from the nursery that are already large enough to offer some shade. Much as with a puppy, you will also have to commit to caring for your new tree by keeping it well fed, watered and groomed, as well as by picking up its droppings. Unlike puppies, however, a well-cared-for tree can last for generations to come. Fall is usually the best time to plant new trees, but you can begin planning for the perfect spot now.

contemporary patio Hardy Group Builders

5. Awnings. It used to be that awnings and canopies were confined to the edges of buildings, but today they’ve ventured out into the open like the wings of butterflies. Tensioned shade sails, like the ones shown here, take on the forms of wings when attached to nearby structures and bathe the space with captivating light. Other awnings are installed much like pergolas, but the different strips of fabric can be rolled up in different ways to shade the desired area.
traditional porch by Liston Construction Company, Inc.

6. Fans. If it’s still 95 degrees in the shade and too muggy to really enjoy yourself, a cool breeze will circulate the air to make the heat 8 degrees more bearable, as well as keep mosquitoes at bay. Available in chic brushed aluminum, or in styles made to look like palm fronds or rattan,ceiling fans somehow even manage to make an outdoor living area look more inviting. For the less ambitious homeowner, there are freestanding and clamp-on models that can be moved to where they’re needed most.
7. Misting systems. Our bodies produce sweat to act as a natural air conditioning system, evaporating and cooling the immediate area around our skin. Sweating is definitely one of nature’s little miracles, but wouldn’t you rather cool off without the body odor or salty residue? Misting systems spray a fine mist over your outdoor space like the fog surrounding a rain forest waterfall, and the cool breeze provided by a misting fan can make outdoor living very comfortable on even the hottest days.
contemporary pool by Raymond Jungles, Inc.

8. Swimming pools. Undoubtedly the most effective way to cool off, swimming pools have the effect of an oasis in the Sahara and even make landscapes look cooler by association. It’s hard to look at this pool by Raymond Jungles and resist sighing a little and escaping into your imagination for a little dip.

A swimming pool surrounded by nothing more than concrete and turf is nice and all, but not nearly as inviting as one that’s been lushly landscaped. When planting around your pool, be sure to choose plants that are clean and don’t drop too much leaf litter into the pool. Palms, bromeliads and cordylines are great choices for the tropics, while evergreen conifers and grasseswork well for most other regions.

contemporary landscape by Avalon Northwest Landscape, LLC

9. Water features. It doesn’t take an entire swimming pool to cool off a garden; just the soothing sounds of a small brimming urn or fountain will make a brutal summer day feel more manageable. Well-designed and maintained koi ponds provide a welcome distraction and endless entertainment, and water gardens attract wildlife and make the outdoor space appear cooler. Pondless water features such as the one shown here are ideal for small spaces and require less maintenance than full-scale ponds.

Professionally installed water features are ideal where design and longevity are concerned, but budget-conscious homeowners can get their feet wet with a variety of products from precast fountains and brimming urns to plastic pond liners and waterfall kits.

asian patio by CHRISTINA MARRACCINI Inc.

 10. Make your getaway.One way to make every day a staycation is by turning your yard into a great escape with lush greenery, shady retreats, cool breezes and refreshing elements of water. Another way to make a hot backyard more inviting is to make it feel like you’re actually stepping into another world, be it the woods native to your region or the balmy coast of the Mediterranean.
All of the ideas listed above can be styled to fit the overall look you’re trying to accomplish, while adding exotic flair to make your retreat seem worlds apart from your stressful lifestyle. You needn’t go overboard, and it doesn’t take much. Rattan furniture, dark stained wood, prominent water features, stoneware urns and tropical plants like palm trees and bird’s nest ferns all lend a subtle Indonesian or Southeast Asian feel. You can also go all out with an exotic daybed like the one pictured here.
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  1. Pingback: Ways to Beat the Heat | In Your Neighbourhood

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