Those of us who live a bit further north, in Canada and the northern U.S., are very aware that winter sets in early and can seem long and restrictive with respect to making use of our patios and outdoor living areas. Often we close them up in late fall, put things away and wait for Spring. But why?
Let’s face it: we are also accustomed to going outdoors to enjoy the activities that winter has to offer. We skate and play hockey on outdoor rinks, we ski down hill and cross-country, we toboggan, snowmobile and make snowmen and forts with our children, and we even organize games of softball, soccer or volleyball in the snow. In many ways, we enjoy this season as much as summer. So why do so many of us then retreat indoors when these activities are done to escape the cold? Why can we not simply turn our patios into a winter entertainment centre to extend our outdoor living activities.
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Here are some suggestions about how to adapt our summer patios to winter entertainment centres:
Furniture: Most good outdoor patio furniture materials such as cedar, rattan and teak stand up very well to the elements and can be used all winter long. However, cushions will need to be stored away and it is a good idea to cover chairs and tables with inexpensive vinyl tarps when not in use. The tarps can easily be removed and stored in a storage bin or garden hutch.
Snow: More maintenance will naturally be required as snow will need to be removed on a regular basis to keep the area clear – wise not to fall behind on this chore. Simply pile the snow around the perimeter of the patio to create a berm; as the pile grows it will actually be quite attractive and form a natural wind break.
Heat: A propane patio heater can make the area quite cozy. A built-in fireplace is ideal but a portable fire pit or chiminea will also enhance the outdoor experience provided they are not burning under a roofed-in patio that is not high enough to insure safety.
Wind: Bitter winter winds will always be a factor that will drive people indoors. However, lighter wind can be controlled enough to enjoy the outdoors. A snow berm will do part of the job. Vinyl, or better yet, canvas tarps can also be tied to existing posts to assist in this problem; they may detract somewhat from the aesthetic appeal of the summer patio but remember that the winter patio experience is by nature more rustic.
Lighting: For nighttime use lighting may already exist but if not outdoor, plug-in pole lamps are relatively inexpensive or, to keep the rustic theme going, resort to camping lanterns that use fuel. Moving indoors when the sun sets is not a must.
Entertaining: The barbecue can of course be used all year. A propane cooker with a large stew pot is another ideal tool for winter cooking. Hot soup, stew or chili is always welcome on a cold day; mulled wine or cider provide another option. Cold beer, soda or other beverages will not require a fridge or cooler; if it is very cold, stick them in the snow bank to keep them from freezing.
Remember then that there is no need to close up the patio once the cold weather sets in. Outdoor living can be an enjoyable experience all year. Give it a go and enjoy.