Make the most of your garden and enjoy outdoor living even when the weather cools down
Warm up the winter deck with table heaters, candlelight and cushions. Image: Alamy
Anyone who has gone house hunting knows that properties with a deck, outdoor living area or garden come at a premium.
This is because a welcoming and usable outdoor space can add as much as $100,000 value, according to the Housing Industry Association.
It’s estimated that budgets for landscaping and hardscaping have tripled in the past 15 years, with about $20,000 the rough average for a reno, or up to 10% of the value of the home.
With such a good return on investment, the deck or patio is now seen as an extra room, with design and functionality top priorities.
No longer just a warm-weather pleasure, heating, screening and lighting options provide lots of ways to enjoy your outdoor space in style and comfort all year round.
Fire it up
A source of warmth is the way to entice people onto the deck in the cold months, with fireplaces one of the biggest outdoor trends in the past five years. Whatever the budget, some type of heat source can be included.
Portable gas-fuelled braziers are a good choice for small groups, as they provide good ambient heat in a limited radius. Costing from $50 to $400, depending on size and quality, they are also economical to run.
Another budget-friendly option is a fire pit. A camp-style pit in the ground with a stone circle and gravel in the base is an informal solution that can fit into any scheme.
A more sophisticated stainless-steel fire pit is still inexpensive and can be moved to where the heat is required, making it a good choice for small spaces or gatherings on dry, still days.
Chimineas are a different take on a fire pit and are better suited to withstand wind, as they have proper draughting and the fire is contained.
If the budget allows and the space is large enough, a built-in fireplace adds instant appeal and will become a focal point of the space.
The fireplace has to meet building codes and the location should take into consideration privacy needs, prevailing wind direction and its proximity to other structures.
An outdoor fireplace can be located against a wall, along a fence or in a corner of a yard.
They can be freestanding at the edge of a patio, built into a retaining wall or attached to an outdoor kitchen.
For a small fireplace, you’ll need at least a 4 x 4m deck or patio and for a large one at least a 6 x 6m area. Make sure there is enough room for furniture in front of your fireplace.
There are regulations about setting fires outdoors at home, relating to the fire danger seasons in each state.
Before lighting a fire, particularly a camp or pit fire, visit the website of your state fire service to check for guidelines and restrictions.
A real fire creates a classic ambience while providing heat on a winter deck. Image: Alamy
If you don’t want an open flame on your winter deck, try a Thermofilm Heatstrip Classic electric radiant heater. The anodised black panel is unobtrusive and easy to install DIY in an undercover area like a verandah, pergola or even a garage.
While most patio heaters use convection, which heats the air around the source, Heatstrip uses radiant technology, which provides direct heat via infra-red waves.
This is more effective in an outdoor setting, as it gives a consistent, even heat for a quarter of the running costs of gas-bottle systems.
Screen it off
Turning an outdoor area into a room can be as easy as installing blinds to enclose the space. It’s also a simple way to provide shelter from the elements all year round.
At the top end of the scale are motorised systems with rain-sensitive shutters, or vertical screens and awnings. Costing upwards of $1000, they are a very good permanent option, if the budget allows.
Simple and cost-effective solutions also work well. There are two basic types of outdoor blinds, bistro and shade, both of which can be used to protect against wind and rain.
Made from high-quality PVC, bistro blinds are transparent, so the views are maintained. Tinted blinds are also available for greater privacy.
Shade blinds are made of shadecloth, meaning while you can see outside, no-one can see in.
Standard sizes are available off the shelf for under $100, but blinds can be customised to fit any space, with many systems allowing panels to be secured together to fit larger areas.
Operation is via a rope-and-pulley or a framed zip-fastening system that can completely enclose the space.
They can be installed DIY and are low maintenance. Some blinds have up to 95% UV resistance, making them good for summer, too.
Screen out the sun or open up to the breeze with outdoor blinds. Image: Alamy
Light it right
To maximise outdoor living during the colder months, it is crucial to get the lighting right.
In winter, days are shorter and while the sun is often high and bright in the daytime, early nightfall can prevent you from using the deck for relaxing or socialising.
Planning the illumination adds a feeling of warmth and creates an atmosphere that makes you want to spend time outside.
Have a couple of different options to change how the space looks and feels. A main overhead light is necessary, but fit a dimmer so it can be diffused.
If the space is large enough, use lamps around the perimeter and the softer glow of candles in the centre.
Feature lights over alfresco dining areas look good and are practical, while strings of fairy lights can make any space feel festive and inviting.
To get the best results and for maximum safety, only buy or install lighting products that are specified for outdoor use.
When it comes to the garden, use lighting for practical reasons, such as to illuminate a path and to create attractive views.
Downlighting features and recesses highlights the landscaping, while uplighting garden beds and trees gives shadow effects.
LED technology has made lighting more multifunctional than ever, while solar lights come in a range of designs and are free to run.
Make the most of an outdoor space with the right lights to set the mood. Image: Alamy
Plant a windbreak
Shield the entertaining area and provide a windbreak in winter and shade in summer by planting rows of hardy native trees, such as gums, eucalypts and tea trees.
Avoid hedges or a single solid row of plants, as wind picks up speed if it hits a solid structure. Mass-planting in a staggered pattern helps it filter through instead.
Plant in a random formation, allowing each tree enough room. If the site is very windy, use a deep-stem planting method, which involves stripping back the lower leaves, leaving only the top third in leaf, and burying it up to that point. This allows the roots to spread, giving the tree a firmer hold in the ground.
TIP For advice on what type of trees to plant in your area, check with the Department of Primary Industries.