Pool & Spa Outdoor Blog

6 Delicious Fall Pork Recipes

Recipes for Pork Chops, Ham, Bacon, and More








Celebrate National Pork Month with these 6 sweet and savory pork recipes.



Ham and Almond Pastry Ring

Recipe from PorkBeInspired.com

Ham and Almond Pastry RingTimes:

Prep Time: 20 minutes prep, Cook Time: 30 minutes cook


Ingredients:

1 cup cooked ham, diced
1/2 cup chive and onion cream cheese spread
2 tablespoons Caesar dressing
1 large apple, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup grapes, red or green, quartered
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
2 8-oz cans refrigerated crescent rolls
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped
Nonstick cooking spray

Cooking Directions:

In large bowl, blend cream cheese spread and dressing. Add ham, apple, grapes, onion and green pepper; gently stir until coated. Set aside.

Line a large baking sheet with heavy foil. Lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Unroll both cans of crescent rolls and separate. On prepared baking sheet arrange triangles overlapping with shortest side of each roll toward center leaving 5-inch circle open in center. Points of crescent dough may hang over edge of baking sheet. Press overlapping dough to flatten and close center circle to 4-inches.

Spoon mixture evenly over widest part of dough. Pull points of dough over filling and tuck dough under dough in center to form ring. (Some filling will be visible.) Brush dough evenly with beaten egg and sprinkle with almonds. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes or until golden and pastry in inner circle is baked. (If necessary, loosely cover outer edge of pastry with foil during the last 10 minutes of baking to prevent over-browning.) Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Using large spatula, carefully slide onto large serving platter.*

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

*If desired, use foil to lift and transfer pastry ring to serving platter. Cut foil in center of ring and underneath pastry ring; pull foil pieces to remove.



Apple and Cornbread-Stuffed Pork Loin with Roasted Apple Gravy

Recipe from PorkBeInspired.com

Apple and Cornbread-Stuffed Pork LoinTimes:

Prep Time: 30 minutes prep, Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes cook


Ingredients:

1 boneless pork loin, (4 pounds)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage
3 medium apples, peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup Calvados, OR apple brandy
1 1/4 cup homemade chicken stock, OR canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup apple juice, OR cider
1/4 cup heavy cream

Cornbread and Apple Stuffing:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup smoked ham, finely chopped, OR diced smoked sausage
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup apples, peeled and diced 1/4-inch
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 1/2 cups homemade cornbread, crumbled and dried OR dried cornbread stuffing mix
1/4 cup apple juice


Cooking Directions:

For stuffing, heat butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat; add ham or sausage and cook 3 minutes. Add onion, celery and a pinch each of salt and pepper; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are quite soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in diced apple and cook 1 minute. Transfer apple mixture to a large bowl. Sprinkle with sage and stir in cornbread crumbs, apple juice and egg. The mixture should be moist but not wet. Add more apple juice if the mixture seems dry. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. To double butterfly the pork loin, lay the meat, fat-side down, on a work surface and make a horizontal lengthwise cut two-thirds of the way into the depth of the loin and about 1 inch from the long edge nearest you, taking care not to cut all the way through. Flip the loin over so that the cut you just made is opposite you. Make another lengthwise cut, again 1 inch from the edge. Open up the two cuts so you have a large rectangle of meat whose diameter is roughly 3 times the thickness of the meat. Place fat-side down and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a cleaver or a meat pounder, gently flatten the meat to an even thickness.

Remove plastic wrap and spread apple stuffing evenly over the meat, leaving a generous 3/4–inch border. Roll up meat jelly-roll style so that stuffing is in a spiral pattern. Tie rolled roast at 2-inch intervals with butcher’s twine.

Combine 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and remaining sage and sprinkle over roast. Lay the sliced apples on the bottom of a roasting pan just a bit larger than the roast and set the roast, fat-side up, on the apples. Put roast in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 325 degrees and roast for 45 minutes. Check the internal temperature of the roast with an instant-read thermometer: The roast is done when it reaches 145 degrees. If it is not ready, continue to roast, checking the temperature every 10 minutes. When the roast is done, transfer it to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for at least 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the apples in the roasting pan to a bowl and keep warm. Pour off any fat from the roasting pan, leaving the meat juices on the bottom. Put pan over medium-high heat, add Calvados and deglaze pan allowing the alcohol to burn off, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a small saucepan and add stock, apple juice and cream. Increase heat to high and bring liquid to a boil. Simmer, stirring, until reduced by half. Taste for salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm while you carve the pork roast.

Remove twine from the roast and cut it into 1/2-inch thick slices. (If you cut the slices too thin, they will fall apart.) Arrange the pork on a serving platter. Spoon the sliced apples around the meat and pour the sauce over all.

Serves 8.

*Adapted from “Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork,” courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers



Beer-Grilled Chops

Recipe from PorkBeInspired.com

Beer-Grilled Pork ChopsTimes:

Prep Time: 10 minutes prep, Cook Time: 10 minutes cook


Ingredients:

4 bone-in pork chops, about 3/4-inch thick
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons ginger root, grated
1 cup beer


Cooking Directions:

Place chops in a self-sealing plastic bag; add remaining ingredients and seal bag. Gently massage bag to evenly distribute marinade ingredients. Refrigerate 4-24 hours.

Prepare medium-hot coals in kettle-style grill. Remove chops from marinade and discard marinade; place on grill directly over coals, cover grill and grill for 8-9 minutes, turning once, or until thermometer inserted reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a 3-minute rest time.

Serves 4.




Bacon-Wrapped Figs With Maple Snakebite Glaze and Goat Cheese and Thyme Dip

Recipe from PorkBeInspired.com

Bacon-Wrapped Figs with Maple GlazeTimes:

Prep Time: 15 minutes prep, Cook Time: 15 minutes cook


Ingredients:

6 strips bacon, halved crosswise
12 figs, stemmed*
12 pecan pieces, toasted
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 cup soft goat cheese, (2 ounces)
1/4 cup cream cheese, (2 ounces)
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped OR 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves


Cooking Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place 4 layers of paper towels on microwave-safe plate. Top with bacon slices. Cover with two more layers of paper towels. Microwave on high 1 to 2 minutes to render fat from bacon but not crisp. While bacon cools, slice each fig twice, starting at stem end, and cutting three-quarters of way to bottom. Stuff each fig with a pecan piece. Wrap a half strip of bacon around each fig and secure with toothpick. Place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Turn. Return to oven for 5 minutes or until bacon is sizzling and begins to crisp. In small bowl, combine syrup and cayenne pepper. Brush mixture over appetizers.

For dip, combine all dip ingredients in small bowl. Cover and chill until serving time.Makes: about 1/2 cup Serve appetizers warm with dip.

Serves 12

*Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice or Sun-Maid California work well.



Apricot-Dijon Pork Salad

Recipe from PorkBeInspired.com

Apricot-Dijon Pork SaladTimes:

Prep Time: 10 minutes prep, Cook Time: 15 minutes cook


Ingredients:

1 whole pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
1 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 10-oz package mixed salad greens
1 15-oz can apricot halves, drained, sliced
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
4 - 5 ounces Provolone cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted


Cooking Directions:

In small bowl stir together preserves, vinegar, mustard and ginger. Reserve 3/4 cup for salad dressing.

Butterfly pork tenderloin (cut almost in half, but not quite through, horizontally; open and lay flat. Prepare medium-hot fire in kettle-style grill. Grill tenderloin over heat 5-6 minutes per side; brushing with remaining apricot mixture during last 2 minutes on each side until internal temperature on a thermometer reads 145 degrees F. Remove tenderloin to cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile in large bowl toss together greens, apricots, cherries, cheese, pecans and onions. Divide mixture evenly among 4 plates. Slice pork into 1/2-inch pieces. Arrange portions of pork on top of greens on each plate; drizzle with reserved apricot mixture.

Serves 4.

*To toast pecans, place pecan halves in shallow baking pan in a 350 degrees F. oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool, chop coarsely.




Grilled Pork Panini

Recipe from PorkBeInspired.com

Grilled Pork PaniniTimes:

Prep Time: 10 minutes prep, Cook Time: 10 minutes cook


Ingredients:

3 cooked pork chops, thinly sliced *
8 slices Italian bread
1/2 cup pesto
4 1-oz slices Provolone cheese
olive oil


Cooking Directions:

Spread 1 tablespoon pesto on each slice of bread. Top four slices of bread with sliced pork chops and cheese; top each sandwich with remaining bread. Lightly brush outer surface of sandwiches with olive oil; grill in a medium-hot skillet until toasted on each side.

Serves 4.

*Use the leftovers from Balsamic Pork Chops.




Recipes and photos courtesy of National Pork Board. For more information about pork, visit PorkBeInspired.com.




Why You Need a Pool Cover Pump for Your Winter Cover

Pool Cover Pumps







Wayne Automatic Pool Cover PumpFor many pool owners around the country, the month of October signifies pool-closing season, which means it’s time to winterize and cover your swimming pool until spring. Closing your pool for the winter is necessary to protect the structure against damage from freezing water as well as keep it as clean as possible until the next season.

Once your pool is winterized and covered, there is still one more bit of maintenance you’ll have to perform: preventing water and debris from accumulating on the cover.

Fallen leaves, rain, and snow regularly collect on your pool cover throughout fall and winter (and even early spring) and can cause the cover to collapse or sink if too much weight builds up. Additionally, salts and other pollutants in the water can break down the fibers in the cover. A pool cover pump quickly and effectively removes excess water from your winter pool cover, helping to prevent damage and possible replacement. Pool cover pumps are available in manual or automatic operation.


Manual Pool Cover Pumps

Manual pool cover pumps, which are less expensive, need to be physically turned on after a rain shower or when a large puddle of water has collected on the pool cover and then manually turned off. Automatic pool cover pumps are operated by a water-sensing microprocessor which detects when water has accumulated on the cover and automatically starts the operation of the pump to remove the water; the pump turns off once the water reaches below a certain level.


Wayne Pool Cover PumpAutomatic Pool Cover Pumps

Automatic pool cover pumps provide worry-free, efficient operation and extend the life of the pump because it only works when it has to. “It also gives the homeowner the freedom to leave the pool cover pump unattended, without the need to plug it in or turn it on and off, greatly reducing the time and fuss of pool cover maintenance,” said Matt Dempsey, Sales Director at WAYNE Water Systems, a leading manufacturer of residential water handling systems. The company recently introduced the Wayne® Pool Cover Pump which senses freezing conditions, and turns the pump off to prevent damage in the case of ice build-up. Included with the product is a check valve, to prevent water from running back into the pump, which causes unnecessary cycling, and a unique positioning rope to help properly position the pump at the lowest spot on the pool cover. “These safeguards and the accessories included make this a smart investment for homeowner’s looking to reduce pool maintenance,” says Dempsey.




Photos courtesy of Wayne Water Systems

How to Design a Sunroom - Tips & Design Ideas

Tips and Ideas for Designing a Sunroom







Sunroom Addition


There are many benefits to adding a sunroom to your home, but before you lay the foundation, you’ll need to first think about its design.

Here are some tips on how to design a sunroom to match your home and lifestyle.


1. Choose a Sunroom for Your Needs

There are many ways to use your sunroom. How you plan to use the additional living space will help you determine the best type of sunroom for your needs.

Types of Sunrooms:

·     Screen Room: Also known as a patio enclosure, a screen room is an extension of your existing patio, deck or balcony. A screen room is ideal in the summer months and in warmer climates as it allows you to enjoy the outdoor experience without having to worry about insects or other pests.

Screen Room Sunroom


·       
Three Season Sunroom: A three-season sunroom is constructed with both screens and single-pane glass windows and doors. This type of sunroom offers more protection from inclement weather and cooler temperatures than a screen room and is ideal for those who would like to use the room during the spring, summer, and fall months.

Three Season Sunroom


·        
All Season Sunroom
: As the name suggests, all-season sunrooms (or four season sunrooms) are built for those who plan to use this space throughout the year. These rooms are built with energy-efficient double-pane glass windows to reduce the loss of heat in the winter, as well as reduce the heat and UV rays in the summer. They will also typically be installed with more insulation and an HVAC unit for heating purposes in the winter months. If you live in a season area with cold winters, you’ll need a four season sunroom to use the space year-round.


Four Season Sunroom




2. Determine the Size and Location

It is important to consider factors such as where in your home the sunroom will be located, how much sunlight you’ll have in that area throughout the day and the traffic flow in that space before actually building a screen room or sunroom.

Sunroom Size:  

·         How you plan to use your sunroom will help determine how spacious it should be. A nook, home office, or pet area might be relatively small. On the other hand, if you plan to use your sunroom as a spare living room or for entertaining, you’ll need a bigger space.

Sunroom Living Room



Sunroom Location:

·         While the general rule of thumb is to follow the light, it’s important to take into account the area in which you live and what you will be using the sunroom for when deciding the location. For example, a north-facing sunroom will let in the least amount of direct sunlight; however, this may be a more pleasant location if you live in a warm climate zone because it will minimize the amount of heat the room absorbs. An east-facing sunroom catches the morning sun and provides shade during the afternoon; it’s a prime location if you’re an early riser or plan to use the room as a breakfast/morning nook. A west-facing sunroom is a good location if you are home in the afternoon or evening as it receives the most amount of sunlight later in the day. A south-facing sunroom receives the greatest amount of sunlight throughout the day and is recommended if you live in the cold, northern regions. 

·         Also consider how the sunroom will flow with the rest of your home. If your sunroom will be used for dining or entertaining, consider building it off of the living room or kitchen and making it more of an extension of that space. If used for quiet relaxation or reading, close it off with French doors or locate it away from commonly used areas to minimize traffic flow.

Second Story Sunroom



3. Select the Right Materials


There are two types of materials commonly used to build sunrooms: aluminum and vinyl.

Aluminum has been traditionally used for sunrooms because it provides great structural support, is lightweight, low-maintenance, and cost effective. However, aluminum it is not a good insulator and is best suited for screen rooms and three season sunroom designs.

Aluminum Three Season Sunroom



Vinyl is a more recently used material for sunrooms and is strong, durable, and more thermally efficient than aluminum; it is a better choice if you plan to heat and cool your sunroom throughout the year. Vinyl sunrooms are more expensive than aluminum sunrooms but are easy to clean and relatively low maintenance. Experts suggest repainting vinyl siding every 7-10 years because vinyl expands and contracts with the heat overtime, which can produce cracks and peels in the paint.

Vinyl Sunroom



4. Choose a Roofing Style

The roof plays a major role in the design and overall appearance of the sunroom. Typically, your contractor will work within the confines of your home’s current architecture to keep the design similar.

The most common sunroom roofing options are gable, single-slope, existing and glass.

·     Single-Slope Roof: A common roofing choice, the single slope roof (also called a shed or studio) is formed by extending a roof from any part of the home in a single-slope. A single-slope roof is the most versatile option because it complements a wide range of architectural styles, including Prairie and Ranch.

Sunroom with Single Slope Roof



·     Gable Roof: Also known as an a-frame or pitched rood, the gable roof slopes down in two parts at an angle from a central ridge. A gable roof is preferred for architectural designs that feature a gable roof, such as Cape Cod and Craftsmen house styles; it can also add visual interest to home’s with a flat roof or varying heights, like Raised Ranch and Split-Level Ranch house styles.

Gable Roof Sunroom



·     Existing Roof: This roof is formed by installing glass or screens between the posts in your existing patio, porch or balcony.

Sunroom under Existing Roof



·   GGlass Roof:  A sunroom with a glass roof is also known as a solarium Glass roofs are available in both gable or single slope designs and can feature a straight or curved corner (called an eave) where the roof meets the walls.  A curved eave gives the sunroom a unique polished look and is best fitted for modern or contemporary style homes.

Glass Roof Sunroom

Photos courtesy of Patio Enclosures by Great Day Improvements, LLC



This post was written by Lindsey Gregory.

Gazebos: Enclosures for the Garden


Backyard America Outdoor StructuresGazebos make a great addition to any backyard landscape. Placed poolside, in a corner of the garden, or on the patio, these attractive stand-alone structures define the perfect spot for relaxing or entertaining outdoors while offering shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. Gazebos come in a range of sizes, shapes, and materials. Consider these factors to help decide the best gazebo design for your outdoor space.  

Use – Some people use a gazebo as a place to relax and enjoy a beautiful day with their loved ones, while others use it as a dining area for entertaining outdoors. A gazebo can also be used as a shelter for a hot tub or serve a purely ornamental purpose as a focal point in the landscape. Knowing how you plan to use the gazebo will help determine what size and shape to look for. 

Location – The location will also decide how big of a structure—and possibly what shape—you can accommodate. It’s important to place the gazebo where it will best suit your needs. If using the gazebo for outdoor dining, you may want to consider a location near the house for easy access to the kitchen. For quiet relaxation, an open spot in the back of the yard may be a better choice. 

Style – A gazebo is as much a decorative item as it is a functional item, so it’s important that its design blends with the rest of your home and landscape. To complement the simplicity and clean lines of a contemporary style home and garden, select a square gazebo with minimal adornments. A traditional hexagon-shaped gazebo with a cupola and intricate detailing on the railings and arches will match the Old World elegance and architectural style of a Colonial or Victorian home. 

Maintenance – Some types of gazebos will require more upkeep than others. Wood, for instance, requires staining every couple years while wrought-iron needs a protective coating to prevent rust. Vinyl is nearly maintenance-free, needing only a periodical spray with a hose.

­Photo courtesy of Backyard America Outdoor Structures

4 Spa Shopping Tips

How to Buy a Hot Tub



Follow these 4 spa shopping tips to make sure your hot tub purchase goes smoothly.

1. Test it out. The best way to ensure that you buy the perfect hot tub is to try it out. Many retailers have hot tubs set up in a separate area of the showroom so customers can experience a particular model before they buy. During your test soak, pay attention to the comfort and depth of the spa's seats, placement and pressure of the jets, and the footwell space. Also try out all of the options so you can easily choose which ones you really want. 

2. Take control—remotely. Having to get up to adjust the settings of your spa can make your hot tub experience less than enjoyable. Consider whether the convenience of a remote control system will enhance your soak. A floating remote control lets you adjust the pumps, water temperature, and any accessories (TV, radio, etc.) from any seat within the spa. An in-home control panel allows you to monitor and adjust the spa settings from inside your home, so you can have a nice warm tub waiting for you. 

3. Select a cover. If the hot tub model you buy doesn’t come with a cover, make sure you purchase one. A cover is essential for safe and efficient hot tub operation. The best covers are made of marine-grade Naugahyde,® resistant to mildew growth, and meet ASTM International (American Society for Testing Materials) standards, which ensures that they not only retain heat but guarantee their use as a safety cover.

4. Ask about upkeep. Maintenance is an important and necessary part of hot tub ownership. Ask your dealer if the model you’re looking to buy includes features that will help make upkeep easier. Many hot tub manufacturers offer automatic sanitizers and dosing systems that reduce the time, effort, and amount of chemicals it takes to maintain your hot tub.


Visit our Hot Tubs & Spas Buyers' Guide for a list of leading hot tub companies and product information.

Photo courtesy of Hot Spring Spas, Watkins Manufacturing

Top 10 Outdoor Entertaining Essentials

Must-have Items for Entertaining Outdoors


1. Grill

You can’t have a backyard party without a barbecue grill. Today’s grill units come in a variety of sizes and offer built-in storage and prep space to minimize the hassle of trips indoors. Many also feature accessories such as rotisseries, warming plates, and side burners for diverse cooking methods.

Weber Summit Grill Center

For a list of leading grill manufacturers and resources, visit our Outdoor Kitchens & Grills Buyers’ Guide.


Photo courtesy of 2011 Weber-Stephen Products LLC. Used with Permission



2. Grilling Tools & Accessories

Every grill master needs to have a good set of grilling tools, especially when cooking for a large crowd. The three main grilling utensils: a spatula for flipping burgers and positioning food; a pair of tongs for gripping meats and vegetables; a fork for piercing and turning meats. Look for grilling tools with long handles to protect your hands from the heat.

Weber Grill Accessories
Photo courtesy of 2011 Weber-Stephen Products LLC. Used with Permission


Another important grilling tool to have on hand is an instant-read meat thermometer. This will take the guesswork out of cooking and ensure that meat, poultry, and other cooked foods have reached a safe internal temperature.

Digital Meat Thermometer
Photo courtesy of Overstock.com



3. Outdoor Dinnerware and Glassware

If you typically resort to disposable paper plates and red plastic cups for your outdoor affairs, consider investing in outdoor dinnerware and glassware made from hard plastics like melamine or acrylic. These worry-free options are durable, lightweight, and environmentally-friendly because they can be washed and reused. They also come in an array of vibrant summer colors and patterns just like your indoor tableware.  

Melamine Outdoor Dinnerware
Photo courtesy of Hayneedle.com

A large, self-serve beverage dispenser makes it easy to serve a big group of people and will also cut down on waste like empty water bottles and soda cans. Use it to serve homemade iced tea, lemonade, or a fruity summer drink.

340-ounce Beverage Dispenser
Photo courtesy of Overstock.com



4. Outdoor Serving Items

It’s important to serve food outdoors when entertaining in your backyard. This eliminates the hassle of running inside to grab additional food items and also keeps guests from having to make trips in and out of the house—often with dirty shoes or wet feet—to grab food or supplies. The type of outdoor serving items you’ll need will depend on the number of people you plan to entertain and the type of food you’ll be serving. 

 

An outdoor extension table is a great item to have when entertaining because it allows you to easily adjust the table size to your needs. Extend the table for additional seating during larger gatherings or fold down the leaf when space is limited.

Outdoor Extenstion Table
Photo courtesy of Overstock.com

A fold out bar can come in handy if you regularly entertain outdoors or host large parties. It offers both countertop space for serving food and/or beverages and storage space underneath for essentials like glassware, dishes, utensils, or other supplies you might want to have on hand.

Royal Tahiti Outdoor Folding Bar
Photo courtesy of Overstock.com

For smaller outdoor gatherings, a portable patio cart can keep supplies within reach. Stock it with dishes, utensils, ice, paper towels, condiments, and other necessities. When the party is over it can be used for easy clean-up: just load it up with dirty dishes and wheel it back inside.  


Outdoor Patio Cart
Photo courtesy of Overstock.com




5. Insect Control


When eating and entertaining outdoors it’s expected that a number of mosquitos and insects will be flying around. Keep bugs away from food by keeping it in covered storage containers or under mesh food tents. Umbrella drink covers will prevent insects and debris from getting in beverages and will also help guests keep track of their drinks.

Place citronella candles on outdoor dining tables to repel pests while guests enjoy their food. Set citronella tiki torches or mosquito lamps around seating and social areas for added protection at night. See more tips on bug protection.

Candles around Outdoor Patio
Photo courtesy of Gasper Landscape Design & Construction; Photography by Rob Cardillo




6. Backyard Shade Products


Make sure you have enough shade for your guests so that they don’t get uncomfortably hot and retreat indoors. Table and freestanding patio umbrellas offer relief from the burning sun while guests eat and socialize. Some patio umbrellas can be tilted and turned with the movement of the sun to provide optimal shade throughout the day.


Green Cantilever Outdoor Umbrelle

Photo courtesy of Overstock.com


You can also keep guests cool and comfortable with a pop-up canopy or tent. These come in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit any outdoor entertaining space. A pop-up canopy or tent can also be used to keep food out of the sun and offers protection from an unexpected rain shower.

Outdoor Party Tent Canopy
Photo courtesy of Hayneedle.com



7. Music & Outdoor Stereo Systems


Music helps set the tone for any party, indoors or out. There are a variety of ways to add acoustics to your backyard get-together. Wireless docking stations for MP3 players and iPods can easily be set out on a table or by the pool. These systems are convenient for outdoor parties, but they are not weatherproof so be sure to look for models that include a splash-proof plastic covering to protect your iPod or MP3 player.

Wireless Music Dock for iPod or MP3 player


Another option is to hook up your indoor stereo system to outdoor speakers. Weather-resistant outdoor speakers can withstand the elements, such as sun, rain, and temperature changes and come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and designs. You can select from outdoor speakers that are mounted to a wall or pillar, freestanding speakers that can be placed around the yard, landscape speakers that are installed inground, and wireless speakers that are disguised as rocks, lights, or planters to blend with the surrounding scenery.


Outdoor Planter Speaker_OSD Audio
Photos courtesy of OSD Audio, Stereostone, Inc and Etón Corporation



8. Outdoor Seating

It’s important to provide ample seating for your party guests so that they are comfortable. While you could invest in additional outdoor furniture like patio chairs, loungers, and sofas, there are plenty of budget-friendly ways to add extra seating when entertaining outdoors.

Folding chairs, ottomans, and even beach chairs work well around the pool area or a fire pit. An outdoor storage bench or cooler can easily double as a seat when you place a cushion or a few pillows on top.

White Adirondack Beach Chair Montego Bay Deck Box
Photos courtesy of Overstock.com


A large blanket or outdoor rug spread out on the lawn offers a simple place for guests to relax and catch up; it can also designate a play/picnic area for the kids. And remember that a retaining wall easily provides a comfortable spot for guests to perch or set down their food and drink.

Outdoor Rug_Natural Terracotta Ashlar Pattern Retaining Wall
Photo courtesy of Overstock.com; Photo courtesy of Red River Hardscapes



9. Outdoor Lighting


A backyard party in the summer is sure to extend into the night, which makes lighting an essential outdoor entertaining element. Outdoor lighting not only keeps the backyard safe as sunlight withdraws, but also adds ambiance and makes an outdoor setting feel more cozy and inviting at night.

String lights add festive sparkle to a pergola, gazebo, or umbrella and help highlight dining/social areas for guests. Tiki torches and path lights can be placed around the patio or pool to help illuminate dark corners and designate walkways. Lanterns and candles are great for table tops and help create a more intimate atmosphere. Additionally, an outdoor fire pit provides both light and warmth to keep guests comfortable on cool summer nights. It also creates a prime gathering spot for conversation.

Pergola with String Lights

Photo courtesy of The Outdoor GreatRoom Company




10. Outdoor Games

Having a mix of outdoor games set up around the yard will keep everyone entertained throughout the day and ensure your guests have a good time at your party. There is a wide selection of outdoor games to choose from, but it’s important to pick ones that are suited for the various age groups of your guests. Lawn games like horseshoes, ladder ball, washers, and bag toss are easy to play and require little equipment and space. These games can also be played in teams, which is a great way for guests to mingle if they don’t know each other well.

Washer Toss Lawn Game Ladder Toss Lawn Game
Photos courtesy of Hayneedle.com


A variety of games and activities can also be played in the swimming pool. Get a group of people involved in some friendly competition with a volleyball or basketball net or keep things small with a floating Ping-Pong table or poker table.

If you’ll be spending Labor Day poolside, check out these fun pool games for kids.



Deck & Patio Lighting Ideas

By Debra Maurer


To get the most use out of your deck or patio, install outdoor lighting that is both welcoming and effective. Here are a few ideas:


Outdoor lighting pergola deck night Trex
• On covered patios, install recessed lighting with dimmer switches, a fan with lights, or a chandelier.

• Replace deck post finials with solar LED lamps; they provide a decorative accent during the day and light up the deck’s perimeter at night.

• Recessed deck lighting, set into the deck’s surface, also helps to create a border around the space. 

• Add outdoor lights under railings and benches to guide guests to cozy seating areas.

• Hang string lights around arbors, pergolas, and canopies for a fun and enchanted feeling. Some umbrellas even come with LED string lights on the spokes, illuminating the space beneath them. 

• Add a unique touch with planters that glow from within. Available in solar- and electric-powered, place several of these planters around your deck to serve two purposes in one.

• Standing patio lamps provide a “walk-in-the-park” kind of charm. These consist of a tall post with a weighted base and can have several globe or traditional lanterns at the top.

For a list of outdoor lighting companies and resources, visit our Outdoor Lighting Buyers' Guide. To find resources for deck products and materials, visit our Decks Buyers' Guide.

Photo courtesy of Trex Company

Alternative Pool Decking Options - Rubber Flooring, Composite Pavers

Rubber Flooring and Composite Pavers









Learn how alternative pool decking options such as rubber flooring and composite pavers can offer benefits to a pool area.


Rubber Flooring

Rubber Pool Deck FlooringWhen you think of rubber flooring you probably think of rubber mulch chips in the neighborhood playground or poured rubber bond. Rubber flooring is actually a great alternative option for pool decking. Like playground mulch, rubber flooring for pool decks is usually made out of recycled rubber tires, resulting in a product that is eco-friendly and responsibly manufactured. There are two common forms of rubber flooring: poured-in-place rubber bond and interlocking rubber tiles. Poured-in-place rubber flooring must be professionally installed, as opposed to interlocking rubber tiles which can easily be installed by the homeowner; however, poured-in-place rubber bond flooring is thought to be more durable and offers more customization because an array of colors can be mixed and matched to create a unique look.

Rubber flooring provides a permeable, porous, non-skid surface that doesn’t get too hot. It also drains quickly (drains are distributed in strategic areas) and is easy to maintain. Using rubber flooring for pool decking does not have to mean giving up on sophisticated design; there are numerous color options available, as well as patterns that mimic slate, stone, brick, and custom designs. The rubber can be installed over most solid  deck surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, or wood, with the option of extra cushioning added in areas of high impact. After installation, rubber flooring usually needs between 24 hours and four days to cure, based on the temperature and humidity.

One of the biggest pros of rubber flooring is it’s low maintenance. Rubber pool decking can easily be cleaned with a leaf blower or garden hose; mild soap and water may also be used. The rubber is known to be very durable, but in the case of damage, a professional installer can cut out the damaged area and pour new rubber bond.

Pool with Rubber Deck
Photos courtesy of No Fault Sport Group, LLC




Composite Pavers

Composite Paver Pool DeckComposite pavers are the up-and-coming alternative to concrete pavers for pool decking. Like concrete, composite pavers are slip-free and extremely durable. A major advantage is that they are approximately one-third of the weight of concrete, and the grid system makes them three times easier to install. They eliminate the frustration of manually setting and aligning heavy concrete pavers.

Like rubber flooring, composite pavers are eco-friendly because they are made from up to 95% recycled materials. Composite pavers are placed in the same compacted sand bases that are used for conventional concrete pavers, but the system allows for easy installation and unique custom designs. The pavers also come in various colors for endless design options, including herringbone, brick stack, pinwheel, and many other paver patterns.

While concrete and composite pavers are both slip-free and extremely durable, installation varies. When dealing with concrete, a base of processed gravel must be laid, after which the base and restraints are installed. Then a layer of bedding sand must be screened before the pavers can be laid, with careful effort put into ensuring that they are even. With composite pavers, installers use a grid system that works as a template for the pavers, which fit into the grid like puzzle pieces. Less base preparation is required, and laying even, neat lines of pavers is foolproof.

Composite pavers should be installed by professionals, but with the right installation guides they can be installed by knowledgeable DIYers. They should be installed over an even surface. The pavers require very little maintenance, aside for an occasional replenishment of joint sand.

Pool Deck_Composite Paver
Photos courtesy of Vast Enterprises, LLC





It is important to take into account the specifics of your pool and environment, and consult with pool experts in order to choose outdoor flooring that is right for you and will achieve your desired look.



View our Decks Buyers' Guide for a list manufacturers and suppliers of deck products and materials.


This guest post was written by Fay Friedman.



10 Benefits of a Swim Spa

By Debra Maurer

Swim spa Diamond Spas indoor pool fitness tile decorSwim spas are a combination of a hot tub and a swimming pool, which means—like most 2-for-1 items—they provide twice the bang for your buck. So what do these aquatic hybrids have to offer? Here are 10 benefits:

1. Compact size. Bigger than a hot tub, and smaller than a pool, swim spas are perfect for small yards.

2. Year-round swimming. By programming a set water temperature and keeping the cover on when not in use, you can use your swim spa hot tub all year long.

3. No flipturns necessary. Swim laps without interruption or reaching for the wall. 

4. Forget sharing a lane. No need to wait around for a lane to open up when you have your own private swim lane at home.

5. Challenge muscles. Water’s resistance makes for more challenging movements.

6. Low-impact. Thanks to water’s buoyancy, swimming is a low-impact activity with little risk of injury. 

7. Replaces your gym membership. Exercise using an underwater bike or treadmill, resistance bands, and rowing system—all in a swim spa. 

8. Smaller carbon footprint. Swim spas use much less water than a pool, meaning they require fewer chemicals and less energy to run, which also reduces your cost.

9. Unique options. Some manufacturers offer swim spas with deep water wells. This means the floor of the swim spa opens up to provide another 1 – 2 feet of depth, perfect for deep-water running.

10. Hydrotherapy. Enjoy the pulsating jets of a swim spa hot tub before or after your workout, or during a relaxing weekend.

Bonus: Did you know swim spas are great training tools for competitive swimmers? Learn how Michael Phelps used a swim spa to train for the London Olympics.

For a list of recommended swim spa manufacturers, visit our Swim Spas Buyers' Guide.

Photo courtesy of Diamond Spas; Photography by Cameron Neilson

How Michael Phelps Trained for the London Olympics

Swim Spas Played a Role in Phelps' Olympic Training







Master Spas MP Signature Model After winning six more medals (four gold and two silver) in the 2012 London Olympics, Michael Phelps has a total of 22 medals (18 gold, two silver, and two bronze), making him the most decorated Olympian of all time!

The historic moment occurred on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 when he won his 19th medal, surpassing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina for the title of most decorated. Phelps won the gold medal--along with teammates Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer, and Ricky Berens--in the men's 4x200m freestyle relay less than an hour after placing second and winning silver in the 200m butterfly. No doubt this event will be remembered as one of the most celebrated moments of the 2012 London Olympics.

Phelps may be enjoying retirement now, at the age of 27, but how did he train for his final Olympic Games? Part of his training involved swimming against a current in a swim-in-place pool, also known as a swim spa.

Back in October, Master Spas’ CEO Bob Lauter, along with a group of Master Spas dealers, visited the Meadowbrook Aquatics Center in Baltimore, Md. There, they had a chance to observe Phelps training in the swim spa and understand its many benefits.

“[The underwater camera] is great for teaching because all the important stuff happens underwater—not on top,” said Bowman in footage from the event posted on Master Spas’ YouTube channel. “You can stay in one spot and see how the swimmer’s body reacts to different speeds without having to move around.”

Phelps also finds the underwater camera to be a major advantage: “I can look at stroke technique, how I’m catching the water, if my hips are late or if they’re early. I’m a visual learner so if I’m able to see what I’m doing wrong, I’m able to pick up on it and move on and make those small little corrections.” Both Phelps and Bowman can watch the recording at a slower speed to focus on Phelps’ movements and see how everything is connected. 

The adjustable current is another key component for training. “We’ll start out at a relatively slow speed so [the
swimmers] can have very good technique and don’t have to be stressed by the effort that they’re going to have to put in to keep up with the spa,” said Bowman. “And then I’ll gradually increase the speed as they go so they get more of a training effect.”

The Signature model used by Phelps features a wide range of speeds to accommodate swimmers at any fitness level; plus, users can do much more than swim laps in the swim spa. “You can do drills, kicking, pulling, and anything else we’d do in the regular pool right in the swim spa,” Bowman explained.

Michael Phelps Olympics training Swim Spa Master SpasYou Can Swim in a Michael Phelps Swim Spa Too!

One of Phelps’ major goals—aside from racking up medals—has been to promote the sport of swimming. Since access to a community pool might be limited or nonexistent for some people, Phelps believes a swim spa is an ideal solution. Not only does it provide the owner and his family with personal access to swimmable water, it also allows users to improve their abilities and adjust the speed as they work up to higher levels.

“Michael wants to bring more people into the sport,” says Lauter. “This is why swim spas appeal to him. A number of public pools are closing, making it harder for people to have access to water. This is the perfect alternative to a pool.” 


The Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas by Master Spas feature five residential models, retailing for $29,995 to $44,500, based on size and features. The smallest model, the MP Impact, features three molded hot tub seats with a total of 51 jets. The largest model is the MP Momentum, which includes a five-person hot tub that is sectioned off from the swim area by a clear divider. The model with the largest swim area is the MP Signature model, which is used by Phelps at Meadowbrook.


In addition to developing a swim spa that can be used by competitive swimmers, it was important for the Signature Series to suit a wide range of fitness levels, including moderate exercisers and those who are just getting into swimming. 

For one Master Spas customer, Miles McDonough of Bedford, Mass., swimming is an important way to stay in shape, namely because it’s a low-impact activity. “I’m a big skier and snowboarder, but I have bad knees so I can’t run,” he says. McDonough loves the advantage of having his own private swim spa right outside his back door. “I used to go to a public pool, but my eyes would get irritated because I had to wear my contacts. By swimming in place against a current at home, I don’t need to wear my contacts or worry about running into people.” 

McDonough keeps his swim spa running all year and uses it almost every day. “I’ll get in, soak for a bit, stretch for 20 – 30 minutes, then begin my swim. I also use the resistance bands to work out my arms,” he says. On the weekends, McDonough relaxes by taking full advantage of the therapy seats. In the winter, he’ll set it to 92 degrees F; come summer, he’ll lower it to accommodate the warm weather.

Photos courtesy of Master Spas, Inc.


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