Extend the Outdoors with Heating Options & Enclosures
By D. L. Anscombe
There are several options available to keep your outdoors toasty year-round. They include solar systems, patio heaters, fireplaces, and pool enclosures.
- Solar systems use solar panels installed on the roof or on a special structure. Water runs through the panels heated by solar rays. Sensors detect the water temperature and signal valves to open so that water circulates through the panels. Solar generally costs more to install but less to operate. Because they are environmentally friendly, solar heating systems remain more popular in areas that receive abundant sunshine.
- Heat pumps efficiently transfer heat from the air to the pool water. This energy-efficient system works especially well when the air temperature is relatively warm, making heat pumps popular in the southern regions. Owners set a heat pump to maintain a certain water temperature. The pump comes on when the water drops below that point and it runs until the desired temperature is reached.
- Gas and oil heaters work independently and can raise the water temperature regardless of the weather. The units heat quickly and are well-suited for intermittent heating and for small bodies of water, such as spas and hot tubs. Costs can quickly add up. Gas units burn propane or natural gas; oil models use diesel fuel or heating oil. Some homeowners with solar systems install a gas heater to use when the weather is poor.
Patio Heaters, Chimineas & Fireplaces
Most infrared patio heaters can warm a 10-ft. to 20-ft. radius. Gas, from a propane tank, fuels the freestanding portable units. Permanently installed models depend on natural gas lines. On both types, a small umbrella reflects heat downward from the burner. Select from stainless steel, textured black, bronze, steel or teak exteriors. Wheels make portable heaters easy to move or to store in the summer.
Look for adjustable heat controls and an electronic starter. Tabletop models, using small LP cylinders, are also available.
Chimineas are freestanding front-loading fireplaces or ovens with a vertical smoke vent or chimney. They vary from gas-fueled units to wood-burning models.
Handcrafted Mexican-style chimineas originated as bread ovens but now offer patio-warming options. Most of the clay ovens come with an iron stand. The units have a round base and a chimney. Chimineas require specially-sized logs, rather than traditional firewood. Maintenance includes sealing the unit, covering it and storing it indoors in colder weather.
Firepits & Fireplaces
Firepits are becoming increasingly common. They sit low to the ground and are best used at homes without pets or small children. Traditional-style fireplaces offer the safety of a fireplace screen to keep small fingers and noses out of danger. Outdoor fireplaces, some with foot-warming hearths, differ from their indoor counterparts. Outdoor units come with a drainage system to direct rainwater away from the burn area. Freestanding patio fireplaces have brick, metal, stucco, stone, tile or faux-stone exteriors. Some models can be built into an outdoor kitchen.
Condar, a leading manufacturer in the hearth industry, Columbus, NC, offers a variety of hearth products, including its beautiful line of EmberGard patio fireplaces. Each EmberGard unit is enclosed by heavy steel mesh on all four sides, assuring safe outdoor use..
Pool enclosures cover the pool and deck area. Ceiling fans or ventilation systems help to keep the air fresh and the humidity down. Different manufacturers offer an array of options, from seasonal to permanent structures.
Aqua Shield's telescopic enclosures arc over the pool and slide on tracks to easily shelter or to uncover the pool. A patio door at the end of the enclosure provides access, egress and security. The polycarbonate glazing captures the sun's rays to warm the air inside, giving an effect similar to that of a greenhouse. The water stays warmer about 20 degrees than the outside air.
"You can use a telescopic enclosure year-round and decide if you want to swim inside or outside," says Bob Brooks, vice president of Aqua Shield, W. Babylon, NY. "When it's sunny and warm outside, keep it open. If it starts raining, slide it closed and swim inside."
Garden Prairie pool and spa enclosures from CCSI International, Inc., Garden Prairie, IL, are permanent structures serve as an additional room. The company offers manual or automatic systems to open the roof and to let in the sun. Side windows slide open. From the rigid frame to the polycarbonate roof, all materials are designed for the swimming environment and are impervious to the elements, humidity and chlorine vapors. The complete package is delivered to the job site and installed by a factory-trained crew. "And there is a high degree of safety," explains spokesperson Cynthia Caldwell. You can secure the entry and prevent anyone from straying into the area."
Domes offer a less expensive, less permanent enclosure alternative. Some air-filled, vinyl domes can be installed and removed seasonally.
Hot Tub Enclosures
Adding a gazebo or sunroom to encase a hot tub or spa not only protects from wind, rain or snow, it also enhances the appeal of your backyard.
From cabanas to gazebos to large, fully-enclosed rooms, Cal Spas, Pomona, CA offers seemingly endless combinations of sizes and features, including four roof styles and models that come with bay window styles, decking and plenty of space to walk around the hot tub area.
"Putting a gazebo around a spa gives you privacy and warmth," offers Shiva Noble, executive vice president of Cal Spas. "It becomes a room that is used to escape and to get away from it all. Many people decide to include patio furniture in there as well."