A cold Negroni on the porch sounds awfully enticing — until you open the door and are assaulted by a blast of muggy, oppressive air. High heat and humidity will make even the most nature-loving homeowner want to stay indoors, crank up the air conditioning and not emerge until the leaves change color.
But what’s the point of having a patio if you can’t enjoy it during the summer? To help make even the most miserable August days a bit more bearable, we talked to some experts who shared their favorite tips, tricks and gadgets.
The first tip is the most obvious: Make it shadier. According to Anthony Wilder, principal of Anthony Wilder Design/Build, the easiest and cheapest way to block the sun is to hang a shade sail or canopy. “It’s a simple piece of canvas that you attach to your home and to a pole out in the grass. And they’re affordable. You can pick one up at Ikea for a pittance,” he says referring to the Dyning Canopy ($25).
If you’re looking for a more high-tech solution, lifestyle expert and HGTV contributor Carley Knobloch suggests the ShadeCraft Blossom umbrella ($7,500), a luxury parasol that contains solar-powered lighting, speakers and a charging station. You can raise and lower it with your smartphone, and it even closes automatically if it senses high wind. The company also makes another smart parasol, the Sunflower, that constantly alters its position to block the sun’s rays, so you never have to get up from your lounge chair to readjust the angle. The futuristic umbrella has an even steeper price tag: $10,000.
“It knows where you live and it automatically follows the sun throughout the day, just like a real sunflower,” she says.
Come fall, the brand will introduce the Bloom ($459), a device that can attach to your existing umbrella, turning it into a smart parasol equipped with charging station, speakers and wind sensors.
Smart screens are another tech-savvy way to keep out the sun, but you’ll need an existing structure, such as a porch or a veranda, to install them. Knobloch used them on an HGTV Smart Home and became such a believer that she put them in her own home. Made by Phantom Screens, the motorized retractable screens (starting at $3,300, including installation, for a 16-foot-by-10-foot opening) offer both UV and bug protection and can be raised or lowered by remote control, so you have the option of either an open-air space or a screened room.
For an overhead shade solution that feels more organic, Wilder suggests building a simple arbor structure. “Wisteria, which can reach 30 feet after it’s established, provides great coverage,” he says. “Unlike a structure with a roof, there are no leaves in the winter, so you get sunlight and warmth streaming through when you need it; it’s a win-win.”
Making the air feel more comfortable is an ongoing challenge when humidity is a factor. Outdoor fans can help. Knobloch likes Big Ass Fans’ Haiku outdoor ceiling fan (from $1,494). “They have smart technology, they’re attractive and they come in custom finishes that don’t feel overly industrial,” she says. “You set it so it kicks in at a certain temperature, and it does a cool, whooshing motion that emulates a natural breeze.”
For homeowners or renters with patios or decks, pedestal fans can be a godsend. Knobloch recommends GreenTech Environmental’s Multi-Directional Variable Speed Oscillating Fan ($99).
One more tip: If you’re tempted to turn on the fan before you head outside, don’t bother. Because fans don’t actually cool the air — instead they move air over your skin, which makes you feel cooler — it’s a waste to run them when you’re not there. Along with increasing your comfort level, fans offer an added perk: Their blowing air also makes it harder for mosquitoes to land on their prey.
Wilder also offers two low-cost, old-school tricks to keep cool that require little more than water and air. “Hang outdoor draperies on a porch and wet them down with a mist of water, then turn on a fan,” he says. “The air will automatically feel about 15 degrees cooler, which can make a significant difference on a hot day.”
DIY enthusiasts can take this heat-beating method a step further by creating a cooling system with products that can be found in the hardware store, including screw-in eye hooks and a drip or soaker hose. Wilder suggests screwing the hooks along the inside perimeter of a porch several inches above outdoor draperies. “Thread the drip hose, which has a ton of microneedle holes, through the rings of the hooks,” he says. “Let it gently drip water onto the canvas while a fan is running on the porch. It’s like a DIY air conditioner.”
Another way to ensure outdoor comfort is to guard against hot surfaces. Chances are you’ve walked barefoot across a deck or patio and regretted it. Painting the deck a light color can be helpful, because lighter colors reflect the sun’s rays and darker hues hold the heat. But there’s one caveat: If that paint is oil-based, you may wind up with a hotter surface, even if it’s white.
“When oil-based paint is in the sun, it gets really hot, hotter than slate, because of its oil content. It’s best to avoid it,” Wilder says. For the same reason, teak, a popular material for outdoor furnishings and decking, shouldn’t sit in direct sunlight, because the wood also has a high oil content.
The easiest fix for hot deck or patio flooring? Throw down a light-colored outdoor rug.