Are you spending more time outside, in your own backyard? Would you like to do so, but you’re not inspired by your current outdoor space? If so, you’re not alone. Spending more time outdoors may have become popular out of necessity during the COVID pandemic, but the appeal of being outside seems to be sticking around. For example, there are more restaurant patios popping up than ever before. It seems that once we got a taste for al fresco dining, we found that we really liked it. The same is true in our own backyards – many of us have discovered a whole new living space, outdoors.

In the past, many folks assumed that Canadians wouldn’t embrace outdoor living, because of our long winters and short summers. However, it may be exactly because of our shortage of warm weather that we choose to embrace it while we can. Plus, there are products to help keep us warm on cool days, or cool on hot days. There’s also the appeal of having a vacation paradise, right in your own backyard. A stay-cation on the patio is more affordable than a tropical vacation, and it doesn’t end when your flight lands.

Below, we’re sharing some ideas to improve your outdoor living space, so that you can get more out of it and make the most of your down time.

Outdoor Electric Fireplaces add ambience to outdoor living spaces, with or without heat.

Electric Outdoor fireplaces

A fireplace is always a focal point and a gathering spot for friends and family. If you want to entice everyone to spend more time outdoors in a range of weather, a fireplace could be a good choice. With electric outdoor fireplaces, you have complete control over the heat output. If it’s cool outside, you can turn on the built-in heater and warm up. On the other hand, if it’s a muggy evening, but you want a little ambience, the flames on an electric fireplace can be turned on without running the heater. In our Canadian climate, with the weather becoming less predictable, having complete control over the heat output is a feature well worth considering. It’s not something that you can get with a wood-burning or gas fireplace.

Another great advantage of an electric fireplace is safety. The front glass will not get burning-hot, like it will on a gas fireplace. If there are going to be kids in your outdoor space, you will want to make it as safe as possible.

When looking for an outdoor electric fireplace, be sure to check the rating. Not all electric fireplaces may be installed outdoors; in fact, most cannot. A fireplace that’s rated for outdoor use has been tested outdoors, and can withstand temperature changes, moisture and dust. There are always stipulations for an outdoor installation, in the owner’s manual. For example, you will be required to have an overhang of specified dimensions, to prevent water from directly hitting the electric fireplace from above. We’re getting more frequent requests for outdoor electric fireplaces, and not everyone is sure when they need to consider an outdoor fireplace instead of an indoor unit. We suggest that if the living space in question is not climate-controlled year-round, or is open to the elements for any part of the year, you need to choose an outdoor fireplace.

Wood-burning fireplace accessories

If you have an outdoor wood-burning fireplace, consider adding or upgrading the fireplace doors and accessories. Did you know that these can corrode outdoors? It’s true! If you’ve just put regular steel doors on your outdoor fireplace, they won’t hold up to the elements as well as stainless steel. Fireplace doors and screens add safety to a wood-burning fireplace, by keeping sparks from landing on flammables in your backyard. Screens and doors can also be decorative, and add to the beauty of your fireplace. Even the grate should be stainless steel, as it takes the most abuse of all, and will be sitting there in all weather.

Fire tables and fire pits

People love sitting around a fire. Fire tables and firepits are generally easier to install than a fireplace, and have become extremely popular. Most fire tables run on propane or natural gas, while firepits could be wood-burning or propane. Fire tables combine the appeal of open flames with the practicality of a table top. They come in various heights, usually 18 to 24 inches, like a coffee table. There are square and linear models, and even a few that are round. The size of fire table you need will depend on the size of your sitting area. The shape of the fire table will depend on the seating layout. Ideally, if you want to use it to set down drinks, everyone will be able to reach it from their seats. Likewise, if you want to enjoy the warmth of the flames, everyone will need to be close enough to the fire table to benefit from the heat. You may want to map out your seating area before deciding on the size and shape of your fire table.

As with fireplaces, safety will be a concern if you have little kiddos using your backyard space. Many fire tables offer the option for a glass shield, to protect the flames from excess wind. Remember that this glass can also get hot, so there will need to be some care taken to keep little ones from getting burned.

You will also need to check local bylaws to confirm whether or not you can have open flames in your municipality. Especially in areas prone to forest fires, fire tables or fire pits may be banned, some or all of the time.

Outdoor kitchens

Outdoor cooking has gone beyond the BBQ. Once you create an inviting outdoor living space, you will want to have all the cooking amenities close at hand. Who wants to run in and out of the house to finish prepping a meal? Have you ever had burgers on the grill, while corn was bubbling away on the kitchen stove? It’s not very convenient, especially if your kitchen doesn’t open directly into your backyard. With an outdoor kitchen, you can recreate all of the convenience of your indoor kitchen, outdoors. There are modules that can accommodate the grill, a refrigerator, storage, a sink or waste bins. There are standard set-ups available, as well as fully-customizable outdoor kitchens. Outdoor kitchens will be made to withstand the conditions, with materials like aluminum that won’t corrode.

Natural outdoor stone

When it comes to finishing materials for your outdoor living space, natural stone is a great choice. Of course, it started life outdoors, so it will always look right. It can withstand the weather while adding texture and colour to your backyard or patio. If you prefer a DIY approach, look for stone veneer – natural stones that have been cut into pieces thin enough to adhere to the wall. Some of these may be on a mesh backing, if they are very heavy. Others may be set into standard size panels, which go up quickly. Some outdoor stone, in larger formats and individual pieces, will look best if they are installed by a professional mason. Don’t forget to work with outdoor mortars and adhesives.