Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Patio Shading 101

With spring just around the corner, many home owners are preparing their back yard and patio areas for the warmer spring and summer months to come. If you want a patio space that is both functional and comfortable when the temperature rises, it is important to provide your patio space with some form of shading. If you are looking to add more coverage without committing to full-on construction, there are a number of economical, attractive and effective methods for adding shade to your patio space. The hard part is deciding which one will work best for your particular needs. Below is a quick list of pros and cons for each option to help you decide which shading option is right for you.

Patio Umbrellas


  • Easy to set up. All you need is a stand and a garden patio umbrella and you are set.

  • Portable. You can move the umbrella easily to wherever it is needed.

  • Affordable. Basic patio umbrellas start as low as $50 a piece – you will also need a stand. Expect to pay a bit more for patio umbrella and patio table combo and commercial-grade umbrella sets are considerably more.

  • Highly customizable. Patio Umbrellas are available is a wide variety of fabrics, from neutral pallets to bright patterns and colorful stripes. Likewise, they come in a number of different styles, such as standard, cantilever and offset, depending on what works best for your space.

  • Fun Accessories. You can enhance your space with umbrellas lights, and even outdoor patio heaters that attach to the umbrella’s pole.

  • Cons

  • Coverage. An umbrella will provide a limited amount of shade that may not be suitable for larger gatherings.

  • You get what you pay for. This is less of a con and more of just a rule of thumb when selecting patio products. While you can get a basic umbrella and stand for less than $100, very large, high quality umbrella systems will cost hundreds to thousands dollars. As with so many things in life, you get what you pay for.

  • Requires some maintenance. Umbrellas should be closed - or better yet - stored when problem weather is anticipated. It is important to invest in a patio umbrella cover to protect the fabric from fading and stains.

  • Shade Sails


  • Scalable Coverage. Shade sails come in a variety sizes and generally provide a much larger scale of shade than traditional umbrellas.

  • Affordable. Shade sails are a very cost effective alternative to building a porch cover, portico or pergola.

  • No Base. Shade sails are suspended so you do not have to make room for a bulky support base.

  • Highly customizable. Shade sails come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, and in triangle or rectangular shapes. There are even custom options for a truly perfect fit for your space.

  • Requires minimal maintenance. The best shades sails are incredibly rugged and withstand harsh weather. If you expect heavy snowfall or hurricane winds, they need to be taken down, but otherwise, they are able to withstand most of what Mother Nature can dish out.

  • Awesome quality. If you buy from a major brand like Coolaroo or Sunbrella, you can expect the shade sail to last for many years, even more than a decade in many cases!

  • Cons

  • Requires installation. Patio shade sails require bolting in order to hold cables in place. This can be done by a competent adult, but will require some education and tools. Thankfully, you can also speak to a shade sail expert at PatioProductsUSA for some easy installation tips and advice. It is easier to bolt these sails than one might initially think.

  • Portable. Once installed, shade sails are best left in place, but – if absolutely necessary - can be moved with some effort.

  • Freestanding Awnings


  • Easy to use. Freestanding awnings do not require bolting. Just set them up and adjust the awning’s angle. Totally hassle-free operation.

  • Scalable Coverage. These devices are similar to an offset umbrella, but a bit larger and longer. They come in a wide variety sizes including some that are up to 16 feet across! New modular freestanding awnings are particularly customizable.

  • Portable. You can move freestanding awnings to wherever you need them, making them versatile and convenient. (heavier units will require two or more adults to move.)

  • Requires minimal maintenance. A good quality awning will last for years (often backed by a multi-year warranty) and will only require storing during heavy snowfall or hurricane winds.

  • Awesome quality. If you buy from a major brand like FIM, you can expect the awning to last for 5+ years.

  • Cons

  • You get what you pay for. A good quality freestanding awning will cost several thousand dollars. It should be approached as a long-term investment.

  • Clunky base. Most freestanding awnings are supported by a long, heavy base, which can take up space, making these devices best for large patios, poolside or similar open spaces.

  • Sun Shade Cloth


  • Versatile. This lightweight material can be used as a patio privacy screen or roof, depending on the space’s requirements.

  • Effective. Good quality shade cloth will block 70+ percent of the sun's harmful rays as well as moisture. It allows cool breezes through and will lower temperatures

  • Scalable Coverage. The material can be cut to fit any space, large or small.

  • Awesome quality. Most quality outdoor fabrics from respected brands like Coolaroo will last for 10 years or more, often backed by a long-term warranty.

  • Affordable. One of the most cost-effective shading solutions on the market.

  • Cons

  • Installation. Shade cloth is very versatile and can be used in a myriad of applications, but you will ultimately have to determine how it will be used and install it. When you do install, be mindful of how you will clean the cloth. If you install it as a roof to a patio structure, will tree debris collect on the cloth? How will you clear that debris away? It is important to address these issues prior to installation.
  • Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    How to Protect Outdoor Furniture

    When you invest in quality patio furniture, it makes sense to protect that investment so that it can be enjoyed for many seasons. Dirt and residues can “set” on frames, wood may crack, metals corrode or become pitted, and fabrics can fade and lose vibrancy. It is important to keep patio furniture clean and protected in order to avoid these pitfalls.

    Keeping patio furniture clean is an important but occasionally overlooked aspect of protecting your pieces. When you keep furniture free of debris and protect it from the elements, you ensure that patio furniture will remain beautiful and functional for many years to come. Before you wash the frame, remove cushions and upholstery prior to wiping the frames down. (How you clean cushions and upholstery will depend on the fabric. Good quality outdoor furniture will come with explicit instructions – just be sure to allow cushions and fabric to completely dry before using and/or storing in order to prevent mildew.)

    Wash furniture approximately once a season. Most outdoor furniture frames are easily cleaned with a sponge and mild soap. In some cases, you can simply spray down pieces with your hose, but every so often it is important to give it a thorough wipe down, scrubbing on especially dirty areas. You can allow the furniture to either air dry or gently dry by hand if you are expecting to use the furniture later that day.

    If you own wood furniture, it is highly recommended that you regularly treat it with a sealant. Only apply sealant to dry, clean furniture, paying special attention to areas with crevices or cracks. Only apply sealant whilst in an open, ventilated area. There are a number of sealants available, including oil base, oil-modified urethane, water based urethane, and oil/wax-based varieties. Choose a sealant that delivers beauty and durability, but is also easy to apply. A sealant should repel water, shield furniture from sun and the elements (which will help prevent cracking), and keep furniture beautiful for a long period of time.

    If you own metal furniture, you should avoid oil-based treatments and opt for silicone lubricants for hinges and wheels. Use a water resistant metal primer on raw exposed metal (i.e. no finish.) Be sure to check all nuts, bolts and screws. Tighten lose ones and substitute any missing pieces with rustproof replacements. With metal pieces, your biggest foe will be rust. Treat rust prone areas with a paste wax. If it’s too late and rust has formed, rub that area briskly with a steel wool pad to strip off flaking bits and the rust coloration. You can soak the wool in paint thinner if the rust proves especially troublesome. Once smooth, wash the area down with mild soap and rinse. Once completely dry, apply paste wax to the area and buff. Car wax will work well.

    Wicker furniture is fairly weather resistant but it can be more vulnerable to the sun, which may make it brittle. In addition to cleaning wicker furniture with a mild soap once each season, make sure it is situated in a shaded area. Refinish wicker with lemon oil every few years to help keep fibers healthy. If you notice any mildew, treat the area with a light chlorine bleach mix (approximately ¾ cup bleach per one quart water.)

    Plastic and resin furniture is amazingly durable and requires less attention. Simply use an all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner or even dish soap to clean, then rinse thoroughly and dry.

    When you aren’t enjoying your patio furniture, cover them with a fitted, waterproof outdoor patio furniture cover. These covers come in every shape and size, from large patio umbrella covers to BB Grill Covers. Look for rugged fabrics that that are crack resistant, that feature interlocking seams for additional strength and durability. Look for convenient features like drawstrings and snaps that will help keep covers snug even in extreme wind. The covers should feature vents that are engineered to allow for evaporation, but do not allow water to slip in. Garden furniture covers should also be easy to fold up and store, because you will be taking them off and on frequently. Lastly, look for a warranty. Most high quality covers will be guaranteed for several years.

    If you anticipate a long snow season, it is best to store furniture for the winter in a basement, garage, shed or similar space. Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures and moisture can really take a toll on furniture, so avoid it if you can.

    Friday, December 30, 2011

    How to Select a Shade Sail

    A shade sail is a sheath of cloth used to shade large areas and is visually similar to the sail of a boat. A durable, slightly flexible fabric is stretched over the exposed area and held taunt by several anchors on nearby walls, buildings or poles. The result is shade from the sun, UV rays (99%!), bird droppings, and precipitation.

    A shade sail is an ideal addition to gathering spaces, such as large patios, decks, pool areas, and playgrounds. They are also frequently used on docks and boat slips to shield boats from harsh weather. Sun sails are also popular with commercial spaces. Not only do they make seated areas more comfortable for patrons, but they can also draw attention to a space and attract clientele.

    Shade sails are popular because they inexpensive (between $200 and $400!) and attractive, making them a great alternative to construction. If the exposed area is simply too large for a patio umbrella or awning, a shade sail is a very cost-effective alternative. These devices are fairly easy to set up and take down, and while they are typically used as a permanent fixture, a patio sail can also be implemented seasonally.

    Shade sails come in many shapes, sizes and colors, and can be layered to cover unusually shaped areas and create an interesting architectural affect. If you are considering buying a patio shade sail we recommend you use the following criteria for selecting the perfect sail for your particular needs.

    Size – Define the area you would like to be shaded and take appropriate measurements. Keep in mind the height at which the sail will be suspended, the direction of the sun and how sunshine will fall. (You should install a shade sail at a 20 degree angle to allow for water run off.) Is the space especially large? No problem. There are shade sails as large as 70 square feet!

    Shape – The vast majority of sun sails are available in triangle, square or rectangular shapes because corners allow the sheath to be pulled taunt. Decide which shape will best suit the area. If your space is unique and difficult to define, there are custom patio shade sails as well.

    Color – Shade sails come in a wide array of colors. Choose a color that complements the space. Bright colors are great for a vibrant space or playgrounds. White and beige evoke a modern, elegant aesthetic.

    Brand – There are number of well-respected patio sail brands, including Coolaroo and SunSetter. These brands are the sun sail experts with an adept understanding of the fabric and engineering that goes into manufacturing quality patio shade sails. Whichever brand you use, ensure it uses premium, seamless, water-resistant fabric with lock stitching (commercial grade being the best of the best). Make sure corners are reinforced and that the shade sail is backed with a long-term warranty. There are a number of knock-off sails out there, but within a year’s time, you will see why they were so inexpensive. The sail will become worn and collect dirt much faster than a premium quality sail.

    About the Author: Derrick Riley is a Managing Partner at Patio Products USA, a subsidiary of Neighbors Marketing specializing in outdoor patio products for home or commercial use. As one of North America's largest distributors of outdoor entertaining products, Patio Products USA delivers a wide selection of patio fire pits, patio heaters and patio furniture covers.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2011

    Creating the Ultimate Outdoor Kitchen

    In recent years, the outdoor kitchen trend has been on the rise. Outdoor kitchen appliances have never been so affordable and easy to install, and many families are taking advantage of these new, convenient options to create the ultimate outdoor kitchen space. These kitchens make social gatherings more vibrant and entertaining. Even better... they will likely increase the value of your home.

    If you are considering adding an outdoor kitchen to your home, here are a few tips to get you started on your project.

    It All Starts with the Grill

    At the center of any outdoor kitchen is the grill. Which type of grill you select will depend on your kitchen layout. If you plan on building a kitchen, complete with counters for food prep, look for a high quality built-in grill. These grills typically come in natural gas or liquid propane varieties and may feature accessories such as rotisseries and warming trays. If you want the look of a built-in, but aren't exactly looking to build, consider a prefab island like the American Outdoor Grill Stack Stone 60" Pre-Fab Grill Island which will create the look of a built-in grill - no construction necessary. If you would like your grill to be portable, there are a number of high quality barbecue islands on wheels. Whichever grill style you select, be sure to procure a properly sized BBQ grill cover to keep it in tip-top shape when not in use.

    Keep Things Cool

    A small outdoor refrigerator is a great addition to any outdoor kitchen. It will keep raw meat fresh, veggies crisp and drinks ice cold. Choose between a built in refrigerator or a refrigerator cart, which literally wheels around the yard like an airplane drink cart and can double as a bar. If your budget is super tight, you could even place a small, inexpensive refrigerator in a discrete place. If you are feeling artistic, paint the fridge a bright color... or simply cover it was a colorful tablecloth and it can double as a table when you aren’t grilling.

    Stocking the Bar

    A bar is a very fun addition to your outdoor kitchen space. Whether keeping sodas on hand for the kids, mixing margaritas for a sunny afternoon, or concocting adult beverages late night, the bar will keep the fun going. Many outdoor kitchens are also including wine racks and liquor cabinets, but if you are looking for something less formal, there are a number of attractive, portable bars available in a wide variety of designs, from traditional to funky.

    Patio Furniture Will Make or Break the Space

    There is no point in creating an outdoor dining space, if is uncomfortable to use. Your guests will need a comfortable place to lounge and trust me, cheap plastic seats just won’t cut it. Instead, invest in a quality outdoor dining table and chairs. Budget permitting, I recommend also splurging on a set of outdoor sofas or love seats complete with water resistant cushions. This will really make all the difference. After making that investment, be sure to select the right patio furniture covers to keep seats clean and protect the furniture from the elements. If you plan on using the space in the evening and at night, think about including an attractive outdoor fire pit. This will give the space warmth and charm, while also serving as a focal point for the gathering.

    About the Author: Derrick Riley is a Managing Partner at Patio Products USA, a subsidiary of Neighbors Marketing specializing in patio products and accessories for the home and commercial use. Patio Products USA is one North America’s largest distributors of products to improve outdoor entertaining, including a wide selection of patio furniture covers, patio fire pits and garden patio heaters.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Favorite Fire Pits for the Holiday Season

    Fire pits and chimineas are welcome additions to most outdoor spaces, infusing the area with style, charm and warmth. A fire pit can easily transform a backyard or patio from a dull, inhospitable space to the social center of your home. Since the fire pit will likely become the focal point of your patio, you will want to pick out a piece that fits your aesthetic and personality. Look for a piece of functional art that fits properly in the space allotted and stays within your budget. The good news is, you can obtain a beautiful, high quality piece for an amazingly low price. The following are five outdoor patio fire pits and chimineas that our team are particularly excited about this holiday season.

    1. Fleur de Lis Fire Pit

    The Fleur de Lis fire pit by Fire Pit Art is a favorite because it proudly showcases the French symbol that often signifies perfection, light, and life. This high quality, hand crafted fire pit is also one of the most unique fire pits on the market. Each one is individually signed by the designer, Rick Wittrig, and is made from thick carbon steel.

    2. Full Moon Party Fire Doom

    The Full Moon Party Fire Doom is another favorite because it is affordable, unique and durable. This top of the line patio fire pit was designed in the USA and created with the finest materials possible, including powder-coated steel. The design is so exquisite. If you are looking for a fire pit that will turn heads and keep visitors talking, this is unquestionably the choice for you.

    3. Azteca Gas Fire Pit

    If you prefer a gas powered fire pit for your patio, the Azteca fire pit is a great option. The Azteca fire pit has the same textured look as clay, but the FirEx composition makes it more durable. Another plus is that the flame can be adjusted from 20,000 to 32,000 btu depending on your needs.

    4. Grape Style Chiminea Outdoor Fireplace

    Chimineas are very similar to fire pits in the fact that they add physical and design warmth to your outdoor space, however chimineas often have a more rustic look. The Grape Style Chiminea is the most popular outdoor fireplace because it is affordable, well made and functional. We love the Grape Style Chiminea for its detailed grape leaf design and cast iron grill insert.

    5. Tidal Fire Pit

    If you are going for a more modern look in your backyard or patio, you will love the tidal fire pit. Each tidal fire pit is made from one quarter inch carbon steel, the heaviest gauge metal used in any fire pit. Similar to the Fleur de Lis Fire Pit, it is also hand crafted by Rick Wittrig for his Fire Pit Art brand. The 1-1/2 rain drain in the bottom of the tidal fire pit is another highly functional feature that we appreciate.

    Adding a fire pit to your outdoor space allows your family and friends to come together in a relaxed setting, making better use of your backyard or patio even in the chillier months of the year. Don’t be surprised if they keep coming back to enjoy the cozy and relaxed ambiance created by the warm glow of a new fire pit.

    About the Author: Derrick Riley is a Managing Partner at Patio Products USA, a subsidiary of Neighbors Marketing specializing in patio products and accessories for the home and commercial use. Patio Products USA is one North America’s largest distributors of products to improve outdoor entertaining, including a wide selection of outdoor patio furniture covers, patio fire pits, and garden patio heaters.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Top 10 Restaurant Outdoor Dining Trends

    As American culture continues to embrace the Foodie movement, more restaurants are choosing to elevate their atmosphere for a more multidimensional dining experience. The modern diner is looking for an enjoyable environment, and often prefers an outside dining option when the weather is nice. Whether it is a first date, a Friday happy hour or Sunday brunch with the family, dining outdoors is a desirable and fun experience. For this reason, restaurateurs are finding new and interesting ways to incorporate exterior dining options into their restaurant.

    The following are the top 10 trends for outdoor restaurant dining we have observed in North America. If you are looking to add or remodel an outdoor space at your restaurant, the key to success is finding the right atmosphere for your brand as well as your particular climate. In many cases, seasonality and climate will limit how often your clientele will be able to dine out of doors. No matter which type of dining area you establish, adding in a series of commercial-grade outdoor patio heaters is a worthwhile expense that will extend your patio dining areas usability into the chillier months and evenings.

    1. The Beer Garden

    Alongside the Gastro-Pub movement, we have observed a rise in the fun and fabulous beer garden. These dining / drinking gardens are typically an inexpensive, casual addition featuring picnic tables, large patio umbrellas, and garden accents such as hanging plants and cheerful flowerbeds. Add in fun international accents such as beer steins and foreign signage, and you are most certainly going to attract lucrative, repeat visitors especially during happy hour and the weekend.

    2. The Lounge

    A swanky outdoor lounge is the perfect complement to an up-market restaurant.  Create an atmosphere of urban sophistication with comfortable, luxurious furniture as well as en pointe aesthetics. If you are a design novice, it is worth hiring a professional designer as nothing destroys the lounge mystique faster than amateur design. These types of lounges are a perfect pairing with ultra sophisticated cuisine, small plates or tapas.

    3. The Sidewalk Café

    The sidewalk café mimics the common street dining found in France, Italy and Switzerland. The set up can be executed in two simple ways. The first is small café tables with plenty of garden patio umbrellas to provide shade. The second is pairing small café tables with a spacious awning. Red and red stripped awnings that feature the restaurant's name are a particularly charming and authentic.

    4. The Hipster’s Paradise

    If your target demographic is twenty-something’s, consider a slightly more urban-meets-antique aesthetic. Eclectic furniture pieces, a graffiti-art mural and wi-fi access will attract hipster clients in droves. Make sure tables have space for both food and laptops.

    5. The Sublime View

    Not so much a new trend, but certainly a powerful one. If your restaurant is located in beautiful locale – be it desert, mountain or waterfront scenery – consider creating a patio that allows for broad panoramic views. In some instances this will require an elevated dining area. This investment, however, will almost certainly pay for itself as gorgeous views are in high demand and word-of-mouth referrals are virtually guaranteed.

    6. The Intimate Courtyard

    There are currently two predominant versions of the courtyard experience – the English and the French provincial. The English approach is a bit more formal and manicured and will require more rigorous garden upkeep as well as more formal dishware. The French provincial approach is a bit more casual… think dressed-up wooden picnic tables and authentically rustic - even mismatched - tableware. It should feel as though you were having a relaxed lunch at a winery in the south of France. Whether English or French in nature, the courtyard experience is all about pairing exquisite gardens with refined, continental touches, for an charming and intimate dining experience.

    7. The Rooftop Party

    The rooftop party mimics the highly sought after NYC rooftop space. These dining areas tend to be relaxed and often transition into a more bar-type atmosphere as the night progresses. Add in colorful lanterns, sparkling lights, and modern urban accents. A rooftop dining area is a fabulous addition to laid back, casual restaurants. Safety can be an issue, so invest in proper railing and consult a lawyer about mitigating possible liabilities.

    8. Life on the Farm – Only Better

    Many restaurants are placing a greater emphasis on using organic, local produce... and some are even growing a portion of their own produce on site, including vegetables, fruit and even poultry. The farm patio experience seeks to extend the dining room into the garden area, so the diner is truly immersed into the locally-grown experience. Unfortunately, with nature also comes the elements and it’s not fun to dine where it’s muggy and buggy... so these restaurants must vigilantly police the area for critters and flies using non-toxic methods inline with their organic branding.

    9. The Convertible Patio

    There has been a conspicuous increase in convertible patios - indoor dining spaces that can transform into patios by removing walls or portions of the roof. Many restaurants have installed garage doors and electric awnings so that entire walls can open up on more beautiful days. This tends to be more appropriate for casual dining destinations, but – with the right architect / contractor and sliding glass walls - can also work for a more sophisticated experience.

    10. Southern Hospitality

    Southern cooking and comfort food are definitely on trend in the US right now… and many restaurants are extending the experience beyond the dish to the restaurant's atmosphere. Wrap around porches with southern charm are becoming very popular in the comfort food circle. Think flower boxes, pickle jars and large overhead fans that transport the restaurant-goers to a gentile Southern home.

    About the Author: Derrick Riley is a Managing Partner at Patio Products USA, an online commercial and residential patio products store. Patio Products USA is one North America’s largest distributors of patio furniture covers, patio fire pits on sale and garden patio heaters.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    The Eco Friendly Patio

    If you love nature and embrace a green lifestyle, chances are you also love spending time outdoors. The outdoor patio space is quickly becoming the primary "living room" for many green families. More and more of our clients are asking us how they can enhance their outdoor living space in a responsible, eco-friendly manner. Thanks to buying online, green living is easier and more affordable than ever. Here are a few easy tips for making your outdoor space a comfortable, eco-friendly retreat.

    Build with the right materials

    While concrete slabs are still, perhaps, the cheapest material for creating an outdoor patio space, concrete has a significant carbon footprint due to the manufacturing process. Some better options would be recycled or salvaged materials, bricks, hempcrete (a hemp based concrete alternative) or natural stone slabs. Poor drainage is the arch enemy of a healthy patio space. Be sure to space pavers or stone out so that water can drain, thus lengthening your patio material's life.

    Choose the right patio furniture and décor pieces

    Look for furniture made with natural materials that can withstand the elements – especially moisture. Teak, eucalyptus or recycled wine barrels are all popular and attractive choices. If you do choose wood furniture, be sure to purchase from patio furniture manufacturers that employ responsible forest management when harvesting timber. Other eco-friendly furniture options include recycled wicker and plastic furniture. Accent the space with recycled fabric pillows and an all-weather rug made from recycled plastic bottles – which are surprisingly beautiful and affordable. Gather the seating around a copper outdoor patio fire pit or rustic chiminea and stock your patio with high efficiency firelogs that burn clean, with fewer carbon emissions.

    Protect your investment

    The elements are not only hard on your patio, but they will also weather and age your patio furniture. Invest in quality patio furniture covers that will protect your furniture for the long-haul and keep them from the landfill. Look for garden furniture covers that fit snugly around the piece so that water does not seep through and puddle in crevices. There are specially crafted covers for all types of patio items, from BBQ covers to outdoor patio table and chair covers in a myriad of sizes.

    Select energy efficient accents

    If you want to use your outdoor patio space year round in an eco-friendly manner, it is important that you also invest in an eco-friendly patio heater or heating system. Solaira heaters are especially popular heaters that utilize cutting edge LED technologies to provide highly efficient heat. Solaria heaters utilize 92% of the available energy, making them a cost effective and eco-friendly alternative to propane and natural gas heating systems.

    About the Author: Derrick Riley is a Managing Partner at Patio Products USA, an online commercial and residential patio products store. Patio Products USA is one North America’s largest distributors of patio furniture and BBQ covers, patio fire pits and gas, electric and propane patio heaters.