Using Outdoor Rooms in Cold Climates

You can keep up outside space in year-round climates.

By: Wayne A. Endicott

Outdoor rooms are in vogue in the southern part of the United States. But who wants an outdoor room in the sometimes frigid north? Apparently a lot of families do. And northern builders are finding ways to meet this craving, even with the threat of cold winter winds whistling outside.

"We're finding that more and more of our clients want to stay home for their recreation," says Ken DePratt, who with his wife, Lisa, operates KD Poolscapes, a specialty remodeling contractor in Franksville, Wis. "They are looking for convenience out the back door. We say we are dealing with a new frontier in remodeling, brought on by a desire to cocoon."

This new frontier involves the creation of outdoor living space that can be used year-round, even in the snowy climes of Franksville, which lies near Lake Michigan about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. "The important thing is to address the climate," DePratt says. "If you are going to build an outdoor room in this area, it requires a different design than it might in a southern city."

One example is a spa or hot tub and choosing its location. "You have to take the traffic pattern into account. You don't want to locate it so far from the house that you have to slog through snow to get to it," DePratt points out. "It's also a good idea to sink it into the ground rather than having it above ground, so you don't have to slip and slide up and down stairs to get into it." In spite of the climate, DePratt says, between 80 and 90 percent of his clients use their outdoor spas year around. Frequently, he combines a spa with a pool, which can be used during the warmer months when a cool dip is inviting.

Other amenities that he includes in his projects are fire pits, outdoor grills, decks (some as large as 1,400 to 1,600 square feet), special lighting with fiber optics, hardscaping and even outdoor fans to not only cool during the summer but also to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Surprisingly, screening and enclosures are not normally part of the package. "If you're going to do that, you have a different ballgame," DePratt says. "Now you need to meet building codes concerning such things as snow loads and footing depths." For the same reason, heating is rarely part of the package. Instead, he advises his clients to buy inexpensive gas or LP radiant heaters if they want to heat the outdoor spaces.

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