Lawrence Winterburn, president of GardenStructure.com, which builds decks in southern Ontario and sells plans for decks and other outdoor structures to do-it-yourselfers worldwide. He has more than 30 years of experience as a master carpenter.
Who doesn’t love sitting in front of a warm fire on a cold winter’s night? How about doing it under the stars? A few upgrades could transform your deck or patio into a warm, welcoming place to relax in the cold of winter. There are many options to consider, including some that are very affordable…
Enclose your Deck/Patio
Adding a roof and retractable see-through plastic or glass walls around your patio or deck will shield you from the worst of the winter weather while still allowing you to feel like you’re outdoors. The cost of having such an enclosure constructed will vary dramatically depending on deck/patio size, materials selected and building costs in your area, but it’s usually possible to have a basic structure and roof erected for $5,000 to $15,000. The roof of this structure will be permanent and should be strong enough to support snow in the winter, but the walls will be uninsulated plastic or glass—enough to block the wind but not to make this a true sunroom. With the addition of a heater, the space can stay warm enough for winter use.
Helpful: Opt for a roof made from clear polycarbonate panels, which are manufactured primarily for greenhouses. Not only will these clear panels add warmth to the space, they also allow light to reach the windows of the room behind the patio or deck—other deck roofs can make adjacent rooms feel dark and claustrophobic.
If you would prefer a more upscale look, the Finnish company Lumon makes glass-wall systems for balconies and terraces that can be folded out of the way when not needed. The windows create a solarium on your deck or patio to capture the warmth of the sun. Prices can reach well into five figures depending on the size of the space you’re enclosing.
Budget option: It won’t look as nice as the glass panels above, but for around $2,000 to $3,000 you can add clear plastic screens around the perimeter of a roofed or awninged deck or patio. It doesn’t insulate, but it does block wind and rain. Example: MosquitoCurtains.com custom-makes durable clear vinyl deck curtains. The plastic can be swapped for netting to keep out bugs in the summer.
In most areas it’s necessary to obtain building permits to enclose a deck or patio, just as if you were having an addition put on the home. If this permitting proves problematic, ask your local zoning department whether permits are required to build a freestanding covered gazebo in your yard. In many places, little or no permitting is needed for these, although you won’t be able to step directly from your home into a free-standing gazebo. A contractor typically can construct a 12-by-12-foot covered roof made from pressure-treated or red cedar for perhaps $8,000 to $15,000, though prices can climb depending on size and materials. Avoid the prefab gazebos sold at discounters such as Costco. These tend to feature wood such as Chinese cedar, which could rapidly discolor or decay in the elements.
Heat your Deck/Patio
Adding a heater to your deck can make it toasty even on cold evenings. Among the best options…
Radiant patio heaters deliver warmth almost instantly at the flip of a switch, even when the outdoor air is very cold or there’s a breeze. Radiant heaters use infrared technology that travels through the air (without heating it directly) and casts heat to floors and people.
Radiant-heater options include free-standing units that look a bit like floor lamps…and units that mount unobtrusively to ceilings or high on walls. The mounted units usually are the best choice because they don’t take up deck/patio space and are made for enclosed spaces, they don’t have to be dragged to a garage in the summer and there’s no risk that they’ll blow over and get damaged.
Some radiant heaters run on electricity…others on propane or natural gas. Electric units require no ventilation and don’t produce any odors.
Natural gas heaters tend to be slightly less expensive to operate than electric but typically require ventilation. Propane units generally are the most expensive to operate and also require ventilation, which could be through an open window or a duct pipe, but many of these use the same portable propane tanks used by gas grills so you can avoid paying the $500 or more it might cost to have electrical or natural gas lines installed.
Expect to pay perhaps $500 to $2,000 for one or two units sufficient to heat a typical outdoor seating area—roughly 300 to 400 square feet. There are radiant patio heaters on the market for as little as a few hundred dollars—but low-end units tend to fail quickly, heat poorly and even can be fire risks. Infratech and Sunglo are among the top brands.
Fire pit or fire table offers the warmth and visual appeal of sitting around a fire. Their warmth isn’t immediate, as with radiant heat, and they require ventilation—it isn’t safe to have a fire on a patio that’s enclosed by both ceilings and walls.
Fire pit options include movable metal fire pits and more permanent masonry fire pits that are constructed into patios.
Fire tables are outdoor tables that have a fire pit built into the table top, allowing a group to sit around the table for a meal while also sitting around a fire. Wood-burning, propane and natural gas fire pits and fire tables all are available.
As a rule of thumb, well-made fire pits and fire tables tend to be manufactured in the US or Canada and cost several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on style and materials. Companies that make high-quality fire pits and fire tables in North America include American Fyre Designs…Cooke Contemporary Furniture…Fire Pit Art…Impact Fire Tables…and Ohio Flame. You can find thin metal fire pits for less than $100, but don’t be surprised if these corrode through in a few years.
Outdoor fireplace can be a dramatic centerpiece of a winter patio. Unlike fire pits and fire tables, a wood- or natural gas–burning fireplace can be used even on a deck/patio that’s enclosed by a ceiling and walls, because the chimney lets the smoke escape. It typically costs at least $5,000 to have even a simple fireplace and chimney constructed—and yes, you can build a fireplace on a deck! An architecturally designed, artisan-built fireplace could cost as much as $35,000. Adding a well-designed fireplace insert can greatly improve heating performance. Example: Napoleon outdoor fireplace inserts are durable and effective at heating outdoor open spaces. Prices start at around $2,300.
Furnish your Deck/Patio for Winter Weather
If your patio furniture is going to spend the snowy months outside, it’s a good idea to choose furniture that’s made from cast aluminum, which won’t rust. If you prefer wood furniture, teak red cedar and redwood last well if the wood is properly sealed.
Also seek out furniture that has Sunbrella-brand outdoor upholstery on its cushions. Sunbrella makes extremely durable fabric that’s mold-, mildew- and weather-resistant—it barely fades even when left in direct sunlight for years. Examples: Cast-aluminum patio furniture with Sunbrella cushions include Elizabeth Outdoor Patio Armless 30-inch Swivel Bar Stools Cast Aluminum, set of four with Sunbrella cushions, $1,240…Macy’s Vintage II Outdoor Cast-Aluminum 11-Piece Dining Set with Sunbrella Cushions, $6,389…Ridge Falls Dark Brown Aluminum Outdoor Patio Deep Seating Set with Sunbrella Cushions, $1,169.