Electronic Enhancements for Outdoor Spaces
A swimming pool for your backyard is always fun, but being able to listen to music and have the lights glow while you’re swimming makes the experience that much more enjoyable.
Audio, video, lighting and more can enhance your home’s exterior almost as much as its interior.
As much as your spectacular home theater might make you want to stay inside all day watching movie trilogy marathons or baseball from noon until midnight, it’s okay to venture outdoors once in awhile. If you install some entertainment components in your backyard, by the swimming pool, or on your patio, you’ll be spending more time out there, doing a lot more than just cutting the grass. You know that great multiroom audio system that allows you to pull a song from any source to any room inside your house? Your professional electronics installer can route it outdoors, too. It’s one of a variety of ways to spruce up the space for everyone’s enjoyment.
Because a distributed audio system involves delivering music (or audio from the television) to separate zones in your house—theater, kitchen, master bedroom, master bathroom, children’s rooms, family room and more—adding your yard or patio would be like assigning any other room or zone to the setup. If the kids want to listen to Justin Timberlake while they’re playing in the pool, but you and the other parents would rather have some Zeppelin as you grill burgers, you could separate your outdoor space into multiple zones.
Where’s the music coming from? Your electronics don’t have to go outside with you, fortunately. Trenched wiring can guide the signal from the multiroom audio system housed in the basement equipment closet to your outdoor loudspeakers and volume or source controls. The same AM/FM or satellite radio tuner, CD player or digitally stored content you blast in the family room can be accessed in an outdoor zone through a handheld touchpanel or maybe a waterproof remote control.
With such a wide range of music available, you’ll want good speakers so the tunes don’t sound distant or muffled as they did when you used to just put the boombox on the patio. Outdoor speakers come in many fashions, including some with chameleon-like camouflaging prowess. Weather-hardy rock speakers are available in several shapes and colors to blend in with your landscaping, and planter models can give a lift to your daily gardening. Other low-profile speakers can easily hide in the shrubbery, and some subwoofers can even be installed underground to really shake up the yard. Find out if the speakers that interest you are waterproof or weatherproof—resistant not only to precipitation, but to extreme temperature ranges, dust and more. If you’d rather keep the speaker covered, many models can be mounted under the eaves and other protected areas of your home’s exterior. These can usually be painted or finished to match the scheme of your residence, cabana or outdoor living room. Additionally, rather than cranking up one or two speakers, you can pepper them throughout your yard for smoother and more seamless audio that doesn’t strain from being overextended. Just make sure most of the speakers, and definitely those located on the perimeter, are pointed toward your home. That will help boost the overall sound and, hopefully, decrease the chances of a neighbor calling the cops to have your party shut down.
Video displays are becoming more common in outdoor installations, with more manufacturers producing all-weather televisions or screens. If it’s an outdoor bar or living room area that’s well protected from the elements and shaded from the sun, you can opt for one of the usual suspects and mount a plasma, LCD or even a boxy CRT television and slip a dust cover over it when it’s not being used. If solar glare or other weather conditions factor into your video placement, weatherproof LCDs will handle climate extremes and the images are not as susceptible to being washed out by the sun. There are even small wireless TVs that can be brought outside if you’re seeking a portable solution.
Projection-screen setups provide phenomenal video experiences in your controlled indoor theater environment, but what about outside? Some projectors are lightweight, portable and even incorporate a DVD player, making it easy for you to throw an image onto the side of the house during an outdoor party. In a more permanent outdoor living room with a sturdy covering, you can have a projector installed in a protective enclosure. Just beware: Projectors are certainly not weatherproof, so take great precautions if you want to go this route. Motorized drop-down screens, glass screens and inflatable screens can be used in a projection setup, but you’ll have to wait until sunset to start the movie, because light will drown out the image.
A professional installer can add an outdoor display into a video distribution solution, so you can flip through choices from the cable or satellite TV receivers and DVRs stored inside the house, as well as pull content from your media server or DVD player. If your outdoor living room or patio has ample protection and space for its own equipment cabinet, video components can also be stored locally, making it convenient for when your buddy stops at Blockbuster on his way to the house for poker night.
An outdoor installation might be fun for the audio and video aspects, but it’s an absolute playground for fans of whole-home control. If there’s something in your outdoor space that can be electronically controlled, it has the potential to be tied into your robust home automation system. A popular choice in this realm is lighting. Decorative landscape lighting, pathway and driveway lighting, cabana lighting and more can be configured and commanded through entryway keypads and wireless touchpanels. You won’t just be controlling the amount of light flooding your yard, either, but coordinating it with events. An installer can program certain lights to turn on and off at certain times, whether it’s daily or in conjunction with an astronomical clock. Tied into your security system, exterior lighting can be triggered by motion sensors to greet you as you arrive home from work or to deter potential burglars.
With programmable scenes on your control touchpanel, lighting can work in concert with audio for an evening party. Pressing a welcome scene button might play some classical or jazz music and light a pathway for guests to travel from the front door to the hors d’oeuvres and cocktails table by the pool. An entertain button might raise the volume of the music, select a rock n’ roll playlist, dim the pathway lights, and activate some color-changing LED lights as the party gets going.
The outdoor party doesn’t stop there, though. Your swimming pool and spa equipment might be automated, from cleaning filters, heating hot tubs, turning on underwater lights, and pulling back or putting on covers. Irrigation can be monitored and controlled, whether it’s an automatic sprinkler system or decorative water fountain. In the winter months, your driveway heating system might be conveniently triggered through your automation setup. Whatever the season or occasion, electronic enhancements can make your outdoor space a prime destination.
For more ideas, check out our Best Outdoor Spaces - Home of the Year Winners:
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