Outdoor living spaces are more popular than ever. Just flip through the pages of any shelter magazine to see how homeowners are taking their living rooms al fresco. According to the 2014 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects, consumer demand remains strong for attractive residential landscapes that are both entertaining and relaxing. In the survey, more respondents (92 percent) wanted outdoor kitchens and entertainment spaces, second only to garden-variety landscaped backyards (94.2 percent). The popular interior design app Houzz also published a study last year that surveyed 4,500 users that showed 56 percent of respondents are planning to improve their yards for entertaining. Entertainment in outdoor spaces reigns supreme, and what better way to accomplish that goal by infusing the magic of audio, video, and automation into the outdoor mix? This guide will get you on the road to a more enjoyable outdoor space you can relish with family and friends for years to come.
Create an Outdoor Music Mecca
Outdoor audio can make or break any backyard BBQ. Without tunes to liven things up, it’s not really a party at all. Getting audio outside is easy with a little planning and a good home systems integrator. “The biggest problem we run into with sound outside is that once it is done, it’s hard to go back in and change it,” says Jeff Jenkins, owner of FX Pros, of Little Rock, Ark. “If you want speakers around the pool, for example, you need to get it done before the concrete is poured or we can’t get wire anywhere. Pick out spots where you want audio and video now and 10 years from now. We will run conduit in the ground and cap off a box that can be covered up with mulch.”
Landscape speakers—compact speakers designed with flexible mounting options—are increasingly popular because you can place them in trees, bushes, or virtually anywhere. You can also daisy chain them so if you want to add more speakers later, you won’t face the nightmare of running more cable. “Essentially, you can expand your system without making a huge mess,” say Jenkins, who uses an RTI AD-4 or AD-8 distribution system to send music from sources in an indoor equipment rack to outdoor speakers.
Filling an outdoor space with sound can be difficult, so pay attention to acoustical details, as well. “We look at the specific area and materials—such as hard surfaces, water, and foliage—then gauge by experience how much wattage and what type of speaker we need,” says Brian Kraft, owner of Lighthouse Technologies, of Montgomery, Texas. “That’s why we look at the entire space for all of its uses.”
Here are some pointers for installing outdoor sound:
- Involve your home systems integrator from the beginning and wire for more speakers than you need.
- Determine how many different audio zones you want. For example, if you want to hear different music in the pool, on the patio, and in the garden, that’s a three-zone outdoor system.
- In-ground subwoofers produce great bass in an outdoor space, but you need to allocate the proper space. They need up to four feet deep by two feet wide by three feet long.
- Work with a home systems integrator to determine how many speakers and subwoofers will sufficiently fill your outdoor space with sound.
- Invest in a good, reliable control system that lets you choose audio sources and zones with ease.
Watch TV Under the Stars
Backyard entertainment has gone far beyond audio to include video systems that can transform your yard into an outdoor home theater. To get great video outdoors, you’ll need an outdoor-rated TV that can stand up to weather, keep out insects, endure extreme temperatures, and compete with harsh ambient sunlight. Jenkins recommends running Category 6 wiring to several different locations so that you can put video in one or more spot should you decide to add multiple screens in the future. “Wire is relatively inexpensive, so there is no reason not to drop wire for everything and grow into the solution over time if it all doesn’t work in the budget from day one,” adds Kraft. A home systems integrator can help you determine the best locations for video displays, determining the proper height, placement, and mounting options.
- Choose an outdoor display at the largest size so that it can be seen from various areas of the yard.
- Tie your TV into your outdoor speakers so you can listen to the TV feed in different audio zones.
- Make sure your TV comes with (or buy) a mount that includes a lock and key mechanism. “The only way to get a TV off a mount with a lock on it is to tear the wall down,” says Jenkins.
Protect Your Investment
You don’t want someone making off with your A/V gear, so security for an outdoor area is important. After all, Jenkins recommends IP surveillance cameras that blanket the area, which he normally ties into an RTI control system. “You can even install motion sensors so that, if someone tries to move the TV, the RTI system will notify you,” he says.
- Use IP cameras to keep an eye on your systems from anywhere, on any smartphone or tablet.
- Enable video feeds from security cameras to be displayed on your outdoor TVs and touch panel remote controls.
Light It Right
Lighting and lighting control are extremely important for any backyard space because they set the mood and add to your home’s safety. “A house that looks lived in doesn’t look nearly as appealing to a burglar as one that is completely dark,” says Kraft. Sometimes, a landscape architect will handle the outdoor lighting, but a home systems integrator will make considerations to integrate the lighting—both indoors and out—into the control system. “From there, it’s easy to set the mood for various activities, like watching TV outside, a late night dip in the pool, or a soak in the hot tub.”
- Integrate outdoor lighting into your automation system for the ultimate control.
- Create outdoor scenes that dial in LED, landscape, and flood lighting to come on at preset times.
- If you want to add specialty lighting to your pool (such as color-changing LED), make sure it happens before the water is added.
Control It with Ease
“The top consideration for outdoor A/V is how the equipment is controlled,” says Kraft. “We see so many outdoor installations that look great but are a pain to figure out. These considerations include selecting the control system itself, but also the communications protocol (infrared, radio frequency, or Wi-Fi), and type of device.” More than likely, your home systems integrator will choose a combination of remotes, touch panels, and smartphones/tablets.
By tying it all together with one overarching control system, you can get a lot more granular with how the subsystems work together. For example, Jenkins often recommends adding to a home control system a Niles Audio paging system and an outdoor surveillance camera so that when someone rings the doorbell, people relaxing outside can hear the chime play over the outdoor speakers and see a view captured by the camera automatically on the screen of the outdoor TV. Then, with a tap of a button on a remote, touch panel, or smartphone, the gate and/or front door can be unlocked remotely to grant visitors access to the house. Lastly, tying your yard’s irrigation system, fountains, and other water features to the control system is extremely convenient. “We have projects where several water fountains are controlled by automation systems and of course we can control any of the water features that a designer incorporates into the pool,” says Kraft.
- Invest in a rugged, waterproof case for your tablet.
- Make sure your home systems integrator adds outdoor wireless access points for strong, reliable Wi-Fi coverage throughout the yard.
- Tie in audio, video, security, water features, and lighting for optimal outdoor enjoyment.
- Have your home systems integrator create outdoor scenes—like Party, Family Dinner, or Away—that set lights, security, music, water features, and video to predetermined levels for one-touch preparation of your outdoor entertainment space. EH
Krissy Rushing is an A/V publishing industry veteran whose experience spans more 15 years. From her early days as executive editor of Home Theater magazine, Ultimate AV, and Audio Video Interiors, to her more recent work as a freelance writer, Krissy specializes in making technology understandable to anyone.