Creating cozy outdoor rooms for winter

Alabama Living Magazine
Summer evening on the patio of beautiful suburban house with garden

Outdoor spaces have become essential gathering places for many of us over the last 20 months, and thankfully we don’t have to abandon them this fall and winter. We just have to create a room (or two) for them.  

Like many folks, my husband and I discovered the joys of small outdoor get-togethers during the pandemic summer of 2020 when an oscillating fan and cool drinks could make even the hottest, buggiest days and nights bearable. As temperatures began to plummet last fall, though, staying outside required more effort. At first, we simply bundled up against the cold, but it soon became clear that we needed more protection from the elements, which is when we created two “outdoor rooms” — one on our front porch and the other on our back patio. 

The outdoor room concept entails designating outdoor living spaces and designing them to meet particular needs — entertaining, exercising, meditating, etc. These rooms can be elaborate and expensive or simple and economical. We opted for functional and cost-effective and created them using small space heaters, wind screens and lap blankets, all of which allowed us a degree of refuge from the worst of winter’s elements.

Truth be told, our outdoor rooms weren’t always warm and cozy, but they made being together with friends and family possible. And, despite having vivid memories of chattering teeth, we and our stalwart loved ones look forward to doing it again this year. Here are a few ideas if you, too, want to create an outdoor room (or two) of your own.  

Location: Pick a room site that’s close enough to the house for easy access to the kitchen and bathrooms; access to an outdoor faucet and an electrical source is also helpful. If possible, find a place that’s sheltered on at least one side by an outside wall or fence. (Just a hint: south-facing sites tend to be warmer.) Covered porches and patios and open carports are great locations, too, because they offer sufficient air flow but also cover from rain — or even sleet and snow. 

Heat source: The most important and potentially most expensive component of a cold-weather outdoor space is a reliable, safe source of heat. Options range from fire pits and chimineas to gas and electric heaters to custom-built outdoor fireplaces. Costs vary depending on the size and style of the heat source and the type of fuel it uses (wood, gas, electricity, etc.) so do some research before you buy and keep an eye out for sales. Check local codes and ordinances that may restrict outdoor fires and certain fuel types. Most important of all, though, is to use a safe heat source — no burns or noxious fumes allowed! 

Wind breaks: Wind, which can gutter flames and chill the warmest of outdoor rooms, is difficult to manage but you can mitigate its effects. Options include natural barriers of evergreen trees and shrubs (planted in pots or in the ground) and purchased or DIY permanent or portable screens made with weather-resistant wind/solar screen fabrics, vinyl, plexiglass, wood or other materials. As with heaters, pick something that fits your budget and is safe, but also keep in mind whether you’ll want these in place come warmer weather. 

Combined these three primary elements with sufficient lighting and comfortable, cozy furniture, rugs and lap blankets you can enjoy outside gatherings into the upcoming holidays and on through the winter. You may just find a new appreciation for the winter landscape and who your fair-weather friends really are.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

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