Hit Refresh on Your Surfaces and Seating

From the patio to the roof, your outdoor spaces could always use a spruce-up. Learn how a few simple improvements can make a big impact on your home’s visual appeal.

More deck furniture is being designed for reclining and relaxing, such as this vinyl wicker model by NorthCape. Cushion materials come in vibrant colors that won’t fade.

It’s easy to invest time and money in our interior spaces – they’re places we see every day. But what about our outdoor spaces? After all, they provide an important first impression for our visitors and neighbors. We work hard to achieve curb appeal, so we manicure the lawn, brighten up planting beds and accentuate driveways, walkways and patios. Those are a good start, but there’s more to an appealing landscape than first meets the eye.

Lounging Around

Perhaps the easiest way to spruce up an outdoor space is with a new set of patio furniture. Many styles today are trending toward relaxing lounge spaces.

“The chairs we’re sitting in right now are away from the table, and we can sit more relaxed,” says Steve Olson, manager of Viking Ski & Patio in Barrington, as he demonstrates a floor model. “We’re seeing a lot more lounge chairs that extend living space outside.”

Manufacturers like Tropitone are combining both spaces – lounging and dining – with fire pits that double as a table. Usually found at bar height or in coffee table sizes, these pieces have ample space for dining and a cover in the middle that, when removed, reveals a propane or gas-burning unit.

“There are no sparks with these,” says Olson. “If you have a nice chair near a wood-burner and you get sparks, that’s not a good result.”

Wood furniture, especially teak, is still a popular choice, and manufacturers are building in clever tools to maximize the patio space. One model by Gloster has fold-in leaves that enable a circular table to become a longer oval.

Glass tables are noticeably absent from the showroom, replaced by durable tabletops. The cast aluminum top or the resin faux stone top, both manufactured by Homecrest in Minnesota, are less likely to blow away in hazardous conditions.

“Anything that’s cast aluminum, same as iron sets, can last 15 to 20 years,” says Todd Siegmeier, salesperson at Viking Ski & Patio. “They’re very low-maintenance, too – a little touch-up paint is all they’ll need.”

Durability is driving the success of recycled materials such as Polywood. The company’s sturdy Adirondack chairs are made from recycled milk jugs and come in a rainbow of colors.

“It’s very low-maintenance,” says Siegmeier. “You don’t have to cover them for the winter, and you can just clean them up with a sponge and a hose.”

New materials have also revolutionized wicker furniture, which is now woven with vinyl strands and comes in a variety of thicknesses and weaves, from the classic look to the more contemporary broad band.

Olson recommends the Lloyd-Flanders line, a nearly century-old manufacturer known for quality, long-lasting wicker. Its wide styles also appeal to both younger and older homeowners.

“This chair comes in 22 colors,” says Olson. “And you can also choose from about 500 types of fabric.”

Gone are the days of wet seat cushions. Many manufacturers coat fabrics in waterproofing and dye them all the way through, so that colors won’t come out. The backings of sling chairs are now water-repellant and replaceable when the styles change or the seats get dirty.

Umbrellas, too, are easy to clean. Siegmeier points to a model made by Treasure Garden.

“You can pop the canopy off and put it in your wash machine, run it on a cool, delicate cycle, and put it back on the frame to dry,” he says.

Before you spring for the latest innovations, be mindful of your patio’s limitations and your family’s needs.

“Know what you’re looking for,” says Olson. “Do you want a relaxing area or a dining area? We can talk materials after we’ve narrowed down your needs. A lot of people have big enough patios that they can do a lounging set on one side and a dining set on the other.”

Clean Everything

Mother Nature is tough on our homes. The sun burns and fades our surfaces, and dirt and bugs accumulate in the nooks. But Gary Rogers, general manager of House Shampoo Inc., in McHenry, first looks at the roof.

“If you look at a shingle roof that has black streaks, that’s not dirt – it’s actually growing algae colonies,” he says. “They are a host to a far greater threat: lichen and moss infestation, and they have the potential to destroy your roof. Some growths actually feed on your roofing material, while others can cover and destroy. Growths can cut your roof life by up to 50 percent.”

More damaging than the staining algae is lichen, an organism whose deeply rooted tentacles embed themselves into the roof.

“When the protective roofing granules are prematurely dislodged, the roof’s ability to fend off UV rays and weather is seriously depleted,” says Rogers, who’s spent more than 40 years working on home exteriors.

The problem isn’t limited to asphalt shingles. Cedar roofs easily accumulate moss. “It acts as a blanket, trapping moisture that doesn’t allow the cedar to fully dry out, and that results in premature rot,” says Rogers.

Damaging growths are most likely to occur on roofs with northern or eastern exposures – areas that receive less sunlight and more moisture. Rogers finds the condition is most noticeable on roofs that are more than eight years old, but it could happen to a roof of any age. In fact, House Shampoo got its start when Rogers helped to remove heavy black streaks from the business owner’s 10-year-old roof.

“In another four or five years, that roof would have been destroyed because of the algae and heavy lichen infestation,” he says.

House Shampoo’s crews can remove grime and growths with a special soft-wash cleaning process, where custom cleaning solutions are applied with no more pressure than the mist from a garden hose. These solutions can clean almost any surface: waterfalls, limestone, brick patios, driveways and even an English manor-styled home, which Rogers recently did.

“It had imported tile roofing from England, massive mica stone walls, and limestone details on the walls, gardens and fences,” says Rogers. “It was a full restoration project with phenomenal results.”

The process is usually finished in a day, and many customers request additional cleaning after seeing the results.

“Almost daily, we get a homeowner who comes out and says, ‘I had no idea my house was that dirty,’” says Rogers. “People just stand with their mouths open, like, ‘Wow, you’ve got to be kidding me.’ It’s a stunning difference, and it makes such an impact.”

Do-it-yourselfers beware: out-of-the-box products may only remove growth for a few months, says Rogers. House Shampoo’s solution keeps growths at bay for several years.

“What you’ll spend for us to clean the roof and stop the growth is nowhere near the cost of having to replace your entire roof,” says Rogers.