Designing and Winterizing Outdoor Spaces

Words: Christopher Rodermond

Words: Chris Rodermond
Photo: andreaskrappweis

Whether you are installing a new outdoor space or considering winterizing your patio to enjoy it more in the next few cold months ahead, there are multiple factors to consider when designing and planning, especially when living in colder areas.

MASONRY Magazine spoke with Mike Pallone of Wollaston Development and Joe Raboine of Belgard about what to consider when designing or upgrading an outdoor space for the winter season, including interesting material and substrate choices that can be installed in the winter, as the effects pandemic is driving people to want to improve their outdoor living options with greater urgency.

It’s always important to understand your client’s budget and desired style first. From there, contractors can determine the best paver style and other needed products to create a fully functional outdoor space that can be enjoyed, even in cold temperatures. Consider also the placement of features such as fire pits and fireplaces - if they are too far from the house, it’s unlikely they will be used in the winter. There also are many styles of electric and gas infrared heaters that can be placed throughout the space as additional heat sources. With these units, it’s feasible to use an outdoor space even in 30-degree temperatures, which radically extends the season.  

Mike first noted that as early as this spring he was putting together designs where the patios were generally larger. For example, prior to the 6-foot social distancing, we have all become familiar with, they previously considered the amount of square footage you would require for a table and chair set up. But when they started to realize that people were going to require more space, they started to do larger patios with compartmentalized spaces.

He added he has also seen an uptick in the installation of outdoor kitchens. For these projects, they usually run a gas line underneath the patio directly, which has the added benefit of not needing to go out for propane refill tanks. Once you start thinking about these projects as not just a grill station, but a full kitchen one realizes they can run water and power to have a sink and a refrigerator All stainless steel components can be inserted into the veneer. 

Outside the preparation of the site, which will vary depending on where the project is located geographically, there are several other elements that add comfort and style to an outdoor living space designed for a cooler climate. Pallone gave us his thoughts on those below.

Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are essential for keeping warm and supporting family entertainment, like roasting S’mores, or relaxing by the fire with a glass of wine. Lighting adds stylistic benefits as well as security and proves beneficial when daylight hours get shorter in the winter. 

He continues, a firepit area is key. Any heat source will extend the amount of time you can handle the winter chill. Also, people have been adding heat under the stones to melt snow, but it also keeps the space just a little bit warmer. So combined with a fire pit, any additional heat source will contribute to extending the life of the time when you can entertain for a few more hours. 

Pallone told us they have been adding more protection from the elements. Some people go with a retractable awning or anything that cuts down the wind when it is cold out. All these elements combine to create a really nice setup for you to entertain. Obviously, on a day where it's below 20 degrees, no one wants to spend too much time outside. But realistically, if it is in the high 30s or 40s, it definitely makes it a much more comfortable setup.

Another question to consider is what will the maintenance look like in regards to the materials selected.

Joe Raboine states traditional pavers require very little maintenance overall, but in northern climates, it does help maintain their appearance if they are sealed. The sealer will help prevent water and ice from degrading the surface over time. Some pavers come pre-sealed, which simplifies this even further. (TrueColor)

He also mentions one of the biggest considerations in preventing damage is using proper de-icing substances. Standard rock salt is not recommended, as continued use can damage the pavers over time, or they may accelerate surface wear on some paver styles. 

There are several different water and oil-based sealers available. They can be applied over the top of each other over time, but that will depend on the product. It’s critical to understand the manufacturer’s recommendations for surface prep, proper install temps, and resealing. (Techniseal)

When it comes down to the final decision, homeowners should select a product that includes a lifetime transferable limited warranty to ensure lasting beauty for their home. Fire pits and fireplaces also should be cleaned and covered when not in use during colder months. Those with gas or ceramic logs need to be covered to prevent snow and ice buildup, which can affect the fire brick, refractory panels, and ceramic. 

Similarly, if you have any kind of outdoor kitchen with plumbing, you have to make sure to winterize the water pipe,

With snow and water drainage, Pallone has seen an increase in the use of permeable pavers which let the water drain right through. Another benefit is the permeable paver patios or permeable bluestone patio, is that you can actually install them in the wintertime in the areas where the ground freezes, as long as you get your excavation done. This is a good creative adaptation because a lot of people have a new sense of urgency to do something now, even in the winter. 

Pallone continues that when installing except for patio based materials it is usually all-natural stone. And then you would either use stone dust or sand, pavers, slabs of granite slabs, these materials absorb and retain water so when it gets really cold it is not feasible to work with these materials. But if you're just using crushed stone, the aggregate for the water drains are permeable. Then you put the heat grid underneath the patio. During a snowstorm, you hit a switch and turn on the grid. The snow will never build up. So you don't really have to worry about shoveling after the snowstorm, the sun comes out and at about 40 degrees, you don't have to get out there and scrape off the patio or spread ice meltdown or anything like that.

Every house is different, every family's different requirements, this is going to vary with everyone. So we tried to model our installed packages based on projects we have completed that have worked well.

Also, Pallone notes, when building a patio in the winter, remember, from a labor perspective the crew is going to be able to work fewer hours when the sun sets earlier. But it is all about good planning. There is a permitting process that does take up a little bit more time. You also have extensions for running gas lines and water lines. So you can at the mercy of the building department. To do it properly you plan in advance. As long as you run the plans by the inspectors, you can keep it all moving pretty quickly.

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