Ramseys: Time to give thought to that outdoor improvement

Barbara,Clair Ramsey

Summer seems far off this year with the late snowfall in April and snow flurries the beginning of May. Undaunted, many homeowners are turning their attention to summertime projects that make a home more enjoyable, while trying to stay within budget.

For an Alaskan, an outdoor entertaining area is the perfect centerpiece for summertime family gatherings. With a little planning, here is how you can easily maximize your summer experience.

Start by thinking of what you want to do in that ideal outdoor spot. Will you need a patio or deck? Will it be open or partially enclosed? If you are leaning toward a patio, consider using a flexible porous material (Gator Dust), instead of concrete grouting, as filler between the patio blocks. This material is easy to install and creates a stable sand joint that won't crack or shift.

If a deck makes more sense, the cost starts around $2,500 and goes up from there, depending on materials and site conditions. Instead of using real wood, consider the numerous prefinished composite materials. Composites are available in a variety of color and quality levels for reduced annual maintenance, durability and weather resistance. Composite decks just need to be swept and hosed down to clean, but do take care of removing food spills immediately to prevent staining and preserve the look.

Some ideas are easy to execute during initial construction, but more difficult to retrofit on an existing home. Depending on the deck's orientation and the house's structure, you may be able to extend usability by enclosing the deck with walls on the windy side. You also may be able to add a high roof overhead as shelter from snow and rain. If your budget allows, install skylights in the roof to allow natural light to filter onto your guests. Plus, since this area won't be heated, consider putting inexpensive windows in the sidewalls to visually bring in the outdoors.

Finally, to put the final touches on your outdoor project, consider these three ideas: the furnishings, a grill and a fire pit.

Any furnishings, including seating, should be weather resistant. Now is the time to look for the greatest selection of benches, chairs, and tables that can stay outside all season. Another must-consider option to extend summer on both ends is a patio heater. Heaters come in varying sizes to fit your needs and space -- from tabletop size to more than six feet tall.

The key ingredient to any outdoor party is a grill. Grills fall into one of four categories: smoker, charcoal, gas and propane. The horizontal barreled smoker is great for extended cooking at low temperatures (225 to 250 degrees). Most grill cookbooks recommend using charcoal for the best flavor and versatility. Charcoal grills are also the most affordable. The Cook's Illustrated May-June 2013 issue rated several charcoal grills. The Weber Performer got the top rating and is our personal favorite.

If you want to use gas, because of its convenience and ease, remember that propane burns hotter than natural gas. Regardless of what you choose, place it in a downwind location so smoke isn't pulled across your guests.

Lastly, if your subdivision covenants allow and you comply with municipal regulations, complement your outdoor area with a fire pit as a place to lounge or roast tasty s'mores. These commonsense Municipality of Anchorage regulations give you the measurements to create a safe fire pit (and avoid hefty $500 fines). Call 267-4902 for a free Firewise Home Inspection. You'll get fire safety suggestions, and the municipality may even help by paying some of the cost of necessary tree removal around your home. More information is available by searching "Cooking Fires" at www.muni.org.

Maintaining our homes is an ongoing process. To increase our home's value, we typically change its appearance. However, in this case, there are added benefits to these projects -- we get to enjoy the results!

Clair and Barbara Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. Their column appears every month in the Daily News. Their email address is info@ramseyteam.com.

Barbara and Clair Ramsey