With the weather warming up, there’s nothing like setting up your outdoor living space for a long season of al fresco dining and time spent with friends and family out in the sun. Unfortunately, if you’re not prepared for a hot summer, you could find yourself forced indoors without a way to keep guests cool outside. And that would be a shame: Running an a/c unit inside is fine when you need it, but it just doesn’t compare to sitting out on your patio under the stars whenever you like.
Cooling a patio or other outdoor space doesn’t have to be hard, though. There are several ways to make sure your loved ones stay comfortable all season long, even when you’re outside together. Try these patio cooling ideas to keep hot air at bay.
Patio Misting Systems
These are the Cadillac of patio cooling. An Aeromist or similar misting system hooks up to your water source and forces water through a high pressure misting nozzles all around your outdoor seating area. This type of system works best in dry climates, where the tiny droplets undergo flash evaporation almost instantly — most desert dwellers never feel wet when sitting beneath an outdoor misting system. Evaporative cooling occurs when the mist is absorbed into the atmosphere, and this process quickly and naturally lowers the temperature of any outdoor area. Installation requires professional plumbing and some permanent changes, so it can get a little pricey. For this reason, it’s only recommended for the Southwestern portion of the United States.
Patio Misting Fans
If you’re not quite ready to invest in a built-in outdoor cooling system, mist fans are a great option that make this technology more flexible and affordable. Outdoor misting fans are typically large floor fans that have several mist jets included so that the fan disperses water along with its airflow. The process is the same as a larger system: You get cool air even outside when the water in the area evaporates and lowers the ambient temperature. In addition to being less expensive, a good misting fan allows you to aim cooling where you want it and adjust the fan speed, and it’s easily connected to your garden hose as a water source instead of requiring permanent plumbing.
Though this cooling option works best in arid climates, it’s an affordable cooling option for East Coast residents to try. Here, summer heat often comes with high humidity levels, and on these days you can turn off the fine mist function and just rely on the fan to stay cool.
Pro Tip: If your patio furniture begins to feel damp, it’s too humid for your misting fan to be of much help. Switch to the fan-only mode until things dry out.
Portable Evaporative Coolers
Like misting fans, evaporative coolers — also known as swamp coolers — battle high temperatures with the power of evaporation. Rather than pressurizing water like a mist cooling system, an evaporative cooler allows water to dissipate passively to create more refreshing air. Water is absorbed into cooling pads with a very large surface area, which increases the amount of evaporation occurring all at once. Most portable evaporative coolers have a built-in fan to help distribute cool air as well.
Because evaporative coolers use only enough electricity to run to run the fan to get the job done, they’re a great choice for open spaces. They don’t function like traditional air conditioners that are always drawing electricity to force air across the condenser coils, so you can run it constantly for a fraction of the cost of Freon-based air conditioning systems.
If your outdoor events take place on a porch or other area with a roof sheltering your seating area, you can hit the nearest home improvement store to buy a ceiling fan. Unlike air conditioners and evaporative coolers and outdoor misting systems, the humble ceiling fan doesn’t actually lower the temperature in your outdoor entertaining space. Instead, it works to fool your body into feeling colder. This works due to the wind chill effect: The cool breeze from the fan brushes your skin and speeds up the evaporation of your natural perspiration. This, in turn, helps lower your body temperature.
Like all cooling that results from evaporation, a ceiling fan works best on dry days — but it also doesn’t add any humidity to your immediate patio area, making it a good choice for any climate. Ceiling fans are readily available at all home improvement stores, but you’ll need to have it permanently installed and make sure that you choose a model rated for exterior use if you go this route.
Managing the Shade
The biggest factor in how hot your next outdoor party feels is the sun. When the sun beats down on your brick or stone patio, the pavers absorb the heat and can radiate it back at you to create oven-like conditions on the hottest days — and they can keep giving off heat well into the evening. To avoid baking out there, try managing your shade so that your patio doesn’t have a chance to get so hot in the first place. There are many ways to do this, and hopefully one or two will work on your property:
- Go Under Cover. A covered patio will be much cooler than one that’s fully exposed. With the outdoor kitchen trend going strong, many families have converted their patios into outdoor “rooms” that come complete with permanent awnings or solid roofs. You could also consider a pergola that supports a climbing vine like wisteria or English ivy to create a shady retreat for hot-weather entertaining.
- Consider Temporary Options. If a permanent roof is out of the question, try something that will get similar results but can be packed away for the winter. A temporary garden gazebo with mosquito netting is a great choice, especially if it’s big enough to hold all your patio furniture for dining. You can also arrange several large umbrellas to cast shade where you need it most.
- Enlist Mother Nature’s Help. If your patio is relatively bare, try planting a cool, evergreen hedge along its southern or western sides to cast shadows in the afternoon. This is often enough to absorb the worst of the heat before you sit down to enjoy an evening meal. Choose fast-growing arbor vitae or design a privacy trellis that will support a dense vine for quick results.
- Move North. If your patio is situated on the south side of your house, it gets the brunt of the summer sun all day long. Can you move it? This could require a major overhaul of your property, or you could create a quick secondary patio by placing some flagstone pavers over a portion of your lawn. An outdoor entertaining area on the north side of your house will stay shaded and cool all day long.
Upgrading the Furniture
If your feet are scalded by hot patio pavers, try adding an outdoor rug to protect your tootsies. These are a great way to provide a grounding focal point for your patio to make it feel more like a bona fide outdoor room, and light colors will reflect the sun’s rays instead of absorbing the feet, making it much more comfortable to kick off your shoes and relax.
Likewise, if you find your furniture uncomfortably hot to sit on, you may be able to get some relief from new cushions. Look for natural canvas fibers in light colors that will reflect the sun and provide natural moisture wicking. Synthetics or fabrics coated with a plastic, water-repellent layer will trap your body heat and make you feel sticky and miserable, so shop around for a replacement that feels better on the skin.
Changing the Menu
Sometimes hot-weather entertaining can’t be avoided, but you can make everyone feel cooler by serving the right foods. There’s no rule that says you must light the grill during the dog days of summer. Instead of adding fire to an already hot patio area, why not serve refreshing salads or host an ice cream social instead? You can also experiment with spicy foods to trigger overheated bodies to cool down. Hot jalapeños in Mexican food or spicy Indian curries can cause you to sweat, which helps your body cool itself naturally. If you’re feeling adventurous, it’s definitely worth a try!
For best results, it makes sense to combine several of these patio cooling methods to create the most comfortable outdoor living space you can. Start with the big stuff like location and hardscaping, then move on to appliances like misting fans and evaporative coolers to bring down the temperature even further. Once you have the basics in place, you’re free to play around with decor and menu changes to fine-tune your cooling system. With a little experimentation, you’re sure to find what works best for your home, and you’ll be outside enjoying your patio more often than ever.