Lauren NowackiUPDATED: May 30, 2023
Another summer season has come to an end. The kids are going back to school, pumpkin spice goodies are hitting the market, and if you live in a place that experiences winter, you’re beginning to prepare your home for the colder months ahead. Raking leaves, cleaning out gutters, prepping the chimney and assessing your heating unit are common items on a homeowner’s fall checklist, but there’s one task that often gets overlooked: prepping your outdoor patio. Whether you’re planning on using your space throughout the winter or putting everything away for the season, you’ll want to take the right steps to keep your patio in top condition and help prolong its life.
The colder weather can make being outside unbearable but if you hide inside all season, you may be missing out on enjoying the cool, crisp air, the bright red, orange and yellow hues of fall foliage or the peaceful moments of a gentle snowfall. If you want to experience everything the coming seasons have to offer but don’t want to deal with the harsher elements, consider enclosing your patio or screening your porch.
Before enclosing your patio, you’ll first need to decide the type of enclosure you want. There are different kinds of enclosed patios, including screen rooms, three-season rooms, four-season rooms and solariums.
Screen rooms are enclosed with screen mesh and protect you from the sun and annoying insects, but not rain, snow, wind or freezing temps. Three-season rooms are made for – you guessed it – three out of the four seasons. They’re not made for winter because they’re not built to accommodate for daily heating and cooling.
To best enjoy winter months on your patio, you’ll want to build a four-season room or a solarium. Solariums are rooms encased in glass from the floor-to-ceiling walls to the actual ceiling. They protect you from the elements and can stay relatively warm from sunrays that penetrate the glass and heat the room naturally. Four-season rooms are framed in double-paned, insulated doors and windows. Both rooms are built for year-round use and can be heated and cooled without damage to the frame. These two patio types are typically the most expensive options, but they can add to the livable space in your home.
To enclose your patio, you’ll need to build a frame and install screens, walls or sliding doors. Depending on what you’re starting with, you may also need to create a foundation and install a ceiling. Several companies sell and install enclosed patios. For less expensive options, you can also purchase a kit or build your enclosure from scratch. Before deciding how to build your patio enclosure, consider your own set of skills, resources, timeline and budget. It’s also important that you obtain all required permits before you start working.
Keep in mind that any of these enclosures will cost some money to build. If you’re on a tight budget and already have a screened-in porch or patio, you may have another option: covering your existing screen porch. Covering a screen porch can also protect you from the elements and allow you to enjoy your patio year-round.
Covering a screen porch for the winter can be a cheaper option and only requires a few steps. You’ll want to use clear vinyl or plastic sheeting that’s both waterproof and durable. Next, you’ll measure your screens and cut the plastic to those measurements with a few added inches to provide leeway for human error and space to attach the sheeting to your frame. To attach the sheeting, you simply staple it to your patio’s frame.
Remember – just because your patio is enclosed or your screens are covered, you won’t be completely protected from freezing temps.
Start with decorating your patio in warm, heavy and cozy textiles that include thick rugs, insulated curtains, heavy quilts and heated blankets. When it comes to furniture, choose pieces that are plush covered in fabric if possible. Avoid metal furniture, which will hold the cold. Top any hard furniture like benches and chairs with blankets or cushions. Consider using warm fabrics like flannel, fleece and wool. You may also want to leave a couple of sweatshirts, jackets and knit hats on the patio for extra chilly days.
If you have electrical outlets available, plug in an electric heater. Since the space is relatively small, one should do the trick. Just make sure you practice fire safety and never leave space heaters on when you’re not in the room.
The best way to stay warm on your patio this winter is to connect the room’s vents to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. This heating option is available for solarium and four-season rooms, which are built to withstand this type of heating and cooling. A heating and cooling system will add to what’s considered “livable space” in your home, which can increase your home’s square footage. This could be a top selling point if you ever decide to sell your home.
If you’re just not a winter person and you’re ready to hibernate for the rest of the year, there are still some measures you should take to close down your outdoor space for the season. These tips will help you properly store your equipment and protect your space from the harsh weather.
The first step to storing patio cushions is removing the dirt and debris built up from a season of outdoor use. To provide the best care, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning the fabric. If you can’t find the instructions or the cushions don’t have removable covers, play it safe and wash the cushions by hand.
To wash by hand, simply dip a sponge in a solution of mild detergent and warm water and apply it to the cushions. Allow the solution to sit for about 15 to 30 minutes, then rinse it with a hose. For a more low-maintenance wash, spray the pillow with a mixture of white vinegar and water. Once washed, leave the cushions out to dry. For faster drying, stand the cushions on their edges.
If the covers are removable, take them off the cushions before washing, whether by hand or machine. You should not wash the full cushion in a washing machine – doing so may warp the cushion or ruin the filling.
Before storing the cushions, make sure they’re completely dry to prevent mold and mildew.
Place each one in a plastic container or waterproof bag and store them inside a clean, dry area of the home.
Patio furniture may be designed for outdoor use, but it still requires proper care to make it last longer. To keep it in the best condition, clean it at the end of each season and store it in a way that protects it from the elements.
The first step in end-of-season outdoor furniture care is to wipe the pieces down with a dry cloth to remove any dirt or pollen. Outdoor furniture comes in a variety of materials, including wicker, wood, metal, plastic and resin. You can clean most outdoor furniture with some mild dish soap and water, so stick with this mixture. Other cleaning methods like power washing or bleaching could ruin your furniture. Check the care instructions of your furniture before cleaning it. If your furniture is made of metal that could rust, take an extra step and apply paste wax to prevent corrosion.
After wiping down and washing your furniture, leave it out to dry. You’ll want it to be completely dry before storing to prevent the growth of mold or mildew while it’s stored. Once dry, place a durable cover over the furniture and place it in a covered, protected space. Finally, set it on pieces of wood or other platforms to keep it off the ground. If you have an outdoor kitchen, you may need to clean out your grill and oil the grates before covering it, as well. Otherwise, you could be faced with rust come springtime. You’ll also want to wipe down any flat surfaces to remove dust and grease.
Moisture may be your patio’s biggest foe this winter. That’s because as water freezes and melts, it expands and contracts, causing damage to your patio’s foundation and joints.
Take care of any soil erosion near the edges and corners of your patio to keep water from pooling under the patio and freezing. This expansion can cause your patio to lift, which can damage the frame and even break windows and doors. You’ll also want to position your downspouts in a way that directs any water away from the patio for the same reason.
Fill any gaps in the patio joints with polymeric sand, which is more flexible than mortar or cement. This helps patio pavers stay in place, resist washout and avoid shifting in brutal winter conditions.
Water can also cause damage to your patio’s surface. If the patio is made of wood, you’ll want to seal it to prevent rotting. Clean and dry the surface before sealing it with water repellent or wood sealer. When the season ends, wash your patio with a mixture of warm water and mild detergent. Remove leaves and other debris throughout the coming months, especially during fall to prevent stains. Moisture can build up under patio rugs, so roll them up and store them in a dry place for the season.
Whether you’re planning to use your patio throughout the winter or packing it up for the season, take care of your space the right way so it’s ready to properly host barbecues, garden parties and late night stargazing when summer returns next year.