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YOUR HOME   -   EXTERIOR LOOKS
A (Catty) Girl's Guide to an Endless Summer
Relax and have Fun in your Yard Year-round
September, 2009 - Issue #59
No snooty "better homes" magazine is going to tell me that it's time to say "See ya!" to my backyard because the calendar has announced the near arrival of fall. I'm a California girl and I'm just getting started, Baby. Join me in making our exterior escape a year-round paradise (on the cheap, no less...).

Save Big Bucks on Patio Furniture
For folks older than, say, 10, there are few backyard elements more important than furniture. And even more pleasing than having a comfy place to soak up the (now not so scalding) sun is scoring a super-fashionable set for up to 60 percent less. Amy Boswell, co-owner of Oasis Garden & Patio (255-9909), tells me that her store's 2009 in-stock furniture pieces are priced to move. These are by far the lowest prices of the year that you'll find on brands like Hanamint, Tropitone, OW Lee, Ebel, New River and Alu-Mont.

PS: Don't feel shame if those names aren't familiar to you. We can't help but notice when skinny starlets carry Dior bags, even if we've never been within spitting distance of anything fancier than a TJ Maxx clearance special. Rarely, though, do folks toss out the names of their patio furniture as a way of enhancing their fashion cred. Long story short, these brands are affiliated with long-lasting quality and, unlike many sets that look good but aren't made well or with quality materials, they exhibit true value by standing the test of time.

And while you're at Oasis, I suggest checking out my family's favorite backyard addition: the fire pit. These babies really do throw out a ton of heat - which is perfect on a crisp SCV night - and you can really have a lot of fun with them (No, not in a "destroy the evidence" way. In a "roasting marshmallows" way.). It's like camping, but for posh people.

The Heat is On (in the Spa)
I just don't get some pool/spa owners. There they are, with the epitome of the California dream all spish-splashy right in their own backyard, and they ignore it eight months out of the year.

Here's a tip, folks. If you reasoned that little Tommy's crooked teeth were irrevocably tied to his unique "look" so that you could justify putting his orthodontic savings fund towards a pool, put that pool to good use - all the time! It's plenty warm in the SCV through November, and there are sporadic days even through winter when nothing would feel better than a nice swim or hot-tub soak. Unfortunately, you've let your pool "go" and now it more closely resembles a septic system.

You should take care of that pool as well as you would have expected Tommy to take care of his braces. My favorite pool maintenance guru, Dr. H20 of Village West Pools (297-0438), provides service and repair year-round. Call him. He'll make sure your pumps and filters are in tip-top shape, plus he's a pro when it comes to the newest heaters that are incredibly efficient, heating water a whole lot faster than you're probably used to while expending less energy. And, if your pool really does look like a septic system, that's ok. My pal Dr. H20 is certified by the LA County Department of Health.

Pool Price Incentives
Ah, but what if you are pool-less and your own Tommy's chompers require little more than a good flossing?

Natalie Ozuna, co-owner of Ozuna Landscaping & Pools
(252-2159), tells me that this is the time of year to schedule your pool/spa construction. There are simply better deals to be had right now, the weather is great for construction, and it'll be installed just in time for you to enjoy a few warm-weather dips. The Ozuna crew (By the way, you couldn't find a nicer, more impressive team of professionals. Love them!) can get you swimming in as little as two months. Plus, the family-owned company will make sure that the process is stress free, with daily cleaning of the job site and a helping hand throughout the entire experience. Oh, and their design skills rock!

But you're not thinking of design, are you? You're more than six paragraphs into this story by now. We're friends, right? I feel like I've known you my whole life, which is why I know what you are thinking this very moment (besides, um, "She's a little nuts.") Yes, a pool is a pricey proposition. According to my gal Natalie, a pool complete with a spa and decking can start at $40,000. That's a fabulous deal, but it's no chump change.

So, let me share a little story with you. Last month we took my crew of five to a family reunion in West Virginia. We stayed in a dormitory, at a campsite, for free. We never ate a meal out. But six days, one rented minivan, a dog sitter and 20 gravy-covered biscuits per person later (required eating in WV, I assure you) and we'd spent $5,000.

Moral of the story? You're only eight trips to West Virginia away from a permanent vacation installed in your backyard. Get the darn pool already, because no one should eat that many biscuits, ever.

Live Outside - Seriously
Full disclosure: My kitchen sucks. Actually, my whole house does these days. "Surviving" has been much closer to the top of the to-do list than extracurriculars like "clean up." Anyone who has kids, or has ever smelled one, knows what I'm talking about. But back to my rant against the kitchen.

It's too small. The fridge is covered with school papers that needed to be returned to the teacher yesterday. Each faucet drip declares, "Your... Husband... Is... Lazy..."

Basically, my kitchen is a panic attack waiting to happen. Lucky for me, my backyard doesn't suck at all. I love my chaise lounge and I'm quite grill savvy. In fact, I do a huge amount of cooking on the grill (seriously!).

Still, it took a Barbeques Galore (284-6880) expert to tell me that I could actually use my grill to bake. "With the proper thermometer and an open mind, your grill can become another oven during parties and the upcoming holiday season," shared Jeff Marr.

Now that I know I never really need to go back into my kitchen again, I have my eye on a grill upgrade - a true "green" grilling system called Crossray. These grills use 50 percent less gas and emit up to 80 percent less smoke. They cook faster and more efficiently while eliminating flare-ups that result in charred food.

But perhaps even more exciting than a new grill is the thought that I may never need to enter my stress-inducing home again thanks to a Barbeques Galore deal too "hot" to pass up. They're chopping 30 percent off a variety of outdoor heaters, which means the party's at my house this December. I might even splurge on the all-new Totum heater, available in September. The Totum HLS heater features lighting, a high-end sound system and an iPod docking station, plus Crossray infrared heat panels that can throw heat up to 15 feet around it.

Solar Power is Girl Power
I'm getting a little tired of so many folks acting like exterior home improvement is a testosterone-only club (Ok, and by "folks," I mean my husband.). I really shouldn't complain. He's a great dad and practically a card-carrying feminist (which is probably why my faucet's still broken). But get the man outside and "Whammo!" He is the hunter, I am the gatherer, and never the two shall agree on what color the tile around the garden beds should be.

I'm going to drop the tile fight (even though his choice is better suited to a kitchen backsplash...). For now. And in its place I will raise my new flag: Solar Power.

I can't help but get excited about this. It's like one of those logic problems from high school: What is the result of nearly 365 days of sunshine multiplied by growing heating/cooling bills added to cash incentives from utility companies reduced by a 30 percent federal tax credit?

GW Richardson Heating and Air Conditioning (295-0115) has the answer. These pros can install a solar electricity system on your home (or business) that can pay for itself by eliminating electric bills for good. (Emphasis on the "good" part; if you're a friend of the environment, you can't do much better by Mother Earth than going solar.)
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