“Outdoor Living As Part Of Our Aging In Place Focus”

This outdoor living space, whether it is larger than some or not as large as others, allows cooking, eating, sitting, and general fellowship for various ages on an accessible, hard surface in the backyard.


Nice weather means outdoor activities

As the cooler (colder), snowy, and indoor days of the winter season (and the days leading up to and following it) have now mostly passed, it’s time to focus our attention on the outdoors, and more specifically, the backyard.

Outdoors, we can sit and enjoy the weather or the later sunsets, appreciate the new flowers and plants, watch our vegetable gardens make progress, enjoy the pleasant temperatures, and participate in some of the outdoor, backyard activities – whatever our age or ability or how many times we may have done this previously.

Outdoor cooking and grilling tops that list of activities

Yesterday (May 16) was National BBQ (or barbeque, or barbecue, or your local spelling) Day – a celebration of the backyard cooking phenomena where we grill chicken, burgers, steaks, kabobs, chops, roasts, vegetables, or whatever pleases our palate.

The backyard cooking and eating experience have become so important that many home designs incorporate an outdoor kitchen area, from simple to more elaborate. Almost every home has a barbecue grill in the backyard or on their patio area.

As a throwback to times when summer cooking was done away from the main home to keep that additional heat that was produced by the cooking away from the interior, outdoor grilling, cooking, and living has become quite popular.

While so many other backyard activities are important to us, from general relaxation to more active pursuits, the outdoor cooking and eating experience is one that most people can relate to, even if they are renting or have a relatively small home.

Taking the living area outdoors

For several reasons, we like to get out of the house – but not very far – to spend time in the backyard. In many respects, it is a destination or a retreat for us. In addition to the cooking component, many people have refrigerators and nearly complete kitchens outdoors so they can help themselves to beverages and snacks as they like – they and their visiting neighbors, family, and friends.

We also have televisions for watching the game or a movie.

For nearly everyone, the outdoor space represents a supplemental living area that can mean more than double the amount of living space found under roof and can provide for or allow more robust activities than are appropriate indoors.

With coverings installed, these outdoor spaces can even be used during rainy times also.

Backyard-specific activities

There are some activities that many people enjoy that can only be done outdoors, so we need to be aware of this as we are evaluating and designing homes for our clients. These spaces and activities are quite important.

Think of fire outdoors – a fire ring, fire pit, campfire circle, outdoor fireplace or other appropriate places to light a fire and sit around it to enjoy the ambiance it provides and well as being able to sit and chat near it. Who doesn’t enjoy watching a flickering fire!

Add in the water component. This can be a pool, a hot tub, a splash pool for the kids, or a water feature with falling water. The sound of falling water as it hits a pool of water or stone provides a very soothing sound – so much so that many people use simulated ocean waves or other water sounds to relax or as a means of going to sleep.

Clearly, fire and water deserve an outdoor location, and the backyard is the perfect place for such uses.

Along with this, think of the outdoor games and activities that are appropriate for play on grass – volleyball, badminton, croquet, whiffle ball, throwing a football, playing catch with a baseball, or having fun with the dog – among others.

Creating visitable access

While many outdoor activities are designed to be done on the grass, some are not. Here, we need to create hard surface activity pods and accessways (and ideally a covering for those spaces that provide a degree of weather protection) that allow anyone to participate in the activities that are appropriate for them – around the cooking area, near the fire, where people are congregating for fellowship and conversation. Some people are going to be able to traverse the grassy areas, and some are going to find it more challenging.

This is what we need to design for specific activity areas that can be accessed by anyone – especially as they are arriving at the home (if they don’t live there) or moving from the inside of the home to the backyard area (for residents as well as their guests). We have to provide choices and flexibility in how people can access the various functional areas in the backyard and then participate in the activities that are provided.

If someone cannot reasonably or easily walk across the grass to get to various areas of the backyard (resident or guest), we need to be aware of this and create hard-surface connecting routes and stations to accommodate them.

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