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Thaumas P. Ehr, Landscape Architect

Cooling Off your Backyard Room

Would you like to get more use out of your backyard this summer? You can do way more than you think to turn your great outdoors into an inviting oasis when Arizona heats up. It can start with a swimming pool, which you probably have already, but that's just part of the formula.

Consider misters

Misting systems have come a long way lately. Some models used to produce water droplets of 100 microns in diameter that might have been refreshing, but made you feel as if you were taking a shower.Drops that are too big cannot evaporate quickly. Now there are systems that have 5-micron droplets that are emitted at higher water pressure as well and can cool outdoor spaces by 20 degrees.Most patio misters cool from the top down. But if you want to stay cool in a lounge chair, you can also have nozzles installed in the ground to send the cool air upward.If you already have a mister, you can add a feature that pumps fog over your pool or around a backyard waterfall. The fog helps cool air over a pool.

Add a pond or waterfall

The sight and sound of water in the desert definitely cools you off mentally. If you plant native trees around a pond in your yard and add plants, you can create a microclimate that is 10 degrees cooler, but will probably make you feel more refreshed than that.Pond builders have built amazing water features on the back patios of townhouses and condominiums - so you don't need much space. Just remember, with small children there's no substitute for constant supervision around water. If there's a question about safety, you should fence ponds.

Sprinkle those pavers

Another cooling tactic is to install irrigation heads among the pavers surrounding the pool. As they spray, they can reduce the surface temperature of those pavers by 30 to 40 degrees when you exit the pool.You can even operate the sprinkler heads via a remote with an electronically operated irrigation system.If you're in the market for pavers, look for the lighter-colored ones that are new on the market.Patio surfaces at 112 degrees in the direct sun found that light-colored surfaces can be from 15 to 20 degrees cooler than darker-colored areas.

Plant a tree

Plant a desert tree or two in the right spots in your backyard to help cool your house and patio. Make sure trees are in areas with plenty of room to spread out, and give them a long, deep soaking with a hose frequently in the first few weeks, especially if you plant them in the spring. The first summer, they will need plenty of watering as well.If you live where SRP delivers electric power, you may be eligible to participate in the SRP Shade Tree Program, which provides three free desert-adapted shade trees for homes built before 1980 and two for newer homes.You do need to attend an SRP workshop about how to select, plant and care for your trees. Check out for information.

Add shade

Adding shaded areas can be a great attraction in your backyard in summer - perhaps for part of your swimming pool and for your dining areas. You can build a gazebo, ramada or pergola with concrete or wooden pillars and a permanent roof, but growing in popularity are shade sails or canopies - like the ones sheltering playgrounds in parks. They look like something you'd see on a sailboat. You can buy a smaller shade structure with a stainless-steel frame for about $5 per square foot.Some homeowners buy them and attach them to structures in their yard like their AC system. But it's better to let the shade or awning company install stainless-steel columns. That way, your mini sail is less likely to blow away in a monsoon. There's often a 10-year guarantee on the frame.

Install an outdoor shower

Wouldn't it be great to have a genuine shower outdoors so you can wash off the chlorine after a day in the pool?You may have to call a plumber, of course, to put an extra line in place if your house isn't set up for this option.Better check with a plumber, too, on what the local codes are for handling the run-off.

Draw the drapes -outdoors

All-weather outdoor drapes are quite popular and are usually tied back to posts on covered patios.When the sun turns the patio into an oven, you can slide those drapes along rods into position to block the rays.

Reduce your yard work

If you'd like to spend less time in the sun this summer, why not replace some of your real grass with artificial turf? Newer varieties of turf are a lot more lush and lifelike, and they're almost 100 percent maintenance-free.Prices vary from $6 to $15/ sq. ft. They're water permeable and come in assorted shades. You can build a chipping area or a putting green or a play area for the kids. So stay cool this summer and enjoy the great outdoors of Arizona all year long.

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