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If you're like many homeowners, you consider the patio an extension of your home. So it's fair to ask: Would you be just as comfortable nestled in with your favorite book or preparing a meal in your outdoor space as you would in your living room or your kitchen? As you contemplate ways to improve your outdoor area, think about projects that can both extend the hours you spend outside and make the time you spend there more relaxing.

Just as technology continues to make life indoors easier, more sophisticated awning systems, heating options and lighting can make your outdoor space that much more pleasant. Here are a few areas to consider as you plot your next round of improvements for your outdoor living space:

* Temperature control: One of the best ways to make your patio pleasant for more of the day - and more of the year - is to add simple temperature control features. If you live in a place where it gets uncomfortably hot during the summer, install misters around your favorite sitting areas to cool things down. Likewise, if you often find yourself heading inside because it gets too chilly in the spring and fall, a few strategically placed overhead heaters can extend your patio season.

* Shade matters: Awnings and umbrellas also play a huge role in regulating the temperature and comfort of your deck or patio. And now, shading options have become more sophisticated and easier to maintain than ever before. You'll never have to worry about damaged awnings on a windy day with a motorized awning system with wind sensors that work together to automatically retract your awnings when winds become too high. Retractable awning systems can also be accessorized with sun sensors that signal motorized awnings to open as soon as the sun rises, keeping your outdoor space cool from the start of the day. If adding a hint of warmth is needed, simply install an awning heater. All of these accessories can be managed by the same remote that controls your motorized awning. With a system like this, you can leave the days of fiddling with fussy patio umbrellas behind.

* An outdoor kitchen: No patio is complete without a grill, but do you find yourself making frequent trips inside for other prep work? Make outdoor cooking easier by adding a prep island that can be placed near your grill. And if you really want to go all out, look for options that feature outdoor sinks or small refrigerators hidden under the countertop.

* Entertainment connectivity: Well-placed speakers can bring the stereo sound of your indoor system out. By upgrading your system so it can be controlled from your wireless device, you can bring the conveniences of your digital music system outdoors and eliminate the need to get up to turn up the volume or flip to the next song.

* Take look at your lighting: High-powered outdoor lights on sensors might be helpful when you're bringing in the groceries at night, but patio entertaining calls for a little more subtlety when it comes to lighting. Consider zero-energy solar-powered fixtures around the perimeter of your patio for a gentle ambiance to light up your evenings. Motorized systems can also be connected to your lighting, allowing you to adjust brightness as needed from the comfort of your patio lounger.

Now is the perfect time to plan for next year's patio season, and with the right improvements, you can make it the most comfortable one yet.

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