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For LI homeowners, 5 fun backyard ideas to try out this fall

Rich Hanna, right, with his wife, Dawn, left,

Rich Hanna, right, with his wife, Dawn, left, and daughter, Liv, in their backyard hot tub at their Garden City home. Credit: Johnny MIlano

Summer may be over. The pool cover may be on. But autumn doesn’t mean abandoning your backyard for the warmth of your home. There is still a lot of outdoor living to be done.

Hot tubs, outdoor saunas, outdoor video and sound systems, and fire pits add to the feeling of homeyness. Business owners of these backyard extras say, since the pandemic hit and people are home more, they are as busy as they have ever been during the pandemic, and are working overtime just to keep up with demand.

Rich Hanna, of Garden City, bought a hot tub about 17 years ago from Ocean Spray Hot Tubs and Saunas in Westhampton Beach, and just this year bought a new 8-foot-square one, with saltwater, Bluetooth and a little waterfall. He loves the dipping into the warmth of the tub on a cool fall or cold winter night.

"The trick is to put it very close to your house," says Hanna, owner of Westminster Nursery & Garden Center in West Hempstead. "I take four steps and I’m in."

Hot tubs, saunas and plunge pools

Joe Musnicki, owner of Ocean Spray, says sales have been through the roof since the pandemic.

"There used to be a time when we had to educate people on hot tubs," he says. "Now they are buying over the phone."

Hot tubs can sell between $5,000 and $20,000, with average sale prices around $12,000, Musnicki says. Owners often buy a hot tub when "when they are doing a complete makeover" of their backyards.

Better brands have more of an array of massaging jets and specific features. One, the "Motomassage," has jets that travel up and down a track to give a massage along the back and shoulders and can be integrated into the tub.

Also selling? Saunas, both installed inside the home or outside. Temperatures are maintained around 180 degrees inside the sauna.

For those outside, going from the heat of the sauna into the coolness of the autumn (or even winter) air is invigorating.

The company also sells "plunge pools," which are made for a single person and maintain a temperature of 55 degrees. Going from a hot tub or sauna of 180 degrees into a plunge pool or cold air of 30 or 40 degrees also can be invigorating, quite the Nordic experience.

"It’s about wellness," Musnicki says. "After you get out of the sauna or hot tub, you get in the plunge pool. It may not be for everyone, but do it even once, and you’ll want to do it again." Cold plunge pools start at $19,000.

An alternative is renting a hot tub — either for a weekend or a monthly rental. Companies such as Long Island Hot Tub Rentals LLC can bring a tub directly to your yard, fully sanitized and ready to use for a cost of $209 for a weekend to $489 for a month.

Outdoor audio and projectors

For many, music is a must when entertaining. Tom Mastrianni, owner of Extreme AVS of Smithtown, says an in-ground audio system will give a pitch-perfect surround sound for any size backyard.

"I like them because you don’t see them," says Mastrianni. "It gives 360-degree sound."

People buy expensive systems on their own, and then place the speakers themselves, but the skill is knowing where they go, Mastrianni says.

Two speakers with a tuner runs about $1,200 to $1,500 installed.

Homeowners are now going the next step, adding professional-grade projectors and screens in their yards, with a price tag of $3,900 baseline cost for the projector, and an additional $3,000 for the screen (sized about 15 feet).

Projector technology has come a long way and is compatible with many streaming services and devices, such as Apple TV. Of course, less expensive and non-professionally installed systems are available online.

"You can still get together with your friends and social distance in a backyard," Mastrianni says. "It’s fun to play an old movie — 'Princess Bride' or any of the 'Star Wars' movies, and not have to worry about social distancing."

Fire pits

Having a fire pit in the yard not only adds warmth, but it is also reminiscent of cuddling around a campfire roasting marshmallows on a cold night.

Lance Elliott, owner of Design and Build Landscape in Massapequa, says he already has appointments booked for the next several months, and it is the busiest he has seen in years.

"People are not going on vacation, not traveling, and don’t know how long it will be before they can, so they want to beautify the backyard," he says about the uptick in sales in backyard beautification.

Permanent stone or brick structures can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,500 depending on the extras. Most people opt for wood-burning pits, because of the natural smell of the smoke and it is less expensive. But propane and natural gas hookups are also big sellers.

A less-expensive alternative, wood-burning fire pits are sold at local hardware stores, for about $100 to several hundred dollars.

Outdoor heaters

Those heat-throwing outdoor patio heaters seen at restaurants are available for home use, too.

Cost can range from $200 to $600 and beyond and can be ordered online or picked up at local hardware stores.

The larger patio heaters at 40,000 to 49,000 BTUs can throw off heat from 6 to 9 feet. Small ones would mean sitting closer to the heat source.

Backyard barbecues

Cooking outdoors has reached a whole new level, from small charcoal grills to a chef-inspired outdoor kitchen rivaling any indoor kitchen — sink, counters, upscale grill — that could go into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Suzette Reiss, an agent with Douglas Elliman in Southold, says an outdoor kitchen can add to the value to a home.

"Because we’re up north, you don’t see it as much," she said. "You do see them sometimes in the high-end Hamptons houses."

The complexity of the outdoor kitchen may depend on how much it is used, according to thisoldhouse.org. A counter may be useful, but a sink and fridge may not be necessary.

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