NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- For outdoor enthusiasts who spent the past few weekends rolling grills out of storage and setting up deck, porch or balcony furniture, this time of year was worth the wait.
If your home's outdoor setup is just right, it gets really tough to leave. Couple a sweet grill and a comfortable chair with gas prices averaging more than $3.90 a gallon and warm summer weather becomes a strong argument for staying home.
Considering the impact of even a modest outdoor improvements, we've come up with 10 outdoor investments that can turn even the most modest real estate into an open-air resort:
Outdoor HD projector
Unless you want to pay more than $8 a pop to watch superheroes duke it out, an outdoor projector's not a bad idea. The local
sell inexpensive projectors consumers can hook up to a DVD player, computer or, in some cases, a smartphone. Epson packaged a projector, DVD player and speakers into its portable MovieMate line that starts with a
and bumps up to a
with HDMI input for Blu-ray or streaming.
Outdoor movie screen
If you didn't spend a whole lot on your projector, a sheet, wide window shade or handy blank wall may do the trick. If you're a bit more serious,
offers a 9- by 5-foot inflatable screen that costs $600 and needs to be held down by tent-style tether cables. The
, meanwhile, has an inflatable 72-inch screen and comes with a 900-lumen standard-definition projector with HDMI and VGA inputs and two water-resistant speakers.
Want an outdoor theater that doesn't look like abandoned stereo equipment?
hides its woofers and tweeters in
that range from $250 to $500 and come in New England granite, sandstone or river rock patterns that blend into the background.
A formidable grill
will get the job done, but
' steel exterior, 50,000 BTU burners, LED lights on the temperature controls, a halogen light on the grill surface and ceramic briquettes to help distribute heat have lots of patio appeal at $3,800.
takes it a step further by offering hybrid grills that allow ambitious chefs to cook with charcoal, wood and gas all on the same surface starting at $9,000.
Artisan Fire Pizza Stove
Just slightly more frivolous than the average grill, Kalamazoo's
has a composite stone cooking surface, a domed exterior for reflecting heat, a 350- to 800-degree cooking range. It also has dual burners to cook pizza from above and below, a wood box for smoky wood-oven flavor and a wall of fire that should send nosy neighbors running for the fire department faster than you can say "chimney."
A fire pit/chimney
Speaking of which, you can't go into a
this time of year without seeing the clay, slate or steel outdoor "fire features." If you're feeling creative, though,
sells build-it-yourself fire pits that range from $329
There are lots of dreamy keg tappers out there from Lynx, Kalamazoo and
, but the kegerator king is still
. Its outdoor single- and dual-tap models come in one size and in stainless steel, but are built to last and can be found by savvy shoppers at mom-and-pop appliance stores for $700 to $1,200.
Outdoor wine fridge
Not into beer? Summit's
high-end wine fridge
comes with wooden shelves, but so do Haier's
. The Chinese company's
for the garage are slightly less of a hassle.
An outdoor bar
Target and other big-box stores will give you the inexpensive, no-frills
of your dreams, but a bit more will get you a
kitschier than any Mai Tai factory in Waikiki. If you're angling for something more permanent, Lynx Grills'
$3,100 freestanding cocktail station
comes with an LED-lit front panel, stainless steel sink with faucet and water filter, insulated ice bin and a speed rack for the cheap stuff.
A hot tub
Call it a
if you want, but LED lighting, and MP3-ready stereos and iPod docks can be found in many other brands, such as
. If you're looking for a little privacy, however, Pomona, Calif.-based
that encircle tubs in bars, stools, steps and plants or
screens for city dwellers.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.