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:
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 Walgreens ( WAL) and CVS ( CVS) 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 low-resolution model and bumps up to a 720p high-definition version with HDMI input for Blu-ray or streaming.
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, Open Air Cinema offers a 9- by 5-foot inflatable screen that costs $600 and needs to be held down by tent-style tether cables. The Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog's $1,000 outdoor inflatable theater, 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? Boston Acoustics hides its woofers and tweeters in Voyager outdoor rock speakers that range from $250 to $500 and come in New England granite, sandstone or river rock patterns that blend into the background.
A standard Char-Broil or Weber will get the job done, but Lynx Grills' 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. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet 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.
Just slightly more frivolous than the average grill, Kalamazoo's $6,500 Artisan Fire Pizza oven 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."
Speaking of which, you can't go into a Home Depot ( HD), Lowe's ( LOW), Wal-Mart ( WMT), Target ( TGT), Kohls ( KSS) or even JCPenney ( JCP) this time of year without seeing the clay, slate or steel outdoor "fire features." If you're feeling creative, though, Necessories sells build-it-yourself fire pits that range from $329 fire rings to $7,000 8-feet-tall, 12-feet-wide grand fireplaces.
There are lots of dreamy keg tappers out there from Lynx, Kalamazoo and Haier, but the kegerator king is still Summit Appliance. 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.
Not into beer? Summit's high-end wine fridge comes with wooden shelves, but so do Haier's built-in units. The Chinese company's four-bottle countertop model and 18-bottle, dual temperature fridge for the garage are slightly less of a hassle.
Target and other big-box stores will give you the inexpensive, no-frills patio bar of your dreams, but a bit more will get you a tiki bar from Amazon ( AMZN) 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.
Call it a Jacuzzi if you want, but LED lighting, and MP3-ready stereos and iPod docks can be found in many other brands, such as Hotspring, ThermoSpas and Sundance Spas. If you're looking for a little privacy, however, Pomona, Calif.-based Cal Spas offers Spa Surrounds that encircle tubs in bars, stools, steps and plants or Metro Surround screens for city dwellers. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.