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Building an Outdoor Entertainment Center
By Laura Schlereth - Pool Life Magazine
What could possibly make relaxing by your pool on a warm summer day even better? How about relaxing by your pool under your very own pergola while watching a ball game on a flat screen TV with surround sound?

Your pool is already the focal point of fun every summer, but many pool owners are expanding their backyard amusement options by building outdoor entertainment centers—complete with a pergola, fan, television, music player and speaker system. But because building an outdoor entertainment center is a comprehensive project, it’s a good idea to turn to the professionals for advice.

Here are some ideas for what to incorporate into your entertainment center and details about what each project will entail:

"Even outside, people like the feeling of being under something," says Duane Draughon, owner and outdoor living designer with PaverStone Design Group in Powell, Ohio. Pergolas provide some shelter but still allow sunlight to stream through. You can determine your pergola’s size based on what you will be using it for: Is it only going to be a small sitting area or will it be providing shade for large family gatherings?

When it comes to design options, Draughon says pergolas can be as basic or ornate as you want them to be, which creates a wide range of pricing options. Many companies also sell “kits,” in which the pergola is pre-cut and ready to go. These generally cost between $2,200 and $5,500, and are relatively easy to put together, Draughon says. If you don’t trust your construction skills, you can hire a contractor to build it for you.

Draughon says to go with an LCD display rather than a plasma screen because it will handle glare better—something that will obviously be an issue outside. There are televisions made specifically for outdoor use, but Draughon advises against purchasing one of these if you think you will only be using it occasionally. "Most outdoor TVs cost more than $3,000 for a 35-inch,” he says. “You can buy a 35-inch TV from a department store for only $500 to $1200."

One popular option is to set up a wall mount and jack outside on which you can hang your indoor flat screen. Modern flat screens are usually so light that the move won’t prove an issue, and you can save a great deal of money. Of course, you do have to be wary of the weather if you choose this route. If you plan to watch TV outdoors on a regular basis, Draughon says an outdoor TV is a smart investment because it can handle the elements so much better.

Speaker system
To provide a real home theater atmosphere, Draughon says many of his clients install surround sound speakers throughout the pool area. These can easily be hidden by building them flush on the face of pillars or into your pergola—or designing them to look like rocks.

If you plan to do some serious entertaining, Draughon recommends consulting a sound specialist when deciding which type of speakers to buy and where to place them. Quality speakers installed in the proper location will ensure that you enjoy the sound while keeping it at a reasonable volume. You should hire an electrician to do the wiring, which generally costs between $600 and $1200.

Although family members and guests can cool off in your pool, some might opt to stay dry for the day. Help them beat the heat with ceiling fans. "Fans range from $75 to $500 depending on what the client is looking for: small blades, large blades, lights, remotes, etc.," Draughon says. When it comes to design, blades come in a variety of styles-you can even make them look like leaves or paddles.

"The best material for an outdoor application is a solid marine polymer with stainless steel hardware," says Ed Phillips, owner of Freelance Kitchen Design LLC in Deltona, Fla. Stainless steel will not rust or corrode, and the solid marine polymer is perfect for outdoor kitchens and entertainment pieces, Phillips says. Although solid marine polymer is about three times more expensive than wood, it will last much longer because it's more resistant to the elements and easier to clean.

"You can literally hose it off or totally submerge this material, and it will not be damaged,” he says. “If I were designing any type of cabinetry for outdoor use, this is the way I would go."

Whatever you decide to include in your outdoor entertainment center, it's crucial to consult professional builders, electricians and designers so you can fit everything into your budget and create a cohesive space for maximum enjoyment.

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