Home improvement experts agree: the outdoors are in for 2016. While we touched on the subject in our?411 on 2016’s Home Improvement Outlook, we’re now drilling down even further to bring you four specific areas of outdoor living we expect to take off in the year ahead. Let’s count them down.

1. Goodbye Tailgating, Hello “Homegating”

Tailgating is one of America’s favorite pastimes, but why reserve the experience for concerts and football games? More and more people are embracing tailgating as more than a couple-times-a-year event, but instead as a way of life. This means the transformation of simple patios and decks into full-on outdoor kitchens, dining rooms and entertainment centers stocked and ready for backyard fun.


The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association’s?HPBExpo?saw the unveiling of several innovative new products, including glass-lid grills and temperature control elements, such as heated floors and dining tables with open-flame centers for outdoor spaces. Smokeless fire pits, linear fireplaces and other statement-making models also align with the trend.


And while grills haven’t gone anywhere, they’re now likely to be part of a suite of products, including everything from cocktail bars and appliances to indoor-worthy yet outdoor-hearty furniture.


One particularly intriguing disruptive technology on the “homegating” scene? “Smart” cooking technology and accessories. Offering functionality?pertaining to everything from grill temperatures to fuel levels, this area is rapidly developing with?voice recognition,?mobile controls and more on the horizon.


2. Water Water Everywhere

With outdoor living having its — ahem — moment in the sun, it’s no surprise that the outlook is strong for the swimming pool market. The increase in new home construction and demand from homeowners and home developers alike further lay the foundation for industry expansion, according to a report from IBISWorld.


What exactly are people looking for in pools these days? While we love a good, old-fashioned diving board as much as the next person, today’s pools are raising the stakes. According to PoolPricer.com, trends to expect in 2016 include vanishing edges, natural pools, “plunge” pools AKA “spools,” alternative sanitation systems, and beach entries and tanning ledges. Glass tile, upscale finishes like travertine and crushed pebble aggregate, automatic pool covers, and composite decking will also be big.


Either as elements of swimming pool designs or on their own, water features such as fountains, wall accents, and rain walls will also grow in?popularity thanks to their unique ability to add elegance, excitement, or any ambience of the consumer’s choosing to the outdoor setting. Automation and mobile?controls, meanwhile, take convenience to all new levels.


3. Landscaping Matters

Because consumers are so focused on creating backyard retreats, they’re willing to invest more into both landscaping and hardscaping. But this is more than a nod to aesthetics, it’s also a?sound financial move given research indicating ROI?beyond other home improvement projects, such as bathroom and kitchen renovations.


And while both hardscaping and landscaping are largely subjective, some trends are taking center stage. Homeowners are looking for hardscaping solutions which mimic their home’s overall style,?including?everything from brick and manufactured pavers to natural stone ?Large pavers will continue to dominate after coming on strong in 2015, while stained and stamped concrete offer a high-end look at a fraction of the cost.


In terms of landscaping, grass alternatives are also growing in appeal for homeowners looking to conserve water while minimizing lawn maintenance. In fact, HouseLogic reports that the synthetic grass market is growing at a rate of 10-15 percent every year! Water conservation also comes into play in terms of how homeowners choose types of plants, soil type, and irrigation systems.


But artificial grass isn’t just for lawns anymore. Today’s homeowners are using it for everything from dog runs and play areas to rooftops, pool surrounds, and decorative borders.


4. Light It Up

After creating these magnificent outdoor living spaces, homeowners will?be looking to maximize the amount of time they can spend in them. While limited lighting has seen many a party go bust post-dusk, the latest breed of innovative outdoor lighting solutions are changing the ways people use their backyards.


In 2016, the outdoor lighting market will venture even further away from the single bulb at the backdoor to take on a?role that’s not just supplemental, but essential in both form and function.?In particular, we can expect to see mounted and in-ground programmable LED lights — sought-after?for their energy efficiency and long life — continuing to penetrate the outdoor living market. How much so? By 2019, LED lighting is expected to comprise 53 percent of the global lighting market, according to Statista.


Reflector lights and low-voltage lighting, artisan lights and spotlights, and landscape lighting for safety and security are also trending.


Lastly, the growing impact of automation and wireless “smart” controls via cell?phone or tablet on the lighting market cannot be overstated.


One last thing to keep in mind? Closing sales?in 2016 is not just about what consumers are buying, but also about?how?they’re buying. And while there’s still plenty of variance in terms of whether consumers choose to make outdoor living purchases online, in-store, or through in-home appointments, they do share at least one essential and relevant attribute: however and whatever they choose to buy, 2016’s homeowners?are sure?to go online for research and comparison shopping first.

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