Technologies to Enhance Your Outdoor Living Space

The season of outdoor entertaining, barbeques, outdoor movie nights, beach and pool parties is right around the corner. Is your outdoor space ready for the season? In this issue, we discuss a few technologies to enhance your outdoor living.

Audio – Outdoor Music

What’s a party without great music? High quality speakers are key to outdoor audio systems – they need to sound great, but they also need to withstand the elements. There are a few types of outdoor audio solutions, depending on your space.

Audio for Smaller Spaces

For smaller areas like patios, courtyards, and outdoor rooms (less than 750 square feet), a pair or two of outdoor rated speakers will work well.  Outdoor speakers come in a variety of shapes and sizes that can be mounted on walls or ceilings, in walls or ceilings, or even hidden under eaves.

Sonance Mariner speakers on wall
Under eave speakers from James Loudspeaker

Additionally, another popular option: “bollard” and “tower” style speakers.  These are freestanding speakers in an attractive industrial design, which sound great.  In fact, the new Outdoor Tower Series from James Loudspeaker and the Coastal Source Line Source Bollards may be the best speakers you’ve ever listened to – inside or out!

Tower speakers from James Loudspeaker
Bollard speakers from Coastal Source

Audio for Larger Spaces

For larger areas, landscape speaker systems provide a blanket of rich audio for your entire space. Landscape systems use a number of small satellite speakers reinforced with hidden subwoofers. The speakers are strategically placed around the perimeter, facing in. This speaker arrangement allows for even sound coverage without spots that are too loud or too quiet. And, because the speakers are facing in, 90% of the sound remains in your listening space, and you’re not disturbing your neighbors.

Because landscape systems are completely scalable, they are suitable for everything from patios to rooftop decks to yards of any size. The speakers and subwoofers are easily camouflaged into plants and foliage.  Subwoofers are either below-ground and seamlessly blend into landscape, or built into patio furniture or planter boxes.

Sonance Patio System

Pre-configured landscape systems are ideal for spaces up to 2,000 square feet with little or no ambient noise. These systems are flexible for configurations of eight satellite speakers and one subwoofer up to sixteen speakers and two subwoofers. For high-quality sound covering over 2,000 square feet where there is a high level of ambient noise (party decks, spaces adjacent to the lake, commercial rooftop decks), a configurable high- performance satellite system is the best option.

Motorized Outdoor Shades

Motorized outdoor shades help to enhance our outdoor living spaces during the Spring, Summer and Fall months, and even extend the season a bit.

Motorized shades covered porch

Depending on the fabric selection, an outdoor shade can help to retain cool air, reduce UV rays and block out the majority of dust (and insects!), while allowing visibility through the shade.  It is possible to enjoy fresh breezes and unobstructed views, and then lower shades with the press of a button.

Outdoor Television

The outdoors can be a great place to get together for TV – an outdoor movie night with the family, watching a game at a barbecue with friends, or just watching a favorite show while enjoying the warm weather for the short time that it’s here in the Midwest.

A common misconception is that indoor televisions can be used outdoors. Given the relatively low cost of today’s TVs, many people think they can purchase an indoor TV, use it outdoors for a year or two and then replace it.  However, there are good reasons to invest in an outdoor television:


One of the biggest differences between indoor and outdoor televisions is brightness.  Because there is more ambient light outdoors – even in the shade – outdoor televisions are much brighter than indoor units.  Generally speaking, attempting to watch a regular television outdoors during the day, all you will be able to see is a black screen – you can’t make out the image.  Outdoor televisions are rated for shade or for direct sunlight, depending on your application. To actually enjoy your TV outdoors, it is important to choose the right model.


Outdoor TVs can remain and be used outdoors all year.  They are designed to protect against heat, cold, moisture, and dust.  Indoor TVs are not designed to withstand the frigid Chicago winter.  That means uninstalling and reinstalling a TV every season.

Indoor TVs also don’t have any mechanisms to regulate their internal temperature, meaning that if they are used on a hot day and/or in direct sunlight, they may overheat and shut down.

Outdoor televisions in bright sun

Outdoor WiFi

For the better part of the day, most of us our tethered to our technology be it our smart phones, tablets, or computers.  Whether it is for fun or work, there are a number of reasons that outdoor WiFi might be a great addition to your outdoor space.  Since exterior walls are often the thickest in the home, they tend to block wireless signals, meaning no or slow coverage outside.  A WiFi access point rated for outdoor use is often the best solution.  Why use WiFi outside?


Most of us juse assume that we can get strong cellular signals outdoors.  This is great for speaking on the phone, texting, reading emails, and surfing the web. However, there are outdoor locations where this isn’t always the case.  Because of geography and the placement of cell towers, cell phone service can be spotty near Lake Michigan.  The same is true for some homes in urban areas, where tall adjacent buildings can block cellular signals.  Homeowners living in these areas may need to utilize WiFi outdoors to use their smart phones and tablets.  And since most laptops (and a number of tablets) utilize WiFi instead of cellular signals, working outside on a nice day may only be possible with outdoor WiFi.


Often the best way to control music or television outdoors (as well as lights, pools, etc) is through a smart phone or tablet.  However, for nearly all systems, that phone or tablet needs to be on the WiFi network to control these devices.  It can be frustrating to have to walk indoors to get on WiFi, just to change a song or adjust volume up and down, to turn around and walk outside again. With outdoor WiFi, this is all done without ever getting up.

Outdoor Lighting

To enjoy your outdoors in the evenings and illuminate the beauty of your home and property, outdoor lighting can dramatically change the look and feel of an outdoor space.  Outdoor lighting can provide added safety and security for the home as well.  Mills offers several solutions for outdoor lighting and control:

Lighting Control

Lighting control is becoming more common in all homes.  If you don’t have lighting control, a great place to start is with outdoor lighting control.  Existing dimmers and switches for outdoor lights can be replaced with “smart” dimmers and switches.  Your new dimmers and switches can communicate with an app on your smartphone/tablet and now you have the ability to turn these lights on and off from your smartphone and you can put them on a schedule as well.  And unlike many traditional landscape schedules, these systems don’t need to turn lights on and off at a specific time – they can also turn them on and off based on sunrise and sunset.  For example, outdoor lights turned on every day 30 minutes before sunset, but off every night at 11:30pm.

Control of lighting system  from smart phone

Low Voltage Lighting Fixtures

Lastly, If you’re installing some new speakers and perhaps a new outdoor TV, why not install some new outdoor lights too?  Mills offers a number of outdoor lighting fixture solutions, including the design, installation, and control of the lights.  Even a small number of outdoor lighting fixtures can radically change the feel and ambiance of an outdoor space.

Outdoor lighting

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these products, or would like us to help you get your space ready for the season, please contact us – we would love to help!