Milwaukee/NARI Provides “Staycation” Tips

June 21, 2011

The at-home “staycation” is a popular way to spend vacation time without spending much money this season. While at first the home may not seem as magical as Disney World’s “Cinderella Castle,” why not build a tent castle in the backyard? Members of the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council, Inc., the area’s leading home improvement and remodeling industry resource for more than 49 years, share their tips for transforming the home into a vacation destination.


Backyard Oasis

Small touches can make the yard a relaxing refuge according to Bill Wandsnider, RLA, CLP, owner of Wandsnider Landscape in Menomonee Falls. “Create an outdoor room by arranging comfortable furniture on the patio, using area rugs and throw pillows, and having enough tables for drinks and plates.” To complete the staycation setting, he suggested:


• Candles and tiki torches

• Fire pit, portable fire pit, or fireplace

• Outdoor lighting, such as low voltage or outdoor string lights

• Fences or plants to create privacy

• Shelter from the sun with shade trees, pergolas, or umbrellas

• Propane heater for cool nights

• Planters with large tropical or nicely scented plants (that don’t attract bees), also plants with white foliage and flowers that give a moonlight effect at night

• Hammock

• Large, smooth lawn area for activities

• Areas for food prep, grilling, eating, and bar refreshments


What about the kids? Registered architect Jim Pitzen, ALA, CR, owner of Pitzen Design, Ltd., in Brookfield suggested a hideout or fort. He said, “A tree house is the perfect getaway for kids to feel like they have their own private island. They can decorate it, furnish it, hang out with friends, and even do overnight campouts.” Building a garden shed with a hidden fort area is another idea. “Use the back third of the shed or the attic space as a special place for the kids to hide and play while you garden.”


Activities & Events

A world of adventures can be brought to the backyard, saving time, money, and the frustrating question: “Are we there yet?” Wandsnider offered seven ideas to get homeowners started.


• Picnics: To make it interesting, families can pick a destination or country they’d like to visit, and then decorate and eat accordingly. “For example, if you choose Mexico, put up colorful decorations and piñatas, wear sombreros, eat tacos, play pin the tail on the donkey, and play Mexican music,” he said.


• Nature Scavenger Hunt: Families can explore their backyard more than they ever have, identifying trees, flowers, insects and birds. They can make a scavenger hunt out of it by giving everyone a list of items to find, including colors, shapes, animal tracks, something with a strong scent, something soft, something rough, etc.


• Camping: Homeowners can make a fire pit, eat s’mores, cook out, tell stories, put up a tent, look at the stars, and identify constellations.


• Water Theme Park/Pool Party: If homeowners don’t have a pool, they can put up a temporary one. “Then make your own water park with sprinklers and slip-n-slides,” he said. “Serve lemonade, ice cream, and popsicles.”


• Movie Night/Concert Night: Why not bring the TV outside? “Play a movie or a concert on DVD and make popcorn. Bring the furniture outdoors with pillows and blankets,” he said.


• Parade and Carnival: Kids and grown-ups can make their own floats with art projects, wagons, and scooters. They can play instruments, dress up like clowns, and do face painting. “Rent a jumping house and play carnival games,” he said. “Serve cotton candy, popcorn, hot dogs, and slushies.”


• Game Day: Homeowners can pick any sport and hold a tournament. Wandsnider suggested volleyball, croquet, badminton, or turning your yard into a mini-golf course.


Pitzen said, “For the ‘golf course’ vacation, add a putting green in the back corner of your yard. You may not be able to hit it with your pitching wedge, but it sure will look great from the house and patio.”


Just like on a big vacation, rain, bugs, or heat may force the family indoors. “Fix up the basement,” Pitzen said. “ The lower level can become a comfortable hideaway for the kids or the entire family as the dew point rises. Like any good hotel, an arcade, game room, exercise room with sauna, and theater room are great amenities.” It’s also perfect for the winter staycation!


Saving Money

The decision to take the big family trip or to stay close to home can be a money matter. According to Wandsnider, staycations can “save hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on gas, lodging, airfare, eating out, and car rental.”


There are ways to save money during the summer. “Spending time outdoors saves a lot on utility bills by using less electricity for air conditioning, televisions, computers, and indoor lighting,” he said. His line of reasoning also included:


• Using low voltage lighting outdoors instead of line voltage

• Shading the house from the sun with vegetation

• Turning down the temperature on a hot tub to save on electricity

• Using charcoal and wood for grills and fire pits instead of gas


Pitzen agreed that using the air conditioner less is key. “On the hot days of summer, avoid the stove and fire up the grill instead,” he said. “Insulate and ventilate your attic to keep the hot air out of your house and keep your cooling costs down. If you’re going to replace old windows, choose energy efficient, UV protected window units.”


Similarly, if it’s time to upgrade the air conditioning and furnace unit, choose from the high efficiency options with a multi-speed blower and programmable thermostat. He added that if homeowners have high and low return air vents, the high vents should be open in the summer to return the warm air rising in the rooms.


For more information or to receive a free copy of an annual membership roster listing all members alphabetically and by category, call (414) 771-4071 or visit


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