How to buy Outdoor Furniture

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Before buying outdoor furniture there are a few questions you have to ask yourself.  One of the most important questions is, “how much do you want to spend?” ” Are you looking for high quality, long lasting outdoor furniture or are you looking to use some furniture in the backyard or patio for the summer season?”  If you are looking for outdoor furniture that you intend to keep for ten years, then it will be a lot different than just a little fun set, to fill a need for one summer.  Many home improvement stores will carry the cheap and cheerful type that works wonderfully for that short time period, however if you are seeking higher quality outdoor furniture, it will require more effort on your part to find these.

A few basic questions to ask yourself while deciding on outdoor furnishings are:

  • What is your desired budget?
  • How long (years) do you wish to have this furniture?
  • Will the furniture be outside year round, or seasonal?
  • Will the furniture be exposed to the weather? If yes, how many months of the year?
  • What are your climate conditions? (Sunny and warm or six months of inclement weather).
  • Will the furniture be covered, but still outdoors? (On a covered deck?)
  • Should it be light weight so it can be moved around easily?
  • What will you be using it for? (Dining, relaxing, and lounging)
  • Do you want the look of the furniture to stay consistent or age with exposure to the elements?
  • How durable do you want it?
  • Fixed or removable cushions?

The answer to most of these questions will get you started on your outdoor furniture journey.  

Entry level outdoor furniture is generally plastic chairs and tables that we have all sat on at some point in our lives.  These plastic stacking chairs, for $10 to $25 per unit, usually come in five handsome colours (mostly white) and work perfectly well for an outdoor gathering.  I’ve even sat on them at a few outdoor weddings in my time.  If they crack or break it’s no big deal and you check with your local recycling program to see where they can be dropped off.

The next level is plastic or metal frames with plastic cross straps (lawn chair webbing) the ones that go from side to side, to support the seat cushions.  These can work well and with the added cushions can be quite comfortable.  The unfortunate part is that the cross straps typically last for about two seasons before they start to break; finding replacements straps can be done but they are exceptionally hard to change and once you change one, you should change them all.  It is time consuming and will need to be repeated over the lifespan of the chair.  There are also metal frame chairs that have metal rails as cross strapping and these are a better quality and will absolutely last longer than the plastic cross straps.

From there the quality and price are all over the place.  When you purchase solid hardwood frame chairs and tables, they are going to last for at least a decade without fail.  Chairs and tables that are constructed from real hardwood can easily take being outdoors year round and are usually durable enough to be pressure washed, re-stained and sealed without any trouble.  The big difference with these units is the price which may be over $100 plus per chair instead of $15 per chair.  Often the cushions are not part of the purchase price of the chair, so you can expect to pay more, but then you might have the option to select a specific foam density to suit your own personal preferences.

All-metal frame tables and chairs are also a safe way to go if you are looking for longevity and durability however, if the metal frame is painted and the units are kept outdoors year round, you will run the risk of paint peeling and the formation of rust.  This can be remedied with a weekend of repainting, if you wish to dedicate the time and effort in the spring.  If they are a treated metal or an aluminum frame then it won’t be any trouble for the units to be exposed to the elements all year round without the worry of possible deterioration.

Wicker has been a staple in outdoor furniture for eons.  It looks good!  It can be exceptionally well made, is lightweight and durable.  I have seen wicker furniture last for 20 years and still look fantastic while providing excellent comfort.  It can be cleaned and it can be painted, with the correct type of paint, to give it better protection however, if you leave your wicker furniture in the rain for months at a time, year after year, there is always the possibility of the product failing.  Generally the wicker holds fast but once the connections start to fall apart; then you have to decide if you want to mend the furniture or move on to something else.

Plastics or resin are a nice solution for outdoor furniture because they can look great forever and there is no question about the durability.  Most of the products are cleanable and can take rain, snow, and extreme sunshine without problem.  It is always easy to change the look by simply changing your seat cushions and voila, it looks like a new set.  Because the plastic chairs are so lightweight they can stack and store easily in your garage over the winter months.  However, one of the setbacks of plastics is, after sitting in the sun it can be really hot on your skin.  I have seen some outdoor furniture that you could cook a meal on because of exposure to the sun on a hot summer day.  Plastics are unforgiving in that they do stick to people and you can’t just assume that you can slide back and forth on the seat pans.  Even the table tops can become too hot to rest your arms against when sitting down to a meal outdoors.

Some manufacturers use different types of stone, for picnic tables and benches, which goes without saying that it has year round durability, but it exceptionally heavy to move, ever.  As with some plastics and metals it can get very hot to the touch so it typically needs to be covered with something when people are sitting on it.

There are many combinations of materials used on outdoor furniture.  Wood with metal, metal with glass, glass with wicker, and the list goes on and on.  The key is to know how you will be using your furniture.  In certain areas of the world you experience all four seasons, so it may be tough to find an outdoor product that can take that amount of exposure and still look good after a decade of use.  Some people like to leave their patio set outside (undercover) year round for when they wish to enjoy time outside during the cold season.  However, if you plan on leaving your outdoor furniture constantly in the elements, please be aware that this exposure may decrease the lifespan of this product. So, now this is where the budget question comes back into play.  How much money are you willing to spend on your outdoor set that might be adversely affected by your local weather conditions?  It can be heart wrenching to go out into the back yard in the spring and see that the winter has kicked the heck out of your really expensive patio furniture set.