Outdoor Kitchen 101: Setting the Scene for Outdoor Living

by Serena Solomon

An outdoor kitchen is the ultimate al fresco space! Get ready for a ton of fun (and a good investment for your home)

outdoor kitchen(Above) Outdoor kitchen renovation by Sweeten contractor Dennis

If you agree that the kitchen is the heart of the home, then consider bringing that sense of entertaining and relaxation outside with an outdoor kitchen. The options for an outdoor kitchen are endless—sinks, fridges, lighting, roofing, the list goes on.

If this sounds appealing, then you are not alone! More than 70 percent of homeowners who have outdoor space are looking to enhance the patio with the goal of making it more relaxing, according to a recent survey from American Home Furnishing Alliance. A CNN Money survey predicted the outdoor kitchen market to be worth almost $6 billion yearly.

An outdoor kitchen might become the cherry on top of your home renovation plans. It isn’t the cheapest project, nor a necessity, but Sweeten outlines what you need to know to help you weigh your decision. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

How to schedule your outdoor kitchen project

Luckily, it’s possible to do outdoor work at nearly any time of the year. However, weather with temperatures above freezing (minus rain and snow!) is preferred. On average, the shortest timeframe to complete an outdoor kitchen without delays or unforeseen events is 2-3 weeks. The longest average timeframe for an outdoor kitchen completion is four months. Start the process at least six months before you want to have the outdoor kitchen completed which also leaves enough time to create a good kitchen plan, advises Dennis, a Sweeten general contractor in Philadelphia.

Budget for an outdoor kitchen

Like all home renovation projects, it’s best to determine what you want to spend in the beginning. Your budget will be a meeting place of your financial abilities and what you need and want. Dennis has worked on outdoor kitchens in the Philadelphia area that range in price from $15,000 to more than $100,000, which is a similar price range given by Jose, a Sweeten general contractor in the Miami area.

A lower budget outdoor kitchen will use materials such as concrete or cement pavers for the floor, according to New York City Sweeten general contractor Santi. Pressure-treated wood for cabinetry is also another good value choice. Materials in a more expensive outdoor kitchen could be stainless steel cabinets, stone floors, and a natural stone countertop, Santi said.

Appliances will also take up a big chunk of the budget. Jose said you should expect to pay several thousand dollars for a grill, fridge, and other appliances that are tough enough to survive the great outdoors.

The national average cost of a mid-range backyard patio that includes a fire pit, small fridge, sink, gas grill, lighting, a pergola, and a 20-foot square patio on flat ground is about $56,000, according to Remodeling‘s Cost vs Value report. That renovation will add over $30,000 to your home’s value. Many outdoor kitchens will start with a patio or deck that is already there, potentially bringing down the cost, according to Dennis.

Draw up the design

The layout of your outdoor kitchen can be drawn up by a kitchen designer or in a growing number of cases, a landscaper, says Dennis. Landscapers help to blend the outdoor kitchen into the overall look of your outdoor space. And of course, your general contractor can likely assist you with the design.

Consider where you place the grill, sink, and fridge as they create the “work triangle” for whoever is cooking. Be sure to keep that area free of obstructions or foot traffic. The design is also an important time to look at the strength of your deck if you are not starting from scratch. Dennis advises that existing decks will need to be assessed to determine if they can handle the added weight.

outdoor kitchen remodel (Above) Outdoor kitchen renovation by New York Sweeten contractor John

Make note of the materials

With the outdoor factor, materials used will differ greatly from your indoor kitchen. And then factor in your style preference and budget. If a bench—a single permanent structure which encompasses countertop, storage, and appliances—is part of your design, common materials are stucco, concrete, or stacked stone, says Dennis. Quartz is also a possibility, according to Jose.

When it comes to cabinets, don’t install too many as you’re not going to keep a lot of plates, pots, and pans in your outdoor kitchen. Whatever you do have should be able to stand up to the winter cold and that includes pipes that drain easily for winterizing.

Understand outdoor kitchen appliances

The staple piece of your outdoor kitchen, and likely the most expensive, is the grill. If you’re planning on installing this permanently by building it into a bench, then don’t hold back on price, Dennis advised. “You want to make sure you have a quality grill—and fridge—because if they break you aren’t going to find one that is an exact fit for the permanent structure,” he said.

Whether your chosen grill will use a propane tank or rely on gas lines, it will have a big impact on your budget, timelines, and permits needed. Even though you’ll need to replace a tank, you won’t need gas lines from house to patio; which saves time, money, and effort.

Ironically, not all fridges can withstand the winter. “Some fridges cannot handle freezing weather even though that seems odd,” Dennis said. Outdoor fridges must work harder to maintain a constant temperature when the weather fluctuates. Consider high-grade stainless steel, which will reduce rust.  But don’t forget the added convenience of an outdoor fridge comes with the inconvenience of needing electricity. This will set you back a few hundred dollars, but solar energy is a possibility.

Coverings for outdoor kitchens

Providing shade and shelter from the rain comes in many forms. For more extravagant outside kitchens—such as a TV for watching sports and a sound system—Dennis recommends something similar to a gazebo roof that has full coverage. There’s also lattice, which will provide some shade, but not rain cover. On the lower end of the budget scale is a retractable awning.

Lighting for outdoor kitchens

Have a long think about what you will use your new outdoor space for. Will you be reading? Playing cards with friends at night? Then perhaps you need more lighting over the seating area as well as where you prepare the food.

Hosting dinner parties? Then consider more ambient lighting that highlights architecture. And if you’re already planning on having a fridge and the electricity it needs, the lighting might be a natural progression.

Don’t forget plumbing!

Running water is important for cooking, so prepare to lay some pipes from your house to your outdoor kitchen. Depending upon the distance, it could cost between $600 to $1,500, according to Sweeten contractor Jose. Cold water is the only necessity here, but “if a client really wants hot water, we can explore a really small, tankless water heater,” he said.

Once you get the water out there, you then have to get rid of it. “You can’t put the waste water into the ground,” said Jose, “It needs to be connected back into the house’s sewer.” Use of a dry well, where water is filtered before going into the ground, might be possible, but this will depend on building codes.

Prepare for permits

The permitting process for outdoor kitchens can be surprisingly complicated. Not only will you need a building permit, but also an electrical permit for refrigeration. If you don’t want to use gas tank lighting, you’ll need mechanical or plumbing permits for water and gas. To avoid gas or electricity permits, clients can use a gas cylinder for the grill and solar energy for electricity, Sweeten contractor Santi suggested.

You may need approval from a zoning department. Dennis advises homeowners to check their local zoning codes as there may be limits on how much land you can cover with materials like concrete because rain cannot easily soak through it. There may also be restrictions on how close to the property line you can build. “It would be a waste of time to design something gorgeous and then submit it and not have it approved,” Dennis said.

Ready to turn your outdoor space into a hub of outdoor entertainment?  Start getting matched with your ideal Sweeten general contractor today!

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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