Building the outdoor kitchen of your dreams can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It can significantly increase the value of your home and provides a great space to entertain friends and family. However, without a bit of preparation beforehand, it can quickly turn into a nightmare. Many homeowners (including us) love to jump in head first, selecting grills, counter tops and lighting without thinking about the big picture.Having gone through the pains of building our own outdoor kitchen, we’d like to share a few tips and tricks we picked up along the way. In particular, we’re going to focus on items to consider before lifting a shovel or paying a single penny.
#1 – Identify your Needs
A lot of homeowners can get quickly carried away when they begin planning their outdoor kitchen. We’ve learned however, that it’s a great idea to just take a set back and really identify what it is you need. After all, that $10,000 pizza oven might sound nice, but will you actually use it that much?
Consider what it is you’ve envisioned and how you see yourself using the space. Some folks are big into grilling and smoking, while others prefer a more traditional stove setup. Also think about how many people you plan to entertain. Hosting a few close friends would require a lot less space than an entire extended family. Once, you’ve got a good idea of what you want, it’s best to write it down so you don’t lose sight of your end goal, or stray too far from your plan.
#2 – Create a Budget
Creating a budget is the single hardest part of the planning process. Especially since you don’t quite know the cost of everything you want yet. Even though it’s hard, this needs to be done upfront and agreed upon with all the key players. Whether it’s a husband, wife or relatives, everyone needs to be on the same page.
In general a complete outdoor kitchen will run in the range of $3,000 to $15,000. This number can vary quite drastically depending on what you’ve planned but it’ll at least give you a ballpark figure. Another way to look at a budget is as a percentage of your overall house value. For an average priced home you’ll spend approximately 2-5% of the home’s value on an outdoor kitchen. Keep in mind however, theses are just estimations and each budget should be based on your own circumstances and finances.
#3 – Analyze the Weather
While it may seem obvious, an outdoor kitchen is by design, positioned in an exterior location. As such, it’s subjected to rain, snow, high winds and whatever else mother nature can throw at it. Before pouring concrete and installing that awesome smoker, take a look at the yearly weather in your region. Pay close attention to rainfall amounts, average lows and highs as well as the amount of wind and from which direction it blows.
This knowledge will help you choose specific accessories that will offset any negative weather. As an example, if you’re in a windy, yet sunny location you might want an anchored metal gazebo. However if it’s just hot with a slight breeze, a low cost soft top canopy would be a better choice. On the flip side, if your area has extended periods of cold, maybe you’ll consider adding a patio heater or fire pit for a bit of extra warmth. Whatever the weather is, just keep it in mind as you move into the layout and selection phase. Having the right materials and equipment can make the difference between a decent outdoor kitchen and an amazing one.
#4 – Measure the Area
Now that you’ve got your budget laid out and have a good understanding of your needs, it’s time to whip out the measuring tape. You might be thinking, “that’s contractors job,” and you’d be right. However, it’s best if you know the dimensions of your area so you can make informed decisions and have an idea of what sizes work and which don’t. Plus, you’ll immediately know if something seems fishy, like when a contractor tells you they need to run 20′ of propane line when the entire patio is only 10′ long!
If you have access to it, most houses have a plot plan available. These provide most, if not all of the measurements you need and are a great starting point for sketching out a draft layout. If you can’t find your plot plan, a piece of graph paper, a pencil and a tape measure can get the job done in a matter of minutes. Make sure to draw everything as accurately as you can so you can use it as a template to locate the power sources in the next step.
#5 – Consider Power Sources
A great way to keep the costs of an outdoor kitchen down is locating equipment as close to an appropriate power source as possible. Take a few minutes to identify all the power sources in your outdoor area. They might include, electrical outlets, propane connections or natural gas lines to name a few. You can also use this list to give you a baseline for equipment selection. As an example, you won’t want to select a natural gas grill if all you’ve got available is propane. Afterwards, take the map you made in the last step and mark down all power locations and approximate dimensions.
Not only will this map be great for your own personal planning, it’ll also help speed up the contractor visits. With all the information ready to go, they won’t need to make the measurements themselves and you can e-mail them a copy before they arrive. Even better, it allows them to quickly gauge the overall complexity and size of the project for a quick quote and estimated schedule.
#6 – Make a Draft Layout
Now comes the fun part, creating a draft layout that’ll turn your dream into a reality. At this point you know what you want and you know the size you have to work with. Without looking into too much detail at specific gadgets, draw out what you’ve envisioned. This should include major items such as counter top locations, cooking appliances, tables and seating, patio shade and any other big things you’ve determined are necessary for your outdoor kitchen.
This will enable you to play with the overall layout until you think the look and feel are just right. There are also a host on free online tools that can help with the positioning and revisions. In general though, we like to use pencil and paper for that good old fashion feeling. Plus, it forces us to really think about individual positions instead of dragging a million items onto the screen at once. Another great idea is to make cutouts of your items and tape them into position so they are easily moved. Once you’ve got this step on lock down, it’s time to move onto determining your lighting setup.
#7 – Plan for Patio Lighting
One of the most important steps that can make or break an outdoor kitchen design, is the lighting. A good lighting system is critical for enhancing the look and feel of your outdoor space, while also adding a much needed functional element. Nobody likes to work in the dark and late night parties are much cooler with a bit of ambient glow and some mood lighting to set the scene. Take a look at where you’ve position everything in your draft layout and determine where people will gather or work at the most. That’s where you’ll want to concentrate the majority of your efforts.
You’ll definitely want to add some lighting near the counter and cooking appliances. This will make cooking in the evening much easier and will provide a soft glow that’ll make your workstation stand out. We’d also recommend adding a bit of ambient light to differentiate the kitchen space from the rest of the yard. A few outdoor lanterns or a set of string lights works very well for this application. Other types of lights to consider are umbrella lights, solar ground lights or even an outdoor fire pit for an interactive lighting element.
#8 – Think about the Neighbors
While not exactly the top design point on many people’s list, this is something to think about. Nobody wants to have smoke blowing into their yard or a spotlight shining through their bedroom window. Take a look at what areas of your neighbors yard are visible while planning your outdoor kitchen. If you’ve got a full wooden privacy fence, you’re in a great position, whereas if you’ve got a wrought iron fence it might take a bit more work.
Try to position social areas and gathering points out of view so you, and your neighbors can have a bit of privacy. This might also include having the main counter facing outward towards the side so anyone at a table or sitting down won’t have to look at the house next door. In general, just be courteous to those around you since your more than likely going to want to enjoy your outdoor kitchen for many years to come.
#9 – Select Colors and Materials
At this point you’re nearing the finish line and just need to put on the last little touches. Select colors and materials that compliment each other, work with your climate conditions and are specifically designed for outdoor use. I’ve looked at hundreds of outdoor kitchens while planning my own and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen two different element not quite match. If your going with stainless steel cabinets, continue the look the whole way though. Or if you’ve decided that you want to have tropical green accent colors, make sure you use them throughout the entire design.
Also you’ll want to stay away from unprotected carbon steel or copper. They can rust or get a patina that will drastically change their look and function. Sealed granite and stainless steels however, make for excellent materials. Both are very weather resistant and highly tolerant to outdoor conditions. When selecting materials, pay attention to how much maintenance they require as well. Having to polish a counter top or buff a metal cabinet for the hundredth time can become a pain very quickly. Overall, just make sure that your colors are consistent and you choose durable, long lasting materials.
#10 – Get Multiple Bids
You’ve finished, your plan is in place and your ready to spend some money and get it done. But hold your horses for just a few seconds longer. Don’t just toss a check at the first honey tongued contractor that comes your way. Getting multiple bids for the job is critical to maintaining a low cost project and staying within your budget. We recommend you get three quotes at a minimum, five to six are even better. Also, don’t believe a contractor when he says the price is only good for a week. If you call them up the week after they’ll still agree to the old price, guaranteed.
In general, just play it safe. If you followed the above tips, you’ve got the knowledge, understand you needs and have a clear goal and budget in mind. Don’t be tempted to go overboard at this stage as you’ll ruin all your hard work and might regret it later. An outdoor kitchen is a great place to cook, entertain and relax in while still being a functional area of your home. It’s one of the best outdoor additional that can be made, and if done right, will bring you years of fun and memories.
Now go out and start planning!