How to Expand Outdoor Rooms

Key considerations for designing and building an outdoor entertaining space with propane.

Outdoor living has come a long way from the days of a concrete-slab patio, a rusty charcoal grill, and a sprinkler for the kids to run through. Nowadays, backyard life is increasingly focused around the idea of an outdoor "room" with everything from an eight-burner grill to an all-season pool or spa.

No matter how simple or complex, the common denominator is often propane, a clean, environmentally friendly form of energy that's particularly suited for outdoor applications. It works for grills; heating pools and spas; fueling outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and other fire features; heating water for outdoor showers; getting rid of pesky mosquitoes; and providing mood-appropriate lighting.

Of course, with more interest in elaborate outdoor rooms comes the necessity for training and careful planning. Here is a checklist of key considerations to take into account when designing and constructing an outdoor room:

Step 1: Designing the Outdoor Room—Style and Use

  • Who will be using the space and when? What feeling should the space evoke— private and quiet or open for all-out entertaining?
  • Use the same building blocks of good interior design—lighting, furniture configuration, seating, and functionality combined with an eye on such outdoor concerns as maintenance and weatherproofing.

Step 2: Outdoor Kitchens—Consider the Needs of the Homeowner

  • Is the homeowner looking for an outdoor space where he can grill and simply entertain in comfort or does he want to re-create a fully functional kitchen where guests can relax and the cook can remain an integral part of the gathering?
  • Location, location, location: Building adjacent to the home has its advantages (efficient utility usage, a buffer against bad weather) but locating an outdoor structure, especially the kitchen elements, away from the home allows for flexibility in design.
  • Appliance costs vary greatly, from $3,000 for a good-quality grill with modest counter space to $20,000 for all the bells and whistles (pizza ovens, warming drawers, etc.).

Step 3: Living Outdoors—Comfort and Codes

  • On cool mornings or evenings, portable propane heaters can easily heat a 20-foot radius, raising the immediate area temperature by up to 30 degrees. Space-saving infrared heaters can be hung from a wall or overhang. For more about propane for heating outdoor spaces, read our case study, "Propane for Outdoor Heating," also in this issue.
  • Banish bugs with a propane-fueled mosquito eliminator. Popular models include foggers that use propane as a propellant and traps that lure bugs with CO2 derived from propane.
  • For homes in areas with strict zoning codes, consider using plant materials, low walls, fencing, garden structures, and even outdoor fabric panels in place of fixed walls.
  • Brush up on local codes and regulations when it comes to including an outdoor fireplace or fire pit. In some areas where open wood fires are verboten, a propane fire pit or fireplace is a good option.

Step 4: Fueling the Outdoor Space—Propane Advantages

  • Propane is an environmentally friendly form of energy; it is clean burning and has a low level of CO2 emissions, reducing the carbon footprint of the property.
  • Propane tanks can be buried below grade or kept above ground without EPA compliance issues.
  • For a grill-only outdoor space, small propane tanks make the most sense. These tanks are commonly made of steel but are becoming available in composite materials for lighter weight and greater versatility.

For more information, as well as free AIA- and NAHB-approved education courses about building outdoor spaces with propane, go to the training section of our website. The topics discussed in this article are more fully explored in the following course and video:

Innovations with Propane for Outdoor Residential Use

Expanding the Experience of Outdoor Living Spaces

How to Expand Outdoor Rooms
Case Study: Propane for Outdoor Heating
Outdoor Beds and Baths?


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