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Outdoor kitchens - Choosing the right products and materials

Building an outdoor kitchen as part of a new home or renovation is becoming more common for home owners wanting to make the most of entertaining outdoors. However, builders need to ensure they choose the right products and materials that allow for the kitchen to be used all year round.
The first step in building an outdoor kitchen is to sit down with the customer to discuss the materials and products to be used. Will they stand the test of time? Will they survive the exposure to rain, wind, dust and sunlight? You should make sure the client understands how long products are expected to last when used outside.

As the builder, you need to choose the best materials for use. If the client supplies any of the appliances or materials, make sure this is noted in the contract documents to avoid disputes should there be any defects or failures down the track.

So, what materials and products should you choose for your outdoor kitchen?

Will the kitchen be undercover?

It’s important to consider the exposure of the kitchen to the weather conditions.

If the area is undercover, you may be able to use less hard-wearing options like MDF or other compressed timber products, and soft coverings for chairs and tables. However, the lifespan of these products will still be limited if exposed to heavy moisture.

The choice of cupboards and storage spaces is important. Again, MDF and particle board will eventually swell and rot in outdoor conditions. This should not be seen as a defect in the material. This is how the product wears when exposed to water either directly underneath or to any open edges or sides of the board that have not been sealed or covered with laminate.

Will food be stored outside?

If food is to be stored outside you will need to ensure you have options that are both dry and cool. Placing cupboards out of any direct sunlight will help with this.

Cupboards can be great for storing dry goods. But if wet foods like meat, condiments, drinks and ice are part of the design, a fridge or ice box of some kind will need to be incorporated. The location of the power supply for fridges will also need to be considered.

What about food preparation?

If there is a need for food preparation outside, you will need to incorporate a bench space of some kind, preferably not the table. All of the normal choices for kitchen benchtops are suitable for this purpose, including natural or artificial stone, laminate, manufactured stone and hardwood timbers. Again, make sure when using laminates that all the edges are sealed.

Is storage space needed?

The home owner may want to store things like plates, cups, cutlery, bowls and the like outside. If so, it’s sensible to include cupboard space in the design. Again, the materials used to construct the cupboards need to be weatherproof.

What about water supply?

A sink will need to be installed in the benchtop if there is to be a water supply in the kitchen. 
If an indoor kitchen is close by, the owner may decide this is an extra luxury they just don’t need. If a sink is included, the plumber will need to be consulted about the necessary water and waste water connections.

Will there be gas and power supply?

The barbecue cooktop is a staple in any outdoor kitchen, but other gas appliances are now becoming more common, such as a heating or an oven. For any of these appliances, the builder will need to ensure the right connections are included.

A licensed gas fitter will need to install the necessary gas connections. For LPG, the important thing is to consider where the appliances will be located to ensure they are safe both for clearances from the roof, walls and furniture, and so people can safely move around the area.

If the owner wants power for other appliances such as stereos, TVs and the like, an electrician will need to install these also. Power points that may potentially be exposed to rain must be in an outdoor waterproof fitting.

Will there be cooking appliances?

These days there are a huge range of cooking options for an outdoor kitchen. The traditional gas barbecue tops the list and can be a standalone unit or can be fitted into a benchtop.

Depending on the gas supply to the house, you can use natural gas or LPG bottles. 

Another option could be a standard kitchen gas or electrical cooktop. Both will need to be installed by a professional plumber or electrician and the normal rules for keeping enough space around the cooktop apply. 

If you choose to use a product that would normally be for inside your house, make sure you ask the retailer or check with the manufacturer about whether there are any special requirements if the unit is to be used outside.

Pizza ovens are a new feature in some outdoor kitchens. These should be installed with enough space around the oven to be safe for people moving around and sitting in the same area. These units should be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications.

Small electrical appliances could also be kept in these areas such as microwaves and kettles. But again, think about how far away the indoor kitchen is when deciding whether to double up.

Check before you install

This rule should apply to every product you use when building. The difference for outdoor kitchens is to make sure you consider all of the elements outlined above and determine how the product will survive in an outdoor setting.

The first place to find out more will be to check with the manufacturer of each and every product you plan to use. These specifications should clearly state whether use outdoors is covered by the relevant warranties. If not, contact the manufacturer or supplier directly, or reconsider the use of that product outdoors.

To find out more, contact HIA’s Building Services team.

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