The Most In-Demand Outdoor Living Features

When designing and furnishing an outdoor room, help customers sort through their options.

A struggling economy isn't stopping homeowners from transforming their backyard patios into fully furnished outdoor rooms, complete with propane-fueled kitchen appliances, dining areas, and open-air home theater systems.

A May survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects found that outdoor living features are as popular as ever. The centerpiece of nearly every outdoor room is a grill, rated by 97.4 percent of the landscape architects who responded to the Residential Landscape Architecture Trends survey as "in demand" this year. Not far behind are fireplaces or fire pits, at 95.8 percent, and lighting features, at 93.1 percent. Pools and spas — often available with propane heaters — also rank high on the list, along with other water features, such as waterfalls and bubblers.

And while the traditional focus of the landscape architect's business is gardens and landscaped spaces, the survey shows that outdoor living spaces, such as kitchens and entertainment spaces, are requested from these pros almost as often.

"It starts with the grill," Shreveport, La., remodeler Jeb Breithaupt of Jeb Design/Build says. "Everyone wants the grill and the smoker."

But while many homeowners clamor for outdoor kitchens, they may not know the extent of the options available. Larry Smith, a marketing manager for grill manufacturer Danver, says that the only reason many homeowners hold back when it comes to bedecking their outdoor rooms is that they don't know enough about the array of high-powered grills, fireplaces, fire pits, pizza ovens, and other cooking appliances designed for safe outdoor use and storage.

Danver Solaire grill
Outdoor grills such as the Danver Solaire, pictured, have become a popular feature in outdoor rooms.

"When the homeowner is exposed to what is available in the outdoor living arena, the homeowner wants that," Smith says. He notes that manufacturers introduce more powerful propane grills and more fashionable propane fire pits and fireplaces every year. "But the first thing the contractor says is, 'Here's what will save you money.' The homeowner doesn't necessarily want that. He wants to know all that's available."

Builders and remodelers working on projects with outdoor rooms should prepare to help their customers sort through the options and choose outdoor living features that best suit their lifestyle. Nancy Somerville, chief executive of the American Society of Landscape Architects, has noted a trend toward high-end built-in grills that help define the kitchen area of an outdoor room. Meanwhile, Boise, Idaho–based landscape architect Chuck Edwards says just as many of his clients opt for a built-in surround with space for a roll-in grill and a portable propane tank.

"It has the built-in look without going the extra cost," Edwards says, adding that it's easier to replace a freestanding grill than a built-in model when the homeowner wants to upgrade.

Edwards' clients also prefer a freestanding propane-fueled fire pit that is not tethered to a gas line, so the homeowner can move it to different spots in the yard. "With a small yard, you need flexibility," Edwards says, adding that he likes to create an area for the fire pit that's away from the patio. "I make the fire pit a separate destination, which creates a different room, another destination," he says.

Watch this video for an overview of the design and installation considerations for outdoor residential propane applications.

Smith notes that all of Danver's fueled outdoor appliances are available for use with propane.

Aside from installing grills, fire pits, and fireplaces, homeowners continue upgrading their outdoor kitchens with propane cooktops and extra burners, patio heaters, pool and spa heaters, generators, and lighting.

Indeed, Somerville notes, appliance choices can overwhelm homeowners, who are turning to design professionals for their outdoor projects. "This is not a design-your-own area anymore," she says.

Builders and remodelers interested in expanding the list of features in their outdoor living rooms and kitchens can find free online training courses at the Propane Training Academy. Two courses in particular — Expanding Outdoor Living Using Propane for Efficient and Sustainable Outdoor Living and Innovations with Propane Gas for Outdoor Residential Use — are tailor-made for construction pros who want to beef up their technical knowledge, learn about propane's environmental advantage compared with other fuel sources, and brush up on the latest trends and design tips for outdoor living spaces.

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