From cooking to entertaining, propane helps homeowners take advantage of the whole back yard.
The best parties used to end up in the kitchen, but if recent trends are any indication, they'll soon move out to the patio.
New surveys conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Hearth Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), and Houzz all point to continuing demand for outdoor living features, many of them fueled by propane. These outdoor amenities can make a big impact on how those rooms look and feel.
- In ASLA's 2017 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey, fire pits and fireplaces were the most-desired outdoor design element, noted by 71 percent of landscape architects.
- A third (32 percent) of Houzz users indicated they planned to add a fire pit to their outdoor spaces in the coming year.
- A full 10 percent of Houzz users also said they planned to invest in outdoor kitchen equipment.
- HPBA said 10 percent of consumers are looking to add fireplaces, heaters, and outdoor kitchens to their outdoor living spaces.
- HPBA also indicates that a whopping 83 percent of consumers have three or more accessories that complement their grilling pastime, which the association says is becoming "an integral part of the North American lifestyle."
Builders and design pros can satisfy that demand by helping customers create outdoor rooms that their friends and family will truly want to spend time in. Here are four ways to start planning the perfect outdoor room.
- Develop Seamless Transitions. People want consistency throughout the look and feel of their home, and Paul Nigon, Western U.S. sales manager for the Outdoor Greatroom Company, says that shouldn't stop at the threshold. "Someone with a contemporary indoor living space shouldn't go with a tropical Florida-style outdoor room," he says. "You want a seamless transition so design elements will carry from inside to outside." Fireplace and fire pit designs are available in a wide range of design styles, so homeowners can easily outfit their patio spaces anywhere on the spectrum from highly traditional to ultra-modern.
- Consider the Whole Space. Another way the outdoor space can mirror the home's interior is by having the layout of outdoor rooms reflect interior spaces. "An outdoor room can be as simple as a grill and a dining set," Nigon says. "But there are all sorts of shapes and sizes of outdoor rooms." A deck or patio can easily be divided into cooking areas with a propane-powered outdoor kitchen and dining space and a separate lounge area with a propane fireplace, fire pit, or stylish outdoor heater.
Likewise, Hector Dominguez says outdoor living areas aren't just used for cooking and dining. "We have customers that really spend their entire days outdoors," says the marketing executive at Austin, Texas–based Sharp Propane. "That's where they work, that's where they play. They spend most of their time outdoors, so we provide them with propane for outdoor heaters, lighting, pool and spa applications, and a lot more."
- Add Creative Touches. Kitchens, fireplaces, pools, and spas are among the largest and most popular applications for propane in the back yard, but the design opportunities don't end there. At Second Nature Outdoor Living in Lee's Summit, Missouri, operations manager Jeremiah Sliffe says the company has installed dozens of propane- and gas-powered appliances just this year, but they haven't all been grills and fire pits.
"We've done some unique fire columns and a few water features with propane or natural gas flames that come up right through the waterfall," he says. Sliffe says these decorative features create beautiful dramatic touches that can be centerpieces of the living space. He adds that Second Nature has had projects in which fuel lines were run to pool cabanas, allowing homeowners to install small water heaters in their outdoor living space. "It's really fun," he says, noting that nearly anything you can use propane for inside can also be taken outside.
- Take Advantage of Consultations. Dominguez says the team at Sharp Propane often works with landscape architects and contractors to properly site outdoor propane appliances for their customers. "Propane technicians have expertise with the products and the local building codes, so they'll be able to share a lot of information on the best way to locate a grill, the pool heater, the fireplace, et cetera." Consulting with experts when propane or gas is involved helps ensure all elements of the outdoor living area will work with the aesthetic and safety needs of the design.
Sliffe agrees that propane professionals can provide valuable input. "The propane companies we work with are excellent," he says. "Whether it's a phone call or an on-site visit, they help us make sure we're taking the correct steps, like following city guidelines for distances away from hard structures, and making sure there are enough lower-level vents in the design to ventilate propane that sinks." Those steps help ensure design layouts that address homeowner convenience and comfort while satisfying safety and building codes.