Benefits of an Outdoor Kitchen

Out for a run, enjoying my day, I saw a neighbor out of the corner of my eye trying to get my attention. Now, understand, I hate to stop when I’m running. After running for many, many years, not wanting to stop has become a manic obsession. The thought entered my mind that I would act as if I didn’t see him but after a pang of conscience I jogged across the street to his driveway (but I did continue to jog in place).

My neighbor Bill and I have talked over the years at neighborhood gatherings and he was aware that I worked in the home improvement industry. He inquired if I could answer some questions about outdoor kitchens. Things like benefits, cost, home values, etc. It turned out that he was seriously considering having an outdoor kitchen built in his backyard.

My first thought was that I wanted to continue my run so I told him that I was a little pressed for time and that I would call him the next day. As I continued my run I decided that I would make some calls so that I could give him all the ins and outs concerning outdoor kitchens. Were there benefits in installing an outdoor kitchen? Though heavily involved in home improvement, I had never delved deeply into this subject

That afternoon I perused the internet and read some articles that had a sameness about them that didn’t satisfy my curiosity.

I then made a call to Jamie Horner, owner of Summer Breeze Outdoor Kitchens in Bluffton, South Carolina. Previously, I had purchased some grilling equipment from him and I found him to be knowledgeable and candid.

“You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck because you’re creating a very usable room for a lot less money than if you were adding on to your house. Plus there are a lot of perks.”

We talked for about 45 minutes and there was no denying his knowledge and enthusiasm. I was taking notes throughout our conversations and these are some of the things I came away with:

An Outdoor Kitchen is the Centerpiece of Outdoor Entertaining

Have you ever considered having some family or friends over for a barbecue in the spring or summer? An outdoor kitchen is a whole new way to entertain outdoors, and it is much more than just a place to put your grill. An outdoor kitchen can include a grill, a stovetop, a pizza oven, a smoker, a refrigerator, cabinets, sinks, a wine cooler, a bar, and much more.

You can arrange your entertainment space around your kitchen. Place patio furniture, comfy seats, or picnic tables around the cooking area. You can install heaters, a roof, or a fire pit to enhance your space. Some people even install a TV and a sound system.

Easy to Entertain

Having everything you need outside makes it easier to entertain and grill at the same time. Instead of spending time running in and out of your house you could have all the food and drinks you need for a barbecue already outside. An outdoor kitchen allows you to spend a little less time preparing and more time enjoying the company of your guests.

Cooking Outdoors is Healthy

It’s true that an outdoor kitchen can include a stove and even an oven but the centerpiece is still the grill. And there is no healthier way to cook your food than on an open fire. As you cook, fat drops off the food instead of collecting in a pan or pot. Your food will be naturally leaner and healthier.

Besides the benefit of healthier food, there are also other health benefits to cooking outdoors. Smoke and fumes can be unhealthy when contained in a small indoor space. But cooking outdoors is better than any ventilation system.

There are also health benefits to eating outdoors. Fresh air is great for your mental and physical health.

An Outdoor Kitchen Increases Your Home’s Living Space

Installing an outdoor kitchen is like adding a whole new room to your house. It’s another living space that you can use and enjoy. And it doesn’t have to be only in the summer. An outdoor kitchen can be a 24/7 living space if you plan it right. Thankfully, winters in the Lowcountry are relatively mild. But even in colder climes the addition of heaters and a fire pit can still keep you comfortable.

When designing an outdoor kitchen don’t forget lighting. The fun shouldn’t stop when the sun goes down! This means a combination of bright task lighting for your cooking areas and more subdued ambient lighting for your entertaining space.

What I found interesting with Jamie’s thoughts was that he stressed the experiential value of the outdoor kitchen. In my internet readings the authors spoke ad infinitum about energy savings and increased resale value. Jamie said that while those things might be true, the main feedback from his customers was that they were having great experiences and more fun entertaining.

Think about it: how important is it to have an inviting and fun place to share meals with your family and friends? As Jamie said, “That has a value of itself and only you can put a price on it.”

Costs and ROI

After talking to Jamie, I decided to investigate a little deeper into some of the claims that I had read. But before that I looked into the costs of an outdoor kitchen.

Home Advisor stated that a typical outdoor kitchen ranges between $5,400 and $21,900. However, depending on add-ons and taste it can go as high as $50,000 or even $100,000! This confirmed what Jamie had told me. But he did emphasize that a functional, enjoyable outdoor kitchen can always be constructed for an affordable price for every economic level. It’s always up to the consumer.

Then I called Jacquie Diamond of RE/MAX Competitive Edge in New Jersey to get a different perspective. A professional with over 30 years of experience, she is located in Central Jersey and is involved extensively with properties on the popular and beautiful Jersey Shore.

My question: How does an outdoor kitchen play in the New Jersey housing market especially as to resale value?

“It’s all over the place. From my experience, an outdoor kitchen will produce for a seller 55% return on investment (ROI). But I’ve seen outdoor kitchens where the seller went the extra mile and their ROI was 100%, sometimes 150%.” She reminded me how New Jersey loves their summers and a beautiful outdoor kitchen ups the interest in the house. She added, “ A home’s indoor kitchen is always a major selling point and an amazing outdoor kitchen just adds to that.”

After speaking to a few more realtors in different areas I came to this conclusion: determining the resale value of a specific amenity is challenging as markets will differ with location. As a rule of thumb, homeowners are probably looking at a 50% ROI with 150% being the high end.

Deciding to dig a little further I called a business associate at Wells Fargo Lending and asked him about ROI for outdoor kitchens. He, in turn, introduced me to an appraiser that does extensive work with the bank. When I posed my question to him he was very clear and his answer added a new layer of understanding.

“ROI depends on the neighborhood you live in. If all of the houses in your neighborhood are valued at $400,000 for instance, and your outdoor kitchen theoretically increases your home value to $440,000, you’ll probably have a hard time getting full value for your home just because it’s far above the average price. Homes in a geographic area are generally valued in a fairly uniform grouping, regardless of home improvements.”

What I found disconcerting was that every article I read about the benefits of an outdoor kitchen highlighted carte blanche that it creates an increased resale value without a shred of research. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Given the constant fluctuation of the real estate markets, I think my research indicates that while an outdoor kitchen can sometimes be fiscally rewarding, there’s no guarantee that homeowners will increase their resale value by any specific amount or percentage.

Energy Savings

Energy costs have a tendency to veer toward being outrageous and they simply keep rising as the years go by. Most articles about the benefits of an outdoor kitchen tout that they will bring your energy bill down without supplying any factual information.

I wondered if this broad statement might lead me to where ROI did. After some inquiries I spoke with an energy consulting company in Maryland.

My question: Does an outdoor kitchen save on energy bills?

In summary, they told me there could be a threefold energy savings: lighting, appliances, and air conditioning.

When you cook outside you don’t need any of the lights inside. Whereas cooking in the kitchen means you probably must have an overhead light on and possibly one over the stove. While the savings are not enormous, not running these lights can save you about $30 a year. If you’re cooking in the summer while it’s still daylight, this will definitely save your lighting bill. However, if you’re cooking outside when it’s already dark and will need to turn on your outdoor lighting, then this ‘savings’ might just be a wash.

Outdoor kitchens usually utilize charcoal, wood, gas, or propane for appliances versus your electric appliances indoors. Running an oven stove for an hour costs approximately 12 cents. An average meal will run from 1 to 2 hours which amounts to 365-730 hours a year if you only use them for one meal a day. This means you can expect to save $45 to $90 a year. Of course all bets are off if you have gas indoors.

When you run the oven or stove top, you raise the temperature in your home which in turn means your air conditioning system must work harder to maintain a stable temperature. This is the biggest way an outdoor kitchen can save you energy costs because this extra work could amount to anywhere from $20 to $50 a month. Depending on your location and how often you’re cooking outside, this could mean $120 to $400 a year.

So the total energy savings from an outdoor kitchen can range anywhere from $250 to $600 per year. This number could be significantly higher for those cooking more than one meal a day or those who have older ovens.

Now I was ready to talk to Bill again. I have the feeling he doesn’t care about ROI – heck, he’s looking to create enjoyment not to sell his house. Energy savings? That might be nice, but with this investment, I hardly think that is his consideration. Am I right?

I called Jamie Horner back and asked him what he thought the real value of an outdoor kitchen was. Here is his answer in full.

“An outdoor kitchen, under sunny skies with loved ones, has value that goes beyond dollars. For a person who appreciates aesthetics, an outdoor kitchen can be designed to include touches that offer powerful appeal to your sensibilities and make the project worth the investment regardless of dollars.”

This is what I told Bill: If you’re looking to upgrade your entertainment space, increase family time, or find a reason to spend more time outside, an outdoor kitchen is a great addition to your home. (Yeah, I gave him all the other details, too.)

Running past Bill’s home the other day (I, of course, didn’t stop) I saw some outdoor construction in progress. Can’t wait for my invitation.

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