6 Trends in outdoor living for remodelers

Homeowners are looking for a private retreat

May 22, 2012

Summer with its pleasant weather beckons homeowners to enjoy nature right outside their doors, creating outdoor “living rooms” equipped with furniture, full kitchens with multiple cooking appliances and entertainment centers with sound systems

“Homeowners are looking for a backyard that is a peaceful getaway from the stresses of life,” says Michael Gori of Azek Building Products. “They look to the contractor to create an oasis consisting of decks, pergolas, gazebos, patios, walkways, gardens and integrated water features.”

1. Private getaways

But these are not public spaces. “We are seeing an increase in the popularity of privacy fencing to help make these personal retreats more secluded, especially in more populated neighborhoods,” says Jerry Blais of Ply Gem. “Kroy by Ply Gem has multiple vinyl privacy fence varieties that offer a real-wood look, but with less maintenance.”

Recent expansion of their 7/8” by 3” picket fence option Woodland Select line now provides variegated colors that mimic Weathered Cedar, Natural Cedar and Redwood. The proprietary blend in these colors creates realistic wood grain patterns on the posts, rails and pickets with rich hues and natural looking variegation. These new products can be used to create 5- or 6-foot high semi-privacy pool fencing and are also available in privacy fence, ranch rail and other fencing styles.

Kroy by Ply Gem fence, rail and outdoor structure products are low maintenance and resistant to termite damage, splitting, rotting and splintering. Some products are made with recycled content and need no on-site finish.

Decorative options to add character to fences are also increasing in popularity. These include a new collection of decorative fence post caps in stained glass and metallic finishes from Kroy by Ply Gem.

2. Decor that blends

Mitch Slater of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens says while people love stainless cabinetry outdoors for its durability, they want the doors and drawers painted either to blend in with the landscaping or to follow a theme from the indoors to the outdoor living area.

“We are selling a lot of earth tones,” he notes. “Nu black Hammertone, Sea Foam Green, Copper Hammertone and Speckled Bronze are other popular painted finishes.”

Shaker style doors with realistic wood grain powder coated finishes continue their popularity. In response to demand for different looks, Danver is adding new door styles including wide stile and rail doors, textured center panels on these and the shaker doors and a bead board look. The cabinets come assembled (except for the doors) with pre-drilled holes and can be installed quickly and easily.

For seating, Azek has convenient kits that assemble on-site into a bench with planter box options using new or leftover Azek deck boards.

“The Azek Bench and Planter Kit can separate a patio area from the main deck or be placed anywhere in many different configurations,” says Gori. This is because the bench can be adjusted from 4 to 6 feet in length. With the planter boxes added, it will fit in 8-foot or 10-foot spaces.

3. Recreating the kitchen outdoors

Homeowners are recreating the “kitchen work triangle” in their outdoor kitchens and adding elements like countertops, backsplashes and appliances. Varied materials are used.

“Masonry is still very popular in high-end outdoor kitchens and we are seeing increased sophistication in the way designers are combining stainless steel and masonry together into beautiful spaces,” notes Russ Faulk of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “We continue to see a trend toward sheltering the kitchen for rain-or-shine use. We expect tinted concrete countertops to continue to grow in popularity and we are waiting for designers to embrace porcelain tiles for finishing the patio slab.”

“Eldorado Outdoor is a collection of strong yet lightweight building blocks that quickly assemble into custom barbeque islands, kitchen counters, bars, fireplaces, firepits and more,” explains Brent Spann of Eldorado Stone. Made of glass-fiber reinforced concrete, Eldorado Outdoor components eliminate the need for concrete foundations, masonry blocks and the related mess, waste and time associated with traditional installations. Using these components a crew of two remodelers can create a beautiful authentic masonry outdoor kitchen in one day compared to conventional building techniques that take four workers seven days.

“Even cutouts for custom features such as barbecues, sinks, drawers and burners can be done on-site, allowing customers to have limitless options when selecting appliances and accessories,” he adds.

4. Specialty cooking

Specialty cooking appliances to prepare all types of food are popular, Slater says. Danver sells several gas grills: ceramic smoker “eggs” for smoking ribs and brisket, infrared grills for restaurant-like steaks, wood fired pizza ovens, power burners for boiling shellfish and the Evo Flattop Grill for social grilling events where everybody can participate.

Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grills will have 12 new models this spring with both improved performance and appearance. All models are capable of cooking with any combination of charcoal, wood and gas. “You can use the gas burners in conjunction with the solid fuels for the most flexible and capable grill system available,” says Faulk. Kalamazoo’s modular outdoor kitchens are easy to install. Simply line up the cabinetry, refrigeration and cooking components, level them using their stainless steel leveling legs, clip and screw each unit to its neighbors, snap on the toe kicks and add the desired countertop. They offer pizza ovens, refrigeration, weather-tight cabinetry, warming cabinets, cooktops and a freestanding fireplace. An outdoor dishwasher will be available this spring.

Made of concrete molded in real stone casts for an authentic style and character, Ply Gem Stone is a low maintenance product used in outdoor kitchens and fireplaces. It is about half the weight of natural stone.

5. Improving outdoor comfort

Danver offers computer controlled perimeter insect control systems to increase the time people can spend outdoors by keeping mosquitoes or other bugs from invading the backyard. “Patio heaters add days to the season so people can enjoy their outdoor rooms longer in the colder climates,” Slater says.

On those patios, Azek now offers an alternative to stone or brick: Vast Pavers made using up to 95 percent recycled materials from reclaimed tires and various plastics. They weigh about one-third as much as traditional pavers and install using an innovative grid that aids in forming straight lines and a level layout.

“Resurfacing Pavers are a thinner profile and can be used over old patios, cracked concrete, decks and flat roofs,” says Gori. “Permeable Pavers have self-spacers that allow stormwater to pass through, making them ideal for high water table areas or storm-prone zones.” With Azek Vast Pavers, remodelers can complete the hardscape portion of outdoor jobs themselves instead of hiring a masonry contractor. In addition, Azek Vast Pavers add more LEED points than other pavers.  

The pavers’ grid installation is three times faster than installing concrete pavers and no heavy equipment is needed for cutting. Azek Vast Pavers are low maintenance and durable because their surface is stain, scratch, chemical and impact resistant.

6. More design, planning for the outdoor space

“Extending your living space to the outdoors is no longer just a trend, but a lifestyle worth attaining,” Spann says. He recommends working with homeowners to determine the space available and what they want to do there.

Eldorado Stone offers an online design tool with options for outdoor cabinets, fireplaces, firepits, seating walls and columns. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet also provides design support, with experts available to help plan the kitchen and provide complete sets of CAD drawings.

Because these products will be constantly exposed to weather, UV rays and pests, remodelers should select outdoor products needing little maintenance. “People want to relax outdoors and low maintenance products remove one additional cause for stress,” Blais notes.

“Outdoor kitchens add not only to the value of the home but also to the homeowner’s lifestyle,” Faulk says. “A kitchen can be easy to add to a project and creates additional business opportunity (for remodelers).” Pay attention to good lighting design for cooking outdoors and have sufficient open countertop space.

“When working on a kitchen, don’t scrimp on the grill,” Faulk adds. “It is the heart of the outdoor kitchen and will make or break the homeowner’s satisfaction with the completed project. Work with the homeowner to select the absolute best grill that will fit their budget.” He points out there is no standard dimensioning in the grill market, so if homeowners want to switch brands later, it is unlikely the new grill will simply slide into the same hole.

Slater agrees, saying, “The hot button for homeowners starting to investigate these projects is the grill. The more you know about the available grills and can answer your customers’ questions, the better you look in their eyes.”

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