11 Best Tips for Planning Patios, Decks, Outdoor Kitchens and Bars

Now's the time to launch your home improvement projects and enjoy the outdoors. Here, our best tips for building decks, patios, kitchens and home bars.

By Reader's Digest Editors
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    Planning a patio

    The easiest patio to lay and maintain is one made with dry-laid bricks or pavers. Because these are laid in sand and are set without mortar, they go through freeze-and-thaw cycles without cracking. Flagstones laid directly into well-tamped soil or sand make an attractive, more natural-looking patio, for low-growing plants or moss eventually grow between the joints.

    How much space do you need? How will you use it?

    Experts recommend a minimum of 25 square feet of patio per person and a minimum length of 16 feet. You need at least a 6 x 6 foot area out of any traffic path for a dining table and chairs. Next, ask yourself how you’ll be using the patio. Do you want space for a grill? Lounge chairs? Planters?

    Add curve appeal

    Use a garden hose to plan a curve or an irregular shape. Lay the hose on the ground and adjust the shape.

    Planning a deck

    Planning a deck is a lot like planning a patio. The first thing you want to do is scout out your property. Take a walk around to nail down the best location. Consider how much sun and shade you want to have on the deck and how private the spot will be. Wherever the location, it should be easy to access from the house, especially from the kitchen, if you plan to eat meals there.

    Draw a detailed sketch

    Your drawing need not be artistic, but it should include as many details as possible. Consider what special features, such as built-in seating, planters, or a barbecue, you would like to have. Note any problems to be dealt with, such as sloping terrain or a nearby tree.

    Have the plans approved

    Be sure they follow the zoning regulations in your community and are approved by the building department, which may require you to get a permit before you start building a deck.

    Planning an outdoor kitchen

    Constructing an outdoor kitchen is a big project, but one most people find manageable. Expect a lot of heavy lifting and consider calling in a contractor to button up skilled tasks, like gas appliance hookups.

    Orientation is key

    Proper orientation is a very important part of the planning of your project. It doesn’t matter if you live in the northeast or southwest, all houses absorb heat during the day and radiate it back in the late afternoon and early evening. When figuring out where to set up the kitchen, look to the north-facing wall, not the sunnier south or west. You want to place the seating so that guests are not blinded when the sun sets. If wind is a problem where you live, consider adding a windbreak or try adding trees.

    Visit the building department

    Your outdoor kitchen will require a building permit, so it’s smart to make a trip to your local building department and meet with a building inspector early on. Remember, since you’ll want a sink, you’ll need a plumber to install a supply line from the house. GFCI outlets above the counter may require more electrical work, as will the fridge and an oven fired by natural gas.

    Building a bar

    Adding a bar to your deck or patio is a fun way to increase your home’s value, plus it cuts down on traffic to and from the kitchen. Think about the look and feel you want your bar to evoke. Do you want a tranquil or sophisticated space? Or does re-creating your favorite resort sound more exciting? How about a Disney-inspired Tiki bar, like the one detailed in Popular Mechanics?

    Wet or dry?

    Decide whether the bar will be wet (with a sink) or dry (no sink). Another important consideration is how you’ll keep things cool. You might want to add a single piece of refrigeration equipment, or several, such as a wine refrigerator, kegerator or even an ice maker. HoneyCreek Vineyards and Orchards, a site dedicated to home wine making, has an excellent piece on building a home bar that can help you prep for sketching, constructing and stocking your future summer hot spot. Check it out here: Building a Home Bar.

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