Embracing Outdoor Living

How and where is the biggest growth taking place for outdoor living products?
While the Southern regions certainly have a longer outdoor season, the enormously popular consumer trend to entertain family and friends outdoors is across the country and in all regions. It really is a lifestyle that we’re embracing, and there are hundreds of new products available to enhance this lifestyle. It’s casual, fun and relaxed, and you can easily have many indoor comforts outside. Homeowners can enjoy the outside longer with fireplaces, fire pits and patio heaters that help extend the outdoor season.

Are outdoor living areas more popular in homes in a certain price range, or are homeowners at all price points including outdoor living spaces?
Homes at all price points are including outdoor living spaces. In a National Association of Home Builders survey, an outdoor deck or patio is one of the top three most requested features in a new home behind kitchen upgrades and indoor fireplaces. Whether it’s a starter home or a luxury custom-built home, home buyers want an outdoor area. According to a 2005 Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association survey, 81 percent of U.S. households own a grill, which is up 10 percent compared to 2003. In a starter townhouse or condominium, a small outdoor deck or patio certainly will add to the desirability of the home whereas in a larger custom home or renovation, a homeowner’s possibilities are endless with options and a diverse selection of products available.

What are the must-have products for outdoor living spaces?
The first three elements for an outdoor living area are: 1) a place to sit and eat; 2) a grill for cooking; and 3) a hearth product to ward off an evening chill and add ambiance. All three of these elements are very affordable even for a starter home. They can also be easily upgraded when a homeowner has more money to spend. When building or designing a home, builders and architects should have electrical connections, plumbing and gas lines easily accessible outside to avoid having to do it at a later time.

For the remodeling market, a 2005 HPBA survey indicated that close to one-third of grill owners were considering improving their outdoor living area. The most popular improvements are new furniture, improved landscaping, improving the patio or deck and outdoor lighting.

What are the must-have features of the outdoor kitchen?
First and foremost, you need a grill and cooking area. There are many wonderful grills available in many sizes and styles with a wide variety of features and fuel options such as natural gas, propane, charcoal or pellets. The size of the cooking area depends on the dimensions of the entire outdoor living space. A built-in cooking island can include a counter and bar stools. Many grill and outdoor product manufacturers have island components available so a homeowner can pick and choose outdoor kitchen elements. The different components can include a prep area, refrigerator, trash compactor, ice maker, beverage or wine cooler. Depending on a homeowner’s lifestyle, virtually every convenience in an indoor kitchen is available in an all-weather outdoor kitchen.

There also are other cooking options that can be included in an outdoor kitchen. A smoker, rotisserie, deep-fryer, burners or a wok-style grill are just some of the choices. Homeowners can choose and design a kitchen that fits their needs.

What are the more popular hearth products?
The most popular products are the portable wood-burning campfires, fire pits and chimineas. According to HPBA statistics, these shipments have increased almost 9 percent in 2004, and at the end of September 2005, shipments were up 11 percent compared to the same period in 2004. These products give a homeowner maximum flexibility and are the most affordable. Manufactured logs also can be used when wood is hard to find or if wood burning is restricted. Portable fireplaces also are available using propane or natural gas. A natural gas hookup available outside gives a homeowner the utmost convenience.

How should builders and architects be selling the benefits of outdoor living products and how can they market them to their clients?
When building or designing a home for a prospective buyer, an area that fits the scale of the home and offers the most flexibility to the homeowner is most marketable. Depending on the price range of the home, the basic elements can be included in the outdoor area. If the market is the first-time buyer, an outdoor area with electricity, lighting and fuel options lets a buyer customize the area to fit a lifestyle and add features when affordable. In larger custom homes, a built-in outdoor gas or wood fireplace and cooking area are just the beginning. An architect can then add a spa or pool if desired and a landscape expert can add the planting.

What recent innovations have had the most impact on outdoor living products?
The all-weatherization of an enormous number of products in different style selections has had a tremendous impact on outdoor living. There are fabrics for outdoor furniture that used to be only available on indoor furniture. There are all-weather lamps, rugs and artwork. The all-weather electronics aren’t limited only to outside speakers. There are now outdoor plasma televisions that can withstand the elements or can disappear into all-weather cabinets. There are fireplace and television combinations for the ultimate luxury outside. ?