Throughout the past decade, homeowners have truly embraced the concept of outdoor living. The term “staycation” has become a part of everyday conversation as more people choose to forego expensive vacations in favor of investing that money to create private sanctuaries in their own backyards.
In 2014, consumers are continuing to demand outdoor areas designed specifically for relaxing and entertaining. However, according to the 2014 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Study from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), today’s homeowners want more than comfortable, attractive outdoor spaces — they also want those spaces to be sustainable and low-maintenance.
Out of those landscape architects who responded to the survey, 92 percent said their residential customers are requesting attractive outdoor kitchens and entertainment areas; 74 percent also cited sustainable design practices as a homeowner must-have. This situation presents remodeling professionals with the challenge of identifying, recommending and installing outdoor living solutions that can meet both of those important criteria.
Clean, efficient propane
Thanks to their efficiency and versatility, propane-powered products can help remodelers answer that challenge. Propane is a cleaner-burning, lower-carbon fossil fuel than other petroleum-based products. In fact, measured by carbon footprint, propane is one of the greenest energy sources available. Propane gives off less than half as many greenhouse gas emissions using an equivalent amount of electricity generated from the U.S. grid. From grills and kitchens to fireplaces, lighting and beyond, propane-powered products aren’t just aesthetically pleasing and functional — they’re also affordable and environmentally friendly.
In homes with existing propane gas lines and supply tanks, remodelers can easily connect these products for a seamless transition from indoor to outdoor living. Homes without existing propane infrastructure can use discreetly positioned propane cylinders that do not detract from an outdoor living space’s visual appeal.
Grills and outdoor kitchens
Nearly everyone is familiar with propane-powered grills. In fact, more than 60 percent of homes have one of these grills, and for good reason. Propane grills heat up far faster than charcoal grills, often with just the push of a button. Studies from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have measured propane grills to be 105 times more environmentally friendly than their charcoal-burning counterparts due to their lower carbon and particulate emissions.
Outdoor cooking, however, has expanded beyond the ubiquitous propane grill. Propane-powered cooktops and ovens are also becoming popular additions to outdoor kitchens. By providing more precise heat control and smaller energy bills, these appliances are making it possible to cook professional-caliber meals right on the deck or patio.
Warm, flickering flames and glowing embers never seem to lose their appeal. In the 2014 ASLA survey, 95.4 percent of landscape architects indicated their clients found outdoor fire pits and fireplaces to be highly desirable. However, wood-burning units require homeowners to secure a supply of wood, store it, and keep it dry. Fire pits and fireplaces powered by propane offer virtually the same warmth and ambiance but with unmatched convenience and nearly odor-free operation. And, today’s options can fit in with any design concept, from rustic to modern and everything in between.
When fire features aren’t available or the weather is especially chilly, propane-powered patio heaters can reliably heat outdoor spaces both large and small. A standing or portable propane heater can raise the outdoor air temperature as much as 30 F within a radius of up to 20 ft.
Available in portable and post-mounted styles, propane-powered lighting combines old-world charm with modern energy efficiency. Unlike electric lights that burn out or go dark during a power outage, propane-powered lights can be depended upon to illuminate walkways, highlight landscape features, and improve home security. Homes with existing propane infrastructure can benefit from attractive wall-mounted lighting fixtures in a variety of styles from Old English to contemporary. Tabletop and pedestal lamps can work for any outdoor living space, often burning for more than 10 hours from a single propane cylinder.
Pool and spa heating
Once thought of as luxury items, pools and spas are now fixtures in outdoor living spaces ranging from basic to elaborate. Although electric heat pumps are available to heat above- and in-ground pools and spas, their initial costs are typically higher than those of heaters powered by propane or gas. Furthermore, today’s advanced propane heaters can warm pools and spas more quickly and maintain a constant temperature more efficiently than electric heaters.
The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) offers a variety of free online courses that teach remodelers and builders how propane systems and appliances can make homes more sustainable and efficient — both inside and out. Simply go to propanetrainingacademy.com to get started. For more information about propane’s many economic and environmental benefits, helpful online tools, and valuable rebates and incentives, visit buildwithpropane.com.
Bridget Kidd is the director of residential and commercial programs for the Propane Education & Research Council.