After many months of planning and building our outdoor kitchen and pool house is finally done. I learned SOOOO much along the way that I wish I knew on the front end that I want to share with you guys. Whether small or large, if you are planning an outdoor kitchen or any kind of outdoor structure in the future, I want to share with you today how to get started in the planning process, tips for hiring a builder/contractor and little things to think about.
If you missed our outdoor kitchen reveal post, you can find it here.
Coming Up With an Outdoor Kitchen Plan
The best way to get started when planning an outdoor kitchen or outdoor structure like a pergola or pool house is by hiring a good landscaper to advise you. Be sure and check references!!
If you’re going to build a structure of any kind in your yard, most people think the best place to start is by hiring a contractor first but a highly experienced landscaper is invaluable through the beginning of this process. A good landscaper can advise you about drainage issues, how much space you can have without having to cut trees, dirt excavating (if you will need that), water/gas lines coming through your yard and the issues that go along with that.
If you are simply adding a small kitchen on your existing patio, going straight to a contractor to begin the planning process makes more sense.
After a lot of research, I hired a landscaping company that had years of commercial experience in my community with a specialty in building retaining walls. Because I knew that our pool house/outdoor kitchen would be dual-purpose and also act as a massive retaining wall, I looked for the best company that I could find that has done a lot of commercial retaining walls. I also wanted to save as many trees as possible and I knew that a good landscaper could tell me how close we could get to roots without killing the trees.
If you will need a cement foundation poured, the landscaper can also advise you on things that you may not realize that you need to think about when it comes to getting a cement truck to the area without killing your yard, trees and drainage issues associated with a new foundation (VERY IMPORTANT).
Here’s our backyard before construction:
Finding Outdoor Kitchen Inspiration
Before I contacted the landscaper to begin the project, I spent MANY months researching outdoor kitchens and pool houses to find inspiration. Before I began the process, I wanted to make sure I knew what I wanted design-wise and structurally so I could best convey what I wanted to the landscaper and builder/contractor. While I knew some things would change through the process, I sketched out a general design and my husband and I talked through everything before making that first call to our landscaper. It’s so important that everyone is on the same page going into a big project like this and any disagreements in design are agreed upon on the front-end.
Here are some of the outdoor kitchens and structures that inspired me and incorporated different elements from these projects.
via Jackie Glass
via Phoebe Howard
via Gia Health Blog
I found all of my inspiration on Pinterest and have many boards dedicated to outdoor kitchen spaces and pool houses.
You Need a Plan on Paper
No matter how small or large your outdoor kitchen is going to be, it’s critical to have a plan on paper! We started this process with our landscaper and he came up with our initial plan based on how close to excavate dirt to plant roots without killing trees and drainage. If you are going to build a large structure like we did, drainage has to be the number one priority in the design/construction process. If you’re building any kind of structure in your yard, you could end up with a serious drainage issue if the structure is not designed with drainage in mind.
Whether your building a small or large kitchen, a plan on paper that includes electrical and plumbing is CRITICAL. Even if you’re doing a very small kitchen, drawing it all out can save you problems down the line. Outdoor kitchens take so much electricity and you need power to so many sources (not too mention plumbing/gas), make sure to have an electrical/plumbing plan on paper in addition to detailed measurements so your contractor, plumber and electrician can all point out issues on the front end versus mid-way through a project, which can be a nightmare and costly if changes need to be made. Trust me!
Hire an Architect or Not?
If you’re building a large outdoor kitchen structure or pouring a cement foundation, should you hire an architect to review and draw up your plans? I would recommend hiring an architect or at least a draftsman to draw up your plans if your project is large. While we did not have an architect draw up our plans, we did have a draftsman do our plans and an engineer thoroughly review everything. However, in hindsight, we were extremely lucky that we didn’t have any issues with a project this large and I realize after the fact that we absolutely should have had an architect review and draw up full plans. Having an architect draw up plans with every little detail will guarantee that EVERYONE is on the same page.
Even if you are doing a smaller structure, I would hire a draftsman to draw up your plans and include electrical and plumbing.
Here was what our initial preliminary plans looked like from our draftsman without electrical or plumbing. The first plan was really to confirm measurements.
Ask your draftsman to give you 3D plan on the front-end (without electrical or plumbing) that can help you better visualize the design. Our 3D plan was a life saver for us and we changed several things after we saw trouble-spots seeing the design in 3D.
Here was our initial 3D plan from our draftsman. We made many changes after seeing this.
I cannot tell you how helpful having a 3D rendering of our space was when it came to better visualizing the space and seeing areas where we could adjust and identifying trouble-spots. Having a plan on paper and a 3D rendering will also guarantee that you, your landscaper and contractor are ALL on the same page! Very important!
Having your draftsman draw up your plans and do a 3D rendering was not a big expense (under $1,000) and we saved SO much money being able to identify problems on the front-end.
Our draftsman’s 3D rendering was of several different angles/directions as well, which also really helped us to identify problem areas and areas that we could make changes.
Hiring a Builder or Contractor
Out of all the steps for planning and building an outdoor kitchen structure, being very careful when hiring a builder or contractor is the most important element. Even if you have the best of plans on paper, the right builder and contractor has to carry them out in accordance with the plans. If you have a builder/contractor that is loose with plans, makes vital decisions without consulting with you or takes shortcuts, you could have a very serious problem.
If you take one piece of advice from me today, please check references of your potential builder/contractor. Check out your potential builder/contractor online to see if their are any judgements or anything alarming/negative. Ask for 3-5 references (in the least) and call the homeowners and ask their opinion. Questions to ask are;
#1 Would you use this builder/contractor again for the same project?
#2 What was their strength and weaknesses?
#3 How well did they communicate with you?
#4 What were your biggest frustrations?
#5 Did they stay on budget and timeline?
#6 Did they come back quickly to address any problems at the end of the project?
#7 What do think of the subs they hired?
#8 Was there anything about the builder/contractor that made you uncomfortable?
When you talk with the homeowners, keep in mind that there will always be something negative. No one is perfect and even with the smallest projects being constructed in your home, something WILL go wrong. You just need to weigh the negative (if you like the builder/contractor) and determine how you can manage it. For example, if the homeowners you talk to consistently say that your builder is very good but slow, put deadlines in the contract add an addendum of timelines. Have a strong conversation before entering into a contract on the front end of your timeline of your expectations and require your builder/contractor to initial the timeline addendum. You can even ask your builder/contractor to come up with the timelines for the contract his/herself.
Getting Bids and Contracts
Another important piece of advice that I can give you is to make sure that your bids and especially your contract are very detailed and cover everything. Don’t sign a contact that says something like “general construction costs = $”. Make sure that everything is broken down and listed in the greatest of details. If your contact doesn’t have this level of detail, send it back and ask that everything be listed. Also ask for a highly detailed list of what is NOT included!!
A builder/contractor might have “electrical costs = $”. That’s not good enough.. What if it turns out your existing electrical set up is not big enough load for the electrical that they quoted for the project? Who pays for a new electrical panel/board? Who pays for the water heater and electrical outlets/boxes built into the kitchen? Who is responsible for paying for the installation and hook up all of the kitchen appliances? All of these little costs add up and need to be determined on the front-end.
A good builder/contractor should have checked everything out in the bid process to determine these issues and provide you with a realistic expenses and details.
If you have questions on what is covered and what is not, submit these questions via email and not on the phone or in person! Having a paper trail of these conversations is important.
Managing Your Builder or Contractor
Yes! I said it. Part of your job is to manage your builder/contractor. You are the big boss and if you’re not involved in the process, you could very well end up with something you don’t like. So.. Once you hire a builder/contractor, communicate with them everyday if you can. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about the progress and any potential issues. This lets them know from the beginning that you want to be involved and communicated with during the process and a good builder/contractor will greatly appreciate this!
Everyday, as the project was being constructed and I saw things going up that I was unsure of or didn’t quite understand, I would ask my builder to explain what they were doing and often times, I would catch things once I had a better understanding. There were many times I would change things as they were going up. No matter how detailed your plans are, until something starts going up, it’s very hard to visualize. Your builder/contractor knows this better than anyone and should be receptive like ours was. If I realized I wasn’t going to like something, I spoke up immediately and made a change. I was very respectful and thoughtful in expressing my concerns and my builder and sub contractors were always happy to adjust. After all, they wanted to make sure in the end that we were very happy.
Budgets and Final Payments
I have learned over the years with my projects and my client projects that it’s very important to watch the budgets and bids in your contracts very closely during the construction phase. Your builder/contractor will ask for draws along the way, which is completely normal. This means you will pay him/her money along the way for materials and labor that is deducted from the total cost of the project.
Keep up with the draws and budget overages closely. Budget overages can add up VERY quickly and if you find your builder/contractor coming to you frequently telling you something would be more than he/she quoted, request a sit down meeting and let them know that you want them to identify any other potential overages down the line. Make it clear that you depended on the builder/contractor to give you a realistic bid and that going over budget is not acceptable and determine with the builder/contractor how can this be resolved and prevented down the line. Things do happen and sometimes a builder will get into a project and then discover an underlying problem. You just need to determine if the overages are substantiated or something else.
Never give your builder/contractor the final payment until the job is done COMPLETELY!! Don’t do it! Trust me! Even with the best builders/contractors, they get busy, start new projects and you may have trouble getting them back to the job for the little stuff in your timeframe. You can bet if they are still owed a final payment, they will make you a priority!
Next week, I will go into how to choose appliances for an outdoor kitchen, costs and standard measurements. Where to splurge and where you can cut corners. I hope that if you’re planning an outdoor kitchen down the line that all this information will help you through your planning process. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section and I will get right back to you!
If you want to see more of our finished space and sources, you can find everything here.
Thanks for stopping by today!