Outdoor Appliance Buying Guide: Specialty Items

“There is a trend away from simple barbecue islands and to elaborate outdoor kitchens,” explains Mitch Slater, president of Danver, a manufacturer of outdoor kitchen cabinetry. “Homeowners want to be able to do outdoors all the food preparation that they normally have to do indoors.” For that reason, appliances like ice makers, pizza ovens, and beer fridges are all finding their way to the backyard. However, you should carefully consider your needs and lifestyle to ensure that you’ll get your money’s worth of use and convenience from specialty appliances that may cost thousands of dollars.

Note that with outdoor appliances, you will likely encounter the following additional costs for installation:

  • $125 to $300 to add an outdoor electrical outlet.
  • $400 to $800 to run a cold water supply line, or a combination hot-and-cold water supply.
  • $1,500 to $3,000 to install hot-and-cold water supply lines plus a drain system.

Ice makers

Cost range: $180-$2,000
Likely additional costs: 110 outlet, water line hook-up, cover
Average life span: 3-10 years

With a built-in ice maker, there will be no more trips to the corner store for 25-pound bags of ice. These sleek, stainless steel-clad units blend seamlessly with outdoor kitchen cabinetry and produce about 25 pounds of ice per day.

Because these models get tied into the home’s water line, they require a plumber for installation. They also require an electrical outlet. Expect to pay $900 to $2,000 for an outdoor-approved appliance with a warranty that covers parts and labor for one year and the compressor for five. Homeowners in cold climes must shut off the water supply and drain the lines before winter to prevent the freezing and bursting of pipes.

Portable or countertop ice makers are less expensive–ranging from $180 to $300—and don’t require a connection to a water line. An interior reservoir is filled with tap or bottled water, allowing the units to produce about 35 cubes per hour. Refilling the tank may be necessary for large amounts of ice, and the appliance requires an electrical outlet.

Because most less-expensive machines are not UL rated for outdoor use, they should not be left out in the weather. Expect shorter warranties (90-day to one year) as well.

Pizza ovens

Cost range: $700-$6,000 and up
Likely additional costs: gas line hook-up, sturdy base, firewood
Average life span: 5-20 years

“Gas or wood-fired pizza ovens are getting very popular,” explains Danver’s Mitch Slater. Attracted by the romance of a Tuscan-style pizza-making experience, more and more homeowners are installing these hefty gourmet appliances. Constructed of masonry or thick steel, these units all feature a stone hearth floor and gently sloping domed roof.

Wood-fired stoves, the purist’s choice, come in two basic models: those heated from a fire built inside the firebox and those heated from a separate firebox below the oven. Both require a sizeable time commitment to reach desired temps, not to mention a steady supply of hardwood. A word of caution, notes Slater: “These units are heavy, 500 pounds or more, and require a sturdy base that can be very expensive to build.”

Countertop pizza ovens are fueled by propane or a home’s natural gas supply and can reach cooking temps in as little as 30 minutes. Prices range from $700 for a freestanding wood-fired oven to $6,000 for elaborate wood- or gas-fired units. Expect warranties ranging from five years to limited lifetime.

Beer dispenser

Cost range: $400 to $1,500
Likely additional costs: 110 outlet, CO2, cover
Average life span: 5-10 years

For serious entertainers, there may be no greater luxury than an endless supply of ice-cold draft beer. Often referred to as kegerators, beer dispensers simultaneously chill and dispense beer from a keg.

Though models are available for as little as $400, the less-costly versions typically are not designed for outdoor use and must be protected from the weather. Expect to pay between $900 and $1,500 for an outdoor-approved model with a warranty that covers parts and labor for one year and the compressor for five.

Before investing in one of these appliances, it’s wise to know that kegs are heavy and not readily available in all areas. A full-size keg holds approximately 160 pints of beer, or roughly seven cases. And once the keg is tapped, the beer will remain fresh only for about three weeks under consistent refrigeration.

In addition to an electrical source, kegerators also require a CO2 supply. Each five-pound cylinder of gas will dispense about six kegs of beer before it needs refilling from a local gas supplier ($10).

Patio heaters

Cost range: $150-$800
Likely additional costs: 110 outlet, natural gas hook-up or propane tank, cover for freestanding units
Average life span: 5-10 years

Patio heaters don’t cook the food or chill the beer, but they do increase the amount of time a family gets to enjoy the outdoors. There are three main categories of outdoor heaters, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. None, however, will transform an arctic evening into a tropical oasis: most work best when the thermometer reads between 50 and 60 degrees. Patio heaters add approximately 10 degrees to the ambient outdoor temperature.

Tabletop models stand just 3 feet tall, making them easy to move from site to site. Putting out about 10,000 BTUs, these units heat a 10-foot-diameter circle, or about 80 square feet. They will run approximately two hours on a one-pound propane tank. At about $5 per tank, the operating cost is $2.50 per hour. Prices for tabletop propane heaters range from $150 to $250, including a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Freestanding–or post-style–heaters stand about 8 feet tall and heat an area more than four times the size of tabletop varieties. Producing over 40,000 BTUs, these models warm a 20-foot-diameter circle, or 314 square feet.

Fuel choices for post-style heaters include propane or natural gas. Using natural gas eliminates the need to refill propane tanks and costs less than half to run, but requires a gas line hook-up and a stationary location. Post-style heaters range from $200 to $500 and come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Electric heaters simply plug into a standard outlet, making them the greenest and cheapest options when it comes to operating costs. Powerful bulbs emit steady infrared heat that is unaffected by wind like models that utilize flames.

Units costing $300 will heat 75 to 100 square feet and cost as little as $0.15 per hour to run. Models that heat 300 square feet cost upwards of $800 and consume about three times the energy.

Some electric heaters are rated for outdoor use and may be exposed to the elements, as long as the outlet itself is weatherproof. Some electric heating units are designated for outside use but must be covered, meaning they can be used only under a roof structure, awning, or eave, limiting their applications. Also, heating elements last only two to four years depending on use and cost $100 to replace. One-year manufacturer’s warranties are standard.

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