DIY Outdoor Kitchen FAQ

Ready to roll up your sleeves and finally get to work on that outdoor kitchen you’ve been dreaming of for so long? Of course you are! We applaud your determination to improve your outdoor lifestyle, but we also understand this isn’t the type of project you dive right into. (And if that’s your plan, we recommend you spend some time on this page before breaking ground.) To help you safely and properly build your DIY outdoor kitchen, we’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions about the topic and provided answers straight from our outdoor living experts. From permits and inspections to clearances and counter heights, we cover everything you need to know for your DIY outdoor kitchen project.

If you have a question that’s not listed here, you can always call our outdoor living experts at 1-877-743-2269. You might even be interested in consulting our free 3D outdoor kitchen design service. They’ve created 3D renderings for more than 10,000 homeowners at no extra cost, advising them on best practices throughout the building process. Oh, and did we mention it’s free?

What height should BBQ island counters be?


The standard BBQ island countertop height is 36 inches from the floor, though that’s just a general guideline. For bar countertops, things get a little more strict: 42 inches from the floor is where you’d like to end up. Most bar stools are specifically made for that height, so deviating too much could make things a bit uncomfortable for your guests.

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Do I need a building permit for an outdoor kitchen?


Possibly, depending on where you live. To find out, contact a local planning/code-enforcement office. They’ll fill you in on whether local building codes require you to obtain a permit.

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Does my city need to approve my outdoor kitchen plans?


Again, this depends entirely upon local building codes. Such ordinances vary from city to city, so the only way to be sure is to contact your local planning/code-enforcement office. Does anybody have a phone book lying around…?

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Will I need inspections?


Here’s another situation that comes down to local building codes. Some areas will require several rounds of inspections, others not so much. Determining what you need to prepare for is as easy as getting in touch with your local planning/code-enforcement office.

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Do I need to level my patio to add an outdoor kitchen?


Not necessarily. As long as the countertop itself is level, the actual space itself doesn’t have to be made perfectly even. (In fact, we’ve worked with homeowners who slightly angled their slabs to help with drainage!) Several outdoor kitchen kits — as well as DIY outdoor kitchen cabinetry frames — have helpful leveling legs to ensure a totally level countertop on uneven ground.

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What clearance is needed between combustible materials and cooking equipment?


You might be tired of hearing “it depends” by now, but… it depends. Clearance to combustibles varies depending (there’s that word again) on the product and manufacturer, so you must consult your owner’s manual to know for sure. Though it’s quite possible that each appliance in your outdoor kitchen will feature different clearance specs, all must be followed exactly to protect your family and your home from the risk of fire. There’s a solid chance that local building codes will address this issue, so be sure to look those up as well.

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Do you need to dig a foundation if you are building a brick island?


Yes, brick islands need a level foundation to stand on because they’re quite heavy and need the support to maintain their structure. Additionally, they’ll never be level if the ground is uneven. If digging a foundation is out of the question for you, a wood or metal frame will be a little more forgiving. And generally speaking, prefab outdoor kitchens are best for outdoor spaces with no foundation or uneven pavers.

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What are the safety requirements for propane tank storage?


The most important rule of propane tank storage for built-in grills is that you should never, under any circumstance, store a cylinder directly below your grill or any other cooking appliance. If you want to install a propane tank storage component next to — again, not under — your built-in grill, then plan to include a non-combustible barrier (like a plenum wall) between the grill and propane tank.

(The above guidance doesn’t apply to freestanding grills, whose carts are properly ventilated and sometimes even include a space for long-term tank storage. But we’re talking outdoor kitchens right now, and 99 times out of 100 the grill in question will be built-in. Regardless of configuration, though, it’s extremely important to always turn off tanks that aren’t in use.)

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How much spacing should I have between components?


We recommend leaving at least 6 inches of room between appliances, and much more than that if you have cooking and refrigeration appliances side by side. While it may be tempting to fill every available inch of BBQ island space with components, it’ll come at the cost of efficiency and sometimes even safety. Plus, it’s unwise to underestimate counter space — AKA the unsung hero of outdoor kitchens.

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How far from cooking equipment should refrigeration be?


The farther, the better! Placing refrigeration appliances (compact refrigerators, kegerators, ice makers, etc.) next to cooking appliances (grills, side burners, pizza ovens, etc.) will force the compressors in the cooling components to work much harder. This excess strain causes unnecessary wear, leading to frequent repairs and a shorter lifespan for the appliance.

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Can I build an outdoor kitchen on a wood deck?


Though an outdoor kitchen on a wooden deck is theoretically possible and may even be permitted by some local building codes, we don’t recommend it. It’s been a long-held BBQGuys belief that combustible materials — whether used as a base or in the actual construction — shouldn’t be present in an outdoor kitchen because the risk just isn’t worth the reward. If you’re set on building atop a wooden deck, remember to always refer to and follow the clearances to combustibles listed in the owner’s manuals of your appliances.

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What is the standard height for bar counters?


Bar counters are generally built 42 inches from the floor. We wouldn’t recommend straying too far from this standard measurement because bar-height chairs and stools are specifically made for people to sit comfortably at that height.

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Can I build my outdoor kitchen out of wood?


You can, but we strongly recommend building your outdoor kitchen out of non-combustible materials instead. The simple fact is that, even though some manufacturers offer insulated grill jackets to protect wooden islands from the heat and flames of their grills, the risk of a serious fire is always present in combustible outdoor kitchens.

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Can I have my ice bin drain to the ground?


Technically, yes, though some local codes restrict such drainage of grey water (which is simply the term for all wastewater not produced from toilets). You’ll once again have to check with your local code offices to learn about any regulations on French wells, grey water, and general drainage. This may determine whether you need to install a drain line to your ice bin.

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Do I need GFCI outlets?


Generally speaking, yes. GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets are the standard for electrical safety, and many outdoor kitchen appliances — especially refrigeration units — actually require them to function properly.

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Can I install a dishwasher in my outdoor kitchen?


Yep! But you must first make sure the dishwasher is outdoor-rated. Installing a dishwasher (or any appliance, for that matter) that’s not outdoor-rated in an outdoor kitchen could void the warranty before you even run the first cycle.

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If I want hot water for my sink do I need a separate hot water heater?


Generally, yes. You’ll more than likely need to install a separate water heater for your outdoor kitchen. Many homeowners have chosen on-demand water heaters because they take up much less space and can easily provide more hot water than likely will ever be needed at a given time.

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Does my HOA allow me to build an outdoor kitchen?


We’ll answer that question with a question of our own: do you have your HOA guidelines on hand? You should first consult the established rules to see if outdoor kitchens are covered. If this type of project isn’t specifically prohibited, you can contact your HOA president for clarification… or, if you’re the “better-to-ask-forgiveness” type, you may consider going ahead with your project. Either way, the answer to this question is highly dependent on location, and every HOA has a different set of rules governing building projects.

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