An Outdoor Kitchen Sink Adds Convenience - Be Aware of The Challenges

outdoor sink in granite bar

An outdoor kitchen sink can be the finishing touch for your outdoor kitchen. Without it, you will always be dependant upon your inside kitchen. For real backyard independence, you will need to be able to clean up outside, as well as being able to prepare, cook and eat outside. If you are planning an outdoor kitchen as you plan your house, you will have an easy time of it. But if you are following the more traditional route of adding a backyard kitchen to an existing house, there are multiple challenges to consider.

Buying the Sink

Buying the sink is by far the easiest part of this process. Outdoor sinks are plentiful and are relatively inexpensive. Prices range from less than $100 to several hundred dollars. Stainless steel is the most common material, and is usually a good choice. Just be sure it is 304 stainlees steel so it will hold up outside. Porcelain and ceramic outdoor sinks are also available, and work well. If you are going to use concrete outdoor countertops, the sink can be molded directly into the countertop. This option is especially beautiful and is very durable. Keep in mind that you will need to purchase a faucet as well. Make sure your plumbing supplier knows the faucet will be used outdoors and sells you a faucet that will hold up against the elements. As I said, buying the sink is easy. Now consider the other things you'll need to have to make the sink usable.

outdoor sink in full kitchen

Where will you get water?

Obviously there is no need for a sink unless you have water. You will need a water supply line from your house to your outdoor kitchen sink. That may be fairly simple, or it may be a lot of work - and expense. The ideal scenario would be to have your outdoor kitchen join an exterior wall with plumbing on the other side of that wall - maybe a bathroom or your indoor kitchen. Also check your crawlspace or basement if you have that foundation type. Many times water (hot and cold) can be easily accessed from those locations. Even better would be if some part of you cabinetry joins the house where the water will be supplied. If that fits your layout you can simply connect a water supply through the wall, into your outdoor cabinet, and on to your outdoor kitchen sink. Whether your house exterior is vinyl, brick, or something in between, you can still get a water line through. Keep in mind that once the water supply line passes through the wall into the great outdoors it will be subjected to freezing temperatures. That is unless you live in a place where the temperature never gets to 32 degrees - in which case you make the rest of us sick! The best way to protect those lines is to have a cut off valve installed at the source so that you can turn off the water and drain the lines.

What if you aren't fortunate enough to be that close to your house water supply? First, keep this water supply concept in mind as you plan your outdoor kitchen design. You will still need to access the water from inside the house, but you will need a way to get the water from the house to your outdoor kitchen sink. That is usually accomplished by digging a trench and burying the supply line underground as it travels to your sink. Exterior water lines are normally buried below the freezing line. Since you will still need to drain the lines during freezing weather, this isn't really necessary in this application.

Outdoor Sink in Tile

What About Hot Water?

There are two ways to get hot water to your outdoor kitchen sink. You either use the hot water from your house (easiest) or you generate your hot water at your outdoor kitchen. The choice is usually decided by the distance from your house hot water to your sink. If you're one of the fortunate ones with an outdoor kitchen cabinet on the outside of a wall with hot water, your choice is easy. You'll just run two lines through the wall instead of one. If not, consider a quick heating under sink water heater. Remember that you will need electricity to power the water heater. There is no real need for a traditional water heater. You may wonder if you really need hot water. While there is no requirement for it, consider how useful your outdoor sink will be without it. You need hot water to really wash dishes. If you wash them in cold water, you'll probably just wash them again inside the house. If you are going to the trouble and expense to install and outdoor kitchen sink, I believe it would be short sighted to not include hot water. But the choice is yours.

The Dreaded Drain Line

Proper drainage is usually the biggest challenge related to a new outdoor kitchen sink. If you are able to go directly through an exterior wall and have your outdoor sink just outside that wall, you may be able to tie in directly to an existing drain. But those applications are few and far between. Unlike your water supply line, you can't just dig a trench and bury your drain line. The problem with a drain line is that they are driven by gravity, unless you add a pump. Code requires a fall of 1/4 inch per foot for a water drain line. Because of that, distance becomes your enemy. Every four feet your drain line will have to drop one inch, so it doesn't take long for you to end up lower than the place where you need to tie in to your existing drain line. On top of that, you will want to hide the drain line, so unless you have a cabinet with an open interior covering the distance, you will have two problems - proper fall and visibility. For these reasons, it often becomes necessary to add a pump to the drain line and force the water to flow uphill. Ask any old time plumber and they will tell you the two basic rules of plumbing - 1) water doesn't flow uphill, and 2) payday is Friday! Rule number 1 is non-negotiable. Again, just as with the supply lines, check your crawlspace or basement to see if you will be able to have enough drop to avoid a pump. If you can't rely on Sir Isaac Newton, you may have to use a pump system. It's only money!

stainless steel outdoor sink

There is another potential option, depending on the local code requirements where you live. In some jurisdictions you can install a drywell, which can be as simple as a bucket with holes in it, buried underground in gravel. Since the waste water draining from your outdoor kitchen sink will be dish water and not toilet water, you may be able to use this method. Of course that means you will need to keep a close eye on Uncle Lenny when he's out in the kitchen, but that isn't asking too much. Check the code requirements in your area to determine if this is allowable and exactly how it needs to be installed.

Because of the challenges associated with outdoor kitchen sink drains, folks are sometimes tempted to just drain the water into an unused part of their yard, such as a flower bed. Or they will tie the drain line into the rain water drainage system that carries that water away from their home. This is not recommended and will never pass a local building code inspection. I hope those folks that choose to do this anyway will be sure to use biodegradable soap in their backyard sink.

Outdoor sink in granite

There is one final method of outdoor kitchen sink waste water disposal. I call it the "direct gravity fed manual water containment and disposal system" or D.G.F.M.W.C.& D.S. for short. (okay, not really that short) I'm looking into a patent. This low tech system involves placing a five gallon bucket under the outdoor kitchen sink and allowing the water to drain directly into the bucket. Prior to overflow time, simply remove the bucket and dump the water into the indoor bath tub. If you use biodegradable soap you should be able to safely use this water to keep your landscaping watered. Until this patent thing develops, you may use this method without compensation to me.

Having water readily available in your outdoor kitchen is very convenient. Weigh out the options, be aware of the challenges, and decide what is best for you.

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