Homebuyers aren't just clamoring for the upgraded kitchen and bathroom amenities when they look at and ultimately buy a new house. Climbing up the priority list is the outdoor room.

Indeed, nearly 60 percent of the 1.8 million new homes built last year have a patio, porch or deck, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. In addition, outdoor hearth products were sold in record numbers for the second straight year.

An independent 2003 survey of gas grill owners with household incomes of $75,000, or more, revealed that half have an outdoor room.

And what makes up an outdoor room? A good barbecue grill, a dining table and chairs, lighting for night, a patio umbrella for shade and a portable heater, chiminea or fireplace.

Outdoor rooms with just the basics can cost as little as $2,500, the HPBA says. An extreme outdoor room can cost up to $100,000 or more if homeowners want high-end landscaping, an in-ground pool, and a premium built-in grill housed in an exotic island, then the price tag will rise.

The National Association of Home Builders, in a consumer preferences survey released last year, found that outdoor features are very important for buyers in all price ranges.

Buyers in the $250,000 to $500,000 and the $500,000 to $1 million ranges both said rear decks, patios, exterior lighting, and a lot with trees were "must haves."

A screened rear porch is preferred by both groups; a fenced yard was strongly preferred. And when it comes to lawn sprinklers, the group in the lower price bracket "strongly preferred" while the upper group considered them a "must have."

Many say outdoor spaces promote family unity.

"If well-designed, outdoor living areas can greatly expand the usable square footage of a home," said Anne Olson, owner of Olson Architecture in Niwot, Colorado, in a March 20 Chicago Tribune article.

In the same article, Mary Cook, a Chicago interior decorator who spoke at the International Builders Show, said outdoor rooms are increasingly popular.

"Outdoor grilling is a big trend, even in colder climates. A built-in gas grill can be located just outside the kitchen to allow for year-round grilling."

Meanwhile, the HPBA says the facts don't lie -- consumers are spending money outdoors:

  • Consumers spent $3.2 billion on new outdoor furniture last year.
  • Some $40 billion was spent on landscaping and garden upgrades.
  • One-third of the $200 billion spent on home remodeling last year was for outdoor amenities.
  • Many new outdoor rooms come with elaborate kitchen components, like cabinets and storage areas, countertops and cooking islands, refrigerators, sinks and running water, electrical outlets and lighting.
  • Almost 70 percent of gas grill owners cook out throughout the year an average of one to two times a week. Chimineas, portable heaters and firepits help make it comfortable outside in the colder weather.
  • In the survey of gas grill owners, half of those with outdoor rooms have a stereo system, 10 percent have TVs, 28 percent have swimming pools and 18 percent a hot tub or spa.
  • Mosquito eliminators are also gaining in popularity -- another sign that outdoor comfort is key.
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