Outdoor Sinks

How to choose the right outdoor sink solution for your needs

Sink in an outdoor kitchen - courtesy of Exscape Designs

Think about the last time you were out in the garden. Or your last barbecue. Did your hands get dirty? Did you drop something that had to be cleaned off? Did you track muddy footprints into the house, only to make a mess of the kitchen sink? It happens.

To call this a "first world problem" would not be unfair. There are greater inconveniences than having to walk back and forth between a kitchen and barbecue or garden just to use a sink. But ask anyone who no longer makes those tiresome trips, and they'll tell you: they can't imagine life without an outdoor sink! The elderly and disabled - those for whom such trips are much more than inconveniences - are especially well-served by a conveniently located sink. Be it for gardening or a full-fledged outdoor kitchen, having a sink where you work saves time and effort.

For yard and garden purposes, there usually isn't much to worry about when it comes to selecting and installing a sink. Things change when the sink is part of an outdoor kitchen, and concerns over water supply and drainage move to the fore. If you're thinking about adding a sink to your life, we're here to help you make the right decision!


What kind of sink should I buy?

The easiest thing about outdoor sinks is the sink itself. The most common material is stainless steel. Durable, but cost-effective, stainless steel sinks are available in a wide variety of configurations and designs. Prominent in indoor kitchens for years, many manufacturers offer specialty lines designed specifically for outdoor use. If stainless isn't your thing, don't worry - with proper care and consideration, almost any sink can be used outdoors. The size and design is up to you: most garden sinks have only a single bowl, while kitchens often benefit from multi-bowl arrangements. Those who entertain frequently may enjoy a trough-style or bar sink as the perfect addition to their outdoor tiki bar or wet bar.

As for the faucet, you'll want one made of stainless steel or solid brass, preferably with a PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) finish to guarantee longevity. Keep in mind that the faucet will be exposed to the elements year-round, and can deteriorate at an advanced rate without a high-quality protective finish. Additionally, if you live in a coastal area, we recommend choosing stainless steel as the saltwater in the air can damage brass much faster. Our selection of Fisher commercial quality stainless steel faucets are a great choice for almost any climate. If you're planning to use a sink or faucet not specifically noted for outdoor use, we recommend checking with the manufacturer of whatever sink and faucet you plan to use for their input first and just be aware that outdoor installation can often void warranties.

How do I get water to the sink?

At this point, you may be asking - if getting an outdoor sink is so easy, why doesn't everybody have one? Usually, it comes down to the plumbing. Unless you can install against an exterior wall, running supply lines can get expensive. And depending on your property and plumbing system, connecting the sink to the drain line may run the cost up further.

If hot water isn't much of a concern, you might save some money by running only cold to the sink. If you do want hot water, running a line isn't the only option: an on-demand water heater can provide near-boiling water instantly. If you experience cold winters, the installation must include an easy way to shut off and drain the lines before winter to prevent freezing and bursting pipes.

Should your sink be for yard and garden use, rather than an outdoor kitchen, supplying the water can be much easier. Portable units are available with a small basin, wheels, and garden hose connections for supply and drainage, but you can also easily create your own version with a solid freestanding sink and a few hose adapters.

What about drainage?

As mentioned above, proper drainage for the sink is crucial, and potentially the most expensive, aggravating aspect of the entire process. With a yard/garden sink, the issue is again much simpler: the wastewater produced is classic greywater (used water uncontaminated by sewage), which is easily reused for irrigation. The water can be led straight back to the garden, or into a bucket.

If your sink is part of an outdoor kitchen, and you plan to prep foods or wash dishes in it, you may be wandering beyond the scope of greywater, depending on your state's definition. Until fairly recently, most states required that all wastewater be disposed of through a sewer/septic system, drawing no distinction between raw sewage and water with a bit of soap in it. Some states now allow the latter to be re-used (or disposed of) without treatment, according to specific guidelines. Kitchen water may or may not fall under such guidelines.

Those lucky enough to not have to drain their greywater into a sewer/septic line can consider using a dry well or french drain. These drainage systems are fairly low-tech, and can often be made on the cheap by experienced DIY-ers. Outdoor kitchen sinks with a lot of food waste to deal with may think twice, though: odor can become a real concern in certain conditions.

The cheapest, simplest way to deal with wastewater from an outdoor sink is to catch it in a bucket, and either use it in the garden or dispose of it in an indoor sink or bathtub. Just remember to keep an eye on the water level!

When you're prohibited from disposing of greywater in anything but a sewer/septic system, the cost of installing an outdoor sink can rise quickly depending on the distance from the house. In order to drain into the sewer line, trenches may need to be dug and pipe laid. Because drain lines usually need to drop 1/4" every foot, it's easy to end up below the line you need to tie into, and a pump will be required to get the wastewater up and out. This all amounts to added effort and expense, making the drainage issue a decisive one.

So the next time you trudge back to the house for some small sink-related task, as you're taking off your shoes and rolling up your pants just to cross the threshold, take a moment to consider what life would be like if that sink was outside. Think of all the overcooked steaks that could be avoided by not having to run inside to wash a plate! It may not always be feasible, but if you can work out a drainage solution, a life of ease and efficiency awaits.


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