Ultimate DIY Outdoor Patio Renovation: LED Inlay Concrete Countertops, Motorized Aluminum Pergola, 16 Foot Bar, Outdoor Kitchen
Today on the hookup I’m going to show you how I completed this high tech patio remodel quoted to me for over $50,000, for just under $8500, including a 16 foot bar with LED inlays, a built in griddle and refrigerator, and a huge motorized aluminum pergola to provide just the right amount of relief from the Florida sun.
My family and I spend as much time on our patio as we do in our house, and the quarantine has significantly increased that usage, so since I am fortunate enough to not only have a steady job as a high school teacher, but some extra income from YouTube, my wife and I decided to go ahead with the patio remodel of our dreams. We looked in architectural magazines and sites like houzz for inspiration and found a few things that we definitely wanted to incorporate. First, We knew we wanted a large bar and eating area since we like to have our friends and their kids over to swim. We also wanted to increase our covered patio space to not only shade us from the Florida sun, but also protect our furniture from the rain, and an aluminum motorized pergola system really caught my eye. I also definitely wanted a griddle style grill and outdoor refrigerator for food prep. We also knew we would need to increase the quality of the lighting since our single fan light fixture makes the patio feel gloomy at night.
We were really excited when we started the process and knew the things we wanted weren’t going to be cheap… but we decided we were going to treat ourselves and that no expense would be spared. We worked with some really friendly outdoor kitchen and patio contractors here in Tampa, and they mocked up some drawings of our new patio paradise. Unfortunately, even though I told myself that nothing would be out of budget, the two $50,000+ estimates quickly changed my mind, I make some money on YouTube, but not that kind of money, so as usual I decided to go the DIY route.
In this video I’m going to show you the modifications I made to the original plans to save money and ,ale them more DIY friendly, I’ll show you exactly how much I spent on materials, how much it saved me, and I’m also going to give an honest estimate of my time investment, so you can get a good idea of whether undertaking these projects is something you’re interested in. Fair warning: I’m not an expert at any of these things, but I do have a few less common tools that I absolutely utilized extensively in this build: Namely a MIG Welder, a decent quality angle grinder, and a hammer drill.
The first thing I like to do when starting a project of this size is make myself a 3d model so I can get a feel for the space and measurements before committing to dimensions. I used SketchUp which is a fairly easy to learn, free and web based modeling program. I started by measuring and modeling my existing patio structure. Then I experimented with different sizes of countertops to get a feel for how they would fill the space. The contractor’s plan had a large counter height peninsula under our existing lanai and an elevated bar overhanging on one side but I decided to make the entire countertop counter height with the grill on a slightly lower level. Not only would this allow people to sit at both sides of the counter and pass the stools under the entire structure, but it would save a significant amount of money on the ledge stone covering that I would have needed to cover this now open space. In fact, the contractor estimated $4500 for this ledgestone, and my total cost for tile was just under $400 including a wet saw rental.
The contractor was going to use pre-built cabinet units with aluminum framing covered in cement board. Aluminum is great for outdoor spaces, because it doesn’t rust, but it’s expensive, hard to weld, and not as strong as steel for the same thickness. Since my bar structure is going to be covered for the most part I decided to take a chance and just use steel which I painted with a thick coat of oil based paint on all surfaces to help seal out moisture and prevent rusting. I used 1” square tubing, 1” angle iron, and 1” flat stock to create the frame for the grill and bar and welded all the joints together using a standard MIG welder. I’m far from an expert welder, but even a novice can make strong welds after a few hours of practice. They might not be as pretty as a professional could make, but they get the job done. I had originally planned to try to span the countertop without a center support, but after doing a little more research and discovering how heavy concrete countertop are, I decided to err on the safe side and add a center support.
The contractor estimate for the bar and grill structure with tile was $9627, and I spent $203 for steel, $30 for cement board, and $400 for tile, a total of $234, which brings my total savings to $8993 for just this portion of the project where I spent a total of 25 hours over the course of 5 days building, painting, and installing and tiling the bar structure.
Next was appliances, and let me preface this by saying that I know I didn’t end up with the same quality of appliances that the contractor was sourcing from Blaze, but my inner cheapskate just couldn’t justify the hit. Actually, even after deciding to DIY everything, I was still planning on buying the Blaze appliances, but the thing that ultimately broke me was the cost of the stainless steel cabinet doors.
My contractor was completely transparent about the cost of the appliances and was planning on putting in a 30” Blaze Griddle for $1900, a 42” Blaze Vent Hood for $1850, a Blaze 24” refrigerator for $1380 and 4 blaze stainless steel double doors for $260 each. The total cost for appliances from Blaze, which are nice, but definitely not top of the line, was going to be $6170.
In contrast, the flat top griddle that I was planning on purchasing before deciding on this remodel was a Blackstone Pro 28” Griddle, which is $274 at Walmart. Again, the thing that ultimately broke me was the fact that the entire Blackstone Griddle was only $14 more than a single set of stainless steel doors from Blaze. So after embracing my inner cheapskate I decided to just make the Blackstone into a built in.
I still needed one access door for behind the grill where I have the electronics for the LEDs and shades on my patio but I was able to salvage the stainless access door from my 10 year old broken stainless steel grill. I just unscrewed it from the old grill and cleaned up the surface rust with some WD40 and a scotchbrite pad and made a makeshift hinge out of some steel flat stock. I didn’t save too much money on the fridge and ended up ordering an outdoor rated one on Amazon for $700, but the vent hood was still stumping me. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with how the vent hood looked in the original the mock up from the contractor, and it seemed really bulky in my small enclosed lanai space. I decided to try something a little out of the box and see if I could vent the grill from underneath. The Blaze hood advertised an impressive 2000 CFM on high, but based on other available options 1000 CFM seemed like a reasonable goal for my DIY system. I ended up buying a $67 12” 940 CFM exhaust fan to mount behind the grill, and it works amazingly well. I had originally intended on ducting it closer to the grill, but I don’t think it’s necessary and it does a great job keeping the smoke out of the lanai space.
I did have to buy a length of aluminum framing to mount the fan in my existing screen enclosure, so add an additional $33 to the total and my appliance cost ended up at $1074, saving me $5096 and bringing my total savings to just over $14,000. I also ran the electrical for the refrigerator myself and junctioned it from the existing patio GFCI 15A outdoor outlet. The contractor estimated $1500 for electrical, and I spent a total of $160 on wire, conduit, outlets, and a conduit bender, saving me an additional $1340. Running the electrical took me roughly 4 hours, including 3 trips to home depot which is thankfully less than 2 miles away. Total savings so far? $15429.
Another huge expense in the contractor’s estimate was Granite countertop. The contractor was going to put granite on the entire countertop as well as the bar overhang, totaling just under 65 square feet. The estimated cost was $5900 including installation, which seems to be a pretty fair price for my area. Granite isn’t the kind of thing you can easily DIY since it requires specialized tools and lots of manpower to work with, so I decided to go ahead with concrete countertops instead, and of course I had to embed some LEDS in them for a little extra flair.
After watching every video on youtube that even mentioned concrete countertops I felt more or less prepared to handle the job. I used standard sakcrete mix with charcoal coloring, made forms out of melamine and poured the slabs in my garage. I started out with the counters that would surround the grill since they were much smaller and felt less daunting for a first attempt. Again, I tried to hit all the major points from the concrete countertop youtube videos: I used silicone to seal the edges, I vibrated the mold to release bubbles, and filled in all the small pinholes with a cement slurry. After a huge boost in confidence when my first slabs turned out almost perfect I was ready to tackle the big slabs, but I was getting ready to go on a week long vacation with my family, so I wanted to get the big slabs poured before we left so they could start curing. I finished the molds the night before we were supposed to leave, and I woke up early the next day to start mixing and pouring concrete… this is a terrible idea, never be in a hurry when working with concrete.
Not only was I rushing, but I stupidly decided to cheap out and not rent a concrete mixer for the 700 pounds of concrete that I needed to pour. Things seemed fine during the pour, but after getting back from vacation I demolded the slabs and they were a mess. Each slab had multiple locations where the concrete didn’t mix properly, which resulted in a crumbly mess. I knew I couldn’t just leave them that way, so I attempted to scrape away any of the bad areas and patch them with portland cement. I’m not sure if it was just my lack of skill, or if it’s not even possible to do it well, but the patches looked unacceptably terrible.
So, standing in my garage, looking at 700 pounds of waste concrete, I decided to just say screw it and lean into my mistakes. I grabbed my angle grinder with a flap disk, a drill with a wire wheel, and chisel and cleaned out every single void and patch, with the new idea to fill them with epoxy and let people see my mistakes. In my opinion this was the best decision I made in the entire project. I think it turned out great, and it makes the countertops look super interesting and unique instead of just being another large slab.
I also screwed up the LED channels during the pour because the hot glue holding the melamine strip down broke off and caused the channel to veer off to the right instead of staying parallel. Again, leaning into my mistakes I decided to make that area the most visible end of the countertop and feather out the crooked end with my angle grind to make it look more organic, a definite Bob Ross moment that turned out great.
Inside the channels I’ve got WS2813 individually addressable LEDs. I also mounted the strips inside aluminum channels, with the diffuser on, and I did my best to seal up all the seams, so I could theoretically pull the strips out from one side if I ever needed to change them and the aluminum channel and air gap should theoretically make them less susceptible to heat death than if I just encased them directly in epoxy. I also used some opal micah powder to help diffuse the LED light a bit more, but I wish I would have made the diffusing layer a little thicker because the individual LED pixels are definitely still noticeable.
Finishing the epoxy was the most labor intensive part of the entire project and I bought a bunch of tools that were mentioned in different youtube videos like a handheld scraper and heavy grit belt sander… both of which still took forever. If I had to do it again I’d use the stone coat countertop method and get a metal sanding disk for my angle grinder.
After getting all the excess epoxy off I sanded the slabs to 320 grit and recruited 5 friends and neighbors to help me move them into place, and even though there was only 350 pounds of concrete in each slab they felt SIGNIFICANTLY heavier than that. Once the countertops were in place, I sealed them with a few coats of food safe sealant from Chengs, and filled the gap between the two countertop sections with black silicone.
To make the countertop I used 16 bags of Sakcrete at around $4 each, $10 of steel mesh reinforcement, $150 for three sheets of melamine to make the molds and I spent an additional $100 on random tools and consumables. 10 meters of WS2813 LED strips were $75, and I used $30 worth of aluminum LED channels. 2 gallons of epoxy from Total Boat was $130, which was a little more than I needed, but better to have extra than not enough. Overall I spent $557, and almost half of that was for the LED feature. The end product is a one of a kind countertop that may not be for everyone but definitely fits in with the rest of my patio and I saved $5343 in the process bring my total savings well over $20,000. As I mentioned, the countertop was definitely both time and labor intensive and start to finish this took me about 26 hours of hard skilled labor, I’m happy with the results, but I wouldn’t recommend this portion of the project to the faint of heart.
On to the biggest ticket item: The motorized aluminum pergola. The one that would have been installed by my local contractor was made by a company called Struxure, which is owned by Somfy and my quoted price was $22,500, or about $125/square foot of coverage, which was way too much for me. Luckily, on AliBaba I found a factory in China called AlunoTec that specializes in motorized aluminum structures and I was excited when their quote was just over $3000 for the pergola itself, and then shipping from China to Tampa was just $440, which probably should have been a red flag.
What I didn’t understand was the difference between shipping and importing, and I had no idea how much additional headache it would be. In addition to dozens of emails and forms for things like customs, importer security filings, and port agreements, I was also blindsided by $2325 in extra fees that were never mentioned by AlunoTec.
Still, the AlunoTec product did offer some major advantages over Struxure in addition to the significant savings in cost. First, the struxure product can only be modified in 2 foot increments, so 10×10, 10×12, 8×12, etc, while the AlunoTec sales rep wanted precise measurements down to the millimeter. So using AlunoTec I was able to fit the pergola exactly in between my existing lanai and screen enclosure with no open spaces on the sides, but it also meant that any errors in measurement would have been catastrophic. And second, the AlunoTec structural aluminum pieces are reinforced on the inside making them more rigid and the louvers have a different design and are much more solidly built, which I think helps reduce noise when they are moving and during heavy rain.
Overall I’m really happy with the AlunoTec pergola, but they definitely don’t get my full recommendation: First, I feel like they should really give people a heads up on customs and importing fees, and Second, you definitely shouldn’t buy their built in LED package, which is high voltage, ungrounded and poorly waterproofed… not the kind of thing you want to use outdoors and attached to a giant metal structure, so I of course ripped it out and did my own thing.
All in all it took about 90 days from ordering to delivery, which not terrible by any means, but also not fast and even though the total cost of the pergola including extra fees was $6105, 62% more than the original price quoted from AlunoTec it still saved me around $16,500 compared to the contractors estimate. The install process took me about 18 hours total, and I had a friend help for 2 hours of that, so we’ll call it 20 hours total of moderately skilled labor, that felt like putting together a very large and heavy piece of IKEA furniture.
The 24V linear actuator in charge of opening and closing the louvers is connected to a RF433 switch and remote can be automated using a sonoff RF bridge with custom firmware, allowing control with Amazon echo and weather based automation. Did I mention how cool this thing is?
The last part project was lighting, which the original contractor was going to install for $1500. I ended up opting for 24 volt RGBW LED strips around the entire perimeter of both the pergola and existing lanai. I spent $162 on LED strips, $100 on 45 degree aluminum channels, and $100 for a meanwell power supply, shelly RGBW2 and a waterproof box to house the electrical. The LED install took about 4 hours and does an amazing job lighting up the space at night evenly. The lighting was the cherry on top of this project gives it a really luxury feel and brought the final cost to $8492 and my savings up to $38,510. Interestingly enough, the contractor quoted me for 80 hours of labor for an even $3000, and doing everything myself from scratch only took me 81 hours. If you ever want to feel good at the end of one of your projects, try calculating your hourly wage based on the money that you saved. In my case, I saved over $41,500 for my 81 hours of work, which comes out to a bit over $500/hr. If you make $500/hr at your job I’d recommend putting in some overtime and leaving the patio install to the professionals, but for everyone else, DIY can let you get that Ferrari lifestyle on a Honda paycheck.
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