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Why Freestanding vs Built In Appliances Aren’t Interchangeable: 7 Top Safety Concerns

By Daniel Cdebaca

October 6, 2023

You’re planning to build a BBQ island, and have been browsing through all the different outdoor appliance options.

At this point, you’ve likely noticed that there are both “freestanding” and “built-in” models available.

But… Does the configuration you choose really matter?

Built-in appliances tend to sport a bigger price tag… And it may be tempting to simply use your trusty old freestanding grill in your new kitchen design.

But the truth is… Freestanding vs built in appliances are definitely NOT interchangeable.

freestanding vs built in featured image

And at the heart of this distinction lies a critical issue: Your safety.

After years of working in the outdoor living industry… We’ve heard countless harrowing tales of homeowners who’ve used freestanding appliances in place of built-in models in their outdoor kitchens.

So in this article, we’ll be shining a spotlight on those safety concerns… And sharing why bona fide built-in appliances are always the best choice for your BBQ island.

Ready to jump in?

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Freestanding And Built-In Appliances At A Glance

To get things going, let’s expand on what we mean by “freestanding” and “built-in” appliances.

In simple terms, freestanding appliances are designed to stand independently… Typically on a cart, casters, or legs. They’re not intended for installation in an outdoor kitchen.

On the other hand, built-in appliances are specifically meant to be installed in an outdoor kitchen structure, for a seamless and integrated look.

While this difference may be straightforward enough… What’s not as clear cut is understanding why it really matters, and more importantly, what it means for your safety.

That’s why today, we’ll be doubling down on the potential hazards of using freestanding appliances in your outdoor kitchen design.

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A Colossal Safety Concern: Blocked Ventilation

So… What exactly is unsafe about using freestanding appliances in an outdoor kitchen?

Well, it mainly has to do with ventilation.

Certain types of appliances — freestanding and built-in alike — require access to airflow to function properly. 

For instance, grills have vents which allow heat and gas to dissipate… And outdoor refrigerators rely on vents to maintain safe internal temperatures.

But here’s the key issue: Built-in and freestanding appliances don’t adhere to the same ventilation regulations… And not taking heed of this difference can lead to some significant safety risks.

Allow us to paint a clearer picture for you… Starting with freestanding vs. built-in grills.

Safety Hazards Of Blocked Grill Vents

While ventilation varies on a grill by grill basis… Most freestanding and built-in grills alike vent out from the rear below the top of the hood.

Though vent location may be similar for both configurations… There are some crucial differences in design. 

Built-in grills are designed specifically to be placed in enclosed structures.

Additionally, they’ll come with clear installation instructions to ensure their vents remain unobstructed.

On the other hand, freestanding grills are not designed for built-in use… And therefore won’t come with manufacturer-approved installation instructions. 

When attempting to build a freestanding grill into an outdoor kitchen… The difference in design coupled with a lack of professional instruction often results in blocked grill vents.

And when grill vents are obstructed… It’s not good news.

To show you what we mean… Let’s run through the potential safety hazards.

Blocked Grill Vents Can Cause Accidental Burns

hot grill knobs

Excess heat inside grills must have a way to escape, otherwise, your outdoor cooking setup may quickly become host to safety concerns… One such being accidental burns.

When ventilation is blocked… Heat will continue to build up in the unit, causing the grill’s exterior controls and handles to become piping hot.

Of course, if your grill’s exterior is blistering hot, this significantly increases the risk of your hands getting scorched.

But, that’s not the only thing at stake…

Blocked Grill Vents Can Cause A Fire

grill catching fire due to poor ventilation

In addition to the risk of burns… Extreme heat buildup in your grill threatens even graver safety hazards.

When excessive heat has nowhere to vent out, it can go so far as to spark a fire in your grill… Which may then spread to your kitchen island and nearby structures. (This danger is heightened if your BBQ island is constructed with combustible materials!)

Not only can this lead to substantial property damage… But it also poses a significant threat to your family’s safety.

Blocked Grill Vents Can Damage Electrical Components

Now, onto a final hazard of excessive heat buildup…

Many grills feature electrical add-ons, like lighting or rotisserie… And pellet grills rely heavily on electronic components to operate.

It goes without saying… But extreme heat buildup and electrical components don’t pair well.

Wires can overheat, melt, and malfunction… Causing serious damage to your grill.

And as for personal safety hazards… The risk of electrical fires is greatly increased.

Again, if your outdoor kitchen is constructed with combustible materials… The severity of the fire can quickly spiral out of control.

But even with non-combustible materials… This isn’t a risk you’ll want to take.

Blocked Grill Vents Can Cause Explosions

an image of an outdoor kitchen that caught fire due to poor ventilation

When it comes to gas grills, specifically… You should never adapt your old freestanding model for built-in use.

If you do… You’ll be facing an exceptionally dire consequence.

Just as blocked vents trap in heat… They can also confine potential gas leaks.

And if gas in your grill doesn’t have an escape route… Immense pressure will accumulate inside the appliance.

The greater the pressure… The higher the chance of a fiery explosion putting you, your family, and your property at risk.

All in all, the key message here is: Just opt for a genuine built-in grill.

They are specially designed for use in outdoor kitchens, will be able to effectively vent out heat and gas buildup, and will alleviate the above safety concerns.

On the contrary, building a freestanding grill into an enclosed structure is hardly worth gambling your safety. 

But, grills aren’t the only type of appliance that rely on ventilation to operate…

Safety Hazard Of Blocked Refrigerator Vents

freestanding refrigerator next to grill cart
Freestanding Refrigerator
Built In Refrigerator Vents

As with standalone grills… Freestanding outdoor refrigeration should never be swapped out for genuine built-in units.

Generally, freestanding outdoor refrigerators feature vents on the sides or back of the unit… While built-in refrigerators will have vents on the bottom front.

If you were to build a freestanding refrigerator into an outdoor kitchen structure… You’d be completely blocking the vents.

And if a refrigerator doesn’t have access to airflow, the unit won’t be able to stay reliably cool.

Though a freestanding fridge likely won’t overheat enough to spark a fire in your kitchen island… Blocked vents still don’t bode well for your personal wellbeing.

If your fridge is unable to maintain consistently lower temps… The food stored in the unit may spoil.

To be exact, any temperature over 40 degrees can cause food to spoil… Particularly raw poultry, red meat, or seafood.

And if you’re unaware that your fridge is malfunctioning… You may wind up with a nasty case of foodborne illness.

Safety hazards aside, outdoor refrigerators aren’t cheap. Building a freestanding model into your outdoor kitchen will prevent it from properly serving its intended purpose, making it nothing short of a waste of money. 

So, the general consensus? Don’t put your personal wellbeing at risk by building a freestanding fridge into your outdoor kitchen.

outdoor rated refrigerator door open to show insulation of coyote fridge

Instead, opt for a built-in unit with front vents… To ensure your refrigerator is able to function properly, and hold food-safe temps at all times.

DIY Can Be Dangerous: Safety Hazards Of Improper Appliance  Conversion

So far, we’ve hashed out the safety hazards of blocked vents.

However, those aren’t the sole risks that come from using freestanding appliances in your grill station.

If you’re not already fully on board the built-in bandwagon, here are additional safety hazards that you may face when converting a freestanding appliance.

Modifying Freestanding Appliances Can Cause Personal Injury

To adapt a freestanding grill for built-in use… There’s a good chance that some modification will need to take place.

More specifically, you might want to detach the grill head from its base to achieve a more integrated look.

Now, this process isn’t always overly difficult. In many cases, freestanding grill heads can simply be unscrewed from their cart or base.

But don’t take this simplicity as an invitation to convert your freestanding grill.

Unless your appliance manufacturer has clearly stated that the model can be converted to built-in… You shouldn’t attempt to do so, for the reasons we discussed above. (You may also risk voiding your warranty!)

Now, other freestanding grill models won’t be as easy to disassemble.

For many models, you may literally have to cut through metal to remove the base from the grill head.

And unless you’re a professional metal-worker… This won’t be an easy feat.

You’ll need special tools and a high skill cap… And even a small misstep can cause severe personal injury.

You could cut yourself on sharp metal edges, sharp blades, or metal shrapnel could lodge itself in your eyes or skin.

Not to mention, you may unintentionally remove or damage essential pieces of the unit… Which can in turn make the grill unsafe to use.

All in all, it’s not a great idea… And if that much effort is required, it’s safe to say your appliance was never meant to be converted in the first place. 

Now, what else could possibly go wrong?

Improperly Installed Appliances Will Be Structurally Unstable

island collapse

If a grill head isn’t specifically designed for built-in use… Unstable installation is another cause for concern.

It’s crucial that your grill is installed securely in your outdoor kitchen structure, without blocking any vents.

And when attempting to build in a freestanding model, it can be hard to pull this off.

True built-in grills sit in a designated cutout on a grill island… Come with flanges that allow for firm seating… And their full-depth is securely held in the kitchen’s structure, without blocking airflow.

This means the grill is safe to use, with little to no risk of the unit toppling through or off your kitchen design.

Now, when you install a grill head that’s not intended for built-in use… Structural stability isn’t a guarantee.

Your grill risks falling off or through your kitchen’s countertops, causing damage to your island, and opening up the possibility for yet more safety concerns.

Tumbling grills may crush your toes, pets, or small children in the area.

And if it takes a spill while powered on… The severity of this hazard is only heightened, bringing burn risks and fire hazards into the mix.

The moral of the story is… Don’t try to convert freestanding grills for built-in use, under any circumstance.

Sticking to genuine built-in models will ensure your grill is properly supported, has adequate airflow, and won’t pose any structural safety hazards.

And when it’s your safety at stake… Why take any chances?

Get Started On A Safe Built-In BBQ Island

mike pyle modern large u shaped outdoor kitchen with pizza oven and bar seating

By this point, you should have a better feel for why built-in appliances should never be swapped out for freestanding models.

And to keep your family safe in your outdoor kitchen… The best course of action is opting for authentic built-in solutions, from the start.

Sure, you may have to part ways with your old freestanding appliances, which can be discouraging.

But the good news is, starting from scratch doesn’t have to be super complicated.

When you work with RTA, it’s easy as ever to get a safe outdoor kitchen layout, with genuine built-in appliances.

We partner with Coyote Outdoor Living for our kitchen designs… A premium manufacturer of all types of built-in outdoor appliances and kitchen cabinetry.

You’ll simply select your choice of integrated components via our free online design tool… And in no time, your appliances, countertops, and concrete composite kitchen panels will arrive at your door, with all of the necessary cutouts already accounted for.

This sets you up for a safe, sound, and easy installation.

Not ready for an outdoor kitchen just yet? Don’t worry.

Coyote offers freestanding carts for most of their built-in grills and other appliances… Meaning you can safely adapt these units to true built-in kitchen appliances when you are ready to upgrade. How convenient is that? 

(Note: Always refer to appliance manuals beforehand to confirm that built-in conversion is approved.)

If you’re curious to find out more, check out our Learning Hub, play around with our design tool… And see for yourself how RTA can help you get a safe summer kitchen.

Need Help With Your Plans?

Talk to one of our expert designers and they will guide you from planning to installation. Schedule a call today.


Freestanding appliances are designed to stand independently… Typically on a cart, casters, or legs. They’re not intended for installation in an outdoor kitchen.

On the other hand, built-in appliances are specifically meant to be installed in an outdoor kitchen structure, for a seamless and integrated look.

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