What to consider before adding a deck or patio to your home
You might be thinking about adding a nice outdoor space to your home. Maybe a space for relaxing, or holding parties, or doing yoga. Adding a deck or patio can expand your living space in stylish and practical ways.
Decks vs patios
What’s the difference between a deck and a patio?
Decks are made of wood, which must be sealed or pressure-treated, or else the wood will be damaged over time due to exposure to weather and other outdoor conditions. Decks are often attached to a house, require guardrails when they are built above the ground, and they work well on sloped or uneven areas. They are also good for hot tubs, as wood dries quickly. A deck can be elevated as a balcony, or ground level, almost like a patio.
Patios, on the other hand, are ground level paved areas that are much more versatile in terms of design and materials. They can be attached to a house or freestanding, they can be made of anything from concrete to gravel, and with a bit of landscaping, they can work for sloped yards as well. Because of their materials, they can last much longer than decks, and are often cheaper to build.
When deciding between a deck and patio, you may also want to consider the amount of maintenance each will require.
Decks should be thoroughly cleaned twice a year. Good times to do this are late fall after all the trees shed their leaves, and late spring after pollen season. When cleaning decks made of plastic material (composite or PVC), never power wash them. Once a year, you should inspect your deck for any damage, including rot, split wood, loose nails, and cracking paint. Painted decks should be repainted every year as well. A wooden deck should be resealed every few years to ensure longevity.
Patios require much less maintenance than decks, as the material tends to be hardier. There’s no need to seal a patio made of stone. You may need to replace bricks or stones that get cracked, or touch up some mortar. If your patio is concrete, you’ll need to clean it more regularly to prevent mildew.
Both decks and patios should not be overwashed. You should sweep away leaves regularly, and wipe up spills immediately so your deck doesn’t stain. Every year you should also rearrange furniture on your deck or patio, to prevent mildew growth.
Before you build
You will need to get a permit to build a deck and sometimes to build a patio for your home. Not getting one can land you in trouble with your city: you’ll have to pay a fine at best, or tear down your new deck on top of the fine at worst. Cities will have different regulations for how big your deck can be, what materials you can use, and other requirements. Hiring a professional to build and plan your deck can speed up the process. They can help you draw up plans, help you with permits and keeping everything up to code, and provide solid expertise and advice.
Planning and design choices
When you plan your new deck or patio, you should keep several things in mind:
Size: Make sure your deck or patio is large enough for what you want to use it for. If you’re planning to eat there, make sure there’s room for the table you choose, and an extra 4 feet around the table so people can walk behind those who are seated. You can test out the potential size of your deck or patio by marking out the space with stakes and string. You can also buy your outdoor furniture first and arrange it to see if it fits in the space.
Features: You can use a deck or patio for all sorts of things, from a relaxing space to look at the view, to a great place to entertain and hold parties. You can add things like lights, fire pits, pergolas, planters, and more. Make sure these are included in your plan as well.
Safety and accessibility: It’s important to make sure your deck or patio is safe for your family members, children, and pets. For a deck, a licensed designer will make sure guardrails don’t block doors or windows and meet all code requirements. Sturdy guardrails are a must to prevent falls and injuries from elevated decks. If you have stairs up to your deck, adding lights to the steps may help mitigate injuries.
Decks are typically made of wood or composite material.
- Pressure-treated wood is easy to stain, waterproof, and work with in general, and it’s low cost. However, it isn’t the most consistent wood, and lower quality wood can twist or split during installation as well as not look as aesthetically pleasing as other options.
- Cedar and redwood are easy to work with, have a natural insect resistance, and weather to a nice gray color. However, they are not easy to maintain and not available everywhere, so could cost a lot depending where you live.
- Tropical hardwood has a natural insect resistance and can last for ages if properly cared for. However, it’s hard to install and is expensive.
- Composite is a mix of wood and plastic, so has lots of options for colors and textures. It won’t break or rot, and you don’t need to paint, seal, or stain it. It will get lighter with time, so think about initially getting a deeper color.
- PVC is all plastic. It’s resistant to moisture, termites, and rot, stays the same size, and is easy to maintain. However, it may become squeaky over time.
Patios can be made of all sorts of materials.
- Concrete is durable, versatile, cheap, and low maintenance. It’s great for steady, warm climates because it won’t crack as much, but it will crack if the soil in your area is highly expansive or the climate fluctuates a great deal.
- Brick is durable and will usually retain its warm red color. Mortar isn’t necessarily needed, and you could simply lay the bricks on a bed of sand to make it easier to redesign in the future.
- Flagstone is quite attractive and thus is typically a more expensive option. It can be difficult to work with, as stones are heavy, and it will erode and split if there’s too much water pooling in the area.
- Pavers are versatile, coming in many shapes and colors, which makes them fairly easy to install. Stone or concrete pavers are excellent for patios, as they tend to last longer and keep their color.
- Gravel is incredibly easy to install and will deter weeds if spread over landscaping fabric. It may require more maintenance as stones will move around, and isn’t the best for furniture or bare feet.