What Is a Patio?

A patio is basically a paved area that sits flush with the ground. There is an almost unlimited range of sizes, shapes, materials and locations to consider. A large brick patio might serve as a spacious entry point from your home to your backyard. Stone pavers set in a wide side yard could be the flooring for an outdoor kitchen and dining room. A circle of decomposed granite (DG) might be the foundation for a getaway spot in the back corner of your yard. You are limited only by your space, design style and budget.

Pros of Choosing a Patio

Plenty of design and material options. Rectangular or square patios are common, but you aren’t limited to those shapes. Rounded corners and freeform edges can give your patio a distinctive look. Other shapes also can allow you to work around obstacles, such as a large tree or an awkward corner.

  • Concrete is versatile and works well with almost any architectural style.
  • Natural stones, such as flagstone, bluestone, limestone and sandstone, provide a more organic feel while still working well with a number of design styles.
  • Brick has a classic look that pairs well with traditional homes but also can work well as a contemporary style.
  • Terra-cotta or ceramic tiles rated for outdoor use are popular in warm-weather climates.
  • For a more nature-inspired feel, look to loose materials such as crushed gravel or decomposed granite.

More privacy. A patio’s low profile lets you enjoy your outdoor space without feeling like you’re on display. It’s also relatively easy to add fences, walls or screens of varying heights to define the space and create a cozy ambiance while further mitigating prying eyes.

It’s easier to add amenities. Adding features like fire pits, fireplaces, ponds and outdoor kitchens can be easier on a patio than on a deck. You won’t have to worry about weight restrictions or support for heavier amenities. Add underground plumbing or electrical lines at the start of construction, if needed, to keep things tidy.

Relatively long lifespan. For the most part, a well-built and well-maintained patio can last decades. You may need to make some minor repairs, but the overall patio will remain in good shape.

Cons of Choosing a Patio

Not ideal for uneven surfaces. Patios need to be built on level ground or where there’s a minimal slope. You’ll need to prep more if you want to add a patio on a slope, including possibly excavating and leveling the ground or adding terraces and steps between levels.

You’ll need to consider drainage. A solid patio will prevent water from draining into the ground. Instead, water will pool on the surface or against the house itself. You’ll need to direct water away from the patio and into the ground, which may include installing drainage pipes.

It’s harder to take advantage of views. The privacy advantage may mean that you also take in less of your surroundings. Look for ways to maximize what views you have, whether it’s a glimpse of trees or water in the distance or thoughtfully placed plantings within your own yard.

Patio Maintenance

Patios generally have fairly low maintenance requirements. You might need to sweep and rinse off the surface, clean stains, and repair or replace damaged areas every so often. You’ll probably also need to do some weed control if your patio has gaps between pavers or is laid over sand or landscape cloth. Some materials also may need to be sealed on a regular basis.

Cost to Add a Patio

Installing a patio usually costs less than installing a deck. The cost can go up depending on materials, size and design, with loose materials being on the lower end and natural stone being the most expensive.

Other Considerations for Adding a Patio

Timing. Installation is fairly simple and relatively quick for most designs. A concrete patio may be installed and cured in a week.

Regulations. Permits and inspections also are relatively easy with a standard patio and may not be required at all. However, always check with your local building department as well as any homeowner associations before building.

What Is a Deck?

A deck is an open outdoor structure, often made of wood, that’s set above the ground. Decks often are attached to a home, but you can design one as a destination within your landscape, whether it’s for relaxing by a pool or spa, enjoying a distant view, or kicking back in a getaway area. A deck also has a natural vibe that fits well with any landscape.

Pros of Choosing a Deck

Ideal for uneven surfaces. A deck can span a slope and give you a level outdoor space. A low-to-the-ground deck may be only a few inches high, but that height can be enough to cover a bumpy landscape without your having to level it. A higher deck set on posts may extend over a steeper slope.

Versatile design options. A deck’s design, layout and finishes can be chosen to work well with nearly any home style. A deck also can provide a smooth transition outside from the first floor as well as from upper levels to offer additional outdoor space.

Adding two or more decks provides numerous outdoor options. A staircase or ramp linking them with each other or to another part of the yard will give you even more flexibility.

The advantage of views. If your property overlooks a natural landscape or a bustling city, site your deck so you can take advantage of the vista. A second-story deck will allow you to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of your landscape (and you can design it with that in mind).

Cons of Choosing a Deck

Material limitations. The majority of decks are made of wood or a combination of wood and wood composite. Wood has a natural beauty that’s hard to ignore, but it requires more maintenance and is not as long-lasting as wood composites. Wood composites have become more lifelike and easier to work with than when they first were introduced, but they still don’t have quite the natural beauty of some popular woods. If you want to ensure that you’re making a sustainable choice, look for lumber that has a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

You can add outdoor-rated flooring such as ceramic tiles or pavers over a solid deck, but you’ll need to plan for the additional weight and cost.

Relatively less longevity. Neither wood nor wood composites will last as long as stone, brick or concrete. Without regular maintenance and sealing, a beautiful wood deck can start to deteriorate in as few as five years. Wood composite won’t show its age as quickly. Decks made of either material probably will need to be replaced in 20 to 25 years.

Weight is an issue. You can add amenities like fireplaces, fire pits, spas and outdoor kitchens to a wood deck, but you’ll need to plan for both the added weight and structural cost. The issues likely would be minimal with a low deck but can increase significantly for high decks that require additional support.

Lack of privacy. Decks can open up gorgeous views, but they also can expose you to neighbors and passersby. You may want to add features that will protect your privacy, such as a pergola, an arbor, screens or curtains.

Deck Maintenance

Composite decks require minimal maintenance. They don’t fade, and you can clean them with water and a little detergent.

Wood decks require more maintenance to prevent warping, drying out and other damage. You’ll need to power-wash a wood deck every year, usually at the end of fall when the pollen and leaves have fallen. If you add a stain or sealer, you’ll also need to renew it regularly.

Cost to Add a Deck

It generally costs more to build a deck than a patio, with the materials being a major expense. Composite boards, while not as expensive as some natural stone, still will run more than wood.

Rot-resistant woods like redwood and cedar are good choices, but they may be more expensive if you live in an area where they aren’t readily available. Check locally for woods native to your region that could be a good substitute.

Other Considerations for Adding a Deck

Decks over a certain height require railings; check with your local building department and your HOA, if you have one. Even if your deck is low enough for you to forgo railings, you may want to consider safety measures like plantings, long steps or built-in benches to prevent missteps.

Timing. A simple deck can be completed in one to two weeks once the permits are in hand. It may take longer if the deck is more elaborate or if the building department is required to sign off on construction.

Regulations. You’ll likely have to get a permit and schedule inspections, especially if your deck needs structural support. Check with your building department for local requirements.

You’ll also want to check your HOA, if you have one, about any rules for adding a deck and any restrictions on the use of wood or wood composites.