The word patio is from Spanish meaning "courtyard" or "forecourt"—generally an outdoor space for dining and recreation. It is typically a paved area adjoining a residence. A deck, on the other hand, is an outdoor floor space attached to a residence—traditionally made of wood. However, these simple facts don’t help tremendously for making a decision about what you want in your backyard. You need more information, and we’re here to help.
Patio or Deck: Some Pros and Cons
You’ll need to consider several different angles before deciding whether to build a patio or a deck. Often, the determining factor is the area on which you wish to build. Decks are typically elevated and suited for spaces requiring raised platforms—sometimes off an upper story of a home, or an area that drops off. Decks are more suitable for areas that incorporate large trees, since they can be built around a tree without dangerous excavation that might possibly do damage to the tree’s root system.
Not that decks can't be built at ground level, but patios are more suited for areas requiring less grading. Patios are paved areas frequently laid in a bed of sand and sloped for drainage and runoff. They make for an easy do-it-yourself project, and are typically less expensive to build than decks. Decks need support structures for their floors, and lumber must be mechanically fastened to the support structures, requiring greater expertise to construct.
It is easier to architecturally shape a patio, particularly a concrete slab, as poured concrete easily follows its forms. Even if you're using the other materials (discussed below), shaped designs are easier to accommodate—especially for a do-it-yourselfer—than the techniques necessary to cut and layout a sculptured wood deck.
While not maintenance free, patios are nonetheless much easier to maintain than decks, which at minimum require yearly sealing to protect from water damage and insect infestation.
Materials to Consider
A patio can be simply a concrete slab providing extra outdoor space for entertaining. It can be sealed, or architecturally enhanced by coloring or painting. Slab patios can also be made with a host of materials like pavers, brick, man-made stone, natural stone like flagstone, or covered with decorative tile to achieve a stylish look. Patios can even be created by simply laying a bed of gravel. Gravel patios are inexpensive and make for a very easy do-it-yourself project, virtually eliminating drainage concerns.
Discarded concrete slabs that might otherwise end up in landfills can be recycled to create a flagstone patio effect. They may be easily laid in a bed of sand and accented by a low growing plant in the grout lines.
If you are looking for a traditional wood deck, they are typically built with redwood or cedar. These woods contain naturally occurring oils that resist rotting and insects and can be finished for added protection or left to weather naturally for a rustic look.
The lower maintenance green alternative to wood is composite, which is made from recycled wood fiber engineered to look like real wood. Available in a variety of textures and colors, composite decking resists warping, cracking, and insects. But, if you are a person who loves the look of a real wood deck, then real wood it is. Just be prepared for substantial cost.
The Moral of the Story
Patios and decks can beautifully enhance outdoor living space, creating a wonderful entertainment area, increasing your home's value, and saving money on landscape and gardening costs. The kind of space you want to construct will depend on your area, your budget, and the look you want. Beyond that, there are added pros and cons to consider when making your selection, so educate yourself to make the right choice.