September 30, 2016

Deck or Patio, What’s Right for Your Backyard?

Do you know why some homes have a deck while others have a patio? Patios are always at ground level while decks range from just about ground level to the roof of a garage or even the roof of a house. While it’s true you get to decide, there are many factors that will influence the decision you make.

The first factor to consider is how high your home sits above ground or how many steps are needed to go from your door to the ground? According to Jack Tremblay, a registered landscape architect, “It’s supposed to be easy to access your outdoor living space. If you can get from your door to the ground in 4 steps, a patio or terrace is appropriate. With 4 or more steps, a deck is more practical.”

How Steep or Sloped is Your Ground?

We’re used to looking at a patio or deck after it’s built, so we assume the setting is natural. In fact patios require level ground so if you have any type of slope, there will be added cost to level out the ground. That’s not all as more than a few inches might also require some type of retaining wall to maintain the level ground or your patio might settle unevenly.

Decks are more common for numerous reasons:

  • Decks can match the floor level of your home, from which you’ll step out onto the deck.
  • Decks don’t require a level surface as they’re supported by posts sitting on concrete piers in the ground.
  • Decks don’t require excavation to clear space, as you can build a multi-tiered deck that accommodates boulders and ledge.
  • Decks can take advantage of views by moving them up to see over other structures. Along the seacoast you can see widows walks where sea captains’ wives watched for their return.

Patios or terraces offer different benefits:

  • Patios look and feel more permanent as they get integrated into the  landscape.
  • Stone and masonry materials last much longer than wood when installed properly.
  • Patios allow plantings close to the paving, softening the overall paved area.
  • Patios often have better resale value.

“The value of a deck or patio is relative to the design, functionality and quality of installation. The lack of any or all of these elements can decrease it’s value.” according to Jack Tremblay.

Building Flexibility and Doing It Yourself

One reason there are more decks is homeowners find them easier to build. Where a patio may require excavation and then multiple layers of gravel and sand, a deck only needs enough ground to be dug out to sink the concrete support piers below the frost line.

More homeowners have basic carpentry skills and the tools to build a deck. The masonry skills for laying a patio that will last for many years, and the equipment to excavate and prepare the base are more complicated. With a patio you also have to coordinate the delivery of significant amounts of material. The gravel to build a base 4 inches  deep for a small, 10×10-foot patio weighs approximately 2 and a half tons. The delivery truck will dump it in your driveway and then you have to shovel it into a wheelbarrow and move it to the patio location … a long and tedious job as we do a few of these each year at my handyman business.

Materials, Climate and Which Costs More?

You have quite a few material choices for decks and patios. Patios can be made from concrete, pavers, stone, tile or brick and since patios are at ground level, they don’t require any handrails. Decks have traditionally been made of wood, either pressure treated pine or more weather resistant redwood, cedar and mahogany. Today there are composites and vinyl that are becoming popular as they require less routine maintenance. While building codes vary, decks generally require railings when they’re 3 steps or higher.

Climate should also be factored into your choice of materials. Consider typical temperatures and whether people can walk on your choice of materials comfortably and safely. Research how well your choice of materials will hold up to cold and heat. Some materials are more resistant to insects, warping, splintering and water damage. In all cases, make sure your deck or patio design incorporates good drainage.


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