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Deck vs Patio: The Pros, Cons, and Cost

If you're converting your outdoor space from a patch of grass to usable outdoor living space, there are immediate decisions you need to make. What do you want landscaping to look like? Are you interested in installing a pool? A pergola? And more often than not, do you want to install a deck or patio? The deck vs patio debate has existed since people began designing outdoor living spaces. Picking one or the other can get complicated.

Choosing which is right for you comes down to your own needs. You should consider the design of the space, and additional considerations like the average cost, preference in building materials, and more. Still, both decks and patios offer many of the same things. Room for outdoor entertaining, more livable space per square foot, and the opportunity to get creative in both material and design all are factored in.

Before you decide, let's talk a little bit more about the pros and cons of a deck vs patio.

What is the difference between a deck and patio?

Before we get deeper into the topic, let's cover the basics. The fundamental difference between decks and patios is pretty simple. The distinction has mainly to do with the height of construction, and the materiality.

Patios are generally built at ground level. They are made from materials such as pavers, bricks, poured concrete or stamped concrete, or natural stone. They are graded at an even level to the rest of your landscape. Homeowners can typically expect to step off their patio and into their lawn without much of a change in elevation.

Decks, on the other hand, do not need to be level with the ground underneath. Decks tend to be at an elevated height to the rest of the space. This makes them great choices for uneven yards or uneven terrain. Raised decks are far easier to construct on sloping landscapes than patios. However, this also means that a finished deck will almost always require stairs. Decks are typically built of wood, although the type of wood deck will vary depending on the desired finish.

Types of Patios

Patios are most often categorized by the material they are made of. When it comes time to choose what patio you would like to install, consider the look, upkeep, and cost of each material option.

Concrete Patios

A concrete patio is one of the most common types of patio installations. A concrete patio is popular because it is comparatively cheap, and comes in a variety of versatile finishes. Of course, it's important that any concrete is poured over a well prepared and even ground surface. Uneven surfaces and concrete do not mix.

Paver Patios

Smaller units of stone or concrete called pavers make up a paver patio. These can be interlocking or not, but they create a seamless, expensive look to the finished patio. A paver patio is likely to be more expensive than its concrete alternative.

Stone Patios

Natural stone has fallen out of popularity in the last few decades as paver technology has become more advanced and affordable. Still, it's hard to beat the natural beauty of a bluestone patio. If you invest in an expensive material such as natural stone, we don't recommend you treat your patio like a DIY project. Building your own patio can be a worthwhile project, but if it comes at the expense of pricey raw materials, it's probably not the best move.

Raised Patio

Contractors build a raised patio at a higher elevation to the rest of the outdoor space. Unlike a raised deck which is lofted into the air on supports, a raised patio brings the earth up to meet it. These patios sit high on the property, and generally overlook a sloped backyard landscape.

Types of Decks

Materiality and construction defines different types of decks. Not only can you choose from natural wood or composite, but you can construct either a raised or ground level deck depending on your property.

Wood vs Vinyl or Composite Deck

The most common deck material is still wood. Whether you invest in high end IPE or pressure treated natural woods, the end result will be beautiful. However, natural wood requires a good deal of maintenance.

In the last few decades, vinyl decking and composite decking has become increasingly popular. Vinyl decks are built of composite plastics. Vinyl mimics the look of real wood. Composites contain a blend of plastic and wood materials. Both option can look great, and require you to put less elbow grease into your deck year over year.

Floating vs Ground Level Deck

One you've decided on the right material for your deck, you need to decide on the design. Properties that slope or homes that are constructed at the top of uneven ground will likely find the most benefit in a floating deck. Homes that do not face grading challenges may opt for a ground level deck, or a deck that is raised minimally above the rest of the property.

Deck vs Patio: Cost Per Square Foot

So which is more expensive, a deck, or a patio? Both decks and patios vary in price depending on what kind of material is chosen. But, patios are almost always less expensive than decks. This is the case for a range of reasons.

Patio Pricing

Overall, patios are less complicated to build. Contractors construct patios on level ground, and patios do not require a building permit. There isn't the same concern about the flat surface being weight bearing. They do not require the same kind of extensive preparation and know-how that a well built wood deck requires.

On average, patios cost around $5 per square foot. Pea gravel patios cost as little as $3 per square foot. Materials such as concrete or stone pavers require more expertise to install, and therefore the cost of labor will be higher. Still, no matter the material, patios are generally more affordable than decks.

Cost of Wooden Decks

On the other end of the spectrum, a deck's average cost is nearly $30 per square foot when going with high quality material. Wood is expensive, and high end wood or composite deck material is even more expensive.

Furthermore, different types of decks will cost more depending on the complexity of their installation. Ground level decks cost less, while a floating deck or raised deck will come with higher installation costs as carpenters need to contend with building a support system, and the possibility of uneven ground below.

Deck vs Patio: Maintenance

Deciding between a deck or patio goes beyond aesthetics and construction. If your yard allows for both to be easily built, and you enjoy the look of both installations, then the last piece of the puzzle becomes more personal.

Mainly, how much money and effort are you willing to put into regular maintenance?

If the answer to this question is not "not a whole lot", don't ignore that. If you invest a good deal of money into a beautiful new deck that you aren't willing to keep up with, then you may as well kiss your ROI goodbye. Thankfully, there are some patios and decks that require more maintenance than others.

Deck Maintenance

The material of your deck determines durability and maintenance. A wood deck built from pressure treated lumber will be more durable than raw material. For example, you will get more good years out of a pressure treated pine vs an untreated cedar. But both materials will still be vulnerable to the elements.

Depending on the finish, wood decks need to be sanded, refinished, and sealed with waterproofing materials on a regular basis.

Composite Decking Upkeep

Composite materials, on the other hand, do not require the same amount of time and attention. This is because the amount of plastic in the material makes it resistant to moisture and other damage from the elements.

While composite decks cost more per square foot than high end wood, the costs of traditional wood upkeep over a decade may balance out the initial price tag for a great composite material. At the end of the day, it's about knowing if you're willing to keep up a traditional wood deck. If you aren't, consider saving to invest in a composite that will be more hands off with a better long term result.

Patio Maintenance

Generally speaking, patios require less maintenance than a deck. Annually, you will likely only need to give your patio a good power washing to keep it looking its best. A concrete patio can crack over time, but if poured and leveled correctly, long term durability is likely.

Other materials such as concrete pavers and natural stone also have a long lifespan. Unlike concrete slabs, if one paver or stone cracks, that single section can be replace. This makes repairs more affordable than paying for the reconstruction of an entire patio or deck.

Deck vs Patio: Which has the higher resale value?

Maybe you're not planning on spending the rest of your life in your current home. Most of us are not! So it's common to make the ROI of outdoor and indoor home renovations an important consideration. After all, it's great for you to enjoy a new patio, but if it will decrease the value of your home when you go to resell, it could make you pause.

Thankfully, you can rest easy knowing the both decks and patios only increase the resale value of your property. In fact, pretty much any investment you make to your outdoor space will pay off when it's time to move on.

But which investment will get you more for your money when it's time to resell? There's a clear answer: decks.

Wooden decks offer up to a 76% higher return on investment than a patio. This is especially true when the deck is well built, or creates additional living space. Both wood decks and composite decks are great investments. In order to get the most for your money, make sure that you are doing routine maintenance as needed.

At the end of the day, a poorly maintained wooden deck will not be worth more than a well maintained paver patio.

Build The Right Outdoor Space For You

Deciding between either a deck vs patio seems simple, but there's more that goes into the decision than meets the eye. From materiality, to cost, to maintenance, picking the solution that's best for your property is a multifaceted process. Keeping all of this in mind before jumping into a project will prevent serious buyers remorse, and give you an outdoor living space you'll love for years to come.

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