Angie's List: Tips on deciding which outdoor living space is right for your house and landscape

Both have advantages and disadvantages

TAMPA - Many homeowners think of their deck or patio as an outdoor living room, dining room, or even kitchen. Before you build a deck or patio, you should learn about the differences between the two. "When considering adding a deck or patio they can be a great way to extend your living space outside and extend your square footage," said Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "But you need to decide what you are going to use it for and what kind of space you have available."

In a nutshell, a patio is a ground level surface that can be made of various materials such as concrete, pavers, stone and brick – limitless options. Decks are elevated structures attached to a home. They are commonly constructed of wood or composite materials. "When planning a deck or patio first you want to get your budget in line, then see what your options are," said Hicks. "Figure out how much square footage you're looking to add and then price it out accordingly with each different type. Keep in mind the price range can vary on installation, and you also need to consider what the lifelong maintenance is as well. For instance, a wood deck is less expensive than a composite deck to install initially, but requires more maintenance."

Tom Booker is a deck contractor. He said 80 percent of his decks are made with composite materials. "And within the composite materials there are actually three different types. There is a wood-plastic composite, there is a PVC material, and then there's a capstock or coated composite material. The coded composite is the highest performance material. That actually has a 25 year fade and stain warranty so it's really popular." He points out that he can create different spaces with the deck. "Higher spaces and lower spaces. So it can feel like separate areas. Also, we can put benches, privacy screens, and railing, so it really can flesh out the space nicely," he said.

Patio contractor Kevin Schluchter points out the easy maintenance of concrete, stone or brick patios. "Basically I tell people that the leaf blower is your best friend. Blowing off your pavers after mowing, especially if you have a side-discharge mower that would blow grass clippings across... just blowing those off your pavers to keep them fresh looking - not allowing that debris to start to accumulate in the joints. That's primarily it.  They're very low maintenance."

Angie's List Tips: Deck or Patio?

  • Consider the landscape: Patios work best on flatter terrain because you need a minimal amount of structural engineering to put them in. That's not to say that you can't install a patio on a hilly yard; it's just that the cost of building retaining walls and paying to bring in fill dirt to level out the site can increase the project cost. However, you can extend decks out over a variety of terrain and provide your own flat surface, regardless of the topography. You'll also want to look at the way weather affects your property and determine whether roof drainage could create a problem on an attached deck or if the way snow and ice build-up could create a slippery hazard on a patio.
  • Assess your needs: Before embarking on a deck or patio project, figure out what you'd like to get from the space.

Ask questions like these:

  1. Do you want to use your outside space as a second dining room? If so, would you like a grill built in to the structure, which is much more achievable with a patio, or are you OK with using a portable grill that is fine on a deck?
  2. Do you have small children or pets that need to be contained in an outdoor structure? If so, a deck is your better choice.
  3. Are bugs like mosquitoes and wasps a concern? If you're going to screen in the space, decide whether you'd be more comfortable on a screened deck or patio.
  4. Is space an issue? In this case, an elevated deck could be a good idea because it would allow you to use the space underneath it for storage or other purposes.
  5. Thinking of getting a hot tub? A patio can usually hold more weight than a deck, so it might be a better option.
  6. What atmosphere are you trying to create? Decks end to form a division from the natural world, whereas patios can flow naturally into your yard. Spend some time imagining yourself living and using the space to get an idea about which would suit you better before beginning the project.

Consider maintenance issues: Both decks and patios require varying degrees of maintenance depending on the building materials. Wooden decks require periodic sealing, staining and even replacement of railings and floor planks as they age, whereas certain patios may require weeding between paving stones, filling in cracks and sealing, as in the case of concrete slabs.

An incorrectly installed patio or deck can be an unsightly blight on your landscape. That's why it's critical to choose a reputable contractor.

Angie's List Tips: Hiring a contractor for your deck or patio

  • Are you licensed, bonded and/or insured? Check with your state to see if contractors are required to have an active license to perform work. A company should carry liability insurance, and if it has employees, worker's compensation insurance. If not, you could be responsible for any damages.
  • Evaluate the cost: Decks and patios can either be inexpensive or costly additions to your home, depending on your design tastes and the materials you use. Consider sketching out both projects and then asking a few contractors to quote on each job. A simple wooden deck without many embellishments will likely be cheaper than a slate patio with a built-in fireplace. But a simple concrete patio can prove a more economical choice than an elaborately designed deck with an attached gazebo.
  • Read before you sign: It's important to read the contract and make sure you understand all the details before signing.
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