Is it better to build a deck or patio?

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For many of us spending more time than ever at home, sprucing up the yard and expanding outdoor living space has sprung to top of mind. When it comes to the outdoor amenities WoodDecker in Miami specializes in, installer and designer Eduardo Gato calls the increase in demand “huge.”

“Now anything costs around 20 to 25 percent more than a year and a half ago, because there’s a shortage of supply, including wood,” Gato says.

If you’re thinking of building out your outdoor space with a deck or patio, cost isn’t the only consideration. Here’s what you need to know about a deck versus a patio to help with your decision.

Deck vs. patio: The differences and similarities

Both a deck and a patio give you more space to enjoy the outdoors, but constructing a deck can be more involved than a patio project, explains Adam Graham, construction and interior design editor for Fixr.

“A deck is usually elevated for easier access from higher floors, whereas a patio tends to be at ground level in keeping with the rest of the yard,” Graham says. “Decks therefore often have the requirement of stairs, railings and skirting, which patios do not.”

There are a variety of materials you can use to build a deck or patio. Here are some of the most common options for a deck, according to Graham:

  • Softwood such as pine is a common material for pressure-treated decks. The wood is soaked in a preservative and put under pressure to prevent rot. This causes the wood to take on a greenish hue, which can be painted. The planks can be laid in a variety of patterns.
  • Steel is a less common deck material because it conducts heat and can be uncomfortable in hot weather or direct sun. It requires a professional installer and can be difficult to work with.
  • Composite decking is a wood alternative that often uses some degree of recycled materials. It is designed to withstand the elements and is available in a variety of colors and finishes. Like natural wood, it can be installed in a variety of patterns.

These are some of the most common patio materials:

  • Concrete is one of the most common materials because it’s quick and simple to install, particularly in small areas.
  • Gravel is an easy material to work with if you’re doing it yourself, but it requires more maintenance later because the stones can migrate, which might require you to add more over time.
  • Cut stone, such as interlocking pavers and flagstone, is another commonly used material. You can get creative with decorative designs and patterns.
  • Brick, commonly available in a variety of colors and textures, allows for a range of finished looks.

Which is cheaper?

When deciding between a deck and a patio, you’ll need to consider the raw material costs, the cost of installation (either hiring a professional or doing it yourself) and how much the structure will cost to maintain over time.

Cost to build a deck

Homeowners spend an average of $12,000 hiring a professional to build a 320-square-foot deck made of composite materials — which can range from $14 to $44 per square foot — with labor costing anywhere from $10 to $30 per square foot, according to Graham.

“For homeowners with experience in carpentry, building a deck costs around $4 to $35 per square foot,” Graham notes. This includes lumber or composite as well as concrete, brackets, nails and other necessary materials. Graham also recommends budgeting an extra $200 for tools or material delivery.

It’s important to be honest about your level of competency with construction before deciding to embark on a DIY deck project, however, Gato says.

“A person who doesn’t really know what they’re doing will go through a lot of extra materials, either material they cut incorrectly or they place incorrectly and have to rip up and start again,” Gato says.

For maintenance, wood decks generally need staining and sealing every two years, along with “an annual power wash which costs on average 30 cents to 40 cents per square foot,” Graham says.

Gato notes that the kind of maintenance you’ll need varies based on the environment. For example, if you live in a particularly wet or sunny area, you might need more frequent sealing or painting, which raises your maintenance expenses.

Cost to build a patio

Homeowners spend an average of $5,400 on a 12-foot by 18-foot patio with pavers laid in an intricate design, according to Graham. This includes a professional labor cost of approximately $2,000.

“The cost to build a patio yourself will depend on the material you choose, which can go from $5 to $10 per square foot for gravel up to $18 to $24 [per square foot] for bluestone,” Graham says, adding that you might need to budget extra for having materials delivered or renting the necessary tools.

Other add-ons like building a pergola or including an awning can add many thousands of dollars to your project costs, depending on the material. When it comes to maintenance, though, you might realize some savings.

“Patios are generally more durable and require less maintenance than a deck,” Graham says. “An annual hose wash is normally enough, and regular checks for cracks — with extreme cracks, the whole patio would need to be removed and replaced.”

Which is better for buyers?

Upgrading your outdoor living space with either a deck or patio could make your property more attractive to buyers when you choose to sell.

“Wooden decks have an ROI of 72 percent and composite decks have an ROI of 66 percent,” Graham says. “Patios have a lower ROI [of] around 55 percent in recent years. The one that has seen the most increase in terms of ROI in recent years is adding a composite deck, seeing ROI increase 18 percent since 2017.”

Which is right for you?

Ultimately, every decision to make to alter or upgrade your home comes down to personal preference, choice and budget. When you’re thinking “deck vs. patio,” think about how you or your family will use the space and what your budget can accommodate. Then consider the materials, style and whether to hire a professional or create the structure yourself.

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Written by
Jennifer Bradley Franklin
Contributing writer
Jennifer Bradley Franklin is a multi-platform journalist and author, often covering finance, real estate and more.
Edited by
Mortgage editor