What's the Difference Between a Patio and a Deck?

Defining Backyard Structures that Extend Living Space to the Outdoors

A beautiful tile patio
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An outdoor living space such as a patio or a deck can be an invaluable addition to your home, both for your enjoyment purposes and for resale value. The terms patio and deck are often mistaken for one another and while there are many similarities between the two structures, there are also some key differences that are important to consider when deciding which one of the two is the best option for your yard. What is the difference between the two, what are their distinguishing characteristics, and how do you know which one is right for your home and lifestyle? Read on to find out!

What Is a Patio?

The term patio has its origins in the Spanish language and can literally be translated as a courtyard, although it differs from what is known as a courtyard today because it does not have any surrounding walls. A patio is a concrete space usually adjoining the exterior of a house and is located in the backyard.

Location

A patio is attached directly to the back or side of a house, although there are instances where it is located further from the house and is a separate structure. Its proximity to the house plays a role in its practicality however, since a patio is often used for an outdoor dining set and food can easily and conveniently be carried outside. Unlike a deck, a patio is a flat slab built directly on the ground, is not significantly raised and does not have multiple levels.

Size

Patios vary in size and shape — some are just large enough to accommodate two rocking chairs and a fire pit while others can hold a hot tub, a large seating arrangement and a dining set. Sometimes it's a square or rectangle shaped slab that leads to the kitchen through a set of French doors while other times a patio wraps around a large portion of a house or surrounds a swimming pool. Size of the backyard and budget are two main determining factors when it comes to deciding on the patio size.

Construction

The most common material used to construct a patio is concrete, however large paving stones, tile or bricks are also used. A patio consists of a ground-level horizontal slab that is usually not surrounded by any walls, although a pergola is sometimes added for shade, comfort and visual interest. A poured concrete slab can be a big investment and the concrete needs to be sealed to ensure that it's weatherproof and will last through all the seasons. Gravel is a less expensive option and one that is easier to maintain and concrete pavers and tile are more durable though they may be more expensive upfront.

What Is a Deck?

The word deck originally came from the nautical term to describe the horizontal surface that extends along the length of a ship. Speaking in architectural terms, a deck is an elevated structure either attached to a house or freestanding, that has one or multiple levels and is built for the purpose of enjoying a view and extending living space outdoors.

Location

A deck is typically located at the back of a house and overlooks the backyard. It can be accessed through various rooms, but a kitchen, living room or family room are common choices. Unlike a patio, it is not built directly on the ground but is elevated, sometimes as high as the second or third floor of the house.

Size

The size of the deck should be in proportion and scale to the size of the house, and decks range from small structures off a kitchen to multi-level outdoor spaces that can accommodate numerous warm weather activities. Similar to a patio, deck size depends on how much and what type of furniture you want it to hold, how large your backyard is and what your budget is.

Construction

The primary materials used for deck construction are wood, composite wood or vinyl, all of which are excellent choices and what's right for you depends on the look that you are envisioning, the amount of upkeep you are ok with and what your budget is. If you choose a cedar or pine deck, for example, be prepared for regular maintenance every couple of years to refresh the paint or stain and replace any loose screws or boards so that the deck remains in good condition and is safe to use. Composite wood and vinyl are popular materials because they last for longer and don't warp or sustain as much weather-induced damage as a wood deck can.

Unlike a patio, a deck can have multiple levels and needs a railing for safety purposes. In some cases a deck also has one or multiple staircases that lead down into the backyard. You'll sometimes see larger properties have both a patio and a deck, even combined at times, with the patio located on the ground level and one or more deck levels built above it.

Differences Between a Patio and a Deck

Patio
  • Built directly on the ground

  • Does not require a railing

  • Consists of a single level

  • Built from concrete, tile or gravel

Deck
  • Elevated off the ground

  • Requires a railing

  • Can consist of multiple levels

  • Built from wood, composite wood or vinyl

How to Decide Between a Patio and a Deck

Knowing the difference between a patio and a deck and what their characteristic features are is essential in order to decide which of the two to build in your backyard. Consider the style and size of your home and backyard, the main activities you want the structure to accommodate and what your budget is for the project. Both need some maintenance, but a deck is more demanding and therefore can also be more costly in this sense. As with other home projects, check your local zoning laws first and inquire about any necessary permits or inspections that building a patio or a deck may require.

Article Sources
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  1. What you need to know before building an attached or self-supporting deck to your home. Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement.