Putting in a Deck or Patio?

Take budget, lifestyle and maintenance needs into consideration when planning an outdoor space.

Many homeowners today see outdoor living space as a must-have amenity, as a well-planned deck or patio can add a lot of enjoyment to their home. But the wrong deck or patio can become unused dead space. In the end, a dream of relaxation can become a negative experience and can produce new stress for the homeowner.

Sometimes, local building codes or the terrain of the site dictates whether you build a deck or patio for your clients. In addition to code and topography consideration, builders often must assist clients in deciding if a deck or patio is what they want and need. In those cases, builders need to know how their clients plan to use the new space.

"You have to ask the right questions," says Casey Loyd, president of Cal Spas in Pomona, Calif. "You have to get them to be honest about their budget, find how they plan to use the space, and how they feel about doing maintenance."

Casey has seen such a huge demand for outdoor living space, especially in his native Southern California, that his company now offers design and installation services as well.

"A deck is usually the most affordable option, and concrete is often the most durable and lowest maintenance. With all the different material and design options out there now, it shouldn't be hard to settle on something the homeowner will love," Casey says.

Casey says certain factors can help determine if a deck is more suitable than a patio:

Capacity: How much weight will the deck need to hold? A deck can be beefed up to hold a huge spa, but might sacrifice the aesthetic the homeowner wants.

Climate: Will the deck become too hot to walk on? Will snow and rain runoff create a problem on a solid patio surface?

Site: Rough, sloping terrain almost always dictates a deck. Is a homeowner willing to pay for the extra excavation to provide a patio surface?

Beyond building codes, terrain and engineering issues, there are issues with each individual material of which clients should be made aware:

Composite and vinyl decking: These materials require less maintenance than wood and are more resistant to insects, warping and splintering. Although many of these materials don't shrink or swell, some can swell in hot and sunny climates. This can be much more expensive than wood, especially if coordinating railing and balustrade systems are used.

Wood decking: The low cost, availability and rot resistance makes pressure-treated pine and fir popular decking choices. Even with the periodic maintenance that is absolutely necessary, though, warping, twisting, shrinking and swelling will still occur. Other species such as red cedar, redwood and tropical hardwoods are more durable and have no chemical treatments, but maintenance is still required and those options can be pricey.

Pavers: Brick, stone and concrete pavers are available in a range of styles and colors and are extremely durable. Very little maintenance is required from the homeowner, but builders should convey that significant site preparation may be needed to ensure proper placement, grade and drainage.

Concrete: No longer just a drab gray slab, concrete is available in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Designs are nearly limitless. A periodic resealing may be required, but otherwise an occasional pressure wash is the only maintenance required.

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