Deck or Patio? Which is Best for Me?

Summer is a popular time to build a deck or a patio so that you can spend time enjoying the great outdoors.  But which surface is really the best?

Deciding whether a deck or patio makes the most sense is part structural and part personal choice.  If your back door is close to the ground (within a foot or two), a patio is probably the best choice.  Decks require more vertical space for the posts, beams and joists to be built and it makes no sense whatsoever to build those below grade. 

If a patio is your pick, you can build a super nice one with concrete pavers.  These are modular bricks and fit together like puzzle pieces.  The most important part of the installation is the preparation of the base.  You'll need to clear and flatten the land, then lay down 8-10 inches of crushed gravel and tamp it until it is almost as solid as concrete.  If the base isn't prepared correctly, you'll end up with a patio that looks more like rolling hills punctuated by weeds.

If you have more vertical height off the backdoor or if your yard slopes off so much that a patio wouldn't be practical, building a deck is the best option.  When designing your deck, first decide whether you want one level or more.  Keep in mind that while multiple levels can be very attractive, each one reduces the amount of useable space since furniture can't be placed near step-downs.  If a deck is for you, there are many material options.  Natural wood choices include pressure treated lumber, cedar, redwood or Ipe, a beautiful and resilient hardwood.  Composites, made of plastic and lumber combinations, are also becoming extremely popular.  My co-host recently installed a composite deck product called Fiberon and it was gorgeous!

Tom Kraeutler is the host of The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show and the Home Improvement Editor for AOL. For more tips, sign up for Tom's free e-newsletter here. Tom's latest book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure, is available in bookstores everywhere and online.