Deck or patio: which is best for you?

Mar 2024

You want to make better use of your backyard, but which is better: a deck or a patio?

It’s a question many homeowners face as they look forward to the coming summer but need to operate within a budget, space constraints and other considerations. While there’s no one answer for everyone, some basic background will help you make the right choice.

More living space

Both decks and patios enhance outdoor living by offering room for lounging, barbecuing and socializing with family and friends. Unless you go with a complicated (and expensive) two-storey deck, both solutions will give you about the same amount of useable outdoor space.

Uneven ground?

If your backyard is uneven, a patio could require a lot of digging and backfilling to get the level surface required for the stone, tile or other material to lay flat. Because a deck rests on posts, a hilly backyard is no obstacle to construction.

What you see & who sees you

A deck is elevated, which means a great view of your backyard and beyond, but it may make you more visible to neighbours unless you have hedges or install privacy screens. The view from a patio may be less striking, but privacy is often easier to achieve — just a few tall plants in containers could do the trick.

Cost

Because it’s more complicated to construct and must meet strict building code requirements, a deck can cost considerably more to build than a patio. It also typically takes longer, although the time for either one varies depending on complexity.

Costs for a deck vary widely, depending on materials (cedar, pressure-treated lumber, manufactured or “composite” boards), design and other factors, but you should count on somewhere between $40 and $70 or more per square foot. For a 200-square-foot deck, that works out to somewhere between $8,000 and $14,000.

A patio – again, depending on soil conditions, materials and the like – will run you about half what a deck would cost. In other words, somewhere between $4,000 and $8,000 for a 200-square foot patio.

Remember, these costs are rough, and homeowners can spend a lot more (and sometimes) less than the numbers above.

Municipal permits

The City of Ottawa requires permits and inspections for most decks. Your contractor should arrange for these. Residential patios within the City of Ottawa do not require a permit.

To be safe, check with your municipality before having a deck or patio installed or before tacking the job yourself.

Maintenance and life span

Decks and patios both require annual maintenance to look their best and last a long time, especially in our harsh climate.

Decks need regular cleaning, staining and sealing, which can be onerous depending on your DIY skills. Because they are made of wood, they are also subject to rot and should be inspected annually and repaired as needed. Repairs, especially if they require the replacement of a lot of wood, can be pricey.

Patios require less maintenance — usually just a good annual cleaning and inspection for cracked or deteriorating materials — but are vulnerable to staining. Repairs tend to be simple and inexpensive, although it can be difficult to match damaged stone or tile if the original products are old.

A well-built and maintained wood deck will typically last 15-20 years. A composite deck will hold up for 25 years or more. A good patio can last for 30 years or more.

Be careful!

Whether you opt for a deck or a patio, do your due diligence when hiring a contractor. That includes getting detailed quotes from three contractors (preferably ones who have been referred by family or friends), insisting on and checking references, ensuring the contractors carry liability insurance, and getting a detailed contract.

For tips on hiring a contractor and other aspects of home improvement, even if it seems to be a simple job, check the extensive Resources section of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association website. When you’re relaxing on a balmy July evening, you’ll be glad to took the time to get the job done right.

 

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