Deck, patio or porch: Which upgrade works for your outdoor space?

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Now that the hot summer days are here, you might be considering changing your outdoor space. Before you decide to hire a contractor or do it yourself a new backyard, you can consider the pros and cons of different outdoor options.

We asked three experts to give some advice on how to choose between a deck, a patio or a porch. Luke Olson, senior employee at GTM Architects in Bethesda, Gary Lofdahl, Business Development Manager at WilderWorks in Cabin John, Md., And Greg Marks, Partner and Director of Business Development at Marks-Woods Construction Services in Alexandria, Va. all responded via email. The following were edited for length and clarity.

Q: How do you decide what makes the most sense for your home – a deck, patio or porch?

Olson: Budget, the location of the house on the plot and the location of existing quality and the intended use of the space are all important considerations when looking at the addition of outdoor features. Decks and terraces are great for grilling in the summer and using campfire sites in the winter (provided you do not put your campfire site directly on a wooden patio), while covered / screened porches can be more of an extension of the house’s living space. .

House style will come into play when looking at how best to tie the roof on a porch into the existing house. Most people want to go directly from the kitchen or family room to the deck or patio, which is fine if the plot is relatively flat, but sloping grounds require further consideration about the best location for a deck / porch and how to provide access up / down to grade. Construction costs will also vary depending on which option you choose, so it is a good idea to have a budget in mind.

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Lofdahl: The biggest factor in determining the addition of outdoor living space is the height of the character relative to the main floor of the house. If the main level is more than five feet lower, then adding a tire is the obvious choice. Since the newer houses are designed to have walk-out basements instead of basement stairwells, decks have become the dominant outdoor addition. Tires are typically not in line with any living style. Most architects would try not to have a deck on a custom house for that reason. Decks also add living space on the ground floor at the expense of the land area below them, which is usually an unused area. Porches will have roofs and materials to help it fit into the style and decor of the home. They typically have stone or solid wood porch floors, which look more in line with traditional house design. Porches naturally provide shade for users, where the shade on a deck should come from nearby trees (which take a while to grow), or umbrellas or awnings that also seem “foreign” to the style of the house and an unfortunate solution to the shade problem.

Before exit basements, the division around the house was typically closer to the ground floor, which made it possible to build terraces at the level of only a few steps down from the house. These terraces can be placed regardless of distance from the house to take advantage of views, shade, terrain or deal with privacy concerns from neighbors. Landscaping can be incorporated around the patio, making it easier to shade and also easier to spend more time in a garden.

Brands: The location and surroundings of the home are the key to consider. Decks provide less privacy in an urban environment compared to a patio that is below fence lines or a covered or enclosed porch. However, tires provide a better view if you are looking for something with height. The other important things to consider besides privacy and views include budget and space. Also note that a south facing backyard will get more direct sun. It is better to have a covered structure to increase the lifespan and decrease the maintenance of your backyard structure.

Q: What is the price difference between a deck, patio and porch?

Olson: It really depends on the design, but in general, a wood-framed deck or a simple patio will be cheapest, while a raised patio and a covered porch will be more expensive. You will also see a fairly significant range of costs depending on the material choices. For example, a covered porch on poles with a wooden deck and an asphalt shingle roof will be significantly cheaper than a same size porch on a stone / brick foundation with a tile deck and a metal roof.

Lofdahl: Tires are generally the cheapest solution because they require minimal foundation, use readily available wood products and can be built very quickly. Courtyards are typically more expensive than decks because they require more earthworks, concrete slabs, stone finishes and are built by more skilled labor. Courtyards that are less than 30 inches above the surrounding land do not need railings and do not require large stairs to get in height, as decks do.

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Porches are the most expensive because they involve building a floor and roof. They involve many more steps, trades and licensing issues. A structural engineer may need to be consulted to dimension beams, floor frame and roof frame. A covered porch will likely also be included in your permitted ground flooring and subject to zone setbacks from property lines. An architect can help with these issues and coordinate the project with the licensing and subdivision office.

Q: What are the maintenance issues with each one to consider?

Olson: A wooden patio will require the most regular maintenance, as you will need to stain it every two to three years to prevent the wood from deteriorating. Paying a little extra for composite terraces and PVC cladding will help reduce the maintenance required.

Terraces will depend on the substrate. Pavers on rock dust or sand should be leveled regularly. Concrete slabs should be reinforced and poured over a gravel bottom to prevent differentiated settling and cracks.

A porch should be painted about every couple of years. For all possibilities, sloping surfaces for proper drainage of water will avoid many problems.

Lofdahl: Courtyards require the least amount of maintenance because they do not contain high maintenance products such as wood, paint and roofing. Flagstone will last for many decades with very little care. Renovation of joints and washing of wood sap are the most likely problems to keep an eye on.

Tires made of wood require frequent treatments to keep the harsh effects of the sun at bay. Tires with newer composite tires have higher starting costs, but require much less care than the older pressure-treated wood.

Covered porches have the most maintenance as they are an extension of the house. They may require painting of columns, ceiling and floor. The advantage of this is that the color composition of the porch can change with the color composition of the house.

Q: How long does it take to build a deck, porch or patio? If you want something for this summer, is that possible?

Olson: It depends on the complexity of the design and the local permit requirements. In most jurisdictions, you can obtain a deck permit with a simple drawing of the overall size and location of the deck on a building plan or building location survey to confirm that it meets the applicable setbacks along with a package of prescriptive deck details provided by the jurisdiction. It can take a week to get a permit, and then you just need to find a builder who can start right away, or call a few handy friends to help you build it. Smaller, high-quality terraces would have a similar time frame, but could trigger permits for disturbing activity if they became too large. I would recommend that you consult with a local landscaping contractor about permit requirements and schedules for construction. They book up quickly in the spring and summer months, so grab some time well before you plan to start.

Raised terraces and covered porches will require additional time to develop a set of drawings to be submitted for permit review and bidding. It can take one to two months to complete the design and get permission, one month for permit review and bidding and another one to three months to build.

Lofdahl: If you want outdoor space this summer, then either a deck or a patio is the better option. None of these require extensive design work. Tire companies typically design and permit their tires without using an architect. When allowed, a simple tire can be constructed within a few weeks.

A patio requires some sorting work, concrete and flag work, so construction is usually at least a few weeks.

A porch requires more time for design, creating building plans and permission. A covered porch involves several trades and can take one to three months depending on the size and complexity of the structure. A covered porch is not out of the question this summer, but finding a contractor who can fit it into their schedule will be the biggest challenge.

Brands: A patio or deck takes a few weeks to build. A porch takes closer to six weeks. If you are now starting on any of these, you can get it done before the summer is over.

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