Deck, Patio or Porch: Which Upgrade is Right for Your Outdoor Space?

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Now that the hot summer days are here, you might be thinking of changing up your outdoor space. Before you decide to hire a contractor or DIY a new garden, you might want to consider the pros and cons of various outdoor options.

We asked three experts for advice on choosing between a deck, patio or porch. Luke Olson, Senior Partner at GTM Architects at Bethesda, Gary Lofdahl, head of business development at WilderWorks in Cabin John, Md., and Greg Marks, partner and director of business development at Marks Woods Building Services in Alexandria, Virginia. They all responded by email. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How do you decide what’s best for your home – a deck, patio, or porch?

Olson: Budget, location of the house on the lot and location of the existing level, as well as intended use of the space are all important considerations when adding exterior features. Decks and patios are great for grilling in the summer and using fire pits in the winter (provided you don’t put your fire pit directly on a wooden deck), while covered/screened porches can be more of an extension of the home living space. .

The style of the house will come into play when considering the best way to attach a porch roof to the existing house. Most people want to go straight from the kitchen or family room to the deck or patio, which is fine if the land is relatively flat, but sloping land requires extra thought about the best location for a deck/ porch and how to provide access up/to the grade. Construction costs will also vary depending on the option you choose, so it’s a good idea to have a budget in mind.

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Lofdahl: The most important factor in determining the addition of outdoor living spaces is the height of the ground relative to the main floor of the house. If the main level is more than five feet lower, adding a deck is the obvious choice. With newer homes being designed to have accessible basements instead of basement stairwells, decks have become the predominant exterior addition. Terraces generally do not correspond to any residential style. Most architects would try not to have a deck on a custom home for this reason. Decks also add living space at ground level at the expense of floor space below, which is usually unused area. Porches will have roofs and materials that will help them blend in with the style and massing of the house. They usually have stone or hardwood porch floors, which are more like traditional home design. Porches inherently provide shade for users, where shade on a patio must come from nearby trees (which take time to grow), or umbrellas or awnings which also seem “foreign” to the style of the house and an unfortunate solution to the shadow problem.

Before basements without direct access, the leveling around the house was generally closer to the level of the ground floor, which allowed patios to be built at ground level only a few steps from the house. These patios can be located any distance from the house to take advantage of views, shade, terrain, or to deal with neighbor privacy issues. Landscaping can be built in around the patio, making it easier to shade and also allowing more time to be spent in a garden.

Brands: The location of the house and its environment are key elements to consider. Decks offer less privacy in an urban environment compared to a patio under fences or a covered or enclosed porch. The decks, however, provide a better view if you’re looking for something with elevation. Besides privacy and view, other key things to consider include budget and space. Also note that a south-facing backyard will benefit from more direct sunlight. It is best to have a covered structure to increase the longevity and decrease the maintenance of your garden 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 ground-level patio would be the least expensive, while a raised patio and covered porch will be more expensive. You will also see a fairly large cost range depending on the material choices. A covered porch on poles with a wooden deck and an asphalt shingle roof, for example, will cost much less than a similarly sized porch on a stone/brick foundation with a flagstone deck and a metal roof. .

Lofdahl: Decks are usually the cheapest option because they require minimal foundations, use readily available wood products, and can be built very quickly. Patios are generally more expensive than decks because they require more ground work, concrete slabs, stone finishes, and are built by more skilled labor. Patios that are less than 30 inches above the surrounding ground, do not need railings and do not require large stairs to reach level as decks do.

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Porches are the most expensive because they involve the construction of a floor and a roof. They involve many more steps, trades and permit issues. It may be necessary to consult a structural engineer to size the beams, floor framing and roof framing. A covered porch is also likely to count towards the permitted occupancy of your land and subject to zoning setbacks from property lines. An architect can help resolve these issues and coordinate the project with the permit and zoning office.

Q: What are the maintenance issues to consider for each?

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

The patios will depend on the substrate. Pavers on stone dust or sand will need to be periodically leveled. Concrete slabs should be reinforced and cast on a gravel base to avoid differential settlement and cracking.

A porch will need to be repainted every few years. For all options, sloping surfaces to drain water well will prevent many problems.

Lofdahl: Patios require the least maintenance because they don’t incorporate maintenance products like wood, paint, and roofing. Flagstone will last for many decades with very little care. Joint repointing and leaching of tree sap are the most likely issues to watch out for.

The terraces, which are made of wood, require frequent treatments to control the harmful effects of the sun. Decking with new composite decking has higher initial costs, but requires much less maintenance than older pressure treated lumber.

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

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

Olson: This depends on the complexity of the design and local permit requirements. In most jurisdictions, you can obtain a patio permit with a simple drawing of the general size and location of the patio on a site plan or survey of the building’s location to confirm that it meets the applicable setbacks, as well as a set of prescriptive decking details provided by the jurisdiction. . It can take a week to get a permit, then just find an available builder to get started right away or call a few handy friends to help you build it. Small terraces at ground level would have a similar time limit, but may trigger ground disturbing activity permits if they grow too large. I would recommend consulting a local landscape contractor on permit requirements and construction timelines. They book up quickly in the spring and summer, so contact them well in advance of when you plan to start.

Raised patios and covered porches will require more time to develop a set of drawings to submit for permit review and tender. It could take one to two months to finalize the design and get the permit, one month for permit review and tendering, and another one to three months for construction.

Lofdahl: If you want outdoor space this summer, a deck or patio is the best option. Neither requires extensive design work. Decking companies usually design and license their decks without hiring an architect. Once authorized, a simple bridge can be built in a matter of weeks.

A patio requires leveling, concreting and paving, so construction usually takes at least a few weeks.

A porch requires more time for design, creation of construction plans and authorization. A covered porch involves more trades and can take anywhere from one to three months depending on the size and complexity of construction. A covered porch isn’t ruled out for this summer, but finding a contractor who can fit it into their schedule will be the biggest challenge.

Brands: A patio or terrace takes a few weeks to build. A porch takes more than six weeks. If you start now on one of them, you can do it before the end of the summer.