Outdoor Living Project Guide

Patios & Decks: Design and Decide

Great outdoor living starts with a solid foundation.

Decks and patios serve both as the blank canvas on which you’ll create your outdoor living masterpiece and as the structural support that will hold it together. Properly designed and installed, decks and patios will enhance the beauty of your home and provide open-air enjoyment for many years to come. That’s why it’s important to consider aesthetics, maintenance and scale as you select your design and materials. Just follow these four simple steps to begin laying the groundwork for your ideal outdoor living space.

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Step 1

Design for Your Ultimate Dream Space

Whether you’re going all out or building a simple deck with plans to add a pergola later, it’s critical that you factor every intended use into the initial design of your project. This will ensure that you’re building adequate support for any additions you’ll make in the future. And it will also save you time and money over the longer term.

“We work with a lot of clients who will put in a deck or patio and then find it won’t work with the additional things they want to do in the future — whether it’s a pool or additional living space,” says Erik Moden, owner of Outdoor Living Spaces in Leesburg, Va. “So, we end up having to make changes to the structure to make it work with future spaces. We recommend that people talk to a landscape designer and let them know everything they’d like to do now and in the future so it can be designed in a phased approach that works.”

  1. Plan for current and future uses
  2. Work from a professional design
  3. Address the elements
  4. Consider long-term maintenance
  5. Complement your interior space

Step 2

Decide Where and What to Build

Once you’ve ensured that your foundation will support your dream space, you’ll need to decide on its placement. First, consider how much of your yard you’ll dedicate to outdoor living. Will you dedicate the entire area? Or will you preserve some outdoor space for other uses or activities? Next, decide whether you’ll build a deck, a patio, or a combination of both.

The topography of your yard will do a lot to determine the structures best suited for your property. In many cases, a higher deck leading down to a lower deck or patio — such as a fire pit or dedicated seating area — will maximize the use of your outdoor living area and offer unique opportunities to gather and unwind. “Try to define your spaces,” says Joe Raboine, National Design and Training Specialist at Belgard. “Don’t just do a big blob out back. Figure out how you’re going to use your space and, if you can, create some spaces meant to serve an exact purpose.”

The positioning of your home is another important consideration. The key to getting the most out of your outdoor living space — both in terms of enjoyment and return on investment — is creating a space you’ll use. So, it’s important to consider how the sun, in particular, will impact your activities. Depending on how your outdoor living space is situated, you may want to install a retractable canopy or build a pergola or solid cover. “You can build a beautiful deck with the most beautiful materials and beautiful furniture on the market,” says Andy Hashman, a designer at Mosaic Outdoor Living in Colorado. “But if the sun’s beating down on it all day, you’ll never use it.”

Should you build a deck or patio?

Typically, patios are built on the ground and decks are built off the ground. A good rule of thumb says that any time you have a grade of more than 20 to 22 inches, a deck is going to be more cost effective than a patio.

Michael Beaudry, Executive Vice President,
North American Deck and Railing Association

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