Building a Deck or a Patio?

Photo: Michael Fraley/flickr.comAdding a deck or patio to your home is an appealing, relatively low-cost way to create extra living space. But which is the best and most eco-friendly choice for you? The answer is: “It depends … on your landscape, your needs and the type of construction material.” Let’s look at how the two options fit in with your needs and compare the green profiles of decks and patios.

Your Landscape

The first thing to consider before starting a DIY carpentry job or reaching out to a carpenter is the physical configuration of your property. If you have a steeply sloping yard, a deck is the most feasible exterior building project. The same is true when you have large trees growing in the area where you would like to build; it will be much easier to construct a deck without disturbing their roots. Are you lucky enough to face a gorgeous view? A deck’s elevation will make it easier to enjoy.

On the other hand, a patio can be positioned to benefit from a southern exposure, extending your open-air area’s usable season and reducing the need for outdoor heating. In sunny southern California, you might prefer a Santa Ana patio which takes full advantage of the natural shade offered by mature tree growth on your property.

Intended Use

Another factor to bear in mind is how you plan to use the space. A patio makes more sense than a deck next to a swimming pool or water feature, or as a sturdy base for a fire pit or hot tub. Its location is also more flexible; depending on the size of your lot you can situate a patio for a certain amount of privacy. On the other hand, as a parent with young children you might prefer a deck, which is more accessible to the house.

Deck Materials

Most folks picture a deck as a gleaming expanse of wood. However, that gorgeous wood is likely to require a great deal of maintenance or it will result in creaky stairs or warped floors, and may have a fairly short lifespan of about 15 to 20 years. One of the basic principles of green living is to choose and preserve items so they do not have to be replaced frequently.

You can minimize wood’s disadvantages – vulnerability to insects, moisture and sun – and extend its durability by purchasing a hardy species such as cedar or redwood, preferably local to reduce the ecological costs of transportation. Use only lumber that is reclaimed or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as responsibly harvested. You’ll need to treat it at least every two years with a preservative approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Paint for your wooden deck should be low- or no-VOC.

Synthetic wood which can also be used in custom-built cabinets, and composite decking are longer-lasting than natural wood. Weather resistant, they require minimal maintenance. Today’s composite decking may be made of as much as 100 percent recycled plastic. Vinyl decking should be avoided because it emits dangerous volatile organic compounds.

Patio Materials

The materials commonly used for patios tend to be less expensive and longer-lasting than deck materials, giving patios the green advantage in this area. Stone, ceramic tile, pavers and brick are all attractive choices, none of which require refinishing or water sealing. Concrete is inexpensive, strong and easy to work with, but there have been concerns about drainage. New developments such as soil cement (local soil mixed with Portland cement and water), porous concrete and LEED gold certified GraniteCrete offer improved permeability for better drainage, reducing soil erosion.

More Green Ideas for Your Outdoor Space

Whether you end up opting for a patio or a deck, make sure that the work conforms to your local building code, which specifies safe, environmentally sound methods of construction. Ideally, it’s best to ask yourself, “Are there professional carpenters in my area?”, since they’re most likely familiar with your local building codes.

Use solar powered or LED lighting, together with lawn furniture that has been repurposed or manufactured from recycled materials.

Reduce the burden on your home’s HVAC system by cooking outside in warm weather.

Plant container gardens on your deck or patio to improve the air quality and provide you and your family with a supply of fresh organic veggies.

Laura Firszt writes for

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