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What's the Difference Between a Patio and a Deck?


patio with outdoor dining set

A patio complete with outdoor dining set, umbrella and container plantings.

Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
Question: What's the Difference Between a Patio and a Deck?
Patio or deck? How do you know which one is right for you, your lifestyle and your outdoor living space? And how can you really tell the difference between a deck and a patio anyway?
Answer: For starters, let's define them. Patio is a Spanish word, which means a courtyard of a house or building. A courtyard is traditionally an open space surrounded by walls or buildings, or is an area of ground adjacent to a building. A patio differs from a courtyard in that it doesn't have to be surrounded by walls. It's similar to a courtyard in that it's an open space that can be situated directly on the ground.

Patios can be attached to a house, or detached. They are often designed and oriented with the landscape in mind. Patios are versatile: they can take on any shape and be built with a variety of materials, including concrete, pavers, stone, tile, brick, pebbles, rock or pea gravel. Most patios are set on a concrete slab or a sand and pebble base. Since patios are built at or around ground level, they don't require safety railings.

Decks are primarily made of wood or a composite wood material or vinyl, like Trex. Popular woods for decking include redwood, cedar and pressure-treated pine. Properly cared for, decks offer a beauty and warmth unlike any other material. You can stretch out on a deck without a cushion and still be quite comfortable.

Like patios, decks can be attached to a house or freestanding. Decks often are built to take advantage of a view. Decks can be different levels and often need railings. Certain types of wood and composite decking are resistant to insects. Unlike natural wood, composite and vinyl decking don't splinter and usually don't warp.

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