Sunny Surfaces: Planning the Perfect Patio or Deck

By Julie Edwards

View the full article from Atlanta Home Improvement Magazine (PDF).

If you are looking to extend your living space, there is perhaps no better place to turn than outdoors. And no matter how you use it—to cookout for a crowd on weekends or to lounge in the sun with a great book—an outdoor deck or patio can really boost the enjoyment you get from your house during the warmer months.

Your starting point
When planning a major upgrade to an existing outdoor space or building from scratch, it’s important to know your needs before you talk to a contractor—the better you articulate what you want, the more likely you’ll be to get it. Think about exactly how you plan to use your deck or patio, what type of maintenance you can manage, the look you’re going for, how much space you need and what kind of time schedule you’re on. Collect pictures of decks or patios you like. See the Consider This sidebar (at right) for questions to ponder as you start to plan.

One of the most important considerations is your budget. “Be realistic with your budget. Adding a patio or deck is an investment in your home and should be treated as such,” says Rick Goldstein, architect and co-owner of MOSAIC Outdoor Living. “It’s better to do less with greater quality and integrity than to do too much with poor quality.” Keep in mind that custom-designed work costs will be higher.

Elements of design
Color, materials, lighting and architectural elements, such as decorative rails and arches, are just a few features that can add flair and integrate the outdoors with the inside. “Consider materials that will complement the existing materials on your house,” Goldstein says. “An addition should blend with the house—this will add value to the home.”

Jumping into construction without a good handle on design usually leads to trouble. “There are some mathematical equations that make a space feel natural and comfortable,” says Rick Kaldrovics, owner of Outside Landscape Group LLC. “Having a patio a foot or two short may make it feel crowded, or a few feet too large can make it cold and uncomfortable.” Kaldrovics suggests consulting with a professional to create a good flow and transition within your outdoor living space.

Material things
According to The North American Deck and Rail Association (NADRA) experts, the quality or grade of your materials ultimately determines the success or failure of your structure. Here are some commonly used materials to help you decide which
one appeals to you the most:

Natural wood
Natural wood is among the most popular, attractive and economical options for a raised deck. Its biggest downside is that it requires substantially more maintenance than other surfaces. Pine, pressure-treated with chemicals to prevent rotting and insect infestation, is a good bet for decks built on a budget. Most woods also require sealing and staining before use and then again approximately every 2 years after installation. One popular material is Brazilian walnut, or Ipe, an ultra-dense hardwood that is resistant to rot, insects and fire. It can be oiled to maintain its hue or just cleaned routinely, which allows the wood to fade to a rustic teak color. “Installing tropical hardwoods or synthetic wood surfaces offers a beautiful and long-term look,” Kaldrovics says. “There is a tremendous variety to choose from that will upgrade and enhance the new deck.”

Concrete, stone and brick
For ground-level patios, particularly on level lots, there are a number of surfacing options. Low-maintenance concrete (requiring only routine washing to eliminate dirt) is perhaps the most economical and, if installed properly, can last for many years. It also offers a range of versatility when stained, scored or stamped with a variety of designs. Depending on installation and the type of material used—from brick, cast concrete pavers and ceramic tile to cobblestone, flagstone and
slate—masonry can create a refined or rustic aesthetic. Most stone patios can be applied to a flat concrete base for a polished look, or embedded into crushed granite, yielding a result that blends well with natural surroundings. Most masonry demands little more than simple washing to keep the stones and grout clean. Keep in mind that lighter stones show dirt more easily.

Composites and plastics
Composite, plastic or PVC decking surfaces, which are made out of plastic and wood or purely from plastic, are ideal for hassle-free decks. In the past, their shortcoming has been that despite manufacturers’ efforts to mimic the appearance of wood, synthetics have never been quite as beautiful as natural wood. The benefits of synthetic materials are that they require virtually no maintenance beyond occasional cleaning, maintain their original color, often are eco-friendly because they are made from recycled materials and typically are offered with a 10- to 20-year warranty. “Synthetic materials usually last a longer time than traditional pressure-treated lumber,” says Steven Gamper, remodel sales manager for CSI Kitchen & Bath Studio.

Tile
Some decks, based on the way they are constructed, may be covered with a waterproof membrane, a mortar bed installed over it and a finished tile surface applied on top. “This construction technique provides more of a contemporary-looking product, and its application is usually based on the aesthetic direction of the house,” Gamper explains.

Maintenance minimums
Nobody wants to spend all of their time maintaining an outdoor living space, but regardless of the type of deck or patio you own or choose to build, proper installation, regular maintenance and cleaning are key to extending its life. Goldstein recommends hiring someone who has experience with the types of material you are contemplating. “There is a significant difference between a good installation and a poor one—you may not notice it at first, but over time it will become clearly evident,” he says.

According to Frank Pologruto, president of Decks & More Inc., “Once a wood deck is built and dry to the touch, it is imperative that you get it stained.” Pologruto recommends staining your wood deck once a year. However, depending on how much shade you have over the deck and where your deck is positioned (East, West, South or North), you may be able to go every 2 years.

You will also have to clean the surface periodically, typically with a power washer, and apply a new coat of waterproofer, but how often you do this depends on the type of coating that you applied. “Composites only need washing if dirty,” says Guy LaMarca, CR, general manager with Atlanta Design & Build.

Armed with these tips, it’s time to stop waiting and start dreaming big. With the proper planning, a deck or patio project can provide you with the perfect space to enjoy your free time for years to come.