Differences Between Decks vs Patios: Cost, Benefits, and More

Outside living spaces like decks and patios offer a wealth of opportunities for entertaining. From grilling out with family and friends to simply unwinding after work, a patio or deck can create the right atmosphere for many happy memories.

But before you take the plunge on planning an outdoor living space that works for your lifestyle, you might have questions. Is it cheaper to build a deck or a patio? (Hint: a patio is usually cheaper though a deck is a better return on investment.) Which is easier to build? Should you build a deck attached to your home or a free-standing patio? There are many options when it comes to building outdoor living spaces and it can be tough to weigh the pros and cons.

Differences Between Decks & Patios

The primary differences between decks and patios include the way they’re designed, their location at your home, and the building materials used. While both provide you with valuable outdoor living space, there are factors to consider, such as wood vs. concrete and ground-level vs. raised. Understanding the differences between decks and patios can help you make an informed decision about which is right for you. You’ll want to consider the costs, location, the terrain, and your own personal tastes.

Beyond the differences between decks and patios, there are different subcategories for each. Compare them to see which is right for you.

What is a Deck?

Decks are raised platforms made of a variety of materials, including wood, pressure-treated lumber, composite, PVC, and more. Usually, a deck is attached to the home. They can sit high above the ground and be accessed via a staircase or be built low to the ground and raised only by joists.

Composite deck with gazebo looking over green field
Composite deck with gazebo looking over green field

Two Types of Decks

While an elevated deck may be what comes to mind for many, it’s possible to also have a deck at ground level. This type of deck is different from a patio because a patio sits directly on the ground while the deck does not.

  • Elevated Deck - In many neighborhoods, elevated decks extend from the living and dining areas of the main floor. Because they’re elevated, they work well on sloping lots and other uneven ground, which makes them ideal for raised homes or hilly areas.
Elevated deck with lighting built into stairs, posts, and platform Elevated deck with lighting built into stairs, posts, and platform
 Elevated deck with lighting built into stairs, posts, and platform Elevated deck with lighting built into stairs, posts, and platform
  • Ground-Level Deck - A ground-level deck is still a raised structure, although it’s not completely level with the ground. Yet, unlike an elevated deck, this type of deck is lower to the ground and does not require a steep staircase to access. (Typically, a ground-level deck may have a short flight of stairs, or even 1-2 stairs for guests to comfortably access the deck.) A ground-level deck will require less maintenance than an elevated deck and does not have to be attached to the house in order to be a stable structure.
Ground level deck well lit at dusk
Ground level deck well lit at dusk

What is a Patio?

Patios are outdoor seating areas that are flush with the ground and often made of concrete. (Although concrete is considered the most popular building material for a patio, you may also choose stone, gravel, and other materials for a patio.

Stone patio with fountain and lounge chairs White brick patio with fountain and lounge chairs
Stone patio with fountain and lounge chairs White brick patio with fountain and lounge chairs

One of the most important considerations for those weighing installing a patio or deck is whether or not your ground is level. Since patios sit on the ground, a patio needs to sit on a flat surface. Alternatively, you can shore up the ground so it’ll be flat.

Pros and Cons of Patios and Decks

One of the most common questions in the debate between patios and decks is the cost. However, there’s more to building an outside entertaining space than cost. You’ll also want to consider factors like the time involved to build, whether you’ll need a permit, the return on investment, and your lifestyle. Here are a few decks vs. patios pros and cons to mull over before you commit to building a gorgeous outdoor living space that works with your wants, needs, and aesthetics.

Considerations Deck Patio Pros & Cons
Cost $30 per square foot $5-$15 per square foot

Patios are cheaper to build, partially because the building materials are cheaper and because they’re installed flush with the ground, requiring less materials and labor to create stairs, install joists, railings, and other components associated with decks.

However, decks average a 76% ROI compared to indoor home renovations and the installation of a patio.

Time to Build May require permits May require significant ground prep

Most areas require building permits prior to building a deck, which can add waiting time before you can start building.

Although a permit is not always required to build a patio, it’s best to check with your local building office to confirm it is not needed. Even if you do not need a permit, however, a concrete patio may require significant preparation of the ground prior to pouring the concrete.

Lifestyle Considerations Better views; requires railings, which can add to cost More Privacy

Because decks tend to be higher, you get a better view from an elevated height. However, due to their elevation, building and safety codes require railings for elevated decks. These features are one of the most expensive components of an elevated deck.

On the flipside, patios -- particularly enclosed patios with screening -- are lower to the ground and can offer a greater sense of privacy.

Maintenance More maintenance than a patio, although level of maintenance varies depending upon material Easy maintenance

Patios made of concrete pavers are durable and long-lasting. However, you’ll need to treat the soil beneath your patio to prevent cracking in cold weather.

Wooden decks require power washing, repainting, and sealing every couple of years. Choosing a wood composite for your deck can help protect it longer and drastically reduce the amount of time spent on yearly deck maintenance.

Terrain Considerations Any terrain Flat terrain

Patios are suitable for flat areas. Raised decks work well on sloping or uneven ground.

Lifespan

Wood deck (10-20 years)

Composite deck (25-30+ years)

25-30+ years

Patios can last for decades if they’re well-maintained. They do need to be cleaned frequently of leaves and other debris to keep them a clean, attractive place to enjoy time outdoors.

Composite decks, if well-maintained, can last just as long as a patio. Wooden decks are less weather-resistant than composite decks, giving them a shorter lifespan. However, regular washing, treating, and maintenance can extend the lifespan of a wooden deck.

Attached Yes Maybe

Attached decks offer an extension of the existing interior living space.

Patios don’t have to be attached to the house.

While both patios and decks are open air living spaces, that’s where the similarities end and the vast array of differences begin. The patio is on the ground, long-lasting, and offers privacy. The elevated deck soars in the air and offers a view.

If you’re trying to decide on a deck vs. patio, consider the terrain, your budget, and your preferences. When it comes to costs, patios are often cheaper and easier to build but depending on the location, a deck may be a more valuable upgrade to your outdoor living space.

What’s the ROI for a Deck vs. Patio?

If you think you may sell your home in the next few years, you’ll want to consider the return on investment (ROI) for a patio vs. deck. Obviously, your choice in building materials will contribute to the costs. For example, choosing flagstone for a patio is more expensive than plain concrete. However, flagstone delivers a much more upscale, bespoke vibe compared to concrete, which can significantly boost your home’s curb appeal -- and market resale value.

Resources like Remodeling Magazine and HouseLogic show the ROI for a deck to be roughly 75% more than for a patio. As an example, a deck that costs $9,000 to build, maybe worth an additional $7,500 when you sell vs. a patio that may cost $3,500 to build and is only worth $1,500 when you sell.

Now that you have a better understanding of the pros and cons of patios and decks, you have a firm foundation to build on to plan for an outdoor living space you can enjoy and a potential investment in your home that may prove profitable when it’s time to sell. Have more questions? Contact a builder to determine which one is right for you.