Outdoor living spaces have been popular for many years and have been referred to by a variety of interchangeable names. However, some of those terms have specific meanings in the home and construction industry. If you’re wondering what the differences are between a deck vs porch vs patio, we’re here to help!
A deck is usually a roofless raised wooden or composite platform attached to or freestanding at the rear of a house. A patio is commonly an open-air ground-level concrete, brick, stone, or paver pad that provides a level outdoor space at the back of a home. A porch is typically a covered platform that provides protection from the elements at the front or side entrances of a residence.
In this article, we’ll explain what a deck, porch, and patio are and discuss the differences between them. We’ll also compare them in a handy table too. Our aim is to provide you with the information to determine which type of outdoor living space is best for you – or at least help provide a common reference for that outdoor paradise or oasis you’re referring to.
What Is a Deck?
A deck or balcony is a raised, roofless outdoor platform often attached to the back of a structure, or it may be a roofless free-standing structure. It is typically made of wood or composite materials but can be made of metal, concrete, masonry, or stone.
Depending on its distance off the ground, it may or may not have railings. Although commonly square or rectangular in shape, a deck can be any size or shape and may even have multiple levels.
A deck is usually large enough to be used for outdoor cooking, dining, entertaining, and/or lounging. It may have a pergola or canopy to offer some protection from the sun or rain, or just be open to the surrounding vistas. A deck is an ideal way to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends, or just by yourself.
What Is a Porch?
A porch or lanai is attached to or formed as part of a structure and is permanently roofed or covered but often has one or more open sides. It is usually located at the front and/or side entrance or wrapped around part or all of the main-floor perimeter. The roof or covering shades and protects the entrance from the elements and offers shelter for sitting, swinging, visiting, or enjoying the weather.
A variety of materials are used to make porches, including wood, stone, brick, masonry, concrete, metal, tiles, composite, plastic, PVC, and/or shingles. Their elevation often depends on the height that the entrance they shelter is above grade level.
Although usually open-sided, they usually have railings if more than 28” above the ground. Some may have screening to protect from insects, or enclosed walls with windows such as a sleeping porch or sunroom.
What Is a Patio?
A patio or terrace is usually located at the back of a home and not attached to it, although it can be. It is often made of stone, brick, concrete, tile, and/or pavers, and set at ground level, so railings are not required. A patio provides a level outdoor space for cooking, dining, entertaining, or just relaxing. Some have outdoor kitchens or are secluded retreats from the children or the world.
Patios can be any shape or size, but due to their proximity to ground level, they are less obtrusive or visible. They are typically open to the sky but may have devices or structural additions that offer some protection from the elements. They commonly have outdoor furniture and may have planters, lattice privacy screens, sun umbrellas, curtained pergolas, and/or even a firepit.
Deck vs Patio vs Porch: Key Points
There are many terms used to label outdoor living spaces, and although deck, patio, and porch are often synonymous, they are not the same. The Table below compares the three terms and identifies how they differ.
|Typically made of wood or composite materials, but may include metal, concrete, masonry, or stone.
|Often made of stone, brick, concrete, tile, and/or pavers.
|May include wood, stone, brick, masonry, concrete, metal, tiles, composite, plastic, PVC, and/or shingles.
|Roofless, open-sided, 3-season cooking, dining, entertaining, &/or relaxing space on, near, or elevated off the ground or multi-leveled.
|Level, unobtrusive, open-air 3-season retreat for entertaining, dining, cooking, &/or relaxing.
|Covered with open, screened, or enclosed sides for 3 or 4-season relaxation, visiting, dining, &/or sleeping.
|Attached or freestanding, the distance from the ground, railings, and added features determine the complexity.
|Ground level makes this the least complex, but added features increase complexity.
|Complexity can be low to high, but since it’s low to the ground but attached to a structure, it’s often medium.
|Often attached at the rear of a house or can be freestanding.
|Usually detached in the backyard at ground level.
|Attached at the front or side entrance or wrapped around part or all of the building’s perimeter.
|Medium to high.
|$1,000 to $30,000+
|$500 to $6,000+
|$1,000 to $50,000+
|10 to 30+ years.
|25 to 100+ years.
|10 to 100+ years.
|Recoup 70 to 80% of costs.
|Recoup 50 to 110% of costs.
|Recoup 75 to 85% of costs.
|Attached or 30” or more above grade must have a permit.
|Unless attached to a house or 30” or higher in elevation, usually no permit is required.
|Porches affect entry and exit and are usually attached, so they require permits.
What Is the Difference Between Deck, Patio, and Porch?
The terms deck, patio, and porch are used to identify spaces and generate an understanding of use. Unfortunately, they are often used interchangeably along with other terms, which creates confusion. If you’re considering adding an outdoor oasis to your home, or already have one, having a common reference when talking to others about it is helpful. The best way to determine which is which, is to compare their differences, which we do below.
A deck commonly has a wooden framework that supports a platform of wood or composite materials. Its elevation above grade determines if it has stairs and railings of the same or other materials too. It may also include metal, concrete, masonry, or stone too.
Patios are typically made of brick, concrete, stone, tile, and/or pavers. Built at grade, they usually don’t have railings or stairs. However, wooden or metal structures are often added to provide shade or privacy.
Porches usually blend with the house, so may include wood, stone, brick, masonry, concrete, metal, tiles, composite, plastic, PVC, and/or shingles. They are usually covered by the roof of the building or have an added roof structure for protection. Often elevated to entry-level, they commonly have railings, walls, screens, and/or windows.
Decks, whether attached or freestanding, are roofless open-sided 3-season cooking, dining, entertaining, or relaxing spaces at the back or side of a house. They can be any shape or size but are often rectangular and on, near, or elevated off the ground. They may even be multi-leveled.
A patio is usually located at the rear or side of a residence and provides a level retreat for entertaining, dining, cooking, or relaxing. They may be near the house or further away, and since they are ground-level, they provide an inobtrusive, open-air 3-season haven. A patio may be any shape or size but is typically roofless.
A porch is commonly located at an entrance and provides a sheltered platform protected from some or all of the elements. Its proximity to the entrance determines its elevation above grade. Porches may be small or large, but are usually rectangular spaces with open or screened sides, but may be closed in with walls and windows. It is usually a roofed platform upon which to sit, visit, swing, relax or sleep.
Deck complexity runs the gamut from simple to complex. It could be an easy DIY ground-hugging freestanding square or rectangular wooden platform on deck blocks that provides a level place to sit, dine, or entertain.
Alternatively, it might be an attached two or more-story multilevel with an outdoor kitchen, privacy screens, pergola, lighting, stereo system, cascading water feature, stairs, fireman’s pole, climbing net or wall, and a built-in slide. The higher off the ground the deck and the more features it has, the greater its complexity.
A patio is probably one of the simplest outdoor spaces to create as it’s at ground level, but again, it can have built-in features and/or structures that increase its complexity. It may be standard patio pavers or concrete, to ornately patterned tiles, stones, bricks, or combinations of finishes. It can also include cabañas, pergolas, a griller’s dream kitchen, water features, a firepit, and much more.
A porch may be simply a covered veranda or stoop that takes advantage of the roof’s overhang and helps protect the home’s entry. They can also be complex two or more-story affairs with an entry porch topped with a sun porch or lookout and sleeping porch above.
It may be small and provide a sheltered space for greeting or accessing the house to large wrap-around living spaces. You may want a screened porch, glassed sun room, built-in swing seats, ceiling fans, or other features that all add to the complexity.
Decks are commonly attached or freestanding at the rear of the house and overlook the backyard. They may be at or near ground level or elevated to provide outdoor living space on upper levels. A deck is often accessible from the kitchen or dining area of the home, the living room, or one or more bedrooms.
Patios provide a level outdoor living space at ground level and are often at the rear or side of a house. They may butt up to an exterior wall or be some distance away, or offer a secluded retreat depending on property size and use. A patio adjacent to a home may also be fully or partially sheltered by an elevated deck or balcony.
Porches are usually located at the front, side, and/or back entrances of a house and provide a built-in vestibule or projected entry platform. The elevation of the entry also determines their distance from the ground. They often are roofed to provide protection from the precipitation or the sun but may be fully exposed to the elements.
Maintenance often depends on the type of materials used, location, and exposure. A deck is commonly made of pressure treated lumber or composite materials, so requires sweeping or mopping on a regular basis to keep dirt and debris off. It may require staining or sealing every other year and a seasonal wash to keep it looking its best.
A patio is typically made of concrete, stone, brick, pavers, or other hard materials that are usually more resistant to the elements. Sweeping off debris and dirt or hosing it down as required is typically the extent. Depending on the climate, frost may cause shifting or cracks that will require attention, but that usually is only every 5 or more years.
A porch may be made of concrete, wood, or other materials, but is often sheltered from some or all the elements. It will still require regular cleaning, but painting, repointing, or replacing shingles may only occur every 5 to 15 years. If properly built and attached to the structure, it shouldn’t shift or settle.
The cost of any structure depends on the materials used, the size of the project, the finishes selected, special features included, and who does the work. It is often determined by your budget.
Materials for a wood deck with a wooden support framework will run between $5 and $10 a square foot, while one with composite decking will be $9 to $20. Labor is additional, and can easily double the cost of materials. On average, a deck will run between $1,000 and $30,000 or more.
A patio is built at ground level, so the ground needs to be leveled, gravel for drainage placed, and then the deck material laid or poured. The cost for materials will range from $2 to $30 per square foot, with labor doubling that. However, patios are often very DIY friendly, so sweat equity can greatly extend the budget. On average, expect to shell out between $500 and $6,000 or more.
A porch is elevated to the entry level and may be of wood, concrete, or other materials. It is also often roofed, so the cost can greatly vary with size, materials, and finishes, as well as by who does the work. An unprotected ground-level porch, like a patio, may run between $2 and $30, and an elevated porch $5 to $20.
Adding a roof or rafter extensions can bump that up another $25 to $50 per square foot. So, a porch may range from $2 to $75 a square foot for materials, with labor easily doubling the material costs. Expect to pay from $500 to $50,000 or more.
Life span depends upon materials used, maintenance practices, and exposure to the elements. Wood, whether pressure treated or painted, will decay faster than concrete, stone, metal, composite or PVC materials. Shingles or shakes on a porch roof will last between 7 and 25 years, while metal 75 years or more.
On average, with regular maintenance, a wooden or composite deck will last 10 to 30 years. A concrete, stone, or paver patio will last 25 to 100 years or more. A porch will last between 10 and 100 years or more depending on materials and exposure.
There are examples of porches, patios, and decks that have been in use for much longer, however, materials, finishes, and structural components have been repaired or replaced over the years to extend their lifespan.
Outdoor living spaces, on average, increase home resale values by 5% to 15% or more depending on a variety of factors, but typically you’ll recoup your investment. A deck can provide a level outdoor area regardless of the topography but requires more maintenance. It can increase views, is accessible to the house if attached, and usually offers a better return than a patio.
A patio is at ground level, so deemed easier to maintain and safer than a deck. They can easily be enhanced with a grilling space, pergola, cabaña, or awning, plus sitting, dining, and socializing areas, and a firepit too. Since they are less expensive to create, they usually don’t have as high a return as a deck or porch.
A porch can be a simple concrete or paver stoop connecting an entrance to a sidewalk or driveway. It could also be an elaborate wraparound or multistory affair with a sunroom, screened sitting and/or dining area, outdoor fireplace, and even a sleeping room.
A porch is seen as a more permanent attached outdoor space that is part of the house, so how well it blends with the façade of the house further affects the first impression and curb appeal, and thus the resale value.
Requirements for building codes vary from location to location, and even HOAs have set requirements, so always check your local codes and HOA agreement. A deck attached to a house or a freestanding one 30” or more above grade requires a permit. Decks closer to the ground, less than 200 square feet, and freestanding typically don’t require a permit.
A patio physically attached to a house or 30” or more above any portion of the surrounding grade will require a permit. Since most patios are not attached and are ground-hugging, they don’t usually require a permit. However, HOAs may include them in their documentation, so check first.
A porch is commonly attached or anchored to a building and affects entry and exit, so it requires a building permit. The size and complexity, plus elevation off the ground, also affect permit requirements. Zoning by-laws, HOAs, and even Heritage Associations may impact your porch plan, so make sure to do your research before shelling out money.
Is It Better to Have a Deck, Porch, or Patio?
A deck, patio, and porch all provide outdoor space upon which to relax, entertain, or dine. Some houses have one or two or all three styles of outdoor spaces too! They all have something to offer and all improve the home’s resale value. Much though, depends on the aesthetics they bring to the building, available budget, and personal preference.
A deck and patio typically are located at the rear of a house. They may be attached or detached from the building, or even in the same location with the deck above the patio. A patio is less obtrusive, lower maintenance, and is longer lasting than a deck, but a deck can offer outdoor access to upper-level rooms more easily. Both are ideal for grilling too.
A porch usually provides access to an entrance at the front or side of a home or both. Although often protected with a roof or overhang, they can be open to the sky above. They can be simply a place to greet a visitor or get your key out without getting rained upon. It can also be a screened retreat free of insects, a glazed sunroom in which to bask away a wintery day, or an open-air retreat on which to watch the world go by.
A porch is a first impression that greets passersby, so it often sets the tone of the home but can be less private than a deck or patio. As to which is best, that is a personal choice. All provide a great space to relax, visit with family and friends, or just enjoy the great outdoors. What’s your choice?