Before "outdoor living" became the cornerstone of home improvement television, people across the country already knew the joys of lounging on decks and kicking back on patios. If you'd like to add an outdoor room to your home, it's time to match your dream to your budget. You'll need to compare the cost of materials, labor and upkeep for each type of structure.
Although the term "deck" originally referred to the weight-supporting surfaces found on ships, today the word also refers to elevated structures installed along the back side of homes. Although decks were traditionally made of wood, modern versions often feature composite materials made from recycled plastics. This is a low-maintenance option that doesn't split or warp like wood, and one that doesn't need to be resealed periodically. However, the materials are about double the price of a wood deck. According to Robert Donaldson, an architect based in Cleveland, Ohio, with 14 years of experience in the planning and building of decks and patios, in 2011 a synthetic-wood deck averaged about $13.50 per square foot for materials. A treated lumber deck, on the other hand, cost about $7 or $8 per square foot for materials.
Decks built with either type of material will require the additional cost of concrete footings to stabilize the structure, which could add another $1 to $2 per square foot. Plus, the labor to install a deck will be nearly equal to the cost of materials.
Patios are flat, ground-level structures that can be made of a variety of materials, ranging from stamped concrete to laid brick pavers. The cost of patio supplies will vary, depending on the materials selected. For example, as of 2011 a patio made of small brick pavers typically cost $5.25 to $5.75 per square foot, while using large concrete pavers would drop the price to about $3.50 per square foot, Donaldson says. You'll pay more for stamped concrete, which could cost up to $12 per square foot more for complex designs [source: Concrete Network].
The cost of patio maintenance is low, unless you count the vigilance required to keep grass and weeds from invading the patio area. Installation costs usually average $7.50 to $9 per square foot, depending on the complexity of the design and the size of the pavers.
Experienced DIYers may take one look at labor costs and opt to contribute sweat equity, but there are a few things to consider first. A deck or patio may require a permit if constructed within city limits. Buried gas, water and electric lines will need to be located and flagged, regardless of which structure you want to add.
So, is a deck cheaper than a patio? Overall, a patio comprised of large pavers in a simple pattern will offer some savings over a deck built of wood or composite material. Of course, there's no rule that you can't have a deck and a patio. They're both great spaces for airy entertaining.