Beautiful, spring weather is finally here, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is on a patio or deck. But which is better for your home — a stone patio or a wooden deck? The answer is not as simple as it seems and involves careful consideration before investing in what is likely to be the focal point of your outdoor entertaining, play, and relaxation space.
Some people fall prey to basing their decision solely on their personal preference for the look of wood or the feel of stone. Personal preference, however, is only one of several factors to consider. Others include the intended function of the new space, what type of structure will work best with the style of your home and the setting of your property, whether you want to maximize privacy or a great view, maintenance issues, and, of course, cost.
When considering how you plan to use your new outdoor space ask yourself several questions. Will you use the space for small family gatherings or for entertaining large groups of friends? Are your gatherings usually casual or formal? Will you use the space for reading the paper in the morning, sun tanning in the afternoon, or barbecuing in the evening? Do you have small children? The answers to these questions might already lead you in the direction of a material choice. Large, formal gatherings might seem more appropriate on a smooth, dimensional Bluestone patio, whereas small and casual might fit better with a traditional, rustic cedar deck. The presence of small children might lead you to forego stone altogether for the softer feel of wood.
Next, you should consider the style of your home. Some home styles and finishes (brick, vinyl, wood, etc.) work better with stone patios and others with wooden decks. Think about whether your proposed structure will interfere with windows in your home, and also consider the interior floor finishes of the adjoining room in the home, since you may want to carry over a color, theme, or tile pattern.
The setting of your property is another factor to consider in deciding between a patio or a deck. Whether your yard is level or steeply sloped is also extremely important and may end up trumping all other factors. Natural stone lends itself especially to level, at-grade installations, while wood is usually preferred for sloping, elevated installations. An at-grade patio makes it easier to create privacy from neighbors. An elevated deck can leave you out in the open, which is exactly where you might want to be if privacy is not an issue. If you want to accentuate a grand vista, an elevated deck might be the preferred option. However, remember that the required railings may interfere with the panorama you are trying to emphasize.
Maintenance of each type of material is also a significant concern. With proper base preparation to create the correct pitch for water to drain, natural stone requires very little maintenance, perhaps replenishing the sand grout occasionally. There is really no need for any kind of sealing or coloring to preserve a stone patio. It is also easy to wash if desired, and real stone will not lose its color and will never rot. Most wood products do require regular cleaning as well as staining and/or sealing to maintain color and to extend the lifespan of the deck. Wood will also rot, and should be kept dry by providing air circulation above and below decks. If you are considering an artificial composite, wood-look material because it needs virtually no maintenance, keep in mind that generally such materials have a tendency to stain.
Finally, when deciding between a stone patio and a wooden deck, you will have to determine what your options will cost. You will need to consider not only the cost of the material itself, but how much it will cost to install. Stone is typically an inexpensive product to buy, but expensive to install. It is also very heavy, and might require special equipment to deliver to your construction site. Certain applications of irregular stone might require fitting stones together individually. New technology in machining and sawing natural stone is now making it easier and more cost effective to use natural stone, however. Conversely, the material cost for wood products is usually expensive. Then again, the availability of long pieces makes it easy to cover large areas quickly, which can decrease labor costs. Wood can be easier to work with, because it is more forgiving and can be used to create custom shapes. Artificial composites are more difficult to work with than wood and are less forgiving. Finally, changes in elevation or slope can have a significant impact on the cost of construction. Building a stone patio on a slope will typically be more expensive than an elevated wooden deck, because the patio would require large amounts of concrete foundation and retaining walls with a stone veneer.
If you have decided on a stone patio or a wooden deck, you must still choose what specific stone or wood you would like to use. The most typical types of natural stone material used for patios are dimensional stones with a smooth surface, such as New York State style or Pennsylvania style Bluestone or Tennessee Valley stone. Irregular, shaped stone, such as Champlain Stone’s Corinthian Granite or South Bay Quartzite, has a rougher, sometimes more rustic appeal. A natural clay brick offers many style and color possibilities as well. The most common varieties of wood decking are cedar or teak, which come in various thicknesses. There are also some less common choices to consider, such as the Brazilian Redwood Ipe, and Mahogany. Due to the wide diversity of stains, color possibilities of wood are vast, and with the work of skilled carpenters, style choices are also unlimited.
Finally, if you still can’t decide between a stone patio and a wooden deck, keep in mind that wood products and natural stone work very well together, both artistically and stylistically. Having an elevated wooden deck is often nicely accentuated with a lower stone patio. Problem solved.