Decks and patios

Updated April 13, 2023

Does your house have a deck? Or is it actually a patio, a porch, or a veranda? What’s the difference? These are all unique exterior features of a home, and they have distinct characteristics. All of them give you some extra living space in the great outdoors and can be wonderful places to entertain, enjoy a barbecue, or just relax and spend some quiet time with a good book overlooking your backyard.

An attractive, well-designed patio or deck can increase the “curb appeal” and value of your home, as well.

Deck of a home

What are decks, porches, balconies, verandas, and patios?


Aeriel view of house and wooden deck

Decks are usually built above ground, open to the air with no roof, and are attached to the back of the house overlooking the backyard. Unless situated right at ground level, you will probably want a railing around the deck. Depending on how high the deck is raised off the ground, a railing may be required by local bylaws or by your insurance company. You don’t want your friends or family falling off.

Decks are normally designed to be fairly large, compared to a balcony, and can hold several people for parties or barbecues. They’re often accessible directly from the house by a sliding glass or French door. In other cases, you access the deck by a stairway from the backyard.


Side view of a house with a wooden porch

Remember when all houses seemed to have a front porch? Porches are typically made of wood, and provide a covered entrance to the front door of the home.

In the old days, people used to sit out on their porches and visit with their neighbours as they passed by. For many years, porches seemed to have fallen out of favour. However, they now seem to be making a comeback in some areas. In the US, according to the Census Bureau Report, 33% of new single family homes built in 2019 had porches, compared to 1993 when only 41% had porches. This just might be an indication of a desire for more social connection, according to some.

In many Victorian style homes, the porches are actually big enough to plan a social gathering, however, today, most porches are small, and simply add to the visual appeal of the home.


Balcony on an apartment building

A balcony is attached to or is projecting from, an upper floor of a building, and it is always surrounded by a railing. Balconies give residents of the home some access to the outside but are usually too small to actually have any kind of social gathering. In some cases, they can be as large as a deck, but the difference is, they can’t be accessed from the ground. Very small balconies are referred to as “Juliet” balconies. Remember “Romeo, Romeo, where art thou, Romeo?”


White house with a veranda and large staircase

A veranda, sometimes spelled “verandah,” is like a narrow, railed, and roofed deck in the front of the house, and extending down the sides. They provide a cool, shaded area to sit, relax, and watch the world go by. You often see verandas on Queen Anne and craftsman style heritage homes.


House patio with outdoor eating area

A patio is a ground level area, often made of concrete or paving stones, usually used for dining and relaxation. It may or may not be accessed by patio doors, and is generally open to the air, with no roof.

How do decks and patios work?

Decks, patios, and the like serve to expand your living area by providing you with an outdoor living space. Patios, at ground level, work well when the ground is fairly level. But if your front or backyard is sloped or hilly, or you want to walk directly out of your house, then a raised deck may be a better option. When deciding on what type of material to use when adding a deck, there are so many different options based on your budget. Decks can be made of pressure treated wood, PVC, cedar, redwood, or composite material (usually made of wood fiber and polypropylene). Some types of materials are better in hot, dry climates, where others may hold up better when exposed to a long, cold or wet winter.

Interested in the idea of building a patio or deck for your home? When deciding on the type and size of deck you want, there are many things to consider besides the right type of material and budget:

  • How do you plan to use your deck or patio? If you’re planning to have a large table and lots of chairs for entertaining, as well as a barbecue area, make sure you leave enough room for people to pass behind the chairs, without falling off the deck or squeezing against the railing. You may want to consider building a bench along the railing for additional seating. Or putting a wide cap on the top of the railing, where guests can set their drinks.

  • How much weight will it need to support? If you do plan on having lots of guests, or if you want to install something heavy, like a hot tub, you’ll need to consider beefing up your support structure.

Verandas and porches on the front of the home also act as a social gathering place, as well as a great place to do some people watching.

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What should you do when something goes wrong?

If you have a wooden deck, you’ve probably encountered some of the following issues:

  • Nails starting to poke up: Pound in the nails to make them flush with the boards.

  • Boards warping: Repair or replace damaged boards.

  • Water pooling on the deck: Boards making up the floor of the deck should be well spaced to allow water to run away between the boards. Most experts say you should design your deck or patio with a space of 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch between each board. If you’re in an area with lots of trees overhead, the gaps between the boards could get plugged with leaves or needles, and may need to be cleaned out periodically.

  • Discoloration due to moisture and bird droppings: It’s a good idea to clean up spills and bird droppings as soon as you see them.

  • Mildew: Use a good deck cleaner to remove mildew.

What can you do to maintain your deck?

Your deck can give you years of outdoor pleasure with just a little help from you. Decks are exposed to the elements all year long, so if your deck is made of wood, a little TLC will keep it looking great. Because a deck is flat, it takes more of a beating than a wooden wall would. Water pools on the deck and takes a while to dry. As well, the sun will beat down on the flat surface and can cause a lot of damage. Just walking on the deck causes it to wear, not to mention the moisture issues if you have a number of plants on your deck.

  • Get out the broom: Fallen leaves will get wet and start to pile up. Be sure to keep a broom handy and sweep your deck regularly.

  • Remove the muck: Clean out the spaces between the boards on the deck so air can flow and water can run away.

  • Clean up the birdy-doo: Clean food stains and bird droppings as soon as you notice them.

  • Lift up the plants: If you have plants on the deck, put pot feet under them to allow air to flow. Or just relocate them now and then.

  • Protect the wood: Use a wood preservative as often as needed. Depending on the preservative you buy, it may need to be done every year, or every 2 or 3 years. These preservatives work best if you clean the deck properly first. Check with your local home supply store to see which type of preservative is best for your needs. There are textured, slip-resistant deck coatings available which may be a good option if you live in a damp climate. You might want to apply anti-slip strips to any stairs.

  • Set a date to inspect your deck: Maybe this is something you do every spring or every fall, but it should be done regularly. Look for signs of rot. If you see an area that seems a bit soft, poke it gently with a something sharp, like a knife. If it’s a bit spongy, replace it right away. Check for tiny holes in the wood, which might be a sign of insect infestation. Check the ends of any decking posts for rot or splitting. Check the bylaws in your area to make sure your stairs and railings are in compliance. Lean against the railing to see if it still feels sturdy or if it’s become a bit wobbly. Look for boards that are discoloured. They may just need cleaning, but if they’re badly weathered, they may need to be replaced.

What will your home insurance provider want to know?

When you’re buying home insurance, one of the most important things you need to do is to provide an accurate description of your home. Be sure you know the square footage of any exterior features, the type of materials used, and the right term (deck, patio, veranda, porch, or balcony). Being able to properly describe your home’s exterior features will help you get everything back the way it was, should disaster strike.

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