Building a custom home is the realization of every detail of the dream, and since the homeowner will most likely spend a great deal of the warmer months outside on the custom patio and terrace, the selection of the surface material for such amenities is a key specification in making the dream a reality.
The patio surface, of course, should be beautiful and match the décor of the dream, but it should also be long lasting and easy to maintain throughout the year.
There are many choices for the patio/terrace surface, ranging from stone, brick and concrete, to wood and the new wood-alternative composite materials being used for decking materials on raised patios, decks and extended porches. And there are many choices within each category.
One of the more popular patio surface materials is stone, and this makes sense as stone work for house walls, sidewalks, fencing and even such indoor surfaces as entryways and kitchen floors is an ever-increasing option chosen by buyers in the custom home market.
The simplest application of stone for the patio surface is the use of patio stones, or paving stones. These are manufactured stones of pressed concrete that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including flat squares and rectangles, generally in the size neighborhood of 2’ X 2’, 2’ X 2 1/2’, and 2’ X 3’. These are often selected because of the relative ease of installation and the overall low price. The good news is that patio stones are now available in a wide assortment of colors and textures (like exposed aggregate). Homeowners who choose this option often use bricks, landscape rocks or rot-resistant wood (e.g. cedar) for accents, borders and trimming material.
However, when it comes to stone for patios, the highly popular choice is natural stone, like flagstones and slate, and also setts, which are most notably known as cobbles, or cobblestone, once very popular as street paving material. Stone work is the most expensive option for patio surfaces, as the stones are heavy, come in varying widths and require expert cutting, installation and masonry work to be done properly, and they often also require a great foundation, like concrete, to keep the surface from shifting. The upside is that stone is highly durable and will last a lifetime, is easy to maintain, and also works well for such patio amenities as outdoor kitchens, barbeque venues, decorative garden walls, and fire pits. Stone is also available in a variety of natural colors – black, greys, reds, browns, etc. It should be noted that while slate is very popular and makes a very attractive surface, it is also quite slippery when wet.
Another excellent choice for the patio surface is brick, as bricks – essentially manufactured clays and stones – come in a vast array of shapes, sizes and colors. Experienced bricklayers are experts at creating wonderfully beautiful patterns in the brick, as well mixing and matching brick sizes and colors to create designs that many people consider sheer artwork. Brick is highly durable and has become a very popular choice for walkways on college campuses, corporate office parks, municipal parks and other high-traffic areas where beauty and durability are often desired.
Concrete patio surfaces are also popular because concrete, starting out as a mud-like, malleable liquid, is relatively inexpensive and easy to work with. The added advantage is that concrete surfaces can range from standard sidewalk-like concrete, to very fine new applications where nearly the entire color palate is available. In addition, with techniques like stamping concrete it is possible to create a plethora of surface-interest designs, and many people are opting for multi-media surface treatments where decorative concrete is sued along with stone, tile and brick work to make truly unique surfaces. Concrete surfaces can range from rough to highly textured, as well as very smooth fine treatments.
Tile is also being used for patio surfaces, and is a popular choice because many custom homebuilders are using terrazzo and other tiles for kitchen and entryway floors and homeowners want to keep design elements in their new homes consistent. Tile is also very durable, available in a wide variety of colors, and is often painted and kiln-fired with beautiful designs for the entire flooring surface or for accents and trim (think Italian tile). The cost for such material can range from the pedestrian to astronomical, but it will maintain its beauty for a very long time.
One of the more unusual choices for a patio surface – but one gaining in popularity – is gravel. Generally installed with edging board to keep the gravel in its place, this soft type of surface is among the most inexpensive to buy and install, comes in a good ranging of colors (many people mix and match for a “salt and pepper” look), and works well in conjunction with brick, stone, tiles, and wood in creating multi-media designs. Gravel patios, many believe, are very attractive, however the stones tend to gravitate to the lawn, inside the house, etc., they can be difficult to walk on for some people, and they are nearly impossible to shovel in winter when the snow flies. Gravel surfaces also need to be regularly raked to maintain a tidy appearance.
Sometimes – often, in fact – the choice for a patio surface is not a patio in the classic sense at all, but rather a deck. Usually decks are constructed above ground overlooking the lawn, but many people opt for surface decks for a decorative appeal. The most obvious choice for a deck, of course, is wood, and many people opt for such rot-resistant and durable wood as cedar, as well as other varieties treated for longer-lasting durability. Wood is very beautiful, of course, but among the many types of patio/deck surfaces it also requires the most maintenance, as it is subject to the wear and tear of sunshine, rain and cold temperatures.
A popular alternative choice over the last decade or so is so-called wood-alternative materials, often referred to as composites. These actually come in two varieties: composite, which is a mixture of plastic and wood fiber materials, and boards made of PVC materials. The advantages of composites are many. Since they are manufactured they can be created in just about any color desired, and in the manufacturing process a vast array of surfaces or patterns can be added in. Many people opt for composite boards that have the look of wood grain, for instance. Also, composites often can be painted, just like wood, so color choices can range from the mundane to the highly creative. A slight disadvantage to composite material is tensile strength: the boards tend to be more flexible than wood of the same dimensions, so the construction often requires more joists or underlying structure to prevent bending (which can force nails and screws to rise). Composites are, however, much more durable than wood, as these materials are less affected by weather wear and tear, and they require less frequent maintenance.
Like everything else in the custom home, researching and selecting just the right surface for the dream patio can be time-consuming. But the pay-off – an outdoor living space worthy of frequent use and entertaining – is great indeed.