Calculating the Cost of a Deck or Patio

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ShutterstockA new or revamped patio or deck could increase your home's value and your household's quality of life.
By Geoff Williams

If you're a homeowner with nothing special outside your back door, you've probably felt the pang of patio or deck envy. You go to a friend's house, and he has an incredible layout in his backyard. Someone is grilling, and friends and family are lounging in comfortable chairs on the patio. Everyone's laughing and having fun, and you remember your own place and think: I want this.

So how much does a patio or deck cost? And what should you know before building one? Here are some basic blueprints to go over before you get too deep into daydreaming and planning.

A low-frills patio or deck is pretty cheap. Everyone's definition of cheap is different, but decks can be had for as low as $1,000, according to Jessica Piha, a spokeswoman for Porch.com, a website that helps homeowners find the right contractor. But the average deck costs $8,300, Piha says.
And how much is a cheap patio? The cost to install a 200-square-foot concrete patio is about $740 to $840 on average, according to HomeWyse.com, an online reference for home projects.

[Read: Which Home Remodeling Projects Are Worth Your Money?]

But here's why you probably won't buy a cheap patio. If you're pining over someone's patio, you presumably don't want a concrete slab. You probably want something like attractive patio pavers (flat stones) or rocks to tread upon.

Home improvement chain stores sell the patio pavers for around a buck and upward. If you need, say, 800 inexpensive patio pavers for a 200-square-foot patio, that will generally equate to the price of a concrete patio. Not too bad, until you factor in the price of hiring someone to put them in the ground and any other extras your patio might need.

HomeWyse.com places the average cost of a 230-square-foot patio that uses patio stones from about $2,850 to $3,540. Want flagstone instead? Expect to pay between $3,530 and $4,440.

Don't go too cheap on the deck. If you install a cheap patio, someone could stumble on a loose rock, but at least you're unlikely to have any guests taken away in an ambulance. As Marc Barnes puts it, "No one ever fell off a patio, no patio has ever collapsed under the weight of guests and no one has ever turned a turkey fryer onto a patio and set their house afire."

Barnes works in public relations, and it isn't surprising he feels this way. One of his clients is on "team patio." He represents Pine Hall Brick Company, which makes brick veneers as well as pavers for patios, driveways and other hardscapes.

His point underscores why you want someone competent building your deck. Even if it isn't made of wood but, say, plastic lumber or a wood-plastic composite, and you aren't worried about your deck suddenly catching on fire, it will still be at least several feet, and maybe a lot of feet, off the ground.
"A contractor who is proud they do only 'code-quality work' is proud they do the minimum allowed by law," says John Mease, who owns John Mease Home Inspections in Roswell, Georgia. He warns that you'll need a building permit to have a deck installed. It's also a project you want to wade into very carefully, he adds.

"Different areas have different requirements," Mease says. "if you just moved from the Northwest to the Southeast, do not build your new deck like you did back home. There's a reason there are different requirements for different climates."

For instance, if you live in a cold climate, you might find that the pier is required to extend below the frost line of the house so that a frost heave doesn't occur. For those who don't speak deck, a pier is a component that supports a deck, and a frost heave happens when ice causes your soil to swell during freezing conditions.

[Read: 11 Ways to Protect Yourself From DIY Disasters.]

Of course, if you don't know what a pier is or a joist (boards that offer support to the deck), you should hire someone to build your deck rather than doing it yourself. Mease recommends looking at your neighbors' decks, and when you find your favorite, ask who constructed it -- then give the builder a call.

Duane Draughon, a design specialist at VizX Design Studios, an outdoor living and home improvement design firm in Naperville, Illinois, says loose regulations in cities and communities have hurt his industry. "Getting a patio and a deck has become very easy to obtain nowadays ... too easy," he says.

He adds: "With any and every company installing patios, the design and quality has become very poor, which could be regressing property values and consumer trust."

It's the extras that kill your wallet. "Most of the time, it isn't just the patio or deck homeowners want," Draughon says. Extras include "the fire pit or fireplace, the outdoor kitchen or bar ... the pergola, water features and all that good stuff," he says.

How much can that cost? According to the service Mr. Handyman, here are a few price ranges homeowners can expect to pay for patio and deck features:
  • Landscaping: $4 to $19 per square foot
  • Patio warmer: $150 to $400
  • Fire pit: $500 to $5,000
  • Concrete stamping: $10 to $15 per square foot
  • Seating for your guests: $500 to $1,500
Not planning could be a deathblow to your wallet, too. You don't want to build a patio or deck and then realize that while it's safe, it's not very functional. So when designing your backyard retreat, Barnes suggests first building a mock patio. (You could also do the same for the deck you're envisioning.)

"Arrange your patio furniture, grill, children's toys in your yard as if you already have a patio," Barnes suggests. "Put everything in this space that you can envision having on your patio. Then, using a garden hose or spray paint on the grass, outline this area. This is how large your patio should be. Keep in mind that square or rectangular patios are more formal. Patios with curved sides are less so. "
A contractor or another professional should offer their own input as well, in case you've missed something.

For instance, Adam Green, president and principle engineer at Crosstown Engineering, a firm with offices in Tampa Bay, Florida, and the Dallas-Forth Worth area, points out that "the barbecue is typically the worst-placed item on a deck. Remember, the gas line needs to run to the ideal barbecue location, not the other way around."

[See: 6 Tips for a Budget-Friendly Home Makeover.]

He adds that you might want to consider sun exposure. If you burn easily or too much heat isn't your thing, you'll want to make sure you have some shade -- but probably not so much that your deck and patio are constantly covered.

But it's worth the money and time to get it right, right? A new or revamped patio or deck could increase your home's resale value and also enhance your household's quality of life.
That last part is particularly important, especially if you and your family will get ample use out of a deck or patio. Because to do this right, you want to end up with a special place to waste a lot of time -- without having wasted a lot of money.
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