Decks and Patios

Extend your indoors out

A rising interest in outdoor living has increased the number of decks and patios in North America. Whether it's on their deck or patio, people are putting as much thought and energy into decorating their outdoor living spaces as they are the interiors of their homes.

Decks, the most popular type of outdoor living space, can be attached to your home, surround a pool or even be freestanding. Made of three essential pieces, the foundation, structure and surface, decks can be made from synthetic materials or traditional wood.

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Patios are flat, usually paved surfaces that aren't elevated like decks. Patio stones, the materials used to create the solid surface of the patio, come in a variety of shapes, colors and materials to meet your decorating needs. Add a few pieces of patio furniture and your new living space will be the perfect place to entertain guests or relax during a quiet moment alone.

Synthetic Materials

The use of alternative, synthetic materials in deck building is on the rise.Today's synthetic deck materials don't have the plastic look they used to. To get the real wood look, manufacturers are embossing a wood grain into the surface boards, brushing the surface for a wood grain effect and even streaking colors through the materials to produce an effect that resembles mineral streaks and color variations. The improved look and the relatively low-maintenance level of synthetic materials are very attractive to homeowners.

Traditional Favorites

Pressure-treated wood is popular for decks because it maintains its natural appearance while resisting termites and rot. It's an economical choice too.

For patios, stone, slate, travertine and brick tend to be slightly more expensive options, while poured concrete gives the same effect at a lower cost. A simple, white concrete patio is attractive in its own right, but concrete can also be stamped and/or stained to give it a dressier look. Decorative concrete patterns can mimic any natural material, or create an entirely new look limited only by your imagination. If you're choosing brick for your patio surface, be sure to opt for bricks with a temperature rating that suits your climate. If you live in a cold area, you'll need temperature-appropriate bricks that won't break in the cold.

Maintenance

Traditional wood decks are fairly high maintenance and require annual cleaning, sanding and staining. Annual spring cleaning for wood decks, even pressure-treated wood decks, will require the strength of a pressure washer to remove the year's dirt, mold, mildew and general grime. But be careful when using a pressure washer - its power is enough to strip your deck and cause serious damage if used incorrectly.

When applying a stain or seal, which usually come in a two-in-one formula, use a product with UV protection to prevent the wood from turning grey. Clear sealants will require a fresh application on an annual basis, while more opaque or semitransparent stains and sealers will last two to three years.

When you're installing your patio, it helps to keep a few extra stones on hand to replace ones that become chipped or cracked over time. Do a routine check of your patio stones to find lifted edges or shifting pieces. A regular spray with the garden hose should keep your patio stones in clean condition. Check the manufacturer's instructions to determine if you can use a pressure washer to blast away tougher dirt. If your stones are delicate, use warm water and a stiff-bristled floor brush to scrub away caked-on grime.

Your patio furniture should be cleaned every few weeks, or whenever you're having a group of people over. Dust and dirt settle on patio furniture just like on indoor furniture and can leave smudges on your clothes. Check the manufacturer's labels for cleaning tips and follow guidelines on which products should and should not be used on your furniture. In general, a solution of 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid and 1 quart warm water can be sprayed on to the furniture, scrubbed and then rinsed off with a hose. A coat of fabric protector on dry seat cushions will make cleanup easier next time and prolong the life of your furniture.

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