To get the best results, planning a patio or decking should be done as carefully as if you were adding another room to your home. Position, size and materials are critical.
What time of day will you be using it most? This will help you decide on the direction it should face to get the most sun or, if there’s a choice, which side of the house should it be on.
As a basic rule of thumb, choose east for breakfast and morning; south for all day use; and west for late afternoon and early evening. Strong prevailing winds may dictate a sheltered position. Do you want it to lead off a particular room? Are there any trees to take into account to provide shade or privacy, or that will have to be removed?
Check the location of pipe-work or manholes, since access to them will have to be factored into your considerations. Also look at the fall of the land, it will be more expensive if a slope has to be built up.
How large do you want the patio/deck to be? This will depend on what your using it for and, to some extent, on the size of your garden. Try to keep things in proportion. If you plan to eat outside, make sure it’s large enough for people to sit comfortably round a table as well as being able to walk around it without stepping off the edge.
The next major consideration is which material to use. Stone slabs, concrete slabs, imitation stone, or bricks? If laying a new patio near the house, choose a colour that contrasts or compliments the brickwork. Dark colours will make the patio look smaller, but they will absorb the light so there will be less glare and any heat will be retained and radiated as the evening cools down.
Combinations of different coloured stone can be used to good effect, or the same coloured stone can be laid to create patterns, as of course can bricks. The more complex the pattern and the more the slabs have to be cut, the more expensive the job will be.
Before laying stones or bricks, the ground will have to be properly prepared by levelling it and laying a sound, solid foundation, usually of hardcore or scalpings. These two areas of preparation are key to a successful patio. Without them, the patio might crack or sink in places. Make sure the patio lies below the level of the damp proof course.
There should be a very slight slope away from the house so that rainwater is drained off. A newly laid patio should not be used for about three days so that it has time to settle. In the meantime, cover it with polythene and occasionally sprinkle it with water so the pointing doesn’t dry too fast.
The great advantage of a deck is that it can go where no patio can. It has a wooden sub-structure or frame so it can be raised anything from 150mm to high above the ground. Decks can be built over a slope, uneven ground or even water.
Raised decking means the frame will have to be fixed to vertical posts that are embedded in concrete footings to give the deck stability. If using softwood (very popular as it is cheaper than hard wood) make certain that it is tannalised (treated with preservative) and guaranteed to last for between ten and twenty five years.
Generally, standard length decking boards range in width between 75-150mm and are grooved so that they don’t become too slippery when wet. The grooves should run the same way as a slight slope built into the deck, so that any water runs off them easily.
The boards can be laid in different ways to create patterns too (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, chevrons). It’s important to decide on the pattern you want before the frame is made so that the joists of the frame are in the right place. To prevent weeds from growing underneath the deck, cover the ground below the frame with black plastic before it is installed.