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Anna G. Larson, Published June 08 2013

Outdoor living: Patios, decks an extension of home

Fargo - "Family room” has a different meaning at the Lawrence home.

Rick, wife Tiffany and their three sons – Patrick, 8, and twins Thomas and Andrew, 6 – roast marshmallows, grill burgers, soak up the sun and view the stars on their patio.

The patio is an extension of the home, Rick says.

“There’s plenty of room for the entire family to gather,” he says.

The patio that was built 10 months ago behind their south Fargo home has a grilling area that includes seating and a wood-burning fireplace. Rick calls it “the best of both worlds” because it has some comforts of an indoor living room but the ease of an outdoor space. Messes aren’t a problem outside – he just hoses down the patio.

Gary Opp, general manager of the Fargo branch of Opp Construction that built the Lawrences’ outdoor space, says patios are popular because of their low maintenance and extra space.

“The scope of our projects has changed from basic patios to outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, hot tubs – it’s no longer an outside patio,” he says. “It’s moving from the inside of the home to the outside of the home living space.”

Patios are customized to each client’s needs, Opp says. For example, people who enjoy entertaining will want more seating. Once the needs are discussed, the size of the patio can be determined.

The Lawrences have a patio large enough to accommodate their five-person family.

“It’s nothing too fancy, but it’s a nice layout for our family,” Rick says. “It’s highly functional.”

Rick, who considers himself “handy,” thought about building the patio himself but decided against it after he learned how much work and engineering a patio requires.

Opp says homeowners with some knowledge of basic construction and time to invest could likely build a simple patio.

“If they have those components, we

would encourage them to do it because it’s fun, but if they don’t, then we’re available,” he says.

A basic patio can be built in two to three days, but larger projects can take several weeks. Prices of patios range from a few thousand dollars to several thousands of dollars, Opp says.

A well-built patio will have good drainage away from the house and foundation, smooth lines and attention to detail, he says.

Patios are often made out of paving stones, which come in more than 50 colors and shapes that range from basic to intricate. The Lawrences chose manmade stone for their patio because of its durability.

While nothing is maintenance-free, Opp says patios don’t require a lot of upkeep.

He recommends keeping it clean and free of any seeds or bird droppings so weeds can’t grow. Sometimes, patio stones need readjusting since the earth moves, but it’s easily fixable, Opp says.

About half of all local homeowners choose patios, and the rest choose decks, says Zach Fluto of Premium Decks.

Fifteen years ago, decks were more popular because stamped concrete hadn’t made a splash in the market yet, he says.

The difference between the two outdoor areas is elevation. Patios are typically on grade, decks are elevated off the ground, Fluto says.

The deck Fluto’s company built for Kelly and Sheri Gefroh at their Moorhead home in 2011 exemplifies a classic deck made with modern materials. The deck is elevated several feet off the sloped lot and was constructed with three different maintenance-free materials: PVC cellular decking, PVC cellular composite railing and an aluminum pergola.

“Because there are so many products available for decks, it is common to mix many different materials in one design,” Fluto says. “With a pergola shading a portion of the deck and low-voltage accent lighting, this deck is more functional during hot sunny days or entertaining after sundown.”

The typical wood deck planks of the early 1990s are being replaced by composite materials, like those used in the Gefrohs’ deck. Composite materials perform better in the elements, Fluto says.

His company commonly uses cellular PVC boards because they’re light and retain color well. The boards also don’t absorb as much heat as other materials, expanding and contracting less, and the materials are easy to care for, only requiring a rinse once in a while.

Materials for a typical deck cost about $10,000, but that price varies greatly depending on size, Fluto says.

“I compare the price of this stuff to kitchen flooring. It’s just as much or more expensive,” he says.

Fluto often sees homeowners spending a lot of money on “Cadillac” material and skimping on the labor, whether they hire professionals or do it themselves. That’s a mistake, he says, because decks have structural components like stairs and railings that require solid building skills.

“I think some people lose sight of how important workmanship is now,” he says. “Stepping onto a deck, you can tell if it’s built correctly and solidly by the way the joints are, if everything’s level. That is the most important part, no matter what.”

He recommends finding a reputable company or craftsman who has been building decks a long time. Researching the actual foreman and crew is important as well, he says.

“Get personal with it. Look into the history and crew. See if the company retains employees and how long they’ve been building,” Fluto says. “It comes down to that crew that’s out there, and the experience behind that crew.”

Rick Lawrence says he’s glad he chose to hire someone to build his patio.

“It’s really built for life,” he says. “It’s a total extension of our home, and as a young family, that’s perfect for us.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525