Great question! There are so many great choices for your patio substrate. Your choice needs to consider your budget, practicality and preference.
Here are the most common choices with some considerations to help you with that decision.
Wood or Composite
A wood or composite deck can be installed close to the ground or with multiple height levels. When installing a wood deck close to the ground you need to consider the moisture that will reduce the longevity. Our suggestion is to lay a high quality landscape fabric (we typically use Mirafi drainage fabric) with a clear aggregate like 3/4 crush.
Pressure Treated Brown or Green
The wood has been infused with chemicals to preserve it. The brown pressure treated since its inception has become increasingly popular due to its appearance over the green which would grey quite quickly. Be sure to seal any cut ends to prevent the moisture gaining access, the End Cut preserve is sold where lumber is purchased.
Most people would choose another substrate or leave it to naturally colour and fade since pressure treated staining needs to have the wood to dry naturally over time, a cleaner and a sand to open the pores for penetration to achieve the best results.
Perhaps another substrate would be more suited for those who do not like the natural look of the pressure treated and opt for less maintenance. Generally speaking the stains and/or paints only last on average 3 years.
Cedar makes for a gorgeous deck and naturally lasts quite a long time. It will go to grey in the sunlight but maintaining the original colouring with a clear or tinted stain will be a lot of maintenance. Cedar is more difficult than pressure treated to stain due to the oils inside the wood itself. Our research and experience with a good quality stain has an application recommended process to repeat annually which is a much higher maintenance program than the pressure treated.
A man-made product having a higher price point, longevity, a multitude of colour options and less maintenance than pressure treated or cedar wood. Another benefit is the ability to shape the boards to create some unique borders or inlays. Ensure you research the different manufacturers to know what their warranty is like as it speaks volumes to the product quality.
Stone has lasted in the ground for thousands of years, so as a preference of longevity it is a good choice. There are two options with stone which is random or modular (cut edges) for a patio. To cut stone diamond infused tooling and water is required so the price of modular is more expensive than random. Remember with stone that different colouring within the same batch is normal as mother nature is in control. In addition stone will have unique markings due to what may have been pressed into it during the compaction for thousands of years, so what may look like to you as a stain is most likely a marking. You do not need to seal stone patios and in fact we have not located a sealant that we are pleased with so we recommend just leaving it natural.
Another common issue with stone is the inability to control its smoothness, and sometimes you will get shale, divots or dips which makes placing patio furniture fun. Expect to pay a premium for flat smooth stone.
There are two options, a concrete slab or stamped concrete. When using colouring in your cement, we recommend mixing it through the cement in case of any chips in the future, applying it only to the surface will show a different colour for any chips that may occur. The other is to seal the concrete if you use colour, this also must become a part of a maintenance program for your property. If you choose not to seal weather and water will impact the longevity of the colouring. There are some attractive patterns available for stamped concrete. The most common complaint we hear about concrete is that is always a matter of time before it cracks, especially newly constructed properties where it has been installed prior to allowing the area around the house to settle for a year.
Some pavers are fairly inexpensive to purchase and typically can be done by the homeowner. Pavers can range up to the same cost and sometimes more than natural stone and stamped concrete. The most common complaint we hear about for pavers is eventually the unevenness of the area laid, this is a reflection of the higher traffic areas compacting and may be related the base especially if it has been compromised. There are a variety of concrete paints on the market that allow you to change the colouring if you do have a patio and are tired of the look. Some products carry a 15 year warranty so ensure to research the product for its longevity and maintenance before purchasing.