What is a Patio? Defined & Explained

This page is a primer on patio types, materials and accessories. The goal is to help you understand the true definition of a patio, design and furnish the perfect patio for your home and ensure that you get the most benefit from it.

In this article, we cover all the basics of planning a patio. If you’re interested in hiring professional to build a patio in your backyard, RenoCompare can help match you with trusted professionals in your local area. Read through our patio 101 explainer and when you’re ready, click here for free, no-obligation quotes, advice and quality hardscaping services.


A patio is an outdoor space built on the ground, rather than raised like a deck or porch, and typically paved with a hard material like a concrete slab, tiles or pavers.

Patios usually adjoin the house, so that they can be easily accessed. Some are covered or enclosed, but most are open spaces designed for optimum enjoyment of the great outdoors.


The word patio is taken from the Spanish, meaning courtyard or little garden, but the modern patio has its roots in ancient Roman where these paved areas were called “pati” or “patu,” meaning “pasture,” referring to the land at the back of a house.

Rather than used for relaxation in those days, early patios were places to keep animals safe at night after bringing them in from the fields where predators lurked. They were also used as areas to milk dairy animals and engage in other forms of labor.

Over the centuries, as fewer households kept animals, patios became more of a luxury for those who could afford to pave an outdoor space just for pleasure use. Today, a patio is within the budget for most homeowners.


Patios come in different sizes, shapes and styles, so you can customize one to be a perfect fit for your lifestyle.


Around 90% of patios are located in the backyard rather than side yards or in front of a home. Backyard patios offer the most privacy and space, a perfect combination for peaceful relaxation, family time or hanging out with friends.

Backyard patios are often accessed by a sliding glass door off the kitchen, which makes it easy to take breakfast, lunch or dinner outdoors for a change of pace on pleasant days.

The size of a backyard patio can vary from small and cozy, a space suitable for 2-3 people, to something where you can entertain 15-20 guests.


Speaking of patio size, the small patio is “just right” for many urban and suburban homes where yard space is limited.

But small in size doesn’t mean it has to be short on imagination. Patios up to 180 square feet, like a 12×15 space, still provide ample room.

Here are a few possible arrangements with a patio this size:

4-6 chairs or a few chairs and a sectional, with a firepit in the center

A patio table set with umbrella and chairs plus a grill, smoker or outdoor storage cabinet

3-4 pieces of furniture with room left for an exercise mat, treadmill or weight machine

Tailor a small backyard patio to your preferences with lighting, a vertical gardening system, outdoor speakers or hobby bench


There are many ways to enclose a patio depending on your budget and purposes. Here are topics to consider as you plan your patio project.

Privacy: Cost is fairly low to enclose the patio with a privacy fence on two or three sides.

Shade: In sunny climates, adding a canvas shade to one or two sides of the patio keeps you comfortable morning and evening. An awning attached to the house or a pergola with a removable cover provide overhead protection from sun or rain.

Climate control: Full enclosures have pros and cons. The upside is being able to use the space in more seasons of the year and in a wider range of weather conditions.

To optimize an enclosed patio, consider insulating the walls and ceiling and installing a heat source. Vented or ventless propane heaters are a good choice as are any type of electric heat, which doesn’t require venting.

The downsides of a fully enclosed patio – walls and a ceiling – start with higher cost. Plus, a full enclosure separates you a little bit from the outdoor environment. Learn more about enclosed patio costs.

Fully enclosed patios are best when walls are constructed with glass panels or boast large windows that can be opened to enjoy the breeze, outdoor sounds and aromas. Screened patio walls with removable glass/storm panels raise cost but make the patio usable in more months of the year.

Types of enclosed patios include 3 season and 4 season rooms. The enclosures can be part of the initial project or added later. These patio enclosures are attached to the house to provide a weathertight connection.


Patios with a roof but no walls are called covered patios. The covering can be any material that provides shelter from direct sunlight and rain – or one like a pergola that mostly offers visual interest.

There are more patio covering ideas below.


What is the best patio material? There are many good choices, each with its own pros and cons.


Plain concrete slabs are boring but affordable. They are durable and easy to maintain. However, concrete eventually cracks, and it will happen sooner rather than later if the materials beneath the patio aren’t properly chosen and compacted.

Concrete slab repairs can be expensive, more expensive, for example, than replacing a few broken pavers or tiles.


Take concrete from boring to beautiful with one or more of these cheap concrete patio ideas.

Tinted concrete patios: This is a cheap way to boost the visual appeal of concrete. Have the installer add pigment to the mix to make your concrete any color from medium to dark – or experiment with colorant for a DIY job.

Stamped concrete patios: Concrete stamping is achieved with forms pressed into the concrete before it hardens. The forms come in many designs – pavers, flagstone, natural stone, tile and wood plank looks are popular.

Stained concrete patios: Also called acid staining, using a stain treatment is the most expensive option for concrete but yields appealing results. Combine staining with stamping to produce concrete patios with the look and color of granite, slate tile, genuine wood, flagstone and other choices.


Clay brick patios deliver classic appeal that is hard to beat. Colors range from vintage red to lighter shades of brown.

Choose reclaimed brick or new brick depending on the style and color you prefer.

Your design options are endless including traditional staggered rows and circular configurations. Once the bricks are set, the space between bricks is filled with slag, sand or similar granular material.


Concrete brick pavers are popular because they are more affordable than genuine brick, just as durable and are readily available at landscape stores and home improvement stores.

Concrete pavers tend to be paler in color, medium rose to light beige. They’re more understated, a neutral foundation for colorful patio furniture cushions, flowers and cover materials.

Paver design options are just as plentiful as with genuine brick. Installation is the same – the pavers are set, and spaces are filled.


Consider flagstone for a look that is anything but uniform.

This patio material is natural stone – sedimentary stone that is split into different thicknesses. As a result, flagstones for patios come in many sizes, each with a unique shape.

Like bricks and pavers, flagstones are laid down, and gaps are filled. Gaps are larger, so they will collect dirt more readily and provide a place for weeds to grow.

Related Reading: Cost of a Flagstone Patio


Patio tile is tough and durable. Your material choices are ceramic, porcelain and natural stone options that include granite, slate, limestone and travertine. Color selection is nearly unlimited.

Unlike the naturally shaped flagstone, tiles are cut to uniform dimensions. Tiles all the same size or of multiple sizes can be used in the patio design, and your design options are endless.

Tile for patios is manufactured with a slip-resistant surface, so that it isn’t a hazard when wet.


Gravel, pea stone and small pebbles are all affordable patio materials. They drain well. And they prohibit weed growth when a layer of landscape fabric is installed before the stone or gravel is installed.

The disadvantages of these materials include furniture legs sinking below the surface and stones getting scattered into the yard. And loose gravel and stone are not a suitable foundation for many patio enclosures.


These patio accessories allow you to create a custom outdoor space to fit your preferences and lifestyle.


Browse patio chairs, chaise lounges, sofas, dining tables, end tables, storage chests and more. An appealing range of patio furniture styles, colors and upholstery options are available.

Patio Covers, Awnings or Umbrellas

Rain or shine, you might want a cover over your head.

Umbrellas are freestanding or used in the middle of a patio dining table.

Awnings are attached to your home and extend out over the patio. Most are retractable, giving you the option of a cover or nothing but the sky overhead.

Covers – This is a general category that includes many materials. Cloth and canvas covers can be rolled out or rolled back up, over a pergola for example, depending on the weather.

Pergolas also provide a structure to support hanging plants, lighting, a ceiling fan or decorative items.

Steel roofing is more permanent and requires wood framing to attach it to. That type of framing can also support asphalt or metal shingle patio covers.


Lights on the patio provide extended use of the space. Turn them on for reading in the dark or to get safely indoors. Turn off patio lights to enjoy the stars or fireflies.

A wide range of patio lighting styles are manufactured. Most are installed on the exterior of the house wall or on a structure like a pergola. But strings of attractive and colorful lights are popular too.


Start hanging out on the patio earlier in spring and well into fall – or all winter long in milder climates –  with the addition of HEAT! What a difference it makes.

Electric heaters are the least expensive, and most of them only require a 110-120 volt outlet. Plug them in, and get instant warmth.

Gas patio heaters pump out a lot more BTUs of heat, but are generally more expensive. This is especially true of natural gas heaters that are plumbed to the main gas line.

Propane heaters just need a 20lb or 30lb bottle, hose and regulator – but, of course, the bottle needs to be switched and refilled periodically.


These are mostly gas heaters, but you can go old school and integrate a fire ring into the patio design for burning wood.

Gas patio heater designs range from traditional gas logs to contemporary styles like flames emanating from a bed of glass beads. While called “pits,” most gas patio fire pits sit on the patio surface.


A patio swing is a lovely addition to a covered patio. An overhead structure like a pergola or roof framing is needed for hanging a traditional swing. But free-standing swings and gliders with their own frame are available too – and they can be easily moved from place to place on the patio.

Once it is up, everyone will want a turn to enjoy the relaxing back-and-forth!


You’re likely at the research point now. Continue to read up on patio options. Search images of patios made with various materials. Browse pictures of furniture, fire pits, lighting and other accessories to determine which items are a “must” for your patio and what colors/styles you prefer.

Once you have a grasp of your wide range of patio choices, you’ll be ready to start putting the pieces of your patio puzzle together to create an outdoor living space that’s a custom fit.

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