Having a pleasant, well-designed outdoor haven is a for all homes and all seasons. Some of us have porches, others decks, balconies, a front patio, backyard porch or veranda.
While most people tend to interchange these terms (and to believe they all have the same meaning), each of them has its own features and specifications. That is exactly what this article is trying to explain.
Let’s go through them together, and try to determine which one would be the best solution for our home.
The Difference Between a Porch, Balcony, Veranda, Patio, and Deck
Image source: Sheila Rich Interiors, LLC
We often hear people share stories of sitting on the porch at the end of a long day. But what is a porch? Porches are specific outdoor areas typical of ‘90s house design. They are usually low and covered structures, located at the entrance of the building.
Porches can be both: open structures without windows; or enclosed interior extensions which protect the house from unpleasant weather conditions. But what is the difference between a porch and a deck? In order to understand this, we advise you to consider porches’ specific purposes:
- Porches can be open extensions of living rooms and parlors;
- Their roof provides shadow; which is exactly why porches are perfect relaxing areas during summer;
- Porches, or verandas, are really typical of small towns, where people socialize with their neighbors;
- Porches are perfect for pleasant chats, coffees, or evening drinks/diners with friends and neighbors.
Porches differ in different parts of the world, both in term of purpose and appearance. For instance, porches of northeastern North America are often small, open, and positioned at the same level as the main floor of the house.
Even if a porch traditionally has access to the main door, American houses perceive it as an integral part of the home, which stops dirt from going inside. Southwestern regions, on the other hand, use porches to provide shadow both for the entrance and the entire southern wall.
Image source: Highland Homes, Inc.
British porches, however, are much older-they were first introduced in the medieval ages, serving the purpose of Catholic churches.
Back then, they were built of stone, rather than timber; and were commonly placed on every side of the building. Their purpose was to provide cover and shelter for worshipers; but they were also used for liturgical ceremonies (for instance, the baptism of an infant).
If we had to describe a balcony, we would say it is an outdoor extension of a building’s upper floor; with an averagely one meter-enclosure (railings, balusters, screens, etc).
Balconies as we know them today date from medieval and renaissance architecture when they used to be based on stone corbels, or oversized wooden brackets. The technique changed in the 19th century when solid concrete and cast iron took over the structure, and they reinforced it.
Nowadays, however, there is no strict construction rule: balconies can be made of any solid and good-looking material.
Image source: Webb & Brown-Neaves
Balconies generally serve as space enlargers, which provide outdoor areas for various activities; especially for apartment owners who lack the pleasure of having a personal yard.
Therefore, balconies ‘have’ a big responsibility: they provide both sun and shelter (classical balconies have a roof of their own, known as loggia); and they provide access to fresh air through louvered doors. The enclosed balcony creates a bridge between indoors and outdoors, protecting occupants from stormy weather.
Their history is quite long: even in ancient Greece, people understood the functional need of having a balcony (not so odd if we considered their hot climate, is it?). As today, people needed balconies to bring some fresh air and natural light inside the home.
Image source: AYA Living Group
In certain cases, balconies serve ceremonial purposes: In Vatican, for instance, the Pope gives his ‘urbi et orbi’ blessing from the St Peter’s Basilica stony balcony. This balcony is also known as the location where new Popes are being announced.
Churches also have internal balconies for singers, the same as concert and banqueting halls have balconies to accommodate musicians. In theatres, on the other hand, balconies resemble status; and they accommodate important spectators, providing the best view of the stage.
Image source: Historical Concepts
Now it is time for us to define ‘veranda’. Verandas (known also as verandahs) stand for all sorts of roofed platforms around the house. In fact, they play the role of a ground floor balcony, surrounding the house and giving access both to the entrance and the back door of the house. While it is mostly open, a veranda can have a railing fence.
Since it represents a large porch surrounding the house, a veranda can be used for all sorts of outdoor activities. For Americans, on the one hand, it is a long porch that stores items; but in India, on the other, it is one of the most important parts of the house, where hosts receive their guests.
The term ‘veranda’ has two possible origins: it either comes from the Hindi word ‘varaṇḍā’, or the Portuguese/Spanish ‘baranda’.
Image source: The Anderson Studio of Architecture & Design
The first theory is much more accepted since French and English people also claim the term was brought to them from India, and that their languages have nothing to do with it.
Image source: John Kraemer & Sons
Now it is time to establish the difference between a porch and patio. Our patio definition involves sharing their Spanish roots. Patios were named after a Spanish synonym for backyards or backyard garden. They represent the living space outside your house, either a proper garden or a simple relaxing area.
Depending on their size, patios can be both covered and uncovered. They are usually made of gravel, stones, bricks, concrete or flagstones. Obviously, you can use whatever material you like and find practical.
Usually, patios are attached to the house. Some homes have a front patio. However, there are some patios that have nothing to do with the house at first sight. It all depends on your needs, wishes, and possibilities. Unlike a covered porch, a patio can be an open area or may even be covered in vines to offer protection from the summer sun.
Image source: Bagnato Architects
In order for a patio to be considered a courtyard, it needs to be completely surrounded by walls.
Still, there is no determination of whether patios should be open or closed: they come in any size, shape, or enclosure (semi-closed, covered, uncovered, etc). If lacking imagination, we recommend you follow some of these three basic types of patios:
- A flat-roof patio which is attached to your house; and helps water flow off in case of extensive rain;
- Gable patios with peaked roofs (could be both attached and free-standing);
- A modern patio with a curved roof (made of aluminum).
Image source: Acorn Garden Houses
When we define deck, it is important to explain the difference between a porch vs a deck. Unlike porches, decks look like additional wooden platforms, created deliberately to connect with the building.
They are slightly higher than the ground; and have a stairway that leads to the entrance/backdoor of the house. Some decks are attached to the entrance of the house and could be considered a porch patio deck. However, the difference between a deck and a porch is that a deck is a wooden addition to a home rather than an architectural feature.
If higher, decks have security railings; or even fences with separate doors. Many people cover them with pergola/canopy to control the amount of sun that enters their home.
The main construction materials are wood and vinyl. In the case of wood, people mostly use processed cedar or pressure-treated pine. This means that a deck can be shaped into a variety of shapes or styles. Decks can be used as a patio, porch or even balcony. Deck balcony designs can be traditional, but a designer is free to use imagination as a range of shapes are available.
Image source: Chioco Design
Decks’ ‘magic’ consists in their rustic appearance, and the incredible amount of warmth and comfort they bring to the home. People also add padded seating and soft pillows in order to make them even cozier.
The same as patios, decks can be attached to the house, or stand separately. For instance, if you own a large property in front of the house, and you want to use it for a magnificent view, you can always compose a separate deck with different size or railing. This deck porch patio could be constructed as a great place to enjoy a drink at the end of the day.
You can go as far as to choose specific materials which will protect your deck from insects or unpleasant weather conditions.
Image source: Urrutia Design
A specific type of deck is the so-called ‘roof deck’, which actually stands for deck structures located on top of a roof.
Such places can be found both in residential and commercial buildings; and are preferred because of the amazing urban landscapes they provide. The trend is so popular that entire construction companies are starting to specialize in the design of these modern outdoor havens. A roof deck or patio has created the opportunity for green spaces in built-up urban areas.