To plan the best patio, make it work ideally for you and your family. The best patio isn’t always the biggest, and it is always the fanciest.

The patio that’s right for you will:

  • Be in the ideal spot.
  • Support the activities you plan
  • Realistically accommodate the biggest number of guests you anticipate.
  • Look as good as you would like it to.
  • Adequately protect you from the weather.
  • Provide reasonable privacy.
  • Fit your budget.

It’s impossible to say one of these qualities is more important than any other. Treat them as equals. Look at them individually, and in the ways they affect one another.

Costhelper.com will help you determine patio costs.

Where To Put Your Patio

The area should be relatively level. If it’s steep, you’ll need a wooden deck, and that will cost more than a concrete pad. Decide if you want a freestanding patio or one adjacent to your home. If your deck is near a door from the kitchen or dining room, food preparation and serving will be easier. Placing it adjacent to your home also saves money on installation.

List Patio Activities

Some people want a patio merely for sitting and relaxing, or for a kids’ play space, but most people want to entertain, too. Decide how you will entertain: Will you cook out? Dine out? Serve cocktails? Relax there after dinner? Or do you just plan a private couples space?

Determine Patio Size

Size is largely a function of what you plan to put on the patio.

If you already have an uncovered patio, use sidewalk or driveway chalk to draw on rectangles representing furniture and other items, such as your grill or an arbor. Measure real items or get dimensions from a good online retailer, such as Wayfair.com.  Mark the spots for fans and lights. The chalk washes off if you want to redo part of your plan or start over.

You can try online design programs. Avoid programs that are complicated and hard to use. One that’s easy to use is SmartDraw.com. You can draw room plans and patio plans online, then print them out. It costs $9.95 for more program versatility—peanuts for as often as you’ll use SmartDraw. Just drag pre-drawn furniture and amenities from a menu onto your patio plan in 2D. It’s simple, effective and affordable. (See the illustration.)

Software isn’t even a requirement for planning. A piece of graph paper and a pencil work fine, as they have for decades. You can also plan at 100 percent scale even if you have no patio. On your lawn, insert quarter-inch dowels bought at the hardware store into the ground, liked by string (placed against the ground, so you don’t trip). A sprinkling can and water or hose will help soften the soil to make insertion easier; a hammer helps. Use more dowels and string to represent furniture and amenities. You can also get a hold of some big cardboard boxes and flatten them, cutting them into sizes to represent furniture, a grill, a bar and other items. (If it’s windy, just wait a day.) Arrange them inside the string boundary. Arrange items so your deck still feels comfortably spacious but cozy enough for social interaction.

Consider a Patio Cover

A Patio Cover makes a patio more comfortable because it shades you, blocking sun and heat. Patio Roofing also blocks rain. A Pergola or Gazebo adds style and shades partially, but it doesn’t protect your patio from rain. Translucent roofing costs more but sheds rain, while keeping your patio bright. A Patio Screen Room extends your interior with a roofed structure that’s walled with insect-repelling mesh.

You can compare patio cover styles on the Renaissance Patio Products website.

Add Privacy

All patio covers offer some privacy, with a patio screened enclosure providing the most. But there are many ways to add privacy: Fences, shrubs, potted plants and decorative screens, among them. There are solutions for every budget.

Consider Your Budget

Patio cover prices span a wide range, from pan roofs to insulated roofs and more decorative roofs, open-air shade trellises, and enclosed Patio Room Additions. A patio cover will add value, but it’s never likely to repay you 100 percent. Add or upgrade a patio not for the monetary value, but for how much value you’ll gain in personal enjoyment. If you shop carefully, you’ll get most of the features you need and many you want, regardless of budget.