Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Outdoor living space is a desirable feature in any home. The patio surface is a cornerstone of any outdoor design. The quality of the chosen material will impact the aesthetics, the feel, and the durability of your dream patio.
Choosing flooring is a critical decision in the patio design process. The 5 best and worst options are listed below.
|Best Patio Flooring:
|Worst Patio Flooring:
In the world of patio dos and don’ts, let’s begin with the dos. Here are the 5 best patio flooring materials based on price, aesthetics, and durability.
Flagstone is possibly the most sought-after option on this list, and for a reason. Flagstone patios are beautiful, they make a statement, and they last a lifetime. While they are probably the priciest option on the market, they top this list of best outdoor patio flooring.
Flagstone Is Downright Gorgeous
Patio pavers or stamped concrete look beautiful because they mimic the beauty of the patterns you get with a flagstone patio. The color of the stone is probably what makes these patios stand out.
Earthy blues, greys, and even reds give a flagstone patio its desirable look. These colors are naturally occurring to the stone itself. Flagstone patios will typically be made from these common stones:
These stones offer the most natural look to your patio because, well, they’re pulled right from nature.
They can be purchased in a variety of shapes and sizes, which lend themselves to many patterns. Two common patterns with flagstone are:
- The Random Rectangle Pattern – suitable for more formal patios
- The Irregular Pattern – maximizes the natural look.
In addition to being easy on the eyes, there are a few more benefits to note before discussing how durable they are.
- They can be laid dry. This allows for excellent drainage and even for moss or ground cover to grow between the stones for added aesthetic.
- They are naturally slip-resistant. This could be something to consider if your outdoor space includes a pool.
Flagstone Patios Will Last A Lifetime
When choosing to install a flagstone patio, make sure you like it because it’s not going anywhere after it’s installed. The stone they are made of has been around for way longer than you or I and will be around way beyond our lifetime.
Expect a flagstone patio to last over 100 years. They are relatively low maintenance too.
Cost of Flagstone
Like with many situations, when purchasing a patio surface, you get what you pay for. Flagstone tops the list and comes with a price to match its quality. The stone itself is what’s pricey, but there is an opportunity to save money on installation.
In addition to drainage, a benefit of laying flagstone dry is cost savings. It will generally be more expensive to lay flagstone on a concrete slab with mortar.
Expect to pay between $15 and $30+ per square foot.
Patio pavers are perhaps the most versatile option for your outdoor flooring. They are usually made of concrete, they come in many colors, and can be laid in virtually any pattern.
Almost Endless Design Possibilities
This is where pavers shine. The amount of combinations you can come up with when you mix paver shape, color, and pattern is astounding.
Concrete pavers are made by pouring concrete into a mold, so nearly any shape is possible. However, you’re usually limited by what shapes the manufacturer has to offer. Don’t worry, though, there are many. Common concrete paver shapes include:
These shapes come in a variety of dimensions, of course.
The other benefit of concrete pavers is that they are easy to color. All it takes is a coloring agent added to the concrete. This lends itself to many color options. Most manufacturers will offer a wide range of greys, browns, and clay-colored pavers.
As for patterns, you’re only limited by your imagination. A paver pattern can make a statement and attribute it to the type of style you’re going for.
- Circular – awesome way to accent fire pits or fountains
- Herringbone – a classy, versatile look
- Basket Weave – good for vintage, old-timey styles
- European Fan – the go-to for a European style outdoor space.
- Running Bond – easy to install, little to no paver cutting required
These are just a few pattern options when it comes to pavers, there are many more out there, and a good paving company will likely offer design consultation. Patterns can be combined or used in certain areas to accent features of your outdoor space.
The level of variation you get with pavers is what truly makes them one of the best options.
Pavers Are Durable
We’re talking about concrete here. Naturally, flagstone will be a little more durable, but a proper paver patio will last about 50 to 100 years. They are low-maintenance surfaces, too.
The flexibility in design is what will force the price of your paver patio to vary. On their own, pavers are in the middle of the pack when it comes to patio costs. Expect to pay $13-$20 per square foot.
Looking for some of the awesome patterns you get with pavers but at a fraction of the installation cost? Consider stamped concrete. This patio surface is typically one concrete slab. Before the concrete hardens, it gets stamped with a rubber form that leaves an imprinted pattern.
While not as endless as paver pattern options, there are still plenty for stamped concrete designs. There are even some you can’t get with pavers!
The most common patterns are those that mimic popular flagstone patios or paver patterns. In addition to that, a cool feature of stamped concrete is the ability to imprint a wood grain pattern. This makes for a cool, decking type look without all the splinters!
As with pavers, the concrete is pretty easy to color. Standard colors for concrete patios are in line with the colors available for pavers. Think greys and earth-tones. Reds are also available for stamped brick patterns, and browns for wood patterns.
Don’t think you’re limited to just one color for the whole patio, either. A desirable feature for paver patios is the ability to mix different color pavers. This option is not lost when opting for a stamped concrete patio.
Most suppliers can color individual “pavers” in the stamped design to make them stand out.
Durable, But Not Quite As Durable As Stone
A well-maintained stamped concrete patio will typically last 20-30 years before repair or replacement is necessary. They tend to do better in areas with warmer climates, as winter freeze-thaw cycles can accelerate cracking.
The concrete will also require re-sealing once every 18-24 months.
The Look Of Flagstone For Less
A big draw to stamped concrete patios is their ability to mimic the beautiful look of stone or paver patios, but at a fraction of the cost. For a professionally installed stamped concrete patio, look to spend about $6-$13 per square foot.
Not bad, and this is not a very DIY friendly project. So consider it money well spent.
Not to be confused with pavers, brick is a desirable option for those in search of a more classic style of outdoor space. It’s a bit more durable too.
More Colors Than You Think
When it comes to brick, many think their color options are limited to red and red. This isn’t true! Bricks offer a variety of desirable colors that can make designing your patio fun. To name a few:
- Red (duh)
What’s great about the coloring of brick is that it will not fade, as is the case with concrete pavers. It’s inherent to the clay that each brick is made from. This is also beneficial if one or more individual bricks need to be replaced. The new brick will not stand out from the old ones.
While bricks don’t come in the same variety of shapes and sizes as pavers, there are still several patterns that can be incorporated into your design. Brickwork is a pretty old art form, so people have had centuries to get creative with it.
In addition to patterns like herringbone and basketweave seen with concrete pavers, some common brick patterns include:
Brick can be used to do things that you wouldn’t be able to pull off with pavers, like giving planter beds a raised border, or making a smooth transition to a brick retaining wall or house façade.
Brick Is Durable
Ever seen a really old brick building and thought: “wow, I can’t believe this is still here”?
Well, brick can weather the decades, even centuries. As will your brick patio. They don’t require much maintenance, either. Just some cleaning if you don’t like the weathered look of mossy bricks.
A well-maintained brick patio will last you over a century.
The Cost Depends On The Mason
If you’re hiring a professional to lay your brick patio, expect to pay a little bit more. It could be worth it, though, depending on the complexity of the pattern you want.
A brick patio will cost $14 to $20 per square foot.
Tile isn’t only for your bathroom floor or kitchen backsplash, it’s a viable option for a beautiful outdoor patio too! Outdoor tile is an excellent option to consider for high-traffic areas.
Looks Clean Cut
If you’re going for a more formal or modern look, the long, clean lines that large outdoor tiles provide will work in your favor. You won’t be forfeiting color options either. If choosing porcelain tile, your color options are as limitless as they would be if you were designing a bathroom.
Another plus side of porcelain is its ability to withstand extreme temperature swings and moisture resistance. Just keep in mind that it isn’t as slip-resistant as pavers, brick, or stone.
If your design calls for a more natural color palette and you have scary thoughts of your kids sliding around on wet porcelain, then natural stone tiles could be a great option. There are a few common stones that outdoor tile is made from:
Each of these stone tiles lends a unique natural color and texture. They are just about as durable as porcelain, although they may be more prone to cracking in areas of extreme temperature swings.
A little-known benefit of tile patios is that they require a concrete slab and mortar.
Wait? How is that a benefit?
Durability. While pavers and flagstone themselves are made of durable material, many homeowners choose to have them dry-laid to save money. In very high-traffic areas, this can lead to uneven settling. While more common with pavers than flagstone, either one is a pain to fix.
It’s not a viable option to dry lay tile. Therefore, the concrete slab and adhesive mortar make outdoor tile a very durable option.
While the tile itself is pretty cheap, the labor-intensive installation is what will drive up the price. Labor is always dependent on location, so the cost of outdoor tile installation can vary quite a bit. An outdoor tile patio could cost you anywhere between $15 to $80 per square feet.
Again, this is mostly dependent on:
- Removal of any existing tile
- Concrete slab preparation
When incorporated into the right design, any of the options above will make for a beautiful, lasting patio space.
Now on To the Least Desirable Patio Options
Maybe your design is geared towards a more specific taste or purpose. If that’s the case, great! But here, we’re talking about the best options for overall living and dining outside. If that’s what you’re after, then we recommend avoiding the following patio surfaces.
Pea gravel is at the top of this list because it is the “best worst” option. Just barely made the cut for the best list. It has an appealing, quaint look to it, but is better suited for gardens or pathways rather than living and dining spaces.
Function Before Form
A gravel patio will set in a little bit, but never fully. This isn’t a huge issue for outdoor furniture pieces like benches or couches but consider an outdoor dining space.
Sliding chairs in and out from the table could become a chore, all the while digging up the gravel. This could pose a problem if you intend on having elderly friends and family over for a barbecue.
Another downside is the feel. If you’re like me, your favorite thing about a good outdoor living space is moving in and out freely without putting shoes on. Walking barefoot on a gravel patio isn’t necessarily the most pleasant sensation.
Gravel Is Plenty Durable, But Maintenance Is A Bit Intensive
Gravel is just a bunch of small stones, right? So in that regard, a properly maintained gravel surface will last you as long as a solid, flagstone patio. However, there is a bit more consistent upkeep required.
- Raking. Gravel patios will need to be raked every couple weeks (depending on usage) to level out the stones. This also helps prevent weeds from growing through them.
- Snow Removal. The trickiest thing with gravel patios. Leave your snowblower in the shed; you’ll need to meticulously shovel just deep enough to avoid taking the stones with the snow.
An Upside To Gravel Is The Cost
Certainly, one of the cheaper options, typical pea gravel, will cost $6 to $10 per square foot. Could make it worth it.
Installation is pretty easy too, and lends itself to the beginner or DIY enthusiast.
Consider the following if you’re considering a low wooden deck for your outside space as opposed to a patio option from the list above.
Aesthetic Of Wood
Before talking about the drawbacks of an outdoor wooden floor, let’s do the aesthetics some justice. There’s a reason people prefer hardwood floors in their homes and stained/sealed wooden decks outside.
Wood is pretty.
There’s no denying that. To choose wood over any of the options above for your outdoor floor is to put all your eggs in the aesthetics basket and neglect the additional limitations that don’t come with stone or concrete.
Wood Floors Don’t Last as Long Outside
They just don’t. Even a meticulously maintained wooden tile patio will not outlast stone, brick, or concrete. Outdoor wooden flooring requires the following just to keep up:
- Annual Cleaning
- Re-staining/sealing every 2-3 years.
An outdoor wooden floor or deck will last you about 15 years. Peanuts compared to a stone patio. And that is if it doesn’t start to break down or rot prematurely.
Another thing to consider with wooden decking is splinters. It sounds frivolous, and if the deck is properly sealed and maintained, it’s probably a non-issue, but it’s a guaranteed non-issue with stone or concrete.
Unless you’re looking to install a wooden tile floor atop a concrete slab, a deck will have weight limitations. This may limit the size of the gatherings you can have on your deck.
Wooden Decking Can Be More Affordable
If you’re still adamant about a wood floor in your outdoor space or want a deck to complement your awesome stone patio, the prices are middle of the pack.
Wood decking will cost between $15 to $35 per square foot, including the cost of building the rest of the deck (supports, railings, stairs)
Unless you’re at the beach, indoor/outdoor traffic with a sand patio spells disaster for the person in charge of keeping the house clean. Sand made the “worst” list because, again, we are considering the typical American homeowner.
Again, Consider Function Over Form
The only useful function I can think of for a sand surface in a suburban backyard would be a volleyball court. Maybe even a horseshoe pit. But for a patio? Let’s dissect why there are better options.
The beach is great, so great that you forget how much pain it is to walk in the sand. That minor inconvenience is worth it when you’re soaking in the sun and the salty breeze. But in your home, where comfort is king? I’ll take a more reliable surface, please.
If sliding chairs in and out from the table were difficult on pea gravel, consider it next to impossible on the sand.
Making a backyard beach area to hang out could be fun and relaxing. It does feel nice to put your toes in the sand, and a sandy patch in the yard would be a nice add on to your outdoor space.
However, as the primary or standalone patio surface, sand just doesn’t seem anywhere close to the best option.
But It Is Cheap
Sand is not expensive. A cubic yard will cost you between $15 and $40 dollars. If you’re spreading the sand 6 inches deep, that’ll cover 54 square feet, bringing the price per square foot under a buck.
It would require some weeding and replenishing over time as well. Not quite as durable.
Carpet belongs inside. Not an outdoor area rug, those can be a nice touch as part of your outdoor patio design. Here’ we’re talking about “wall-to-wall” outdoor carpeting.
Yes, It Exists
Outdoor carpet is a thing, and it could work if placed in the right design. Remember, though, here we are recommending the best flooring for your ideal outdoor living space. The keyword is outdoor.
An excellent outdoor living space design balances two aspects:
- Bringing the outdoors in
- Bringing the indoors out.
Here are a few good examples of bringing the indoors out:
- A fireplace
- An outdoor kitchen/grill
- Outdoor furniture
Not on that list: wall to wall carpet. Flooring for an outdoor space tends to be on the “bring the outdoors in” list.
Now, given the right design, anything could have its place. A great use for outdoor carpet would be in a high-traffic sun-room or closed in porch. But as a floor for your primary patio space, not recommended. If you do feel so inclined, though, here are a few of the most common types:
- Broadloom Carpet Rolls
- Carpet Tiles
- Indoor/Outdoor Rugs
These carpets will not be as plush or soft as carpet used indoors.
Outdoor Carpet Is Made to Last
When compared to indoor carpet, that is. Typically, manufacturers make outdoor carpets with a lower pile. This makes for a less plush, more durable carpet, ready to weather the elements and foot traffic.
A good supplier will provide a carpet that is:
- UV resistant
- Water resistant
- Mold & mildew resistant.
It’s an Affordable Option, Too
A benefit to outdoor carpet is its low cost. Expect to pay less than $10 per square foot, perhaps even less than $5.
Outdoor rubber flooring is gaining popularity when it comes to functional surfaces, like playgrounds or athletic complexes. It’s beneficial for those purposes; While some of those benefits carry over to a patio space, it begs the question: is it worth sacrificing the aesthetic?
Doesn’t Look Bad, Just Not As Good
Rubber flooring is a heavily purpose-built material, and because of that, it lacks a certain amount of aesthetic. A rubber floor outside won’t give you the same “bringing the outdoors in” feeling as stone or brick.
Another drawback to rubber flooring is the smell. Manufactured rubber mats will give off a rubber odor. To some, this is no big deal. To others, this cramps the “fresh, outdoor air” vibe.
Again, there’s always a place for a flooring option given the right design. Rubber flooring could be something to consider if building a rooftop terrace. It sure won’t put the same load on your house as a flagstone surface.
Less About Durability, More About Comfort
This is what rubber floors are purpose-built for; comfort. Some mats sold can be up to 2″ thick. Rubber offers great shock absorption, which makes it great for playgrounds and outdoor workout space.
This shock absorption carries over to a patio space, too, and could be something to consider if you have kids who can’t seem to stay on their feet.
Are you the kind of clumsy person that needs to replace their cracked phone screen every 6 months? A rubber tile patio could be a safe place for you to text or browse and drop your phone all you want!
Outdoor rubber is also pretty slip-resistant. It’s porous, so it absorbs water.
Your Checks Won’t Bounce
Rubber flooring is another affordable outdoor option. While they need to be installed atop a concrete slab, the flooring itself will cost you less than $10 per square foot.
Ready to Build Your Patio?
So, there are our best and worst patio surface options. Hopefully, you are now armed with more patio knowledge than you came here with and you can use it to decide on your dream patio!
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