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Outdoor flooring buying guide

Outdoor flooring buying guide

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

Guide written by:

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

14 guides

Want to make over your patio but can't decide what kind of flooring to choose? Outdoor flooring comes in all different styles and must be chosen with care according to several criteria. Read on to find the perfect outdoor flooring for you.

Important features

  • Materials and budget
  • Maintenance and cleaning
  • Layout
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The way you design your patio will have an overall effect on the aesthetics of your home. Outdoor flooring therefore has an important role to play.

Before you set about redoing your outdoor flooring think carefully about the design, layout and exposure of your exterior space. From wood to concrete, stone to tiles, there are plenty of options when it comes to patio flooring.

Outdoor flooring: the main characteristics

Patio flooring type

Installation

Material

Maintenance

Main features

Decking boards

On decking risers or joists

Wood

Composite

Depends on species, material and treatment

Dimensions, species

Decking tiles

Over joists, on concrete, on decking risers or directly on the ground

Wood or composite

Depends on species and treatment

Easy installation, rustic look, great for gardens

Tiles

Over concrete or old tiles

Porcelain, terracotta or stone

Clean with water, clean grout regularly

Great weather resistance, nice finish

Concrete and paving

Lay on bed of sand

Stone or concrete

Clean with hose or pressure washer

Good weather resistance, can darken over time

Stepping stones

Lay on sand or directly on the ground

Concrete, natural stone or reconstituted stone

Clean with hose or pressure washer

Good weather resistance, can darken over time

Artificial grass

Lay on a bed of sand

Plastic-based materials

With a brush and leaf blower

Weather-resistant, loses fibres over time

Patio flooring type

Advantages

Disadvantages

Decking boards

Attractive, a range of colours and finishes available, works with all styles of décor

Can darken over time, requires regular maintenance, composite can heat up in the sun

Decking tiles

Quick and easy to lay, economical

Can darken over time, not very durable

Tiles

Large range of sizes, colours and patterns; very hardwearing

Requires more work to lay and a bigger budget

Concrete and paving

Fairly straightforward and inexpensive to lay, attractive

Can dark over time, stains easily

Stepping stones

Easy to lay, attractive finish

Do not age well, stain easily

Artificial grass

Once installed, requires virtually no maintenance, attractive finish

Expensive to buy, relatively easy to install

Budgeting for outdoor flooring

The cost of patio flooring varies depending on the types of materials you use. To work out a realistic budget, calculate the size of your patio and multiply the result by the price per m² of the material you're after. Make sure to factor in the price of consumables, installation accessories and any tools you might need for the job, then set about comparing different options.

Durability

The durability of your patio flooring relates its ability to withstand impacts and weathering including factors like sun and frost. Some types of flooring are more fragile than others and less suitable for certain climates or applications. Think carefully about how your patio will be used, the type of footfall it will have to deal with and its exposure to the elements.

Safety and practicality

A patio floor needs to be safe, especially if you have children or someone with mobility issues in the home. However, some materials can become slippery once wet and others can heat up in the sun. Furthermore, some materials, like wood, can splinter.

Ease of installation

While some types of patio flooring can be easy enough to install, others require more skill and special tools. If you aren't much of a DIYer, think carefully about how complicated installation is going to be or add on the price of labour to your overall budget.

Maintenance

Some types of outdoor flooring need to be given special treatments regularly while others are much easier to clean using just a basic floor cleaner. In order to make the right choice, think about the care requirements of the material and the type of yearly or long-term maintenance you need to carry out.

Style

Pick an outdoor floor that you like but make sure it goes well with your outdoor space. It might be worth checking if you are restricted by local rules. A candy pink patio stretching 40 m² won't exactly be welcomed in a conservation area! The material you choose needs to match its environment whether you are creating a patio area in the garden or around the pool.

The range of outdoor flooring on offer is endless, and each option comes with its own set of qualities and limitations.

Timber decking boards and tiles

Wood is a popular option and offers a traditional and warm look. Choose between exotic woods and European woods which are elegant and eco-friendly but do require regular care. Wood is a natural resource and its use is regulated according to strict standards governed by organisations such as PEFC and FSC.

Composite decking boards and tiles

Decking boards and tiles made of composite come in the same formats as their wood counterparts. Composite requires less maintenance but can discolour over time. It also conducts heat and can get burning hot in the sun. Composite boards and tiles work perfectly on small patios, courtyard areas and balconies. Composite is installed in a similar way to timber boards and tiles.

Paving slabs

Timeless and anti-slip, stone paving is another popular option that provides a traditional and elegant feel. Outdoor paving comes in a wide variety of finishes, from traditional to contemporary designs, and can vary in price. It can be laid over decking risers or concrete but your surface needs to be perfectly level for installation.

Concrete

Concrete slabs are inexpensive and hardwearing, and offer an easy way to create a patio, walkway or even a path in the garden – though stone paving will always be the better option! While concrete doesn't offer the most attractive finish, it can be used as a base for almost any other type of flooring. It can be painted, tiled over or covered with stone paving or even decking tiles. To pour a concrete slab, you will need a few basic tools. If you really want to go for it, you can always get a concrete mixer to come and pour the slab for you. This option is more expensive but allows you to save a lot of time and effort, and you won't have to buy or rent a cement mixer.

Natural stone

Natural stone is non-slip and comes in a huge selection of tones and colours, price ranges and materials from granite to slate or even marble. This type of flooring is elegant, strong and offers an aesthetic that proves popular. However, beware that some types of stone won't cope well with frost. Furthermore, stone can be tricky to maintain and may be prohibitively expensive.

Reconstituted stone

Reconstituted stone is less expensive and lighter than natural stone, but it is just as strong. Very hardwearing, reconstituted stone handles frost well but does need to be given a waterproofing treatment after laying. The stones themselves can be geometric in form (square, rectangular, etc.) or left as irregular, natural shapes.

Outdoor tiles

One of the most common options for exterior spaces is outdoor tiling. Cost-friendly, resistant and easy to maintain, tiles offer good value for money, a wide range of styles and can even be made to look like wood or stone – and all that on a budget! However, outdoor tiles can be slippery after rainfall so it's always a good idea to choose a non-slip tile. You will also have to have a level concrete base for installation.

Stepping stones

Stepping stones are designed to be used in combination with a lawn, gravel or pebbles to create a path over the garden. This type of flooring can be used to access a shed, patio, vegetable path or even on its own to pick out a pathway across the garden or courtyard.

Lawns

A lawn can help to create a peaceful and warm atmosphere in your outdoor space. Grass can be used to create a natural and tranquil area in the garden and feels particularly pleasant under foot. Lawns do, however, require care, soil and a lawnmower to keep them neat!

Artificial grass

Artificial grass can be installed anywhere and comes in many different colours. It can also be really affordable. It can be used to cover a courtyard area, a patio or even a balcony. It's also a great option if you have children as it provides a cushioned surface for falls.

The most important factor to consider when designing a patio is how you intend to use the space. Materials all offer different advantages and disadvantages – as seen above – but it all largely depends on how the material is used. Many different types of materials can be used to cover the area immediately surrounding the home.

Timber decking

Wood provides a warm and timeless atmosphere. Various species can be used:

  • European wood like pine, fir or oak stand out for their durability and affordable prices;
  • Composite is weather-resistant and made up of recycled wood mixed with synthetic fibres;
  • Exotic woods are easy to clean and offer a long service life, but can be relatively expensive to buy.

Concrete patios

Pouring a concrete slab can be an excellent option for a new build. Most importantly, however, concrete can be covered with another type of flooring for a better finish. Concrete boasts several advantages: it is hardwearing, durable and easy to clean. Depending on the style of your patio, you can pick from a range of different finishes, including:

  • coloured concrete;
  • smooth concrete;
  • sandblasted concrete.

Stone patios

Natural stone patios

Natural stone is an elegant and high-end option that is often selected for its traditional finish. Stone can be up to 8 cm thick giving it excellent shock resistance. However, be sure to check that the material you choose is frost-resistant. The main downside of natural stone is its price point which can be high.

Reconstituted stone patios

For a stone patio that's easy to lay, go for reconstituted stone. Made from natural materials which are ground down and milled, reconstituted stone stands up well to frost. It also comes in a multitude of colours and finishes, and is easy to clean. However, the use of any harsh cleaning products is not recommended in order to prevent damage to the finish of this material.

Tiled patios

Outdoor tiling is one of the most popular options for patios. The main advantages of tiles are that they come in many shapes, sizes, colours and price ranges. What's more, some outdoor tiles are made to look like other materials such as wood or marble. A tiled patio will also be weather-resistant and very easy to clean. Be sure to choose a non-slip tile.

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Outdoor floor tiles

When designing a balcony, you'll want to pick flooring that is easy to install and lightweight. You have three main options: wood, tiles and synthetic grass.

Timber or composite balconies

Decking tiles are lightweight and can be a practical solution for balconies. They are often designed to simply slot together in which case you'll only need a saw for installation. Decking boards can also be used but you will probably need joists as a base and you'll need to use stainless steel decking screws to install.

Tiled balconies

Available in a large palette of colours and various shapes, tiles are often chosen for aesthetic purposes. Easy to maintain and hardwearing, tiles are easy to install and you won't need many tools. However, be sure to check any local restrictions when it comes to picking a colour.

Rooftop terrace floors are usually made up of treated concrete topped with another type of flooring and require a slope of around 1 to 2% to allow for water run-off. Here are the most common materials used to make up the floor of rooftop terraces:

  • timber or composite;
  • tiles;
  • artificial grass.

Please note that if you live in a shared building, you will need permission from the other owners before you make any changes.

Of course the layout of your land will influence the design of your patio and, as a result, the types of flooring you can choose.

Flat vs. sloped patios

If your patio is set up on flat land, you can use any type of flooring including wood, concrete, stone and tiles.

If you have sloped terrain, a timber deck on adjustable risers will be the easiest option to install. If you plan on pouring concrete, you'll need to backfill to level out the space.

Drainage and surface protection

No matter your layout and the kind of flooring you choose, you need to prepare your surface carefully before installation. To prevent any issues related to moisture, you need to ensure your patio is able to drain properly. You will also need to factor in a 2% slope to aid rainwater drainage. It's also important to consider any issues linked to rising groundwater. Be sure to install a waterproof membrane beneath the reinforcement mesh of your concrete slab.

If you are installing a timber or composite on decking risers or decking tiles, lay a geotextile membrane to prevent weeds from growing beneath the deck.

When it comes to picking patio flooring, sun exposure is an important factor to bear in mind.

South-facing patios

South-facing patios have to deal with a lot of sun exposure. It's worth noting that pale-coloured floors will reflect the light which can lead to glare. A white stone floor should be avoided in this case. On the other hand, darker colours will retain more heat as will certain materials.

If you go for a tiled patio, choose a stone colour and go for timber rather than composite for a deck.

Maintenance can be a really important factor when it comes to choosing a type of patio flooring. Among the easiest materials to clean are:

  • Composite decking: a sweep followed by a mop down with soapy water should do the job. It is also possible to find decking restorer to refresh the colour of a faded deck.
  • Concrete: a sweep followed by a wash or rinse with clean water should do. The material must be given a waterproof treatment.
  • Tiles: a sweep followed by a wash with a specialist product will suffice.
  • Stone: reconstituted stone needs to be coated with a stain-proof treatment to prevent various types of dirt from building up. Natural stone should be cleaned regularly as it absorbs dirt easily.
  • Timber decking: regular care can be summed up by a quick sweep followed by a wash using a gentle cleaning product. Timber decking also needs to be oiled, treated or even varnished periodically though this depends on the species and its initial wood treatment.

Your choice of patio flooring will also depend on your budget and prices vary widely depending on the materials you choose.

Patios on a budget

Timber decking

Wood type

Average price per m²

Composite

£10 to £100

Pine

Approx. £20

Acacia

Approx. £50

Wood

£20 to £80

Other types of patio flooring

Flooring type

Average price per m²

Reconstituted stone

£40 to £70

Tiles

£10 to £150

Concrete

£40 to £100

High-end patios

Patio flooring type

Price range per m²

White stone

£20 to £150

Cement

£70 to £200

Concrete

£40 to £100

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Guide written by:

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford, 14 guides

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford