Is It a Patio. or Is It a Porch? Here's a Guide to Help You Identify Outdoor Living Spaces

by Sophie Tsang 09/12/2021

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

There are many terms in the design world that we use interchangeably. Those without specific knowledge of these terms might not know how they differentiate, but boosting your home vocabulary can be helpful with buying, selling or improving your home. One common example is the terms we use for private outdoor living spaces. Those terms include porch, patio, deck, veranda, balcony and sometimes even other less common names. How do we know which is which?

Here are the basic definitions of each type of outdoor space and how they compare to one another.


A porch extends from the building’s entryway. Porches attach to the front of the house and are covered or open. Depending on the architectural style, it’s common for porches to be defined by columns or walls. Porches also have railings or half-walls to further define them as a separate space from the rest of the front yard. Also, porches are almost always raised structures with at least one step up from the ground.


Patios are usually in the back of the house. They might be directly next to the home’s outer walls or separated depending on the property. The key characteristic defining a patio is that it’s on the ground level and made with either stone or concrete. Patios are usually open air, but many homeowners choose to add shelter either with freestanding structures or with shades attached to the side of the house. Though it’s common to have a path or side-yard leading to your patio, the space is typically more private and reserved for guests.


Decks can be anywhere on the property, either attached or separate from the main structure. They are elevated off of the ground and built out of wood specially treated for outdoor use. Decks have railings for safety and can even have multiple levels connected with stairs. This is more common in homes with multiple floors or in areas where you can enjoy a great view from up high. As for purpose, decks are used for anything from storage to open-air entertaining space.


Verandas are also sometimes called roofed galleries or ground-floor balconies. In a practical sense you could call it a combination of all the above. It’s an enclosed ground-level space attached to the home with a railing or short wall. It can wrap around the house and serve as a point of access to side or back building entrances. Usually a veranda is used the same way you’d use a porch, but unlike a porch it’s attached to more than one wall.

Other Outdoor Spaces

Here are some other terms for outdoor spaces you might encounter being used interchangeably or in combination with the above:

  • Balconies are small platforms attached to upper levels of the building. They always include railings or parapets for safety.

  • Terraces are like balconies, but not always attached to the building. They are typically much larger and sometimes have multiple entry points.

  • Lanai is a term originating in Hawaii that describes an outdoor living space attached to the building. A lanai can include traits of all the above outdoor spaces but is typically reserved for architecture in the Pacific region.

  • Engawa is a term from Japanese architecture that describes a narrow strip of hardwood flooring surrounding the house. An engawa is usually raised off of ground level but can be very low and rarely requires steps. While this type of outdoor space is common in traditional Japanese residential architecture, the term has gained some international popularity among designers and homeowners.

About the Author

Sophie Tsang

Sophie’s Civil Engineering background and marketing expertise contribute to her broad understanding and high efficiency in marketing real estate properties. She has been consistently a top performer since 2005, and personally ranks the highest 1% by volume of all Silicon Valley Realtors. 

As a seasoned negotiator, Sophie’s no-nonsense marketing system and meticulous attention to details have been key success factors. She is known as the The Fixer, frequently helps sellers sell their homes when other agents had failed or given up. She helps buyers get into homes when they previously struggled. 18 years in Real Estate, Sophie has honed her skills on getting the best possible results for her clients. Her trusted network of vendors and use of cutting-edge technology ensure each step of each transaction is executed to achieve next level result!

Sophie has done guest speaking at Faith Radio, and writes a column for World Journal to share her Real Estate Knowledge. She is a proud parent of 2 Eagle Scouts, a Palo Alto Rotarian and a Paul Harris Fellow, also a Golden Gate Keeper (Golden Gate National Park Conservancy).