Patios and wood decks can deteriorate into eyesores or even safety risks if they’re not properly maintained. For home owners who would rather spend their time lounging on their decks and patios than working on them, there are lower-maintenance options…

Plastic-resin composite decks. Man-made composite planks, typically a mixture of polyethylene and fine sawdust, don’t require staining or sealing, just an occasional wash. Early composite decks tended to fade in the sun. Today’s products fare better. The best composites, which also are used for railings, do an excellent job of mimicking the look of natural wood. Reliable brand names include ChoiceDek, Elements, EverGrain, Geodeck, LP WeatherBest, TimberTech, Trex and Veranda. Select a product that has a warranty of at least 10 years.

Cost: $3 to $7 per square foot for composite deck boards. That’s about $15 per square foot, including installation, which is comparable to redwood and slightly higher than cedar or fir.

I don’t recommend decking that is made entirely of plastic. It stands up to the elements better than composites, but it doesn’t look like wood.

Concrete patios. Today’s concrete patios are pleasing to the eye. They last for decades and require very little maintenance — just a wash or a sweep every now and then. You can minimize the effect that hairline cracks have on the appearance of your patio by cutting quarter-inch-deep “control joints” into the concrete — at least one every eight feet — using a circular saw with an abrasive blade. Cracks will tend to form only along these thinner joints, where they’ll be mostly hidden. Make additional cuts in a square or diamond pattern, and you can spice up the look by making the concrete appear to be large tiles. This is cheaper and more convenient than buying and installing large concrete tiles.

Cost: $2 to $3 per square foot for materials, or $4 to $8, including installation. Add an additional $2 to $3 per square foot to have a decorative pattern cut into the surface. (These labor estimates assume that your yard is flat.)

Helpful: About a month after the slab is poured, it can be stained or acid-washed to add color. This job is best left to a professional. It will add $4 to $5 per square foot to the project’s cost.

Paver patios. Pavers are durable and classic-looking, and they don’t require much maintenance. They have been on the market about 20 years. They’re similar to traditional bricks but available in a wider range of colors and sizes and often are made from concrete. Paver patios also are a great do-it-yourself project. Just clear a flat piece of land and dig it out two to three inches deep. Then remove all plant material… spread crushed stone… add an inch of masonry sand… firmly set the bricks… and sweep masonry sand into the gaps between them. Home stores sell plastic or aluminum forms that hold the outermost bricks in place. For details, click the “Decks & Patios” link on my Web site,

Cost: $7 to $10 per square foot for materials. Add $6 to $8 per square foot for professional installation.