What Is a Lanai and What’s the Difference from a Patio?

Updated: Jan. 25, 2023

Thinking of adding a covered outdoor space to your home? Consider a lanai.

If you love spending time outdoors, you’re probably aware of the hours of enjoyment gained from a good deck, veranda or patio. These home features are especially lovely for those lucky enough to live on large rural properties, where scenery and fresh air are never in short supply. When my wife and I built a large deck on the front of our country home last summer, we were amazed at how much more time we started spending outside. In fact, the only difficulty with decks, verandas, porches and patios is telling them apart. Most people use the terms interchangeably, even though they know there are differences. To this confusing mishmash, I’d like to add one more home feature you may not have heard of before—the lanai.

What Is a Lanai?

Lanai Living at a home estateTerryJ/Getty Images

Originating in Hawaii in the 1800s, lanais are roofed, open-walled porches attached to homes. They’re almost always accessible to homeowners through one or more entrances to the house. Like other outdoor home features, lanais vary in size, shape and style. They can occupy a small portion of wall, an entire wall or wrap around multiple walls like a veranda.

Like decks, verandas and porches, the exact definition of a lanai has evolved over the years. Nowadays, covered outdoor passageways can also be considered lanais. Some lanais are even screened to keep bugs out. Lanais first appeared in Hawaii because of its warm climate. Other temperate areas like Florida and California have also added lanais to their architecture since they can be enjoyed year-round.

How Is a Lanai Different from a Patio?

Technically speaking, patios are at ground level, unlike porches, verandas and lanais. Patios also may or may not be roofed, and may or may not be fully open to the outdoors. Some patios are attached to houses, while others are completely separate.

Unlike patios, lanais always share at least one wall with a building. Lanais are always at the same elevation as the nearest floor of the house they attach to. They’re always covered by a roof, and always open to the outdoors on at least one side. They can be similar to patio designs but definitely aren’t the same.

How to Get a Lanai of Your Own

Asking “how much does a lanai cost?” is similar to asking how much a house costs. It depends. Size, materials and modifications to the house all affect how much you’ll need to invest to get the lanai of your dreams. Costs can vary greatly from around $1,000 for a small, simple lanai to $15,000 or more for a huge, ornate one. In general, expect to spend at least $8 per square foot on your lanai.

Build time also varies greatly depending on the size and features of your lanai. Most take at least three months to build but expect to wait up to a year for a large, fancy lanai to be completed.

Regardless of your budget, start your lanai project with a detailed scale floor plan. Draw in outdoor furniture and any other features you have in mind to ensure you’ll have enough space. Consider features like roof height and shape, flooring and siding material, and exterior stairs. Think about how your lanai will look and function in the context of the rest of your home—and of course, consider how you might decorate your lanai. You can also take some ideas from our favorite porch decor!