Terrace: Ground or Roof? Which is Right for Your Home?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 21, 2022
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A terrace is a platform built on the ground or on a roof, usually surrounded by a wall or railing. It’s a great place to relax, entertain, and get some fresh air. Terraces are common in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and Asia.

In this article, I’ll explain what a terrace is, how it’s used, and why it’s such a great feature to have in your home.

What is a terrace

Everything You Need to Know About Terraces

A terrace is an outdoor area that is either built on the ground level or raised on an upper level of a structure. It is a flat space that is generally solid and physically connected to the entire structure. Terraces are designed to create extra usable space and are known to have existed for centuries. The word “terrace” comes from the Latin word “terra,” which means “earth.”

The Different Types of Terraces

There are different types of terraces, each with its own shape, size, and construction. Here are the most common types of terraces:

  • Ground terraces: These are outdoor areas that are built on the ground level and tend to be small in size. They are generally known as patios and are extensions of indoor living areas.
  • Roof terraces: These are outdoor areas that are built on the rooftop of a structure. They tend to be larger in size and are designed for entertaining and facilitating outdoor activities.
  • Balconies: Although balconies are not technically terraces, they are often confused with them. Balconies are flat platforms that are enclosed and accessible from an indoor area.

The Importance of Terraces

Terraces are an important feature in the world of construction and architecture. Here’s why:

  • They create extra usable space in areas where outdoor space is limited.
  • They provide homeowners with an outdoor area where they can relax, entertain, and enjoy the fresh air.
  • They tend to increase the value of a property and make it more attractive to potential buyers.

The Art of Terracing: Exploring Ground Terraces

Ground terraces are outdoor spaces that are built on a flat or gently sloping area of land. They are commonly found in properties that have a large area and are primarily used for leisure and social activities. The term “terrace” applies to any solid, natural or man-made structure that is placed outside a building and consists of a raised area of land.

The History of Terracing

Terracing is a practice that has been used for centuries in different parts of the world. It was primarily used for agricultural purposes, as it allowed farmers to cultivate crops on steep slopes. The earliest examples of terracing can be found in the Middle East, where the practice was used to create monumental structures such as the Tel Joenniemi Manor in Finland and the Purgatsi Anija in Estonia.

The Function and Design of Ground Terraces

Ground terraces serve as a focal point in a property, linking the structure to the surrounding landscape. They come in different forms and sizes, from small, simple spaces to large, complex areas that require architectural and landscape design. The design of a ground terrace varies widely, depending on its function and the property it is built on. Some common features of ground terraces include:

  • Raised areas of land that are reached by a grand staircase or embankment
  • Water features such as fountains, ponds, and pools
  • Natural elements such as grass, trees, and flowers
  • Solid structures such as stone walls, pillars, and arches
  • Modern features such as outdoor kitchens, fire pits, and seating areas

Examples of Ground Terraces

Ground terraces can be found all over the world, from private rooftop spaces in the heart of the city to flat areas on the shores of a lake. Here are some interesting examples of ground terraces:

  • The Sky Terrace at the East Hotel in Hong Kong, which offers panoramic views of the city skyline
  • The Rooftop Terrace at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, which is surrounded by water and offers a tranquil escape from the city
  • The Terrace at the Four Seasons Resort in Bali, which is set on a cliff edge and offers breathtaking views of the ocean
  • The Terrace at the Château de Versailles in France, which is a monumental structure that was built in the early 17th century and is surrounded by gardens and fountains

Roof Terraces: A Sky-High Haven

Roof terraces are a type of terrace that is built on top of a flat roof. They are small outdoor areas that are primarily used for social activities and relaxation. Roof terraces are surrounded by solid structures and are usually set higher than the rest of the building. They consist of a little area that is designed to be dry and solid, allowing people to enjoy the natural beauty of the sky. Roof terraces come in different forms and sizes, and their function varies according to the building they are placed on.

Synonyms for Roof Terraces

Roof terraces are also known as rooftop terraces or terrace roofs.

Getting the Green Light: Navigating Planning Permission for Your Dream Terrace

When it comes to designing and building a terrace, one of the most important factors to consider is planning permission. This is the process of obtaining official approval from your local council to carry out any major changes to your property. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • The granting of planning permission is not guaranteed. Your application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account factors such as the impact on neighbouring properties, the surrounding area, and the overall design of your terrace.
  • Your neighbours will be notified of your application and given the opportunity to voice any concerns or objections they may have. If your terrace will overlook their property or block their light, for example, they may be less favourable towards your plans.
  • The use of glass or wooden materials may be favourable in some cases, as they can blend in with the surrounding environment and be less obtrusive than other materials. However, this will depend on the specific location and context of your property.
  • If your property is located in a conservation area or has listed status, you may face additional restrictions and requirements when it comes to planning permission.

Preparing Your Planning Permission Application

To increase your chances of being granted planning permission for your dream terrace, there are a few key steps you can take:

  • Do your research. Look at similar properties in the area and see what kind of terraces they have. This can give you an idea of what is likely to be approved by the council.
  • Consider the impact on neighbouring properties. If your terrace will overlook their property or block their light, for example, you may need to adjust your design to be more considerate.
  • Hire a professional. An architect or designer with experience in planning permission applications can help you create a design that is more likely to be approved by the council.
  • Be prepared to compromise. If the council raises concerns or objections about your plans, be open to making changes to address these issues.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Planning Permission?

If your planning permission application is denied, you may still be able to appeal the decision or make changes to your design and reapply. However, it’s important to note that carrying out major changes to your property without planning permission can result in fines and legal action. Additionally, if you plan on selling your home in the future, any unapproved changes could make it more difficult to find a buyer.

Terrace vs Balcony: The Battle of Outdoor Living Spaces

While both terraces and balconies are outdoor living spaces, there are some key differences between the two:

  • A terrace is a larger outdoor area located next to or on top of a building, while a balcony is a smaller platform that is generally attached to the side of a building.
  • Unlike a balcony, a terrace is not necessarily connected to a room or interior space and can be completely free-standing.
  • The term “terrace” comes from the Latin word “terra,” meaning earth or ground, and originally referred to outdoor areas constructed on raised ground or rooftops. In recent years, the term has been used more broadly to encompass a variety of outdoor living spaces.
  • Balconies, on the other hand, are extensions of indoor living spaces and are generally accessed through a door or window.

Size and Location

  • Terraces are generally larger than balconies and can range in size from minimal to enormous, depending on the project and the intended use.
  • They are often designed as entertainment areas and can be used for dining, relaxation, or even gardening with potted plants.
  • Terraces can be located on the ground floor or on the roof of a building, and can be accessed by residents or the public, depending on the design and restrictions.
  • Balconies, on the other hand, are generally smaller and more restricted in terms of use and access.
  • They are usually located on upper floors of a building and are accessed through a door or window from an indoor living space.

Design and Construction

  • Terraces are often designed as private outdoor living spaces for residential areas, and can be constructed using a variety of materials, including wood, concrete, or stone.
  • They are usually supported by columns or a console and are surrounded by a fence or other enclosure for privacy and safety.
  • Terraces can also be designed with sliding glass doors to enable a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor living spaces.
  • Balconies, on the other hand, are generally constructed as part of the building’s exterior and are supported by the building’s structure.
  • They are usually enclosed by a railing or other barrier for safety, and can be designed with minimal or no privacy features.

Comfort and Experience

  • Terraces are designed to provide a comfortable outdoor living experience, with ample space for furniture, plants, and other amenities.
  • They are often used as an extension of the living space and can be designed with features such as outdoor kitchens, fire pits, or water features.
  • Balconies, on the other hand, are generally designed as a small outdoor space for enjoying the view or fresh air, but are not typically used for extended periods of time.

In conclusion, while both terraces and balconies provide outdoor living spaces, the differences in size, location, design, and comfort mean that they serve different purposes and offer different experiences. Whether you prefer the expansive outdoor living space of a terrace or the cozy balcony for enjoying the view, both options can add value and enjoyment to your home.


So, that’s what a terrace is. A great way to add some extra space to your home and enjoy the fresh air. 

You can also use them for entertaining or just relaxing with some fresh air. So, don’t be afraid to explore the possibilities and get creative with your terrace!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.