A Guide To Choosing the Right Pergola

by Matt Lee

Pergolas are a unique and stylish way to incorporate outdoor dining and entertainment into your life. Whether you’ve got room for a pergola attached to your home or a freestanding version somewhere in your backyard, the benefits of having one are numerous. 

In case you’re interested in putting up a pergola in your yard, let’s take a look at the different pieces involved, as well as the many different styles to choose from.

What Makes a Pergola?

Pergolas are unique in comparison to gazebos, patios, and other outdoor structures. This is because they almost always feature some type of slatted roof with many openings in it. They can be attached to a building or freestanding.

The average pergola is made up of vertical columns which support a horizontal latticework of stringers, rafters, and beams. The beams support the rafters, and the rafters support the stringers on the very top. The beams are usually pretty thick, the rafters are a bit smaller, and the stringers are usually very skinny. 

The roof is usually somewhat open and consists of cross rafters and stringers. The idea of a pergola is to provide a partially open-air location to dine, lounge, and entertain, while still having some protection and shade from the elements. 

What are the Different Types of Pergolas?

There are many different styles of pergolas to choose from. For starters, a pergola can be made from any type of material. From wood to stone, PVC, brick, concrete, aluminum, steel, fiberglass, and vinyl. If you’re looking for long-term durability, concrete, stone, brick, steel, fiberglass, and premium hardwood are all excellent choices. 

However, if you’d prefer a lighter-weight pergola with more color options, PVC and vinyl might be more up your alley. Within each of these materials, there are three styles of pergola available.

A freestanding pergola is most common and features 4 columns supporting the rest of the structure. An attached pergola consists of 2-3 columns on one side while the other side of the structure is attached to a home or building. There’s also the wall-mounted pergola, which is basically a pergola for your windows. 

Pergola Roof/Shade Variations

The most common type of pergola roof is one with traditional slats, otherwise known as rafters and girders. There’s a lot of variation available when it comes to the spacing and style of the slats, with many choosing to customize theirs.

You can also get louvers in place of the typical stringers and rafters, and these can be manual or electric. You might also opt for either a fixed shade canopy or a retractable shade canopy. Vines are also a viable roofing option for your pergola

And, finally, there are tension-type shades. This type of pergola roof consists of multiple, square pieces of canvas which are overlapped and pulled tight across the roof to create tension. They can be evenly or unevenly distributed, with the latter creating a more exotic look. 

For the shades the go around the sides of the pergola you can choose from no shades, pergola curtains, climbing vines, a trellis, an architectural screen with designs carved into it, a fixed screen that covers all sides of the pergola, or a motorized screen which does the same but can be retracted at the touch of a button.

Other Pergola Considerations and Styles

While there are a wide variety of styles to choose from, only a wood pergola can be properly installed in DIY fashion. All other types of pergolas will require the purchase of a kit such as a 12x12 pergola kit. Many types of pergolas will actually require a contractor to acquire the kit as well as install it, but a plain, wooden pergola can be built by anyone who has the basic tools and equipment required. 

There are multiple types of pergola aesthetics to experiment with as well. From modern to contemporary, traditional, old-world, minimalist, wood-grain, and more. As you can see, the amount of different pergola design ideas are nearly endless, and you can steer things in almost any direction you want.

Installation is simple enough if you’re just working with wood, and a well-built wooden pergola can last for years if properly maintained. 

About the Author: Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.