Used by the ancient Egyptians to beat the heat when walking from building to building and to grow climbing plants like grapes, pergolas are one of the oldest types of garden architecture that have stood the test of time. Today, with advancements in designs and materials they can serve us in a multitude of ways which add beauty, convenience, relaxation, and more to our lives and homes.
So Exactly What is a Pergola?
Pergolas have a unique design which separates them from other outdoor structures. They are normally made up of four posts which support a roof made up of beams or slats. Unlike other options there are no walls, leaving all four sides completely open. The beams above are spaced so they do not form a closed roof.
Although they are normally square or rectangular they can be a few other shapes as well. It is this simple yet intelligent layout that really makes a pergola such a useful garden or patio structure because it allows the homeowner to:
Maximize The View And Their Enjoyment Of It
No walls means you have an unobstructed view of your yard. This is often the perfect solution if you have a particularly attractive: view, focal point, or garden you would like to enjoy while relaxing.
Keep Cool And In The Shade
Since there is nothing to block them, cool breezes flow freely through the structure. The slat style roof also blocks the majority of the sun’s harsh rays giving you a shady yet still open space. This makes pergolas a superb spot for all sorts of activities from dining with the family to sitting in the hot tub after a hard day’s work.
Create A Living Structure
One of the best parts of owning one of these is that they are designed with climbing plants in mind. As they creep up the columns and eventually onto the roof and even hang down from it, you will get even more shade plus some added natural beauty and fragrance. There are many different types of flowers and vines which can really make a statement.
Block Out Neighbors Or Unsightly Views
Not every yard, garden, or patio is perfect, in fact far from it and neither are neighbors or their properties. There are often things or we would like to block out and keep from sight.
You can use one to keep features on your own property out of view but pergolas are also commonly used as a privacy screen to block out neighbors. There are many accessories which you can add on to help you accomplish this.
With many types, sizes, materials, and even shapes to choose from this is one landscape feature that can really add some style to your outdoor space and set it apart.
From traditional to modern and Asian to Mediterranean you can create any style or theme you’d like or add to your existing one. Pergolas are also an excellent way to do so without having to do any major renovations.
Increase The Value Of The Property
While this is not usually the primary reason people purchase them, it’s the truth. This is because they add to the curb appeal and functionality of your home.
And that can really tip the scales when it comes to choosing whether or not to buy one or deciding between a pergola and another option. They are an investment not only in your relaxation and enjoyment but one which will increase the value of your house and property at the same time.
Typical Pergola Materials:
A wooden pergola can be a fantastic looking natural choice. Wood always goes well in any outdoor setting and many homeowners adore its charm. Cedar is probably the most popular of all types of wood used.
A cedar pergola is naturally resistant to both decay and rot and will also have the famous cedar smell. The oils produced by the wood itself also help to repel water and insects.
Redwood is another common choice and considered one of the best woods for pergolas and gazebos due to its strength and good- looks. Like one made from cedar, a redwood pergola is naturally resistant to rot and insects.
While they may be more expensive than other options they are also more durable. You will often find both cedar and redwood pergolas stained or finished to look like other woods, such as walnut for example so you get their toughness but in the color you prefer most.
Pressure treated wood; normally either fir or pine is yet another way to go. These have a very wide range of colors from brown to green and are chemically treated to be able to handle the outdoors. Pergolas made from pressure treated wood are very strong but also usually pricier.
Of course there are many other different woods to choose from as well. Oak pergolas can make for a dependable and long-lasting outdoor structure and there are even bamboo pergolas for someone looking for a taste of the exotic that is tough-as-nails.
Metal pergolas can actually be any one of a variety of different types of metal such as steel, aluminium, or wrought iron. The vast majority of the time, regardless of the metal used they will be black. This is because a black pergola just looks stunning when made from any of these and actually can look from antique in style all the way to modern.
Gunmetal grey is another fantastic color choice for metal. Aluminium pergolas are the most common since they are generally the least expensive and also fairly light in weight while at the same time very sturdy. Steel of course is extremely strong and will last for years into the future.
Both aluminium and steel pergolas will have a powder coated finish for extra protection. The most costly but also often times most ornate are made from iron. A wrought iron pergola can look incredibly upscale and requires very little maintenance.
Vinyl has become more and more popular in recent years. This is because they are often cheaper than wooden ones, lightweight, and are very easy to care for. A vinyl pergola requires literally no maintenance other than the occasional cleaning from a hose and for this reason many are advertised as “maintenance-free”.
You won’t have to worry about rot or cracking as with some types of wood. Typically you will find them in white color. However while white vinyl pergolas are without a doubt the most common some are grey, and others are brown or tan to resemble real wood.
A few even use a combination of vinyl and wood pulp to make a structure which looks so much like wood it can be hard to tell the difference but with all the benefits of vinyl. For extra strength some models will have beams and supports that are reinforced with steel.
Buying A Pergola
When purchasing a pergola you have three options: buying a kit, having one custom made, or building one yourself. Which one you choose depends on your needs, budget, and skills.
The majority of consumers go with kits for a good few reasons. They come in a variety of convenient and attractive styles, sizes, types, and in wood, metal, and vinyl. In terms of shape they are usually square or rectangular. Square pergola kits can be found as small as 6.5’ x 6.5’, but more often 8’ x 8’, 10’ x 10’, and 12’ x 12’.
Rectangular options will typically be 8’ x 10’, 10’ x 12’, or 12’ x 14’, while some are even larger. Kits also don’t require you to be a professional in order to install them. Most will take two people and few hours to do so. Since they can be put together by the average person and include all the hardware, some kits are advertised as DIY pergola kits.
However you can almost always pay for installation from the manufacturer or hire someone to do it for you privately. Price-wise kits are very reasonable. Online is the best way to shop since you will find highly discounted deals year-round and most of the times with free-shipping as well.
The majority of manufacturers will offer also accessories such as covers and curtains that made to match and fit your specific model as well, which also makes kits very appealing.
Custom Made Pergolas
For very specific preferences your best bet is to get one custom made. While they may be more expensive than a kit, they are designed with your unique specifications in mind so you’ll be sure that they fit the dimensions and style of your space perfectly.
Many homeowners choose to go with a custom made option if they really want a pergola but there space is too small for a standard kit or they require one which is much larger.
It is also a smart choice if you want a round pergola or another shape other than square or rectangular, such as triangular. And of course if you are looking to use only certain types of wood or stone this is your best bet.
Building A Pergola
If you have the time, skills, and tools building your own can be an incredibly rewarding and sometimes less expensive choice. This usually but not always, means doing so out of wood.
By far the easiest way to accomplish a project like this is to first purchase pergola plans. High quality plans will often include detailed step-by-step instructions for multiple types of structures, helpful advice, and many times an array of pergola pictures to give you inspiration.
Common Pergola Designs And Types:
While most are free standing pergolas there are many different designs and types to choose from, some which are more suited for certain functions or areas than others.
Wall Pergola (also called an attached pergola or lean to pergola)
A popular choice for someone looking to save some space is what is called a wall pergola. Unlike the standard variety which stands on four posts, these use only two and attach to the wall of your house for support.
Since they are typically smaller they are a great choice for decks and patios where they can provide you with a shady spot to sit outdoors.
A wall pergola can also be used to shade windows and is an excellent way to connect detached buildings to the house such as a garage or pool house. Many homeowners use them as a transitional space between indoors and out and of course to add to the look of their house itself.
Some attached options don’t have any legs at all. A window pergola is much smaller than the normal variety, and is used to increase the curb appeal of a home by installing it on walls above windows or doors on the house and/or garage.
While they are not going to provide the benefits of a full-sized model they will help to shade the interior of the home, cost much less, and make a great accent piece particularly if you own a larger pergola already.
A corner pergola as its name suggests is made to fit in corners. Because of this they normally have three legs and are shaped like a triangle. They are not as common as other types but can still be found in kits or of course be custom made. Adding one in the corner can help you to get the most from a space which many people simply overlook.
Whether it’s the corner of a deck, patio, yard, or garden they let even homeowners with limited space enjoy being able to own a pergola. These are also a very popular for use above outdoor kitchens or barbeque areas.
Probably the most unique looking variety, a Tuscan pergola, typically uses grand looking round columns for support. While some columns are made from stone many are actually made from a variety of materials to give you the look of real stone without the weight and price.
Adding one to a Mediterranean style garden is a great way to add to the theme that will surely make a huge impact on your outdoor space. In fact, they are so striking and lavish in appearance that they are often used as the main focal point of the entire yard.
Wooden roof beams that curve upwards similar to much of the architecture in Japan are often used to create a Japanese pergola. This could be just what is needed for an Asian style garden and always looks sublime when placed near a koi pond, water feature, or close to some ornamental bamboo.
Handmade wooden furniture is one of the specialties of the Amish people. They are well-known for using only the highest quality woods and being expert craftsmen. Since they are made by hand and from real wood no two Amish pergolas are exactly the same, each will have its own charm, distinct grain, and coloration.
Another decorative take on the standard type is the arched pergola. An arched roof can make for a breath taking focal point that adds value to your property and commands attention. They are also a stylish way to add some height.
Many can be quite large too. Because of this you will sometimes see them used as a car port, over walkways, or anywhere that needs some shade.
Many kits have arched roofs and if you want one which is much larger or to your own specifications there are many builders who specialize in custom made arched options and can make them in virtually any size, style, and arch height.
Unlike other choices a louvered pergola uses angled slats on the roof above. Because they are angled they block out more of the sun’s rays which can be a lifesaver in really hot areas.
These slats are normally adjustable and that is very convenient because as the angle of the sun in the sky changes during the day you can ensure you let only the amount of light in that you want giving you full control.
A louvered pergola will let you warm up the patio, keep cool, or look at the stars depending on what you need at the moment. Many can be quite modern in style and even will automatically adjust the angle of the slats at the touch of a button.
Outdoor Kitchen Pergola
Outdoor kitchens are always a fabulous place to cook and enjoy your garden or patio with your family and friends. However, sometimes they need to be shaded from the sun so you can keep cool while entertaining, preparing food, eating, or just relaxing. An outdoor kitchen pergola does this with style. It makes your outdoor kitchen even more functional and comfortable for everyone.
You can purchase kits that fit over your kitchen, are specifically made for mounting to a barbecue island, or many people get them custom made in order to cover a larger or uniquely shaped space. Since they cover the actual barbeque of the kitchen they are sometimes also advertised as or referred to as a barbeque pergola.
Many pergolas come with covers that will need to be replaced after being in the elements for a few years. Pergola covers are also a smart choice for someone who would like protection from both the rain and sun. By adding a cover you are able to enjoy your pergola any time of the day and in most weather conditions.
Most manufacturers will sell replacements but there are many high-quality universal covers that go with just about any model and size. A large number of these are tan in color, since it goes so well with just about any color structure.
Some pergola covers have grommets to let rain through and also to allow you to tie it to the beams or posts. Others come with rope ties or a sleeve to which a weighted rod is inserted which keeps the cover in place even in very high winds. And of course you can always purchase rolls of shade fabric and attach them yourself.
A retractable cover is yet another way to go. Many people prefer these because you can open or close them to meet your needs at the moment. Retractable pergola covers are also an excellent choice for people who like to look at the stars but may live in a very rainy area or one which gets very bright or strong sun during the day.
Not all protection comes from above. Pergola curtains are also an option that will block out the sun but provide privacy too. Not all structures come with curtains but there are many extremely high-quality attractive outdoor curtains which can be purchased and attached using curtain rods.
When used near a pool they can really add a tropical feel to your space. They are also a good choice if you are using your pergola to cover your hot tub since they will help to obscure the view of prying neighbors.
Privacy Screens And Walls
Privacy screens and walls can be attached to or placed near your pergola to block out the sun’s rays and keep things private too. Some manufacturers offer privacy walls specifically made for certain models so they match, and fit snugly between the posts blocking an entire side completely. But buying a privacy wall on your own is easy as well. Privacy screens come in a wide variety of materials like cloth and wood.
Depending where you live you may require a little more to keep you comfortable. If that is the case an outdoor ceiling fan is the best solution. They also are a terrific way to keep pesky insects like mosquitoes from ruining your fun since they simply can’t fly in the air stream of a fan.
A wet rated indoor/outdoor ceiling fan as opposed to a damp rated one is really the smartest because they can get really wet without any problem or danger whatsoever. Just be sure to choose a fan which is proportional to the size of your structure. So if it’s large, choose a bigger one, if it’s a small pergola choose a fan with smaller blades.
And of course to ensure your fan matches and makes your space look fantastic always go for one that works with what you’ve already got. That means it matches the colors, style, and material of your home, furniture, accessories, or pergola itself.
One thing that should definitely not be overlooked when planning is lighting. Keeping in mind how you will be using your structure will help you to quickly choose the right pergola lights. There are many different ways to create the ambiance you are looking for, and here are some of the best pergola lighting ideas:
The simplest and most inexpensive choice is to use string lights. With many shapes, sizes, colors and varying brightness to choose from you can really have some fun with these while adding a romantic feel to your pergola that won’t break the bank.
Simply intertwine the string with the beams above and plug them into an outdoor outlet or outlet which has been built in to the pergola itself and you’re done!
Mounted Light Fixtures
More difficult to wire in but a great tool which can add light and also help to create a cohesive looking outdoor space that goes with the style of your home are light fixtures which are mounted on the posts. These are lantern style lights which tend to illuminate where your pergola is but provide dim lighting inside of it.
Built-in lights can be used to highlight the structure of your pergola without being too overpowering. Add them to the beams above either in all four corners or using smaller bulbs evenly spaced in each beam or every other beam.
Most homeowners who decide on built-in lights use them with an attached pergola since it has easy access to electricity and will run the wires across the top of the beams to keep them hidden.
Ideal for an outdoor kitchen pergola or one placed over a dining area hanging lights give you an upscale look with enough illumination to cook, eat, and entertain your guests. Hanging lights can really make your outdoor structure look like an extension of your home and are like with built-in lights very popular with owners of attached pergolas since they provide an easy way to connect the wiring.
Usually requiring a professional to install but well-worth it up-lighting can really increase the appearance of your pergola which also means your outdoor space as a whole. Lights are placed in the ground or flooring shining upwards.
These can have a very dramatic effect when set against the base of the posts. Up-lighting will give you soft lighting that’s not too bright, and absolutely splendid for romantic evenings.
Don’t Forget Some Plants
Climbing plants can add color, beauty, fragrance, and shade to your pergola and outdoor space. There are many magnificent plants to choose from that will make you feel like you are in your own private heaven and blur the line between your garden and home.
Some of the most popular are: roses, grapes, hydrangea, jasmine, trumpet vines, clematis, and wisteria. Many homeowners place large pots containing the plants of their choice next to the support posts with poles to train them to climb upwards.
The Best Pergola Spots
On The Deck
For many people their deck is where they spend the majority of their time relaxing outdoors. Since it is up against your home, you get to enjoy the outdoors yet have all the advantages you need close at hand. A deck pergola can be attached to the wall or be free standing.
Triangular models may be used in corners if you have limited space, or if that’s just where you prefer to use one. They will shade your deck and many times the inside of your home if they are close to doors or windows.
On The Patio
Patios can get pretty hot in the warmer months of the year, and depending on where that is it could be year-round. Adding a patio pergola will let you use it when you thought you couldn’t and make it much more comfortable in the process.
It will also help to protect your furniture from the sun’s rays which can many times lead to damage. If your patio is closer to the house you might want to consider an attached structure which will make for an easy lighting job but it’s up to you!
In The Garden Or Yard
When thinking about adding one to your garden or backyard keeping a few things in mind will help you out a lot. Be sure to place it in a spot where there is proper drainage. You don’t want to setup a gorgeous garden pergola only to be unable to use for days after it rains.
Take a quick look the next time it rains and see where the water on your property tends to accumulate if at all. Also, think about your view from the structure. Placing it where you have a view of a flower garden, your home, pond, or distant mountain scenery can take the experience of sitting in one to a whole new level.
If you have children you may want to have it facing their play area or the pool so you can keep a watchful eye on them while treating yourself to some much needed relaxation. Or you may just want to create a secluded spot separated from everything else. Use your preference, needs, and the features of your property to help you decide.
Don’t overlook taking into consideration the view from your home. Being able to place your garden pergola where you can not only get the best use of it but also where you are able to admire its good looks from a window, back, porch, deck, or patio is an extra plus.
Over The Hot Tub
Hot tubs are one of the top ways to unwind. Yet, when it’s too sunny, it’s not always so comfortable to stay in too long. Plus, many of us live in residential neighborhoods where our neighbors can see into our backyards which is not something that you want to think about when sitting in one.
A hot tub pergola can transform your hot tub into your own personal and private oasis. It is easy to find and install a kit that will fit over any size tub. Many people who own a pergola already choose to purchase a portable spa and place it inside. There are many accessories to help you get the most privacy possible.
You can attach lattice to the sides, privacy screens or walls, curtains, and of course covers. If you use a cover you can use your hot tub even in the rain and block out even more sun. Retractable covers are especially popular for hot tub pergolas because you can open them to see the stars on a clear night which can be very romantic.
Next To The Pool
A classic spot is next to the swimming pool since they just work so well there. Having a place to get out of the sun and dry off for a while that is still outdoors is a must when owning a pool. They can function as shady spot where parents can relax and still be responsible for swimming kids, just quietly read a book, or have an afternoon drink.
Placed behind a pool, they usually offer a phenomenal looking view which can really make your property look incredible. Pool pergolas also make romantic places to dine in the evening, with the proper lighting of course.
It’s actually quite common for swimming pool owners to buy the largest kit they can or have one custom made in order to fit their outdoor kitchen, bar, and dining area all near the pool as well, keeping everything convenient and cool.
It’s easy to see why the pergola has lasted since ancient times. With so many options and ways to use them, they will not only enhance your property and its value but the quality of your life too. For an outdoor structure that defines function, openness, and beauty pergolas can’t be beat.
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