What Is a Pergola? Plus How to Choose the Right One for Your Yard

Wondering what a pergola is used for? Here’s everything you need to know to find the right one for your outdoor sanctuary.

A pergola is an outdoor structure formed by an arrangement of vertical posts or pillars that support beams or sturdy open lattice. Some are attached to the side of a house or garage, while others are freestanding. These outdoor features are typically made from weather-resistant wood, metal, or stone. 

Pergolas are used to create shaded walkways, designated gathering spaces, and climbing plant designs. While they block some direct daylight, their open roof structure allows light to peek through. Of course, there are many types of pergolas, but most people first want to understand the difference between a pergola and a gazebo.

wooden Pergola
Blaine Moats

What's the difference between a pergola and a gazebo?

A pergola is a tall yard structure that is held up by pillars. The beamed roof is typically open, so air flows through the structure. Pergolas add privacy to otherwise exposed outdoor spaces, which can be particularly useful for homes surrounded by multi-level structures, like apartment buildings.

In contrast, gazebos are freestanding systems that typically have a closed roof. Generally, they are constructed of stone, timber, and iron. Gazebos are well placed in a large yard that could use a dry, shaded spot for seating. Some even come with built-in benches and tables.

Pergolas have a much simpler design and can be added onto the side of a porch or fixed structure. They are often only used to slightly cover an outdoor space—not close it in. Gazebos truly compartmentalize the space, almost creating a separate shed or sanctuary-like area in a part of the yard. 

cement patio black pergola
Paul Costello

Types of Pergolas

Pergolas can be constructed from various materials, including cedar, teak, aluminum, or even vinyl. Pergola styles vary with the homeowner’s space availability, budget, and design style. For the budget-conscious and handy, a pergola kit offers a DIY option that's both easy and rewarding. But first, you’ll need to decide which type of pergola is ideal for your home.

Wooden Pergolas

A wooden pergola is easy to alter to fit your needs. Timber and lumber are relatively affordable and easy to stain. While the colors might change over time, wooden pergolas are easy to repaint or refinish.

Vinyl Pergolas

Vinyl pergolas are more expensive than wooden pergolas, but they are not susceptible to bugs, mold, or wood rot. They last much longer when exposed to harsh outdoor elements. However, they can’t be painted, so if you change your color scheme, you’ll be stuck with the original color.

Aluminum Pergolas

This metal pergola is sturdy and sleek. Aluminum pergolas are often used as minimalist, modern carports. They're an affordable outdoor structure that looks like a high-end upgrade. The most high-tech aluminum pergolas have retractable shades on the roof, ideal for over a pool or outdoor furniture.

brick patio blue striped furniture white pergola
Gordon Beall

Pros of a Pergola

A pergola is ideal for an outdoor space that's used frequently. Whether over a porch, yard, or garden, pergolas help the outdoors feel more hospitable for long days outside. They are not meant to keep the elements away completely, but to visually designate and decorate pools, seating areas, or yard features. 

Pergolas are perfect for anyone who enjoys being outside but who can’t endure harsh overhead sunlight. They also offer privacy from any vertical neighbors. Some homeowners use outdoor curtains to add even more privacy.

Because they are stylish and affordable, pergolas are a no-brainer for anyone looking to create a serene space. 

Cons of a Pergola

Pergolas are a popular addition to yards and gardens, but they require upkeep. Because they are open on the sides and the top, they let in bugs, dust, and dirt. You’ll need to keep a broom and vacuum handy to make sure the surface underneath the pergola is clean.

Also, pergolas don't protect outdoor furniture. You'll need to bring in any items that might be ruined by too much sun, wind, or rain exposure. 

If you want full protection from the sun and rain, a pergola might not be right for you. Instead, try a shed, playhouse, or sunroom for more protection from the elements.

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