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large white pergola beside a bright blue pool

Pergolas: What They Are, Plus Ideas For Using Them In Your Yard

Jeannette Baum7-Minute Read
April 28, 2020

Everyone needs a retreat from daily life sometimes. Unfortunately, most of us can’t jet off to paradise every day after work. The next best option is to create a space to get away right outside your back door. A pergola might be just the home improvement addition you need to bring your at-home getaway to life.

What Is A Pergola?

A pergola is an open structure that typically consists of four main support beams with cross beams or a lattice design as the “roof.”

Pergolas are commonly mistaken for arbors, which have a lattice structure similar to the pergola. The main difference between the two is that the lattice design typically runs across the entire structure of an arbor, while pergolas only have the lattice up top. Another way to differentiate the two is by their overall shape. Arbors are typically arched while pergolas have a square or rectangular design.

Pergolas can also be confused with gazebos. While they’re quite close in design, gazebos have a solid roof while pergolas have open concept cross beams. Gazebos are also typically round or shaped like an octagon while the pergola is square or rectangular.

However different these structures may be, you’ll be happy to know any one of them will work for re-creating the gazebo scene in “The Sound of Music.” If you’re older than 16 going on 17, no worries. We won’t tell.

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Types Of Pergola Designs

The most common pergolas are built with thick wooden beams and feature a trellis on top, but there are plenty of ways to customize yours. Mark Cutler, listed by Robb Report as one of the top 40 interior designers in the U.S., suggests designing your pergola space to complement the preexisting design of your home. 

“You want to consider the style of your garden,” he says. “Pergolas can vary in style from quaint rustic cottage to slick modern versions, so try to find something that works off of the architecture of your home and garden. If you are building custom, maybe mimic some of the details of your home so that it is a seamless transition.”

Here are some options to consider:

Vinyl

back yard with stone patio, fire pit and white vinyl pergola

Vinyl pergolas are maintenance-free and come in a variety of colors to perfectly match your space. They don’t need to be stained or painted, and they won’t rust like metal pergolas would.

Wood

wood pergola with plants draped over

There’s no doubt about it. Wooden pergolas require more maintenance than vinyl pergolas. But if the rustic look is what you’re going for, wood is a great choice to bring a more natural feel to the space.

Open-Top

open top pergola with white linens draped over the top and swaying

Open-top pergolas are useful if you’d like to drape some cloth over the top to have a little more coverage from the sun without having a full-on roof.

Steel

steel pergola with beige cloth for shade

If you’re looking to stick to urban design, steel is the best choice of material for your pergola. While steel will eventually rust, this can add character to the structure and offer a more industrial feel to your space.

Sail

white and beige sail pergola over white tables

Attach cloth sails to your pergola to offer more shade to your seating area and protect from UV rays. You can opt for brightly colored sails to add a pop of color or create a certain ambiance, or you can choose muted neutrals and stick to a natural theme.

Gable or Pitch

gabled pergola in a back yard with lush green grass

Gabled or pitched pergolas are the same concept as a regular pergola with the addition of a pointed roof. These are great if you prefer higher ceilings in your outdoor structure.

Freestanding vs Attached

Freestanding

freestanding pergola poolside

Freestanding pergolas are separate from any other structure and stand alone.

Attached

pergola attached to back of house over porch

Attached pergolas partially rely on another structure like the side of a house for support. They’re similar to an awning with an open roof.

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Pergola Ideas For Your Yard

Odds are, you already have a vision for where exactly your pergola could go, but what will you do with it once it’s there? Incorporating your pergola into your yard could look completely different for each person depending on the type of space you’re looking to create. Here are a couple of ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Shaded Seating Area

shaded area with outdoor seating under a pergola

The most popular choice, and a solid one too. You can’t beat kicking your feet up and relaxing in a partially shaded back yard paradise.

Hot Tub

pergola providing shade to hot tub

Pergolas allow just enough shade to keep an area cool and out of direct sunlight. It’s for this reason that they pair well with hot tubs. If we’re being honest, any excuse to get a hot tub is valid.

Fire Pits

small pergola over fireplace / fire-pit on a porch outdooors

This is a great option for those who want to get use out of their pergola space in the evening and year-round. The whole family can cozy up around the fire pit or the outdoor fireplace in the colder months, share stories, and maybe even roast a marshmallow or two.

Built-In BBQ

BBQ and table under pergola in back yard

If you find yourself entertaining often in the summertime and you love to cook out, consider incorporating a barbeque grill along with seating into your pergola area. With the guests seated so close, the cook can continue to mingle without having to step away to tend to the food.

Workout Space

woman doing yoga underneath large pergola

A less common way to use a pergola is for outdoor home workouts. The partial shade breaks up the direct sunlight and the open concept leaves plenty of space for a breeze to come through, cooling you during your workout.

Rocking Bed Pergola

rocking bed attached to small pergola

Sleeping under the stars has never been more enticing. If you have a small yard and you’re looking for a unique piece to really help your space stand out, a rocking bed under your pergola could be just the thing.

Poolside Pergola

large white pergola sitting beside a pool

You can drape white linens over top for extra shade and place a couple of lounge chairs underneath for relaxed seating. With the linens blowing in the breeze and the sun peeking through, you’ll feel as if you’re beachfront in the French Riviera rather than poolside in your backyard. Glass of champagne optional.

Why Pergolas?

Pergolas are a great addition to any yard that has the room for one.

“I love Pergolas,” says Cutler. “They create a sense of an outdoor room ... Sitting in the garden is nice, but it can feel a bit exposed and undefined. A pergola will provide that transitional space that gives you the outdoor feel but also the sense of comfort of a room.”

Pergolas can be customized to meet the individual needs of your home, and have many benefits depending on how you use them.

Create A Space To Spend With Family And Friends Outdoors

As a natural gathering place, pergolas tend to bring people together. They keep your family and other house guests from cluttering in the living room or the kitchen while you’re cooking. Instead of having to shoo them out of the house with a dishrag, they’ll naturally be drawn outdoors to mingle.

Help With Privacy

Have some nosy neighbors? Pergolas offer added privacy with an open concept, so you don’t feel as if you’re stuck inside a tiny structure. You can add plants or shades for additional privacy to give you extra peace of mind.

Add Value To Your Home

Most buyers are naturally drawn to large outdoor structures like pergolas and gazebos. They add a “wow” factor to your yard and help people envision themselves spending time there. Buyers have even been known to offer sellers more money than what the house is being sold for so the seller will leave their pergola behind.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Pergola

Your Budget

Determine the amount of money you’re willing to put into your pergola project. This will determine things like what kind of material you’ll be using and whether you build a custom pergola or use a prefab kit.

Cristina Miguelez, a remodeling expert at Fixr.com prefers using pergola kits. “I’m a big fan of pergola kits. You design the whole thing from readymade options that suit your needs and space,” says Miguelez. “Pay attention to the area, what you want to use the pergola for, and what the style of your home is, then choose a kit and options that match those details.”

The cost of pergolas can range anywhere from $1,000 – $6,000 or more, so it’s important to start your project with an amount you’re willing to spend in mind.

Your Home’s Location And Climate

Based on where your home is situated, you’ll need to take sun patterns into consideration before placing your pergola. “Determine how much sun you want and that will help you with placement,” says Cutler. “Morning sun requires exposure to the east, afternoon to the west. Also, consider the seasons, a summer noon sun will be almost overhead, in the winter much lower in the sky.” The last thing you want is to sit under your pergola after a hard day of work and have the sun shining directly into your eyes, making it impossible to relax.

As far as climate goes, choose your materials wisely. Softer woods will weather much quicker in harsh winters than metal or even vinyl. The goal is the make the pergola last as long as possible. Be intentional when choosing materials for your pergola to save on maintenance in the long run.

Fixtures vs. Personal Property

A fixture is permanently attached to the house while personal property can be easily removed without damage or making changes to the house. How long do you plan on staying in this house? If it’s not long, the personal property option is best. This way, you have the option to take the pergola with you to your new home.

Pergola FAQs

Where Can I Buy A Pergola? You can buy a pergola at most home improvement stores. Walmart even has a low-cost pergola you can order online.

 

Will A Pergola Increase My Home’s Value? As mentioned before, pergolas do add value to your home. An estimate for your return on investment is about 50 – 80% of what you spent on the project. But if you’re adding a pergola to your property, don’t do it solely to add property value to your home – be sure to actually get some use out of it.

 

Can I Build A Pergola Myself? Building a pergola can be very simple or very difficult depending on which building plan you pick. However, most pergolas are simple structures that anyone with a basic knowledge of building large structures can tackle with ease. There are a variety of DIY pergola building blueprints and tutorials on sites like Pinterest and YouTube. The key is to know your skill set and know when it’s time to ask for help from a professional.

 

Will I Need A Permit To Build My Pergola? Most cities don’t require a building permit to build a pergola, especially smaller ones that aren’t attached to your house. Make sure to double-check with your local municipality, as these laws vary by location.

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Jeannette Baum

The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.