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How to Choose the Best Pergola

Friends enjoy a summer barbecue in the shade of a pergola. Spiderstock/Getty Images
  • Before purchasing a pergola, consider your yard space, your home's architectural style and the pergola's intended use.
  • The cost range for pergolas in 2020 is roughly $300 to $10,000 or more, depending on style and permanency of the structure.
  • You can build your own pergola, purchase a do-it-yourself kit or hire someone to build a custom pergola for you.
  • Today's pergolas come in a wide range of materials, colors and styles.

Pergolas have been around for centuries and are one of the oldest garden structures. (The word comes from the Latin pergula, and refers to "projecting eaves.") Historically crafted from wood, stone or brick, a pergola typically features four columns or pillars that support a roof formed from spaced, flat planks or slats. Its purpose is to provide protection from the sun in a backyard space or along a walkway. Sometimes pergolas are attached to homes or buildings. Pergolas extend your home's living space, are a decorative backyard element and can enhance your home's value.

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Determine Your Pergola's Purpose

Before you begin looking at pergolas, you need to determine what purpose you want it to serve. Will this be an intimate space for your family to dine? An outdoor entertainment zone for large gatherings? A simple structure to shade the plants lining your back walkway? Once you know how you plan to use your pergola, you can figure out the size, shape and materials most suitable for its construction.

Consider Construction Materials

Pergolas come in a wide variety of materials. The most traditional and common is wood, most often cedar or redwood. Wood is a natural material that provides a warm, rustic feel. The one drawback is that wood needs to be regularly maintained via staining or painting, then sealed against insects and the elements. Other materials, like aluminum, vinyl, steel, metal, fiberglass and cellular PVC, are also used to craft pergolas. All of these are lower maintenance than wood, typically requiring just a yearly cleaning. Concrete or precast stone pergolas have the longest life span and require the least maintenance. You can also create a pergola using a combination of these materials.

Ponder Your Pergola's Design

There are many design aspects to consider when looking at pergolas. First, do you want an attached or stand-alone pergola? Attached structures appear to be a seamless extension of your home, but may need special permits or result in extra taxes. Freestanding structures indicate an area with a specific purpose (e.g., cocktail bar or dining area) and may be subject to neighborhood requirements or permitting.

But the fun begins once you've decided upon an attached or freestanding pergola. Now you can consider creating everything from a traditional rectangular structure to a more architecturally intriguing piece with arches, curves, specific cooking and seating areas, climbing vines and more. The main thing to keep in mind is that you want your pergola to match your home and yard aesthetic. If you're living in a traditional saltbox home, for example, you probably don't want to select a sleek, contemporary, steel pergola. You also want to be mindful of size. If your home is on the small side, installing a gigantic pergola in the backyard will dwarf your home, not complement it.

Decide How Much Shade You Want

The traditional slats that form a pergola's roof provide more shade than you might think. Still, depending on your local climate and where you site your pergola, you may want or need more. Planting fast-growing vines over the roof will provide a traditional, organic feel to your pergola while affording more shade. But there are innumerable additional options. For instance if you add a roof (which is known as a cladded design pergola), you can add features like shade cloth, steel panels, drapes and sails, some of which may be remotely controlled for the ultimate convenience.

Fixed shade canopy pergola
This pergola has a fixed shade canopy.
Ziga Plahutar/Getty Images

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Consider Pergola Enhancements

Although pergolas are light, open-air structures, you can still trick them out with all sorts of extras. Some of the more popular include ceiling fans, TV or music speakers, heaters, power outlets and lights — floodlights, pendants, string lights, hanging lights and even chandeliers.

Check Out the Prices

You can nab a simple prefab pergola from Amazon, Home Depot or your local hardware store for as little as $300. A more standard price range in 2020 is $2,000 to $6,000, with large pergolas, custom-made units and those crafted from costly materials running $10,000 or more.

Inspired to get started on your pergola hunt? Here are some trusted pergola brands and styles to help you kick-start your search.

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