Planning a Pergola: The Complete Guide

A pergola could be just what your outdoor area needs to make it perfect.

It provides a little coverage for comfort, but it’s designed so you can freely enjoy the elements.

What could be more blissful? After all, having your own outdoor space can be such a luxury. It all depends on what you do with it!

Often we are attracted to a particular living space because of its outdoor areas, yet when we move in we underutilize them. Is this your situation?

If you feel that you’re not making the most of your garden or patio, a pergola could make a big difference.

So what does it actually do? A pergola helps to mark out an attractive designated area to sit and socialize in.

You can make it very aesthetically pleasing by adding plants and lights to the structure too.

Don’t worry if you find yourself confusing pergolas with other similar outdoor structures like pavilions and gazebos.

Here, you’ll learn all about the features that define a pergola, how they work, and the best way to install one so that it meets your needs.

When the warmer weather arrives, you’ll be glad you invested in your pergola! But before you make your garden plans, make sure you read this and understand exactly what it is as well as what it can do for you.

Which Wood is Best for Pergola?

Three of the most popular woods used in pergola construction are redwood, red cedar, and pressure-treated pine. The best wood to choose for your personal pergola really depends on your budget.

The most affordable option is pressure-treated pine, and this is appropriate because it’s resistant to rot and insects.

To ensure this wood lasts well, you should apply a preservative to it after your pergola is built.

One advantage to pressure-treated pine, besides its affordability, is that you can stain this wood with a variety of colors.

That means you can make it match your vision for your outdoor seating area.

If your budget extends to it, you might consider the pricier options: western red cedar and redwood.

These are very attractive, high-quality woods that are ideal for constructing a pergola because they’re weather and insect-resistant.

These woods are definitely more expensive and often more difficult to find; however, if you’re able to source either one and you’re happy to pay the price, it’s a great idea to invest in this durable, beautiful wood!

You’ll be able to tell these similar woods apart by their color: red cedar is a little more yellow (despite its name) and redwood verges closer to brown.

Think about which would look best in your outdoor space!

Can You Attach a Pergola to a Roof?

Some people choose to attach their pergola to the roof of their house. Why? Because they feel it’s more visually appealing to blend the two structures.

This is a possibility you may be interested in pursuing.

If so, the first step you should take is to check whether you need planning permission.

This likely depends on the size and position of your pergola.

If you want to attach it to the front of your house, facing the street, you may need authorization before you start constructing.

When choosing the position of a pergola that will be attached to your roof, think about how it will interact with the gutters and eaves of your house.

Don’t start drilling into your roof before you have a solid plan. If you’d rather leave your roof intact, consider mounting brackets as an option.

The downside of attaching your pergola is that the height of the construction is already determined by the height of your house.

There’s also the risk that it could block pre-existing windows and doors. That’s why it’s crucial to think your plans through carefully.

In this case, it may make more sense to hire professionals rather than attempt a DIY job.

After all, you’re making an addition to the structure of your house! It’s certainly possible to attach your pergola to the roof, but it’s a task that should be approached with caution.

What is a Pergola with a Roof Called?

A pergola doesn’t have a roof in the conventional sense of the word. What you’re thinking of is a pavilion. It’s understandable to confuse these structures; they’re both used for similar purposes.

However, it’s important that you know exactly what a pergola is and whether that’s what you really want before you start constructing it.

A pergola is not the same as a pavilion, and it’s not the same as an arbor or a gazebo either.

What defines a pergola is the fact that it’s a large structure with a grid or lattice-style top.

This “roof” doesn’t provide full coverage from the sun, and it certainly wouldn’t shield you from the rain!

To enjoy full coverage under your pergola, as though it were a pavilion or gazebo, you could always install a canopy.

You may wish to discuss the addition of this feature with your builder. Unlike a roof, a canopy could be put on and taken off at will.

This would give you the flexibility to enjoy your pergola whatever the weather.

When deciding the right outdoor structure for you, consider how close you want to get to the elements. You can spend time in the sunshine under a pergola, and the grid provides a little protective shade for increased comfort.

If it had a roof, as a pavilion does, this would naturally be a very different experience. It’s all a matter of preference!

What’s the Difference Between a Pavilion and a Pergola?

Now we’ve mentioned a pavilion, you may be wondering if this is a better option than a pergola after all!

A pavilion is a structure with a full roof, usually supported by at least 4 posts. The most common shape for a pavilion is rectangular.

When deciding between a pavilion and a pergola, the weather conditions in your part of the world might be an important factor.

In warmer climates, a pergola will provide some shade in the sun.

If you expect heavy rain or uncomfortably hot sunshine, the protection of a pavilion is likely to appeal thanks to its completely closed roof.

Because pavilions are usually larger than pergolas, they are often more expensive.

This may be something to consider if you’re working with a limited budget.

Both could technically be attached to the house, although attaching a pavilion would be a bigger and more complex job.

What pavilions and pergolas have in common is the way they are used.

They are both usually used to cover an outdoor dining or socializing space.

Whichever one you choose, there are some cute options available when it comes to decoration.

You can use lighting and plants to make your pavilion or pergola a unique and pleasant place to spend time.

Do Pergolas Really Block the Sun?

A pergola only has a latticed roof, meaning it doesn’t provide complete protection from the sun.

You should still apply your sunblock at regular intervals to stay safe! What it does do, however, is provide a more comfortable, shaded seating area.

Pergolas are meant to provide some relief from the heat of the sun while still allowing you to enjoy the best parts of being outside: fresh air and warm weather.

Your experience under a pergola will depend on the time of day: it will change as the position of the sun changes, interacting differently with the angle of the gridded “roof.”

There are some solutions you could implement to make your pergola more protective.

One potential idea is to install patio shades. Solar screen fabric can be hung from your pergola to reduce glare and UV exposure.

Otherwise, you should not depend on a pergola to protect you from the sun.

Which Direction Should a Pergola Face?

The rafters of your pergola should orient between the north and the south. Why? Because this will provide you with the best shade possible for the majority of the day.

As the sun travels, you’ll enjoy wide lines of shade thanks to the rafters. Of course, this won’t work when the sun is directly overhead.

In addition to the orientation, you should also consider how the placement of your pergola could affect the natural light within your home.

Make sure it won’t cast unwanted shade inside before you start building!


Now you’ll know for sure whether a pergola is what you need to make your outdoor space appealing.

Before you go, we have some final words of advice: make your plan carefully, design its structure to your needs, and hire the right people to make it a reality!

You’ll soon have a gorgeous pergola to enjoy with friends and family.

by Brian Moore

Brian is an enthusiastic and experienced gardener, which in time led him to the world of home improvement. He began by learning all about landscaping. Soon he wanted to maximize outdoor spaces in new, exciting ways; for example, by installing gazebos and fire pits. What began as a hobby soon became a side hustle, and eventually, it became his full-time job!