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Buyer Guide Pergola - Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Pergola

Buyer Guide Pergola - Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Pergola

An outdoor pergola is a versatile outdoor structure that can transform and enhance your family gathering space. With the right pergola, you can add visual appeal, extra shade and protection, and an inviting spot to relax in your yard.

But with so many different pergola types, sizes, and design options to consider, choosing the best pergola for your needs takes careful thought. This comprehensive pergola buying guide covers everything you need to know before investing in a new pergola for your home.

outdoor living today pergola with retractable canopy

Key Takeaways

  • Choose the right pergola material like wood, vinyl, metal, or fiberglass based on appearance, durability, and maintenance.

  • Consider the size, style, and features like roof, lighting, or curtains that suit your needs.

  • Decide between freestanding or attached pergola placement based on available space.

  • Account for sun exposure to pick open or solid roof slats for desired shade.

  • Opt to DIY a basic pergola kit or hire a professional for custom builds and installation.

How to Choose the Right Pergola for Your Space

Selecting the perfect pergola starts with determining the right size, location, and style for your home and yard. Keep these key factors in mind when deciding on a pergola.

1. Start by Selecting the Material

The material of the pergola dictates the overall appearance, durability, and maintenance needs. Common pergola materials include wood, vinyl, metal, and fiberglass.

Wood Pergolas

Wood is a traditional and versatile pergola material valued for its natural beauty. Cedar, redwood, and pressure-treated pine are frequently used for their weather resistance. Though wood pergolas need regular maintenance to keep them looking pristine, many homeowners appreciate the traditional charm of wood. To get the best look, research the best wood for pergolas.


  • Attractive natural grain and color
  • Can stain or paint to achieve the desired look
  • Versatile design options for custom pergolas
  • Relatively affordable material


  • Requires frequent staining, sealing, power washing
  • Can warp, split, or rot over time
  • Needs periodic repairs and replacement of damaged boards

Vinyl Pergolas

For low maintenance, vinyl is the most durable pergola material. Vinyl resists fading, rotting, splintering, and insect damage. Pergolas made of vinyl have a lifespan of up to 20 years with minimal upkeep required. The main drawbacks are limitations on size and design.


  • Little fading or discoloration
  • Won’t rot, splinter, or become damaged by termites
  • Resilient and durable for 20 years or more
  • Low maintenance and easy-to-clean


  • More limited size options, usually up to 12x12 feet
  • Fewer decorative details and custom designs
  • Can still get dirty and stained over time

Metal Pergolas

Aluminum, steel, and other metals create strong, sturdy pergolas able to span large distances. Metal pergolas are naturally rust and corrosion-resistant. Modern designs in metal have sleek lines and an attractive luster. The main downside is that metal can get very hot underneath direct sunlight.


  • Highly durable and structurally sound
  • Withstands all weather conditions
  • Low maintenance
  • Contemporary styles available


  • Can get extremely hot in full sun
  • Loud rain noise on the metal roof
  • Limited color options beyond natural metal finish

Fiberglass Pergolas

For natural wood-like beauty without the upkeep, fiberglass pergolas are constructed of composite resin mixed with wood fibers or chips. The material won’t crack, peel, rot, or splinter. Fiberglass pergolas mimic wood while withstanding all weather conditions.


  • Looks like painted wood but won’t peel or crack
  • Low maintenance
  • Resists moisture, rotting, and insect damage
  • Good thermal insulation properties


  • Still higher cost than pressure-treated wood
  • Limited size availability over 12 feet spans
  • Can fade over time from sun exposure

No matter which material you select, be sure to choose exterior-rated, weather-resistant materials designed to withstand outdoor exposure. Avoid indoor-only wood like pine.

2. Evaluate Your Budget

Pergola costs depend mainly on the:

  • Materials (wood is the most affordable, aluminum and steel are more expensive)
  • Overall size including the cross beams span
  • Type of roof (solid vs. open slatted)
  • Additional features like lighting or curtains
  • Professional installation if not assembled on your own

To give a general idea of estimated investment, here is a table outlining typical pergola cost ranges for various materials, sizes, and types:

Pergola Type Typical Cost Range
Basic wood DIY kit, 8x10 ft $800 - $2,000
Prefab vinyl, 10x12 ft $3,000 - $5,000
Cedarwood, 12x16 ft $5,000 - $8,000
High-end aluminum, 14x18 ft $10,000 - $15,000
Custom wood with upgrades, 20x20 ft $15,000 - $25,000

The exact cost of your pergola will vary based on specific factors as mentioned above, but this can give you a helpful reference point for budgeting purposes.

Get multiple quotes to compare pricing on the exact type of pergola you want. Be sure to consider how ongoing maintenance and repairs may add costs down the road as well. See our guide on how much a pergola costs for more detailed pergola pricing.

3. Consider the Pergola Styles

The architecture and design of your pergola impact its form and function. Consider what style best suits your home’s existing look and needs.

Modern Pergolas

Contemporary homes and backyards pair well with modern pergola designs. Look for clean lines, metal materials, and an open concept. Modern pergolas have an airy, minimalist quality and understated elegance.

Rustic or Craftsman Pergolas

Homes with a rustic, arts and crafts, or farmhouse harmonize beautifully with wood pergola designs. Opt for more solid wood construction over open slats. Rustic pergolas feel substantial and blend naturally into cottage gardens.

Pavilion-Style Pergolas

For a more substantial, enclosed feel, pavilion pergolas have a solid roof with rafters instead of open slats. They contain and define the space while offering full overhead shade.

Mediterranean or Spanish-style pergolas

Iron scrollwork turned wood spindles, and clay tile roofs evoke Mediterranean flair. Whitewashed wood and decorative arches also complement Spanish-style homes.

No matter your style choice, design an overall cohesive look. A classic pergola suits traditional homes, while only sleek modern designs should complement contemporary architecture. Let your pergola reflect and work with your home’s existing visual appeal for a cohesive look.

4. Decide the Size of Your Pergola

In addition to style, consider the proportions and footprint of your pergola. Measure your outdoor area carefully to determine the optimal size.

Small Pergolas

Perfect for pathway accents or smaller courtyards, compact pergolas range from 6x6 feet up to 8x12 feet. They cover intimate two to four-person seating areas.

Medium Pergolas

Great for average suburban yards, medium pergolas span 10x10 to 12x16 feet. This offers flexible space for outdoor dining, lounging, or entertaining.

Large Pergolas

Oversized pergolas measuring 16x16 feet up to 20x20 feet work well for expansive patios at large estates or luxury homes. They make a dramatic statement in bigger landscapes.

Custom Pergola Sizes

For unique spaces, nearly any dimension is possible. Just mind the proportions and be sure to scale the pergola size appropriately to your outdoor living area.

Measure carefully and account for all spatial restrictions like trees and pathways that may limit the pergola footprint. 

In addition to footprint, the height of a pergola is another important dimension to factor in:

Height Benefits
8 feet Allows standing, fits under roof eaves
10 feet Good for ceiling fans, substantial look
12+ feet Dramatic impact for large landscapes
Custom height Match existing structures, unique needs

Choosing the ideal height depends on ceiling clearance, intended use, and the overall look you want to achieve.

5. Determine Whether You Want a Freestanding or Attached Pergola

Freestanding or attached pergola? It depends upon your choice. Here's a quick overview for you to decide:


With posts anchored into the ground, freestanding pergolas can be situated in the ideal spot within your yard. They don’t rely on an existing structure for support and offer more flexibility in placement. You'll have open views and access on all sides rather than abutting a building.


Attached pergolas lean against the house or an exterior deck, fence, or garage. They require less anchoring and offer a more built-in look. Attached pergolas are often smaller since they only need to span back to the building wall rather than being entirely self-supporting.

Factor in your available space, sunlight needs, views, and visuals to decide between a freestanding or attached pergola for your property.

6. Take Sun Exposure and Shading Preferences into Account

Do pergolas provide shade? Yes, but they don't provide complete shade as gazebos do. So think about how much sun or shade you want your pergola to provide.

Areas that get full sun most of the day will benefit from a pergola with wider roof slats or louvers that block more direct sunlight. Cooler, shadier locations may only need a pergola with an open slatted roof to filter the sun while still allowing minimal light through.

Ideally, position a new pergola to maximize midday shade but allow morning or evening sun to filter through. Check the sun’s path over your yard throughout the seasons to find the optimal pergola placement. 

7. Look for Extra Features

Beyond the essential overhead structure, additional features can enhance your enjoyment of your pergola.

Retractable Roof Panels

To control sun exposure, solid polycarbonate roof panels can open to let light through or close to provide full shade as desired. Manual and electric retractable roof systems are available. This flexibility ensures you can always adjust the light levels.

Ceiling Fans

Since pergolas are not fully enclosed, the open flow of air can make them feel warmer on hot sunny days. Adding an outdoor ceiling fan helps circulate the breeze to keep you cooler in summer weather.

Drapes or Curtains

Fabric curtains in weather-resistant materials like Sunbrella can surround a pergola to create an enclosed feeling. Curtains soften and filter the sunlight while providing visual privacy and protection from wind or rain if fully drawn closed.

String Lights

To illuminate your pergola for evening enjoyment, add strands of outdoor string lights. Waterproof string lights can be woven through the pergola’s beams or crisscrossed overhead. Make sure you know how to hang lights on the pergola in a stylish way to make the most out of it.


If you live in a colder climate and want to extend the use of your pergola into fall and winter evenings, consider adding outdoor patio heaters. Propane or electric heaters allow for comfort on brisk nights.

Sound System

Set the mood with background music by installing 2-4 small outdoor speakers connected to an indoor stereo. A sound system enhances the ambiance for entertaining.

Outfit your pergola with any special touches that match your personal style, needs, and budget.

8. Decide on Pergola Installation

Once you’ve selected the ideal pergola design and features, it’s time for installation. You can either do it yourself or hire a professional depending on the scope and complexity of the project.

DIY Pergola Installation

For basic vinyl or wood pergola kits without too many fancy add-ons, ambitious DIYers can likely handle the installation themselves. Be sure to:

  • Study all instruction manuals and assembly diagrams thoroughly before beginning
  • Check local permit requirements for structures over a certain size
  • Have all necessary tools like post-hole diggers, drills, ladders, levels, etc.
  • Know how to properly anchor footings and posts
  • Work with a helper for lifting, leveling, and securing the pieces

With good skills and proper preparations, installing a standard pergola kit is very doable. But know your limits, as complicated builds or poured footings may require hiring a professional. If installing on concrete or pavers, read up on how to anchor the pergola to concrete.

Hiring Pergola Installation Help

For custom builds, houses where a pergola must be attached securely, or for peace of mind with the biggest investment in protecting your new structure, consider hiring a professional.

Experienced contractors will:

  • Obtain any needed permits
  • Have the specialized equipment to excavate and pour concrete footings
  • Use architectural plans and engineering for load-bearing
  • Have access to crane equipment for lifting heavy components
  • Know how to integrate the pergola into the house’s existing structure
  • Provide a warrantied, insured finished product meeting code

Although hiring out installation costs more upfront, you benefit from proper structural engineering and the warranty protecting against any construction issues down the road. Leaving it to the professionals ensures your pergola investment holds up for decades of enjoyment.

outdoor living today pergola with string lights and outdoor dining set

Maintenance Tips to Increase the Life of Your Pergola

A well-built pergola provides many years of service. Follow these maintenance tips to keep your pergola looking its best.

Power wash and Clean Regularly

At least twice per year, thoroughly power wash your pergola to remove dirt, bird droppings, pollen, and other debris. A clean pergola extends the life of the wood. Avoid pressure washing vinyl pergolas which can damage the material.

Check for Damage

Look over all pergola beams, posts, bolts, and roofing hardware at least annually. Replace any warped, cracked, or damaged pieces right away to maintain structural integrity.

Seal and Finish Pergolas

Unfinished cedar and pine pergola wood needs regular sealing, staining, or painting every 1-2 years to protect against weathering and prevent rotting, splitting, cracking, and warping. Consistent finishes prolong the life of wood pergolas. But make sure you learn how to stain a pergola to do it effectively.

Tighten Hardware

Vibration and wind can gradually loosen nuts on bolts over the years. Annually inspect and tighten any loose bolts securing posts, brackets, and beams to keep the pergola stable.

Clean Roofing Panels

For pergolas with polycarbonate roof panels, gently wash both sides at least twice per year with a mild detergent solution. Avoid using abrasives or harsh cleaners.

Performing routine pergola maintenance keeps the structure looking and performing its best for many years while protecting your investment.

pergola vs gazebo - differences

Key Differences Between Pergolas and Other Outdoor Structures

It’s useful to distinguish pergolas from other similar outdoor living structures when planning your perfect backyard retreat.

Pergolas vs Gazebos

While gazebos and pergolas both provide outdoor space to relax beneath, key differences include:

  • Enclosed vs. open - Gazebos have solid walls and are fully enclosed while pergolas are open without walls on all sides

  • Sitting vs. standing height - Pergolas are open structures designed for sitting furniture like dining sets while gazebos are tall enough for standing

  • Portable vs. permanent - Many gazebos are portable freestanding structures while pergolas are permanent additions anchored into the ground or home

  • Fully covered vs. slatted roof - Gazebo roofs are solid and fully covered while most pergolas have open slatted roofs that filter sunlight through

See the article Pergola vs Gazebo for an in-depth comparison.

Pergolas vs. Patio Covers

Both patio covers and pergolas furnish extra outdoor living space, but patio covers have distinct characteristics:

  • Lean-to style - Many patio covers are lean-to structures attached to the house wall while pergolas are often freestanding

  • Smaller Span - Since they abut the home, patio covers usually only span 8-12 feet out while freestanding pergolas can span much further

  • Fully covered roof - Patio covers have a solid waterproof roof while pergolas have open slatted roofs to let filtered sun through

Pergolas vs. Arbors or Trellises

Arbors and trellises are smaller garden structures similar to but distinct from pergolas:

  • Size and height - Arbors are shorter, smaller structures around 6-8 feet tall while pergolas are full height around 8-12 feet high

  • Structural span - Arbors span shorter distances of 4-6 feet while pergolas span greater distances between posts of 8 feet or wider

  • Purpose - Arbors mainly serve as accents along pathways and feature climbing vines. Pergolas provide overhead shelter for seating areas.

  • Openness - Arbors have a more open lattice design optimized for vine growth while pergolas have sturdier overhead-beamed structures for shade.

See our article on pergola vs trellis for more comparisons between these outdoor structures.

Outdoor Living Today Pergola with Retractable Canopy and outdoor furniture on a deck


Choosing a pergola involves considering several factors. Start by identifying the purpose of the pergola in your outdoor living space, as pergolas offer shade, structure for climbing plants, or a focal point in the garden. The style of your home is also an important factor since the chosen pergola should complement the style of your house.

Also, consider whether you want a wood pergola that gives a natural touch or a metal pergola like steel or aluminum pergola which are more modern and durable. Also, consider the size of the pergola, catering for a small pergola for cozy areas or larger sizes for wider spaces.

Adding a pergola not only beautifies your exterior but creates the perfect spot for outdoor dining, entertaining, relaxing, or just soaking up some shade. With proper planning and care, your pergola can serve as a treasured backyard focal point for years on end.


How does adding a pergola improve my outdoor living space?

Adding a pergola to your home can greatly improve your outdoor living space. It can create a defined area in your garden, provide a shaded spot for relaxation or dining, serve as a structure for climbing plants, and even increase the value of your home. Furthermore, a pergola can enhance the visual appeal of your home, making your outdoor space more inviting.

What is a pergola kit and would it be a good option for a DIY project?

A pergola kit is a ready-to-assemble pergola that contains all the necessary materials and instructions to build the pergola. With the right tools and a little handyman skills, a pergola kit could be a great DIY project. However, remember that the size and complexity of the pergola kit should be within your abilities.

Are all pergolas attached or can they also be free-standing?

Not all pergolas are attached. Some pergolas are attached to the house while others are standalone structures in the garden. The choice between an attached or free-standing pergola will depend on the design of your home and how you plan to utilize the pergola.

Are there different pergola designs suitable for a patio?

Yes, there are plenty of pergolas for a patio. Rectangular pergolas are quite common for patios as they can easily be adjusted to the specific size of the patio. Contemporary pergolas are also a good choice for patio spaces, providing a modern and stylish look.

What is a pergola roof and do all pergolas need one?

A pergola roof is the cover on the top of the structure. All pergolas do not necessarily need a roof, it largely depends on what you plan to use the pergola for. If you want to use the pergola for shading purposes, then a pergola roof will be required. But if you are looking to use the pergola for climbing plants or as a decorative garden feature, a pergola without a roof is a great option.

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About The Author

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

His main focus is on sheds and generators!

In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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