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pergola vs gazebo - what's the difference?

Pergola vs Gazebo: What's the Difference and How to Choose

If you're looking to add an outdoor structure to your backyard space, two great options to consider are a pergola or a gazebo. But what exactly is the difference between a pergola and a gazebo, and how do you determine which is better for your needs? This in-depth guide will walk through everything you need to know to decide whether an outdoor pergola or gazebo is the right choice for your home's exterior design.

Key takeaways

  • Pergolas have open, slatted roofs that allow dappled light through while gazebos have solid, enclosed roofs that provide full shade coverage.

  • Gazebos are freestanding structures while pergolas attach to an exterior home wall, deck, or patio.

  • Pergolas are simpler and cheaper to construct than more decoratively embellished gazebos.

  • Gazebos accommodate furniture better for dining and gatherings but pergolas nicely incorporate vines and plants.

outdoor living today cedar pergola - western red cedar with outdoor furniture

What is a Pergola?

A pergola is a garden structure that consists of vertical posts or pillars that support an open roof made of horizontal beams. The roof is usually an open horizontal lattice made of interlocking wood beams that allow plenty of light through.

Some key features of pergolas:

  • Pergolas have an open roof design that provides some shade but still allows sunlight to filter through. The roof is made of crisscrossing beams, often creating a grid-like pattern.

  • They are usually attached or anchored to an exterior wall of a home, deck, or patio.

  • Pergolas are more simplistic structures focused on providing a basic framework overhead.

  • They often incorporate vines or climbing plants that grow up and around the beams for added greenery and shade.

  • Pergolas can range from quite simple designs with four posts and a basic beam roof, to more complex structures with additional embellishments.

  • They provide a nice visual element and sense of enclosure to define an outdoor living space.

outdoor living today bayside gazebo with ramp surrounded by flowers

What is a Gazebo?

A gazebo is a freestanding, roofed structure that provides more complete shelter than a pergola. Gazebos have solid roofing and often have screened sides as well to provide protection from the elements.

Some key features of gazebos:

  • Gazebos have a solid, closed roof made of shingles, metal roofing, or other waterproof materials. This provides complete overhead shelter.

  • They are freestanding structures that do not attach to a home or other structure. Gazebos are self-supporting with 4-8 vertical posts supporting the roof.

  • Gazebos often have partially enclosed or screened sides. This adds more protection from sun, rain, and wind than a pergola.

  • They can be rectangular, circular, or octagonal in shape. Traditional gazebos often have a domed roof structure.

  • Gazebos are usually more decoratively embellished with moldings, turned posts, and ornamental details compared to basic pergolas.

  • They provide a sheltered space for outdoor dining, gatherings, or just enjoying the outdoors.

Pergola vs Gazebo: Key Differences

Now that we've defined what each structure is, let's directly compare pergolas vs gazebos and highlight the main differences:

  • Roof style: Pergolas have an open, slatted roof design that allows light through. Gazebos have a solid, closed roof that provides complete overhead shelter.

  • Attachment: Pergolas are almost always attached in some way to a home, deck, or other structure. Gazebos are standalone structures that are self-supporting.

  • Structure: Pergolas are more basic structures focused on the overhead framework. Gazebos have more elaborate architectural details and often include decorative embellishments.

  • Purpose: Pergolas help define an exterior space and add style. Gazebos create a sheltered space for outdoor living, dining, and gatherings.

  • Cost: Building a basic pergola with a simple roof and few embellishments is typically less expensive than building a decorative gazebo.

  • Sunlight/Shade: Pergolas allow in more sunlight given their slatted, open roof design. Gazebos provide near complete shade coverage.

Keep these key differences in mind when deciding whether a pergola or gazebo better suits your property's needs.

Primary Uses for Pergolas vs Gazebos

Knowing the main uses for each structure also helps compare gazebos vs pergolas:

Pergolas Main Uses

  • Define and embellish an outdoor living space
  • Provide partial sun protection and coverage
  • Support climbing vines and plants like grapes, wisteria, etc.
  • Add visual interest and style to a yard, deck, or patio
  • Often used to connect the home to an outdoor seating area

Gazebos Main Uses

  • Create a sheltered space for outdoor dining or seating areas
  • Provide almost complete weather and shade protection
  • House outdoor furniture, hot tubs, kitchen areas, etc.
  • Host gatherings, parties, or events
  • Offer a comfortable and decorative place to unwind outdoors

Pergola vs Gazebo: Choosing for Your Needs

When choosing between a pergola and a gazebo, consider:

  • How much sun coverage do you need? Pergolas allow more light.

  • Whether you'll use vines and climbing plants. Pergolas easily incorporates them.

  • If you want an attached structure or freestanding building. Pergolas usually attach.

  • The intended use of the space. Gazebos work better for furniture and dining.

  • Your budget. Pergolas are generally less expensive to build.

choosing between pergola or gazebo

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Pergola or Gazebo

Beyond the basic differences and uses, a few other factors play into choosing between these outdoor structures:

Architectural Style and Exterior Design

Does your home feature a defined architectural style, like Spanish mission style or Victorian? Do you want the outdoor addition to complement or stand out from your existing home design?

Pergolas range from basic to quite ornate, while gazebos typically have more elaborate decorative elements. Make sure the structure you choose fits the look and feel you want for your yard.

Intended Use of the Space

How do you plan to utilize the space under your pergola or gazebo? Having an outdoor kitchen or dining area may lend itself better to a gazebo than a pergola since gazebos provide more complete overhead shelter.

If you'll just be adding a sitting area, a pergola could work well. Use also plays into size, features, and other amenities to accommodate your needs.


In most cases, a basic wooden pergola will cost less to build than a gazebo since pergolas require less materials and labor. But there’s flexibility in cost for both structures.

Elaborate, ornamental pergolas can also run high in price. Simple gazebos made from gazebo kits can cost less than customized builds. Get quotes for your specific project.

For help determining realistic pergola costs and choosing budget-friendly design options, check out our informative buyer's guide for pergolas.

Sun and Shade Needs

Pergolas allow more sunlight through their open, slatted roofs. If you want just dappled sunlight or minimal coverage, a pergola may work well.

For cooler climates or situations where you need maximum shade coverage, a gazebo with a solid roof will provide more relief from the sun's heat and glare.

Location on the Property

Where you place a pergola vs gazebo on your property also helps determine which works better. Pergolas are often placed right up against the home. Since they have open sides, they integrate with the architecture.

Gazebos work well as standalone structures anywhere in the yard where you want a sheltered oasis. Consider placement when choosing between the two.

white pergola with outdoor furniture and wooden gazebo

Design and Material Differences

Pergolas and gazebos also differ in their design, materials, and construction.

Pergola Design and Materials

Pergolas have a simple, open timber roof structure with minimal embellishments. They are designed to be structurally sound but fairly basic in form.

  • Posts/pillars are often 6x6 inches or similar to large dimensional lumber. This provides the necessary support.

  • Beams are usually 2x6 inch lateral lumber spaced anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet apart depending on desired roof density.

  • Hardware includes beam hangers, post/beam connectors, and lag screws. Pergolas use minimal metal fittings.

  • For some pergolas add decorative post caps or simple brackets under roof junctions. The overall design is clean and straightforward though.

  • Common pergola materials are cedar, redwood, pine-treated lumber, or composite wood for rot/weather resistance. Let's compare which one is good for you:
Material Pros Cons
Cedar Naturally rot/weather resistant, attractive reddish color More expensive, and requires staining
Redwood Rot/insect resistant, straight, sturdy Higher cost needs sealing
Pressure-Treated Pine Inexpensive, readily available Requires more maintenance
Composite Durability, low maintenance Higher upfront cost

Gazebo Design and Materials

Gazebos have a more complex architecture with ornamental roof structures and decorative embellishments. They use heavier framing to support the closed roof.

  • Posts are oversized 6x6, 8x8, or double 4x4 inch posts to provide structural roof support.

  • The roof can be shingled, metal, or tiled with decorative molding details like cupolas or finials.

  • Siding includes vertical board and batten, logs, ornamental panels, screens, glass windows, etc.

  • Brackets, extensive molding, turned posts, and other decorative elements add visual interest.

  • Common wood choices are cedar and redwood, or low-maintenance vinyl, composite, or PVC for constructed gazebos. Check out the pros and cons of each one:

    Material Pros Cons
    Cedar Naturally durable, appealing look Requires frequent staining
    Redwood Resists rot, and insects; stable Higher cost, sealing needed
    Vinyl Low maintenance; a variety of styles Can fade over time, less authentic look
    PVC Durability, molded details Not as customizable, plastic appearance
    Composite Long-lasting, realistic wood look Higher upfront cost

Pergola vs Gazebo: Initial and Long-Term Costs

Another area where pergolas and gazebos differ is in their initial costs as well as long-term upkeep and maintenance.

Pergola Costs

Being simpler, open structures, pergolas typically cost less to build than gazebos. A basic wooden pergola can be constructed for $3,000 to $5,000. Elaborate cedar pergolas with extensive beams/framing run $8,000 to $15,000.

Ongoing costs include:

  • Periodic cleaning, resealing, or restaining wood every 2-3 years
  • Potential vine/plant trimming and upkeep if included
  • Beam or roof section replacement after 10-15 years as wood ages

Proper maintenance means a pergola can last 15-25 years or more.

Gazebo Costs

Built gazebos often run $8,000 to $20,000 depending on size, materials, and detailing. Pre-fabricated kits cost less, about $3,000 to $8,000.

Long-term gazebo costs include:

  • Annual cleaning and resealing/staining. More surface area than a pergola.
  • Periodic roof replacements, about every 10-15 years.
  • Repairing or replacing deteriorated building materials and features.
  • Patching screens or windows as needed.

With ongoing care, a gazebo typically lasts 15-30 years.

Here is the breakdown of the typical cost differences:

Structure Average Upfront Build Cost Long-Term Maintenance Lifespan
Basic Wood Pergola $3,000 - $5,000 Lower maintenance 15-25 years
Elaborate Cedar Pergola $8,000 - $15,000 Periodic upkeep 20-30 years
Built Gazebo $8,000 - $20,000 Higher maintenance 15-30 years
Gazebo Kit $3,000 - $8,000 Ongoing care needed 15-20 years
outdoor living today breeze pergola and outdoor living today bayside gazebo with screen kit


1. Are pergolas and gazebos cheaper than building a canopy for my outdoor space?

No, canopies are typically less expensive than both pergolas and gazebos. Based on their average costs, gazebos tend to be the most expensive, followed by pergolas and then canopies.

2. Do pergola kits cost less than building pergolas or gazebos from scratch?

Yes, pergola kits are often more cost-effective than building pergolas or gazebos from scratch. Kits provide pre-cut materials and instructions, saving you time and potentially reducing labor costs.

3. Will adding a pergola or a gazebo add value to my home?

Yes, adding a pergola or a gazebo can potentially add value to your home. These outdoor structures can enhance the aesthetic appeal and functionality of your property, attracting potential buyers or increasing the overall value of your home in the market.

4. Do gazebos include roof options?

Yes, gazebos often come with various roof options, such as open roofs, shingled roofs, or even retractable canopies. These options allow you to customize your gazebo based on your desired level of weather protection and aesthetic preferences.

5. How do pergolas and gazebos provide protection from the elements?

While pergolas and gazebos do not offer complete protection from the elements, they do provide some level of shelter from the sun and light rain. The open design of a pergola allows vines or retractable canopies to provide shade, while gazebos have solid roofs that give more coverage from the weather. Both can be useful outdoor structures to enhance your home's exterior spaces.

The Verdict: Should You Build a Pergola or Gazebo?

When choosing a pergola vs gazebo, consider your budget, design style, intended use, and sun coverage needs.

Both structures add beauty and valuable outdoor living space to a home. Pergolas offer versatile utility for defined exterior spaces. Gazebos provide maximum shelter and versatility for activities.

For open, attached elegance on a potentially lower budget, go with a pergola. If you want a freestanding backyard room for entertaining and maximum shelter, a gazebo is likely the better choice.

Whichever option you select, invest in quality materials and design expertise so you can enjoy your outdoor oasis for years to come. With proper construction and care, a pergola or gazebo can enhance your home's design and your family's outdoor experiences for decades.

Previous article Do Pergolas Provide Shade? Everything You Need To Know
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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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