Pergolas bring structure, shade, and an undeniable “cool factor,” transforming a mere yard into an outdoor living space. There are virtually limitless ways to customize a pergola, from size and material choice to furnishings and special features. Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or lounging with a book and a coffee, a pergola can transform your experience.

So much variety can be overwhelming if you’re in the early stages of dreaming about your own pergola. And there are less romantic details to consider too, such as building permits and installation depth. We wrote this guide to help you choose the right type of pergola for your space.

What is a pergola?

A pergola is an open-air, outdoor structure often found in gardens and backyards. Most pergolas have thick, sturdy posts at each corner and a slatted or latticed roof. Some people add curtains, curtains, or a wall on one side.

In simple terms, the purpose of a pergola is usually a mix of aesthetics and enjoyment. Pergolas can be incredibly beautiful and make for a spectacular feature in your yard or garden. 

Pergolas are also a great place to relax. You might kick back with a book, enjoy a drink, or host a dinner party under a pergola. Especially in warm weather climates, pergolas offer another spot to hang out without leaving home.

Most builders use wood for pergolas, but there are many materials to choose from. It’s not uncommon to see pergolas made of vinyl, fiberglass, PVC, aluminum, composite, or a mix of several materials. Some people prefer the aesthetics of one material over another. But cost and weather durability also play a role in making your selection.

What’s the difference between a pergola, a patio cover, and a screen room?

Pergolas, patio covers, and screen rooms serve similar functions. All three structures provide a comfortable place to enjoy the outdoors, usually with a little shade. And all three can be a practical, accessible choice for a residential home.

There are several key differences between these three structures.

First, a pergola is usually freestanding, whereas patio covers and screen rooms are extensions of the home. You can certainly choose to attach your pergola to your house, if you so desire. But you can place them virtually anywhere in your yard or on your property.

Second, a pergola is usually open on all sides. A screen room, as the name suggests, has screens on all sides, with a door to access the outdoors. A patio cover is usually open on three sides, with the house as the fourth side.

Third, you may or may not choose to outfit your pergola with electrical power. Screen rooms and patio covers are usually fairly easy to wire for electricity, since they’re attached to the home. Achieving this with a pergola may require a special project.

Fourth, a pergola rarely has a solid roof; most often it’s made of beams in a row or lattice pattern. Some people add roof covers, but generally, the structure is open. Patio covers and screen rooms can provide shade by extending the home’s roof.

The benefits of adding a pergola to your home

Pergolas can add tremendous value—literally. Installing a pergola can boost the resale value of your home. You can expect to recoup at least half your investment. 

This is especially true in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those early months really taught us the value of extra space, especially outdoors! And many prospective buyers look for outdoor space and backyard features when choosing a home. A pergola can really make your home stand out in the market.

There’s virtually no limit to the ways you can enjoy a pergola. It’s a great place to kick back and relax on your own or host guests. 

Pergolas are great for alfresco dining as a family or with a group of friends. If you have kids, especially teenagers, a pergola is a great place to host their buddies. You can give them their privacy and keep an eye on them at the same time.

Plus, a pergola can be good for you! Fresh air is great for everything from your eyesight to your mood. It’s much easier to cash in on those health benefits with an outdoor oasis in your backyard.

Learn more about the benefits of having a pergola > 

How much does a pergola cost?

It varies. Materials, special features, and size all affect that final price tag, as does professional installation vs. DIY. And of course, supply chain disruptions play a role, too. Lumber costs have fluctuated wildly over the past few years.

As a general rule of thumb, you can assume that most quality pergolas cost between $30 and $60 per square foot. So if you’re looking for a 10-foot by 10-foot pergola, the range will be $3000 to $6000. 

Of course, there are cheaper options. And you can certainly spend five figures on a pergola fit for a king. A professional can help you pick the right pergola for your budget.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to finance the pergola of your dreams. You can save up the cash, take out a home equity line of credit, apply for a loan, and more. Check out our five suggestions > 

If you’re really looking to pinch pennies, you can get something cheap online for under $1000 and build it yourself. But there are risks to consider.

Can I DIY a pergola?

Of course you can! You can also cut your own hair, clean your own house, and cook 100% of your own meals. We pay people to do many things we can do ourselves. But there’s a reason we hire hairstylists and go to restaurants: The pros do it better.

If you’re a pro at heavy-duty DIY, then you may be just fine building your own pergola. But you simply cannot rush the process. You need to consider:

  • Whether you need a permit to build a pergola on your property. This is especially true if you’re planning to add any electrical wiring.
  • Whether there are any utility lines running through your yard that you might hit while digging.
  • The right materials for your budget, your preferred aesthetics, and the weather in your area. The local climate and frost patterns also affect how deep you place your posts.
  • The right size and placement for your yard. You don’t want a crooked or odd-sized pergola.
  • The time and physical effort needed to install a pergola. It’s not like putting together an Ikea bookshelf. You need to dig holes, wield power tools, and lift heavy beams.
  • Whether you are comfortable using power tools safely.

 

Some people may not bat an eye at this list. For others, it’s simply too much. The risks of shoddy construction, hitting a sewer line, and injury are not insignificant. For many people, it’s best to leave pergola installation to the professionals.

Where to put your pergola?

For pergola placement, you may have many options. You could place it next to your pool or your wood-fired pizza oven. 

Hang curtains on the side facing the neighbors to get a little privacy. Place it near the house so it’s easier to carry dishes for dinner parties. You could place it deep in the backyard for privacy—or the best view. There are countless strategies to consider.

Set up lawn chairs in each spot you’re considering and spend a little time there. Or you might decide based on which feature, such as a hot tub or grill, you want to use while under the pergola.

Plus, a professional can help you tweak your decision by assessing the yard itself. If you have sloped areas or a high concentration of rocks, that might affect placement. Plus, you may simply have a small yard, with just one or two ideal locations.

Making your pergola special

There are dozens of creative ways to make your pergola uniquely yours. It all depends on what you want to use it for—and what makes you happy.

For example, if you have a green thumb, you can incorporate all sorts of plant life into your pergola. Train leafy vines to climb up and over the slats, or install hooks for hanging plants. You’ll get extra color—and extra shade. Want even more sun protection? Consider adding a roof cover or billowy curtains.

You can even add luxury features, like a flat-screen TV or elaborate lighting. Of course, you’ll need to protect those things from the elements. But a pergola can be a really special destination for family movie night. Plus, there are many lighting options, such as lanterns and rope lights, that are made for the outdoors.

Pairing your pergola with another amenity can make for a stellar experience. This might be a pool, a hot tub, a wood-fired oven, or an outdoor fireplace. The comfort of a nearby pergola may make your other amenities even more enjoyable.

More ideas to make your pergola special > 

Thinking about adding a pergola to your space? Got any questions for us? Let us know in the comments!