What Is a Pergola: Pergolas 101

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    Summer is when we get to enjoy ourselves—either by connecting with loved ones or just taking that much-needed breather. Imagine sipping an iced lemonade and relaxing under your pergola. Oh, what is a pergola, you might be asking?

    A pergola is an outdoor garden structure secured by four or more columns and is topped with crossing beams or lattices; it is often used as a rectangular space to place outdoor furniture, serves as an extension of your living area, and is often used as a sitting or waiting area.

    Perhaps, you’ve always wanted a pergola or just heard about the term in passing. Either way, we’re here to help you understand the ins and outs of this classic backyard table. Dive in to learn about pergolas, the various types of pergolas, and the best approach to having your very own.

    What Is a Pergola?

    As mentioned before, a pergola is an outdoor garden structure. In terms of structural composition, a typical pergola has these features:

    • Four simply designed pillars
    • Spacious openings
    • A rectangular shape
    • Topped with a latticework of wood, beams, rafters, or stringers

    If you aren’t exactly sure what latticework is, think of that woven top on delicious apple pie. Most pergolas will have that crisscross design on top acting as a “roof.”

    Additionally, whether it’s a building kit or buying directly, a pergola will often be made from one of these materials:

    • Wood (the most popular)
    • Vinyl
    • Aluminum
    • Fiberglass

    The material changes the durability of the pergola and the way it fits into your garden or landscape. (Still wondering what can I cover my pergola with? Check out that article for more information on the topic!)

    What Does Pergola Mean?

    The popularization of pergolas dates back to the late medieval 1600s. That being said, the first instance of pergolas being around was more than 3,000 years ago. Like any other word with a long history, the true meaning of pergola becomes fuzzier. What does “pergola” mean exactly?

    Pergola is derived from the Latin term “pergula”—meaning something along the lines of “projecting eaves.” For anyone unfamiliar, eaves are the extra portions on roofs that extend past the wall and create that overhang look. While pergolas don’t have exact eaves, the beams that protrude past the pillars create a similar overhang effect.

    What Is the Point of Having a Pergola?

    While aesthetics is a compelling reason to get your hands on a pergola—there is a deeper “point” in having one. The point of having a pergola is to create a hospitable and elegant outdoor spot that can provide shading opportunities and enjoyment:

    • Hospitality and Elegance – Whether it’s a barbeque, outdoor themed birthday party, or just a casual brunch with family, people are drawn to pergolas. Once decorated and furnished, you’ll be able to impress and lounge with ease.
    • Shading Opportunities – With latticework, shading is not going to be perfect. Pergolas are designed to provide some relief from harsh sunlight, but you can accessorize to make it more convenient. Equip retractable canopies, fabrics, or even plants to block various amounts of sunlight.
    • Prime Nature Enjoyment – Enjoying nature can sometimes be a nuisance. Sunburnt skin and mosquitos can really take all the fun out of a summer day. Pergolas can help with these problems. Easily customize your pergola with an insect screen and a retractable canopy—and you’re all set!
    • Aesthetics – Of course, even the most standard pergolas add elegance and timeless beauty to your gardens. While the lack of complete shading might be considered a weakness, it’s a strength as well. The brilliant contrast between sunlight and shadow makes pergolas unique.
    • Increasing Home Value – Interesting enough, pergolas or any other outdoor lounge space can increase your home value. As more people want to break away from office jobs and being stuck inside all day, outdoor accessible structures like pergolas are more popular now than ever.

    There are so many good reasons to build a pergola or even a deck and patio in the River City!

    What Do You Call a Pergola with a Roof?

    While a pergola has an open roof that allows you to see the intricate lattice pattern, that might not fit your needs. A pergola with a solid roof is called a pavilion. Similar to a pergola, a pavilion is held up by pillars and typically rectangular in shape. Unlike a pergola, the pavilion’s top is secured with a solid roof similar to that of a traditional house.

    Pergolas vs. Pavilions

    Pergolas and pavilions are quite similar in design—except for the roofing—but you should take time to consider which one you might want:

    • If you want to impress your guests or just create an aesthetic garden, the pergola design is often noted to be charming and adds hints of romanticism.
    • If you are more interested in a functional space without spending on accessories, a pavilion can protect you from many of the earth’s elements.

    Even though pergolas and pavilions excel at their individual categories, it’s important to note that pergolas are still functional, and pavilions are still aesthetically pleasing as-is. But, if there are any weaknesses, you can cover that with easy and minimal accessories.

    Do You Need Planning Permission for a Pergola with a Roof?

    As mentioned, a pergola with a roof is technically called a pavilion. When deciding to build a pavilion, there’s, unfortunately, no straightforward answer when it comes to planning permission.

    The general rule of thumb is that you do not need planning permissions, granted that the garden structure adheres to building regulations and permitted development guidelines.

    When considering if you need explicit planning permissions, you’ll typically want to take note of the maximum height, total area, location, and pavilion use. If you exceed any of these areas, then you are likely going to need formal planning permission.

    Maximum Height

    Here are the height restrictions to consider for your pergola:

    • The maximum height of your pavilion will be 3 meters, including the roof.
    • The eaves must be 2.5 meters above the ground.
    • If the building is less than 2 meters away from the house, the pavilion can only be 2.5 meters (including the roof).

    Total Area

    The total area of the pavilion must be less than 50% of the land around the house. The amount of land you can use for the pavilion takes into account the original house and all its extensions or outbuildings throughout the decades.


    Your pavilion can not be built at the front of your house or near any streets or roads. Even on the side of the house, you will need special permission that allows you to do so. Only the back of your home can be used to build a pavilion without special permission. Of course, this would mean you adhere to all the other guidelines as well.

    Pavilion Use

    While most uses for your pavilion are perfectly acceptable (e.g., storing, gardening, lounging), there are certain rules to consider:

    • You’ll need to consider it an extension of your house only; that means using the pavilion as a private residence and not creating excessive noise or smells.
    • It cannot be renovated as a guesthouse or self-contained living accommodation. If it ends up becoming one of these, taxable planning permissions will need to be applied.

    While you can build over these limits, that only becomes possible if you ask for planning permission and are ultimately approved.

    Remember, these are general guidelines. Consult with your landlord or development officials to be certain and avoid unnecessary problems in the future. There may be other factors that are relevant to your local region that we may not have discussed.

    Is It Cheaper to Build or Buy a Pergola?

    Generally, building a pergola from scratch is more cost-efficient than buying a pergola kit or working directly with a contractor:

    • Building from scratch would mean that all equipment and raw material are gathered by you before you can start building.
    • When purchasing a pergola kit, you will have precut, notched, or drilled pieces of material necessary for your project. A kit does not come with equipment.
    • Working with a contractor means that they will work to construct your pergola independently. You may supply a kit or material to them, which may help cut costs.

    In terms of pricing, here’s the average cost of a 10×10 pergola. Note that the costs vary due to material variance.

    MethodAverage Cost
    Building from scratch$200 – $400
    Pergola kit$1,500 – $3,000+
    Working with professionals$5,000+

    Regardless of material, it is common that building from scratch remains the least expensive and buying from a contractor is the most expensive. After all, more than the material, you’re paying for their expertise and labor.

    In certain instances, a pergola kit may be more expensive. When this is the case, we encourage that you consult a professional and see if they can create a similar design.

    (For more backyard ideas on a budget, check out that awesome article!

    Other Factors to Consider When Buying or Building a Pergola

    More than just cost, there are other factors that you should consider. This can help you avoid starting something that you can’t handle before it’s too late.

    • Time – When you decide to build a pergola from scratch, you save money but will end up sacrificing your precious time. Building from scratch will take the longest amount of time depending on your expertise—ranging from 3 days to longer than a week. A kit will take you 2 or 3 days. Working with a contractor will also take 2 to 3 days, but your personal time investment is none.
    • Quality – If you are looking for high-quality cuts and ultimately a better pergola, you may want to consider a kit or professional contractor. While we don’t personally know your expertise and handiwork skills, the general person will get better results if they get assistance through professional services or kits.
    • Stress – Having to face potential failures or squeezing in building time to a busy schedule can be hectic and stressful. If you don’t think you would be a good fit for such a building project, you should consider working with a professional. Even a kit can alleviate much of the potential stress caused by building from scratch.


    A pergola is more than just an outside garden piece. It adds a layer of sophistication and elegance to your garden—yet it is fully functional. With summer coming up, this is the perfect time to get yourself a pergola!

    Whether you build from scratch, buy a kit, or work with a professional, you’ll be more excited than ever to be spending time outdoors. Just imagine the barbeques, birthday parties, and casual brunches minutes away from happening.

    If you’re thinking of building a Pergola from scratch and create a hospitable or an elegant outdoor spot for enjoyment. Contact All Pro Decks to Get A Free Estimate!

    Justin Wylie

    Justin Wylie, owner of All Pro Decks & Patios is a Deckorators® Certified Pro Elite located in the San Antonio Hill Country area. He specializes in building decks, patios, patio covers, pergolas, concrete slabs, fireplaces and more while providing quality and service for his customers.

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