I get a lot of requests from people interested in adding a pergola to their landscape. They’re cool to begin with and they’ve been made all the more popular by HGTV, etc. over the years. Is a pergola right for you, though? Here are some pros and cons to consider.
THE PROS OF BUILDING A PERGOLA
First, so we’re on the same page, let’s talk terminology. A pergola is an overhead structure without a solid, fixed roof cover. Make sense? Good. Here are some pros:
- a pergola is generally less expensive than a roofed structure. You’d be amazed how much cost AND weight plywood and shingles add to a structure, and that structure needs to be beefy enough to withstand those loads. A pergola can be built a bit “lighter” because it’s carrying a lighter roof load. Because it’s an open-topped structure, it also doesn’t have to support a couple feet of snow. A roofed structure is also more subject to “uplift”, which is what it’s called when winds blow underneath and want to lift the roof like an umbrella.
- Your pergola is available in a wide range of material choices. There’s basic pressure treated wood, and then there’s cedar. There’s fiberglass. There’s aluminum. We can look at your budget and your maintenance requirements and pick something that will fit those.
- With systems like Shade FX, you can still get solid, retractable shade with your open-topped pergola.
- A pergola helps define an outdoor “room” and as such makes your yard way cooler than your lame-o neighbors.
THE CONS OF BUILDING A PERGOLA
- A pergola doesn’t provide the same practical cover as a pavilion or other roofed structure. You can overcome the shade issue by using a product like Shade FX as mentioned above, but you’re still going to get damp if it rains.
- There’s no ceiling in which to hide stuff. We’re wrapping up a pavilion that has recessed lights, ceiling fans, outlets, surround sound speakers, and home automation wiring hidden behind the ceiling and soffit panels. There’s nowhere to hide in a pergola (well, unless you do a fiberglass pergola and hide stuff in the hollow beams and rafters).
- There are kits out there, but buyer beware. Some are great quality and will last a long time. Others are a step above a $99 screened box from Target. Know what you’re getting, and know that nothing in life is free.
- A pergola won’t love you like a dog will. (sorry, pergolas are awesome. I ran out of cons)
Naturally I think your first stop when considering a pergola should be a landscape design firm. In fact, how about a landscape design firm serving McLean and the rest of Northern Virginia? But that’s one (great) option.
There are also the Amish-built outdoor stuff dealers you pass on the road. They have some nice products. The one issue I ran into is my clients wanted to use them for the pergola I designed. Because of the size of the span, they wanted to stick a post right in front of the fireplace. After some back and forth they agreed to explore engineered lumber. I get that the Amish are going to move at a different pace, but – six weeks to return a proposal that involved swapping out one beam? And in the end, my local carpenter was only $300 more (on a $12,000 project). So their kits = awesome, but outside the box = problem.
And of course there are lots of internet vendors. I’ve worked with some who are great, some who are ok, and one who was a horrible experience such that I hope every parking meter they use from now till eternity is defective and gets them lots of tickets. When considering one of these, ask for some local customers who have bought and installed their product.
So there you go! Pros and cons of building a pergola in Northern Virginia. If you’re ready to plunge ahead but you want your pergola to be more beautiful and more functional than anyone on your block has ever seen – call us for a consultation at 703-679-8550.
Can you give me advice on a proposal I have for a pergola, which will be built in Oklahoma.
Hi Belinda, you probably have wind and other requirements specific to where you are, so your best bet would be to consult with a local pro.