Pergolas and gazebos are two attractive garden or backyard structural features that can bring charm and practical comfort to your outside living space. In this RenoCompare comparison post you’ll learn exactly what these two structures are and how they differ from other garden features like pavilions, cabanas and pagodas. You’ll learn about the best materials for each, how they are constructed and how much they cost of average. We’ll also take a look at the different style options available, which is better for your local climate and we answer some of your frequently asked questions.
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WHAT IS A PERGOLA?
Pergolas are outdoor structures that offer shade and protection from sunlight and precipitation to make a more enjoyable space. They usually have parallel columns supporting an open roof of girders and cross rafters, sometimes with a canvas covering you can pull back to allow more sunlight or moonlight. Climbing vines can also provide eventual shade. Pergolas are often used as garden accessories. Here’s the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition.
Further Reading: Pergola Vs Arbor
WHAT IS A GAZEBO?
Many people confuse gazebos with pergolas. Functionality defines gazebos as they come in many shapes and sizes. Gazebos have permanent roofs, unlike pergolas, which have retractable or removable ones. These usually freestanding structures are often considered backyard destinations as a place to relax. Some designs are attached to a house and are open on only three sides. Here’s the Cambridge Dictionary definition.
ARE THEY THE SAME AS A PAVILION, CABANA, OR PAGODA?
In a word, no. Each has slightly different looks and functions. Cabanas are similar to gazebos in that they offer protection from the rain. The main difference between a gazebo vs cabana is that the latter has three walls and is only open on one side. Traditionally, they are modeled after tropical huts. They are also much smaller than pergolas and are more about quick function than lengthy relaxation.
The difference is clearer when considering a pergola or a gazebo vs pavilion. Pavilions come in all shapes and sizes. They’re versatile structures that can stand alone or be attached to the main building in a complex. If you’ve ever been to a wedding and sat underneath a long, rectangular structure with pillars, open sides, and a pitched roof, you’ve been inside a pavilion. These structures are:
- Have no permanent sidewalls
- Large enough to accommodate many people
Pagodas are tiered structures with multiple eaves commonly found in Asian countries. Traditionally, pagodas are Buddhist structures that usually have religious significance. In garden landscaping, they are generally small and ornate with a gazebo-like structure.
Pergolas are simple structures that require four grounded posts, horizontal bars at the top, and non-load-bearing slats for shade and support. The four posts will be the largest pieces and should be set four feet into the ground or secured with stone or cement.
You can build pergolas with an extensive variety of materials. They include:
- Wood – Usually cedar, represents the most inexpensive material
- Vinyl – Low-maintenance and durable
- Aluminum – Low-maintenance, ideal for structures with simple shapes and clean lines
- Steel – More sturdy than aluminum, also suitable for a contemporary look
- Fiberglass – Low-maintenance, long-lasting, can be painted in many colors
- Concrete – Provides a classic look, easy to clean, and long-lasting
Permanent gazebos require a strong foundation like concrete or brick to stay put. The base will support your freestanding, open-sided structure to ensure the open walls will hold. Most gazebos are made of wood or vinyl. The latter offers easier maintenance, needing only occasional cleaning.
Wood gazebos require periodic maintenance to ensure that insects don’t bore into or eat the wood. Time and weather will also rot the wood, so choose pressure-treated white pine, weather-resistant redwood, cedar, or even engineered wood or composites. Aluminum and vinyl are also choices.
When deciding on whether to construct a pergola vs gazebo, both are relatively easy DIY projects, so if you’re handy, you don’t need to hire a professional landscaping contractor. If you don’t have the skills to design and build your own from scratch and don’t mind seeing the same design for a pergola or gazebo that may also sit in someone else’s yard, buy a prefabricated pergola or gazebo kit. Prefabricated kits include all the pieces cut to the correct size. All you need to do is read the instructions and put them together.
You’ll need an entire weekend to do the job for either and an extra set or two of helping hands. They’re faster and easier than building from scratch and come in many materials and styles. You can still add your own touches, like outdoor curtains or removable fabric for privacy for either building type.
Remember that a portable pergola or gazebo can be placed anywhere, but if you want your structure to be permanent, give it a solid foundation or anchor it firmly to the ground.
The cost to construct a pergola ranges from $700 on the low side for a DIY project to as much as $12,000 for a custom one with lots of extras like smart technology and anything else you desire.
Most pergola kits cost between $1,000 and $5,000.
The most budget-friendly options are aluminum, vinyl, and untreated wood at $10 to $30 per square foot. Add $20 to $60 per hour for labor if you require professional installation.
If you are leaning toward building a gazebo vs pergola, your budget may come into play as the average gazebo costs more at approximately $6,000. The average cost range is between $3,000 and $9,500, but if you want a fancy one, you could spend as much as $27,000 for a custom design and build.
As with pergolas, gazebos are available as prefabricated kits, with prices starting at around $1,500. Brick gazebos are the least expensive to build, followed by wood. Metal falls in the mid-range, while vinyl is the most costly material.
Even if you decide to go with a pergola kit, you can easily customize these structures to fit the architecture of your backyard. The most common styles of pergolas are:
- Freestanding – Creates a living space away from your house
- Attached – Ideal for covering a patio or deck adjacent to your house
- Arched – Gives your space a more elegant and romantic appearance
- Louvered – Adjustable louvers replace rafters
- Awning – Mounts directly to a wall to cover a door, window, or a garage
Styles for gazebos are virtually endless, ranging from a traditional Victorian look to modern and contemporary styles, along with rustic and country looks. Traditional design, with lattice work on the sides and a shingled roof, is popular, as are brick accents. Perhaps the most popular accent is a dome-like structure called a cupola on the gazebo roof.
For those living in a sunny, temperate area, a pergola with a slatted roof may be perfect for a patio or terrace. You can always place a protective barrier on top to protect you from excessive heat or wind.
However, if you live in an area with extreme weather, you may want to install a closed-top gazebo along with side barriers to increase your usage in iffy weather.
Use engineered or sealed wood when building either structure, as untreated wood will rot quickly in areas with wide temperature swings.
Do you need HOA approval for a pergola or gazebo?
Yes. Most HOAs have strict rules about improvements to your property. The HOAs board of directors will need to review your plans to approve them, or they may recommend modifications before construction. Review your HOA rules before you proceed, as some prohibit these structures
Do you need permits?
Whenever you construct a separate structure on your property, most cities and towns require a construction permit before you can begin building a pergola or a gazebo.
Can you put a fire pit under a gazebo or a pergola?
You can include a fire pit in your gazebo or pergola because these structures are not enclosed buildings. Make sure when you use a fire pit that you have sufficient ventilation by raising any curtains or temporary walls to let in adequate air.
How do you anchor pergolas or gazebos to your patio?
You can anchor a gazebo to your patio in several different ways. The easiest involves using specially manufactured gazebo weights. Concrete or brick pavers are another option. For something more permanent, use a drill to create holes in the bottom of the gazebo and pour concrete into it. When it sets, it’s anchored.