A pergola is a fantastic addition to any outside space. But what if you want a permanent roof on top to keep the elements at bay? Is this even possible, and what are your options if it can be done?
Subject to the necessary planning permits, which may be required in your state, a pergola can indeed have a roof. These are relatively easy to put on, and you can choose between fabric or fixed panels, awnings, canopies and louvered designs to cover your pergola.
Let’s dive down into this subject in greater detail, and look at why pergolas don’t have a roof in the first place – and consider your options for adding one on if you can obtain any prerequisite planning permits.
Why Do Pergolas Have No Roof? (And Can They?)
The typical pergola design doesn’t include a roof. The classic pergola is an open structure, with pillars supporting a roof made up from cross beams. There may be trelliswork for plants to climb. Pergolas can be freestanding or attached to a house wall, and can be used as seating areas or walkways.
Traditionally, your pergola would be roofed by a canopy of vines, creating an attractive, dappled shade. If you have the climate and the patience, this is a lovely way to enclose the space. However, you don’t have to be purist about your pergola, and if it suits you to have a more solid roof, go ahead and build one.
Provided the structure can support a roof, you can add different sorts of cover to your existing pergola, or build one into the design from scratch. The advantages of a roof include better shade, some shelter from the rain, and you don’t have to wait for the vines to grow.
What is a Pergola With a Roof Called?
Technically, a pergola with a fixed roof is called a pavilion. However, this term suggests something larger and grander than a typical yard-size pergola. Like a pergola, a pavilion has no walls and is supported by pillars or posts.
If your pergola has a fixed roof and is round, hexagonal or octagonal in shape, it’s a gazebo. These are pretty much always freestanding structures, unlike pergolas, which can be attached to houses or used to cover walkways and paths.
However, we’re not purists about pergolas at Take A Yard, and we’re perfectly happy to call them “pergolas with roofs”. After all, the original pergolas date from Roman times, so it’s fine that the design has moved on!
Do You Need Planning Permission For a Pergola With a Roof?
Do you need a permit to put up your pergola? The purpose of a permit is mostly to ensure the safety of the construction, as well as making sure that the structure doesn’t affect the neighbors. Here’s a bit more about the general building permit system to give you an idea.
Generally speaking, a small freestanding pergola that’s located in a backyard won’t cause any problems. But – the roof changes everything. Because the addition of a roof means it’s not technically a pergola, you’ll need to get a permit.
Now, permit regulations differ from state to state and even city to city, so never assume that your design will be OK because you’ve read something on the internet. Speak to your local planning authority to find out what types of structure are permitted in your area. For example, some states prefer pergola kits to bespoke ones, as they
A permit will cost you, and in some cases can cost over $1,000, so do your research first. It can be the case that some types of roof aren’t classed as roofs from the planning perspective, so check this with your local authority.
We’re going to take a closer look at some attractive ideas for pergola roofs – but run your ideas past the local authority before you go ahead and build a new pergola or retro-fit a roof.
4 Pergola Roof Ideas
If you want to roof your pergola, there are several different materials you can use. The one you choose depends on your budget, the local climate, your local planning regulations and your choice of aesthetic. There are fixed structures that will permanently roof your pergola, or you can go for a versatile retractable option.
If you already have a pergola in place, this is one of the easiest ways to create a shelter in your yard. You can stretch fabric across the rafters, which will provide more solid shade than plants do, but without weighing down the structure.
You’ll need to choose an outdoor fabric like a waterproof canvas. If you want it to last, look for a fabric that’s been treated for UV resistance so it doesn’t fade. You can also get fabrics that are resistant to mold and mildew.
There’s a great choice of colors and prints out there, and if you buy some extra fabric, you can treat yourself to some matching cushions for your yard furniture.
One thing to bear in mind is drainage. Water can easily gather in the fabric, especially if your pergola has a flat roofed structure, creating a puddling effect. You may need to raise some of the rafters to create a gentle slope or dome, and install a gutter to collect the water.
Fixed Panel Roof
If you want a more permanent roof structure, a clear plastic roof is an easy and inexpensive way to do this. It keeps out the rain without compromising on light, and look out for UV-resistant plastics. The plastic panels rest on top of the rafters, and the slightly corrugated design naturally channels water (again, you’ll need a slight slope and a gutter).
There are two problems with this system. One, if you live in an area with heavy rainfall, the noise might drive you crazy. The sound of raindrops is magnified when they land on a plastic roof, and anyone who has a bedroom near the pergola will not appreciate this new installation.
Secondly, any dirt, bird poop, dead leaves or bugs will be fully visible underneath – not the most attractive finish for your lovely outdoor dining room or lounge area. On the plus side, it’s quite entertaining watching cats or birds walking across it… So, if you go for this option, have a housekeeping plan in place (a long-handled brush followed by a hose down should do the trick).
These are clever designs. The slats on the roof can be tilted in either direction to provide the best shelter or shade. You can have them fully closed to look more like a solid roof, or fully open for a more traditional pergola feel.
There are motorized versions available, so you can easily adjust the angle of the louvres if the weather changes. Some are even app controlled, or go for a really fancy model that senses the weather and opens/shuts itself.
Most louvred roofs are made from lightweight aluminum, so won’t weigh down the structure, and you may even be able to choose a color. They are generally sold as complete systems, and some makes come with gutters.
Retractable Awnings & Canopies
These go above the roof structure of the pergola, and are a versatile way to add shelter when you need it. There are two main types: single and multiple track. The former is a better option if you need your awning to protect you from the rain, as multiple fabric panels will have joins between each sheet.
This is a great option if you want to keep that classic, open-roofed pergola look. Most fold in on themselves, like a horizontal version of a window blind. Again, there’s a great choice of colors and prints. This can be a super-simple way to transform your pergola, and you can even pick up your awning on Amazon.
Generally speaking, you don’t need a permit for an awning. However, we always reckon it’s better to be safe than sorry, so check with your local authority before going ahead and ordering one.
A pergola with a roof is still a pergola to us, but may be viewed in some states as a more permanent structure – namely a pavilion – which means although a roof is relatively easy to put on, you may need a permit for it.
Provided you can obtain the necessary planning consents (if required), then there is a decent choice of roofing types available – from fabric and fixed panels, to awnings, canopies and louvered designs.
The only one we don’t really like is the fixed roof of see-through plastic. Who wants to sit sipping cocktails under a discolored corrugated roof covered in bird poop? A better choice would be a fabric cover, awning or canopy in a color you like. However, in the final analysis it all depends on your specific budget and personal taste.
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >