red cedar pergolas in Whitby

All About Pergolas


What is a Pergola?

A “Room without Walls”

Since the times of the Roman Empire, vertical gardens were how they “Air Conditioned” their living space in the summer months.  They also used pergolas in agriculture, training fruit-bearing plants upward for more exposure to the sun.

These days, patio covers are normally more of an architectural element of any great landscape project.

What are Pergolas for?

Pergolas firstly offer shelter from the sun, and by adding spanner you can increase the shade. Paying attention to orientation can also affect the shade quality.

They can also help create privacy. Add privacy screens strategically for greater effect. No one wants to be on display in their own yard– a little creativity can make your space more inviting.

What is a pergola with a roof?

A pavilion.

What kind of wood do you use for a pergola?

Pergolas can be made of any outdoor suitable wood. If you go to a local lumber mill and ask what the local barns are made of, that may be a good place to find out. In our area, they are often clad with hemlock, which lasts in the elements for over 50 years. It’s not pretty, and it is hard to get smooth, but you could use it. We often use it for deck structures and clad them in red cedar. Some common good materials are Red Cedar, Redwood, Douglas Fir, Cypress and hardwoods like Mahogany, Ipe, Tigerwood and Kayu Bhatu. Pressure treated pine is the most common… but it is not my personal favorite. See some of our decks in the Toronto Area.

Can pergolas be made of different materials than wood?

Sure they can. Lately, I have seen them crafted in kit form from fiberglass, aluminum and many other man-made materials.  Composite structures normally have an aluminum structure within, which makes them pricey in today’s market, but watch for more affordable options soon. Technology is making serious gains in the composite pergola industry.  Learn more about re-cladding decks with composite or composite vs wood here.

What size posts do I need for a pergola?

Generally for any pergola over 8’x8′ we use 6×6 posts. Redwood and Cedar are not as strong as pressure treated pine, so to resist sway we go a little larger. Some of our pergola plans show you how to trim them out to 8″ or 10″, and that cladding can protect the core from rot if done well. We often use 8×8 or 10×10 red cedar or douglas fir for larger structures. It all comes down to proportions and scale. It shouldn’t look too thin for the upper part, and it shouldn’t look too chunky either.

Is Planning permission needed for a pergola?

That all depends on where you are planning to build your structure. The only way to be sure in your area is to go to the planning department and ask. Every Planning Department, (Zoning in Canada), has guidelines for setbacks and permissions that are specific to your home in your city or town. There is no rule of thumb.

Are Pergolas Expensive?

They certainly can be. Here in Toronto, most are between $5000 and $15,000, but we see them ranging upwards of $100,000 for something really extraordinary.

How wide should a shade structure be?

It should be wide enough to shade the furniture you plan to shelter. Keep in mind the sun is at different angles during different months, so really the bigger the better if it is shade or privacy you are after. Most of them are about 12′ wide on the rafters.

Why have a pergola?

They are excellent for creating shade, privacy or vertical interest. For shade, you can add spanners to the top of the rafters, or grow vines over. Same goes for privacy, but for privacy, you want to place it and size it to work best. These days we can render your house, your neighbor’s house and the structure to determine precise sizes and placement for full privacy in a given area.

Do you need a permit to install a pergola?

Best answer…  Ask your local building department. Some rural areas do not, most cities do once they are over a certain size, but that varies from municipality to state. Most Building Departments are happy to look over the plans for patio covers and pergolas, and even if you don’t need permits, they may give some good advice. I can say for certain that in Florida yes you do. If you want to build anything in Florida it needs to be engineered due to hurricanes. You don’t want things launching around.

Do They Really Block the Sun?

They can dependent on placement and structure. If you add a retractable canopy beneath, it can provide as much or as little shade as you like.