Building a Pergola…Is there a Better Way than Wood?

Wood Pergola with Stone Bases in Bergen County, NJ

Wood pergolas are traditional, but maintenance can be difficult.

 

Here’s a contractor asking a question to other contractors about replacing a wood pergola with a low maintenance alternative. This guy is a legitimate “all around” contractor, and he doesn’t even know, so you’re probably wondering too:

Gotta replace a rotted Pergola and wondered if there are any worthwhile alternative materials besides wood? Its rather large………probably 30 ft wide and 12 ft long and the rafters are attached to the house into pockets in the brick. Its supported by 3 round synthetic columns with 2 doubled 2 x 8’s for the beam. The rafters are 2 x 8 around 12 ft long. Cedar would be my lumber choice, but my customer wants to be informed about any synthetic alternatives that wont rot. It is painted to match the house color. I have read some about fiberglass Pergolas, but not sure about the details and availability. I dont think PVC(Azek or something similar) would be strong enough to span 12 ft like that. Any suggestions?

Wood Pergolas

Wood is the traditional choice for pergolas. Depending on your locale, the most common lumber species used are either cedar or redwood. The benefit of using wood to build a pergola is that it’s typically much less expensive than synthetic options and it’s relatively easy to customize on site. With wood, you can really do anything you could image design-wise.

The major downside of wood is that it requires maintenance in the form of both cleaning and staining or painting. Staining or painting a wood pergola is tedious work at best and it borders on something that even professional painters don’t like to do because it’s so time consuming to do. Unlike a deck with one surface to clean and finish, nearly every side of every piece of wood has to be addressed with a pergola so it’s slow going. Really slow going.

Vinyl

Vinyl pergola in Ramsey New Jersey

A vinyl pergola installed over a deck.

Vinyl pergolas are popular these days because they look good, are extremely easy to maintain, and are cost effective relative to custom fabricating a wood pergola. Vinyl pergolas come in kit form and are assembled quickly much like an erector set. Most kits come in a variety of sizes and are expandable or even customizable if need be.

Maintenance is simple,  just like a vinyl fence. Powerwash it with a good detergent as needed and you’re done.

The downside to vinyl is that you can have whatever color you like as long as it’s white. Color options for vinyl pergolas are limited to white and buff or almond for the most part. If you want a custom color, look for fiberglass models.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass can be painted to nearly any color.

Fiberglass pergolas are similar in all aspects to vinyl pergolas except they must be painted either before, during, or after installation. This is a benefit for some people as they’d like to match a color on there home or simulate a darker stained wood color in lieu of the standard white that vinyl provides.

Fiberglass pergola kits are typically more expensive than vinyl kits and are considered to be an upgrade from vinyl.

Pergolas are great outdoor structures and add a lot of character to any yard. My company, Bergen Decks, installs a fair amount of pergolas as they are becoming requested more and more by homeowners.

In fact, I was interviewed on a television show called HouseSmarts to discuss pergolas and popular options, so rather than read, you can watch! Check out the interview on YouTube here.

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About Greg DiBernardo
Greg DiBernardo is the owner of Peachtree Decks and Porches in Alpharetta, GA and specializes in custom deck building, porch construction and complete backyard renovations. His expertise has been recognized by key manufacturers in the deck industry who call on him to develop, refine and evaluate new deck related products. He's a regular contributor to Professional Deck Builder, The Journal of Light Construction, and Tools of the Trade magazines. Greg has also been featured on television, most notably on the DIY Network.

2 Responses to Building a Pergola…Is there a Better Way than Wood?

  1. Hi Greg,
    I live in Colorado at 7600”. My new deck will get full sun year round as it faces the south. I want a deck that as little fade, can take the uv’s, and doesn’t get too hot in summer although that is the lesser of my concern. Also get snow here. A dealer told me he saw a sample of full pvc that had been sitting out in the sun and was bent or warped. Would you recommend full pvc or capped for my decking? I don’t want to do any maintenance, ever again.
    Thank you , Linda

  2. Hi Linda,

    I would not recommend PVC deck boards for your application due to their limitations with extreme UV exposure like you experience.

    I would recommend a capstock composite board like Fiberon Horizons, Trex Transcends or TimberTech Earthwoods Evolutions in your case. These boards have 25-year fade guarantees and are the next generation of deck board technology–perhaps more advanced than PVC in some instances.

    You will have to CLEAN any board you install….so there will be some maintenance, but nothing like scraping and staining!

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