Differences between gazebos and pergolas

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Many people use the words gazebo and pergola interchangeably, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that – they are merely describing an outdoor structure that adds to the ambiance and attractiveness of a home's lawn and garden area. There are discrete differences between the two structures, however, as well as differences in their attributes and uses.

Pergolas have traditionally been utilized in semi-desert, arid areas with little chance of rainfall. They are constructed as rectangles or squares, supported by upright posts or columns, and typically do not have sides or side rails. Rather than featuring complete roofs, pergolas utilize crossbeams or lattices, which provide some shade while still permitting dappled sunlight to penetrate. Ground coverings range from sod to decorative gravel, and furniture is seldom a permanent feature, unless it is of a type that can withstand weather. Pergolas have become more popular and widespread in recent years as a support structure for vining plants, particularly ones that flower over an extended period.

Gazebos are a more formal type of outdoor structure. Traditionally octagon-shaped, some more recent plans call for either hexagonal or round roofs. Roofs are solid, rising to a cone shape, and usually shingled to keep rain and weather out. Gazebos tend to have raised floors, solid and substantial enough to host permanent furnishings, guests, and equipment such as grills for cooking or a chiminea for those chilly evenings. While older renderings show open sides, most modern gazebos have railings on three sides, and a step or steps on the fourth for entry.

When considering whether to invest in a gazebo or pergola, three factors such as cost, intended usage and location all come into play.

  • Cost. As the more formal of the two, gazebos typically cost as much as twice that of pergolas and depending upon the detail, even more. Roofing, rails and solid flooring drive the cost, although it is possible for a very elaborate pergola to rival a modest gazebo's cost.
  • Intended usage. For quiet afternoons or evenings spent with a book or a companion, pergolas are a good choice. If entertaining guests, or if inclement weather is a consideration, the protection of a gazebo is a better solution.
  • Location. Most gazebos are located away from other structures in order to more fully enjoy the experience. Alongside a water feature or a flower or vegetable garden, a more remote location adds to the quiet ambiance. Soft lighting can be added, as can outlets for other electrical additions. Pergolas are normally much closer to the house, often adjacent to a deck or patio, or as a partial covering for either. While the gazebo lends itself to longer visits, with its overhead protection and permanent furnishings, a pergola offers space for a quiet, relaxing time in a more intimate setting.

Regardless of which becomes the better choice, many pleasurable afternoons and evenings can result from a visit outside to enjoy the air, the outdoor sounds and to relax and make the most of time spent either alone or with friends and family.

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