‘Fixer Upper’ Made Pergolas Hot Again—But Should You Get One?

published Apr 11, 2019
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(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

If you’ve been brainstorming ways to give the backyard a makeover, a pergola is one way to give your space that pretty garden magazine feel. And they’re pretty trendy, too. Joanna Gaines made them her go-to backyard upgrade on “Fixer Upper,” causing interest in them to steadily grow over the past couple of years.

If you haven’t come across one, a pergola is an exterior structure that offers sun protection without sacrificing an open and airy feeling. It’s held up by columns, and can either be freestanding or attached to your home. If you’re thinking of constructing or buying one, you should probably know the pros and cons. I rounded up the best information on the internet (and called in a few experts)—here’s what they said:

Let’s start with the pros:

1. Pergolas aren’t super expensive

A pergola can definitely be a cost-effective way to give your property a more unique and personal look. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of a pergola is around $3,600, but you can get yours as low as $750 (or as high as $9,150). For an example of a budget-friendly pergola, here’s one you can buy from JCPenney for $750. This one is ideal if you’re renting: The fixture is retractable, since it’s made of steel as opposed to cedar. If you have a more flexible budget, you can look into pergolas from Home Depot, which will run you around $1,200 (but are made from real cedar and are much more durable).

2. Pergolas are easy to DIY

You can DIY your own pergola if you’re up for a project. Resources like HGTV or Popular Mechanics will give you a list of materials you need and offer step-by-step instructions. HomeAdvisor states that building a pergola yourself costs an average of $3,500, while hiring a pro to build it will cost around $500 more. Obviously the benefits to building your own include that it’s uniquely suited to your home and taste.

3. Pergolas are usually made with very durable wood

According to LandscapingNetwork.com, pergolas can be made from several types of wood: Ipe (which does well on the coasts, since it can last through wetter and saltier conditions), redwood (it’s long-lasting), cedar (it’s known for its aroma, as well as its durability—cedar withstands moisture in the air and repels insects and termites), and pressure-treated wood (which is not as beautiful as ipe, redwood, or cedar, but is long-lasting and insect-repellant).

4. Pergolas create outdoor living areas

Pergolas create a great atmosphere for outdoor entertaining and dining, especially if the structures provide shade and scenery (such as vines growing around the wooden columns or or beams).

5. You can attach fabric to a pergola for more weather protection

If you really want your pergola to protect you from the elements while you’re enjoying your breakfast outside or hosting a family BBQ, you can customize the structure so that it provides more shade, either by creating a roof instead of beams, or attaching fabric. You can also install a retractable canopy. This can protect you from the sun as well as the rain.

The cons of owning a pergola:

1. Pergolas require some maintenance

While it depends on the type of wood, pergolas need to be cleaned, treated, and repainted over time if you want to keep them from looking weathered. If you live somewhere where the air is moist, you’ll need to watch out for mildew. If ignored, mildew could easily destroy your pergola, which is why you’ll want to use a mixture of bleach and water the moment you see any signs of mildew.

Wood needs to also be touched up—it’s normal for columns to get dinged up or have scruffs over time. You can fill in the scratches or dips with wood or metal putty. You also want to watch out for wood and paint splinters peeling off (especially if you have kids). Sanding the columns down every once in awhile can protect against any (minor) injuries.

If the pergola has foliage on its canopy (like vines), make sure to trim it regularly to make sure the pergola isn’t being weighed down

2. Your pergola might look different over time

According to Outdoor Living Today, if your structure is made from cedar, the color of the wood will fade from light red-brown to a silvery gray, which is a natural occurrence. You can preserve the original cedar shade by sealing it in: You would need to first clean the wood, apply wood stain, and then the sealant. Every year, you apply a new coat of wood stain to keep up the appearance.

If you live somewhere with a harsher climate, you’ll probably have to spend more time maintaining your pergola, especially if it’s made with a less durable wood like Douglas fir. You also can opt for a metal pergola.

3. Beware of termites

While pergolas made of certain types of wood like cedar or pressure-treated pine naturally repel termites, it’s not uncommon to find out that your pergola is infested with them. According to the Landscaping Network, regularly treating the wood should prevent (or at least slow down) the takeover of termites. This all ties back to maintenance!

4. Not everyone is a fan

While pergolas can add value to your home, some buyers won’t want to deal with a permanent fixture like a pergola. Robin Kencel, a broker with Compass Real Estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, says that lately she’s finding her buyers favoring retractable, automatic awnings over pergolas.

“That said, there are times when only roses or wisteria trailing through a pergola can create the ambiance that an owner or designer are wanting,” Kencel says.

5. They probably won’t increase your property value

Whether or not a pergola adds value to your property is up for debate. While sites like Extra Space and Outdoor Living Today claim that a pergola can increase your home’s value, a chat forum on Trulia adds that it may or may not add value depending on where the seller is located.

But Beatrice de Jong, consumer trends expert at Opendoor.com in Los Angeles, says pergolas typically don’t add value to your home.

“But there could be a buyer who loves it and sees value in having one,” she adds.

At the end of the day, if a pergola is the answer to your mental backyard vision board, you now have all of the information to decide whether building or buying one is the right path for you.

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