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Pergola Cover Ideas: How to Cover a Pergola

If you love your outdoor space, you probably want to be able to enjoy it rain or shine. Installing a pergola is a step in the right direction towards enjoying your patio or deck during all seasons. Still, there’s more you can do. Enter the pergola cover.

Pergolas are meant to provide shade, but the standard options don’t do much more than that. Rain, wind, and even sun during certain times of day can all penetrate the slats of your pergola and put a damper on your time outdoors.

Pergola covers can be created at home, or purchased online. They can be simple, or expensive, natural, or modern. Whatever kind of look you prefer, there’s a way to achieve it and reach optimal functionality from your pergola in all kinds of weather.

Shade Sails

First on our list of pergola cover solutions is the shade sail. Easy to install and cheap to purchase, shade sails come in all kinds of fabrics and finishes. You can easily maximize the amount of shade you are getting from a stereotypical slatted pergola by stretching a shade sail over the top of your patio pergola. All you need is some simple hardware, and a shade sail, and you’re in business.

It is important to keep in mind that even though shade sails are inexpensive, and easy to install, they do have their drawbacks. Most shade sails are not waterproof. This means that rain will not only penetrate the fabric, but collect water as well. This can cause problems for the underlying structure.

Pergolas made of metal or wood can easily be impacted by lingering moisture. Rust and rot are both serious concerns. Allowing a damp sail to hold water on your pergola slats can cause unintended damage.

Waterproof Shade Sails

To avoid this, try choosing a waterproof shade sail option for your pergola, instead. Materials like UV resistant canvas provide a barrier between your backyard patio and the elements. Many waterproof options are made of canvas, but other materials may work well spending on construction. Waterproof material should be tighter in construction and may even be treated with a water repelling compound to wick away moisture.

Waterproof shade sails are similarly affordable to basic shade sails. They also come in all kinds of colors and finishes, making it easy to match your personal style. As an upside, you can enjoy cover from rain, wind, and hot summer sunshine without worrying about any negative effects on your structure.

Retractable Canopy

If a shade sail acts as a sort of manual canopy for your pergola, imagine how convenient it would be to install an option that slides in and out of place easily. Retractable canopies are typically made of material which is attached to tracks. The simplest versions slide along these tracks using a pulley system. More advanced versions can be automated to retract and roll out with the press of a button.

When you would like to cover your pergola, lever the canopy into place. When you are finished, or would like to enjoy some sunshine, slide it along the tracks, back into place.

Again, it is very important to make sure that your canopy is built from good quality materials. A cheap or flimsy piece of fabric won’t have the durability you need to provide cover from rain or wind. And even material that is not meant to be waterproof should at least provide you some degree of UV protection.

To install, you can build yourself with a little bit of imagination, the right hardware, and a sunny afternoon. Or, use a prefabricated kit to speed the process along. Good options can be purchased for under dollars at a local big box store, or online at sites such as Amazon.


If you’re not a fan of the look of fabric, are looking to flex your green thumb, or just want something that will add some needed greenery, you can always look at plants. We’ve talked about the virtues of plants as privacy cover before on this blog. If you’ve considered creating a green wall between you and your neighbor using a trellis or vining apparatus, you’re already on the right track.

Take this vertical wall and flip it on it’s head by using vining plants to create a green roof for your patio or deck’s pergola. There are a lot of plant options homeowners can use to create a thick green roof overhead. Wisteria, grapes, ivy—to find a solution that works for you, look into what native vining plants grow in your neck of the woods.

It’s unlikely that you will want to re plant or vine your structure every year, so make sure that whatever you choose is hardy, and will come back. This will not only take some annual work off of your plate, but will help the plant cover to grow thicker.

More Foliage = More Coverage

Many people find that vining plants are a great solution for added protection from the elements, but it’s not a perfect solution. Good for keeping you dry during a light rain storm, and effective at shading burning rays, a plant cover might not perform so well during heavier rain events.

To get the most coverage out of your planted pergola cover, try opting for plant options that provide more foliage. The denser the leaves, the better protected you will be. Need a pop of color? Try a flowering variety.

Keep in mind that plants can also retain moisture, and degrade the integrity of your structure over time. Be sure to maintain plantings on pergola roofs as you would any other aspect of your backyard landscaping.

Flat Panels

If your backyard design is more sleek, modern, and canvas or natural plantings don’t make sense in your space, don’t worry. There are other options out there that can give you the functionality you’re after without compromising the design of your outdoor living space. For this, look into flat panels as a pergola cover.

Panels can be smooth and flat, or corrugated to let water easily collect in grooves and run away from the structure. Both options can work, but it is important that you take care to install each option correctly. Failure to wick moisture away from your structure will spell trouble for the lifespace of your pergola.

Flat panels are simple to install. You can think of it as adding a roof to the bones of your already standing struction. Some products are sold in one large panel, or in several smaller squares. Secure panels to your structure with the appropriate hardware, and take a step back to admire your work!

Materials and Opacity

Panels come in multiple levels of opacity and materials. To let light through, choose a translucent or clear flat panel. This won’t provide you additional shade, but it will provide significant cover from wind and rain. Most panels are made from materials such as fiberglass, PVC, or polycarbonate.

Fiberglass is cheap, but can fade and wear with time. Polycarbonate panels are the most durable, but are also the most expensive. Still, it’s often worth the investment for homeowners to install a pergola cover that will last them a long, long time.

Tin Roofing

If you need even more protection, move from fiberglass or polycarbonate panels to tin roofing. Guaranteed to keep you dry, tin or metal roofs install easily and are weather resistant. Be sure to get a corrugated option so that moisture doesn’t pool.

Raw materials for tin roofing can be purchased online, or at hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowes.

Louvered Roofs

Finally, we’ve arrived at the big hitter of patio covers. If you have some extra money to spend on your outdoor living space, and you don’t want to find a more permanent solution to your problem, a louvered roof is the perfect pergola cover idea for your space.

What is a louvered pergola roof? Great question. A louvered pergola is a pergola with roofing slats that are designed to be mobile. A louvered roof is adjustable to allow the flow of air, while keeping out rain and sun. Louvered pergola covers use these movable or retractable slats in their roofs. They are built on an angle and open or close depending on the weather, or your shade preferences.

Louvered pergolas can be adjusted manually like louvered blinds with a pulley system. Or, like a retractable canopy, they can be controlled using a remote. The most advanced options can even be linked to weather smart sensors that adjust based on the outdoor conditions. It’s crazy to think that we’re currently living in the age of “smart pergolas”, but the convenience is hard to argue with!

Of course, louvered pergolas come at all different price points. As a rule of thumb, they are one of the more expensive options on the list. But if you’re willing to spend the money, there are a lot of great companies out there creating cutting edge technology, bringing pergola covers into the twenty-first century.

Louvered Pergola Brands

Brands like Struxure or Equinox both offer modern louvered pergola solutions. It is important to keep in mind that this isn’t usually an option for modifying an existing pergola. Most louvered roofs need to be installed as a part of the original project. So unless you’re looking to build new, or start over, it may be better to look into other options, like a high quality retractable canvas shade.

Pergola Cover Ideas for All Price Points

When it comes to your outdoor space, there is never a one size fits all solution. Pergola covers are no exception. From differences in climate to differences in style, what works for one outdoor space may not work for the next.

Thankfully, no matter what your patio or deck looks like, there’s a pergola cover solution that will work for you. From simple shade sails, to highly automated louvered solutions, everyone can access an option that looks great, without breaking the bank.

Do you have a pergola cover idea that we didn’t mention? Let us know down below!

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