Pergola Roof Ideas: Covers to Block Rain and Sun

Have a pergola that you want to cover up? These pergola roof ideas are perfect for blocking out the sun and rain so you can enjoy your yard or patio all season long.

Pergolas, by definition (which we will discuss soon), do not have much in terms of a roof. This is not a deal breaker—the design, after all, has been going strong for millennia—, but there’s still nothing wrong with wanting a little more cover from the sun and the occasional summer rain.

And that’s why we’re here: by the end of this article, you will be acquainted with several ideas so your pergola will be more comfortable even as the weather takes a bit of a turn.

What is a Pergola?

Four pillars (or two, if the structure is against a wall) and a grid of beams at the top: that is, in essence, what a pergola is. Minimalistic though it may seem, this structure has been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians, to whom we owe its creation, and for centuries it has been a staple for homeowners seeking comfort and refuge from the worst of the sun.

What It Isn’t

Nowadays, with the growing trend of placing all sorts of structures around the yard, their names can get mixed up, which is why we felt it pertinent to provide a short list of terms that often get confused with a pergola, as well as a few notes to help you tell them apart.

  • Trellis: A vertical lattice used to provide support for climbing vines. It can be set on its own, or fixed to a wall.
  • Arbor: A vertical structure that can mark the entrance to a different area in the yard, as a sort of archway. As its name indicates, it usually features branches or vines growing throughout, which makes them good for providing a bit of shade where they stand.
  • Gazebo: Similar in purpose and origin to the pergola, a gazebo distinguishes itself in its shape (which can be polygonal or round), and its roof, which, unlike in the pergola’s case, provides full cover from the sun and the elements. They are more likely to be fully enclosed too, be it by walls at half height or—in modern portable gazebos—a mesh to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Pergola Roof Cover Ideas

It’s time: let’s go over your options to make your pergola better for shelter and privacy.

1. Built-in Cover

Pergola with built in cover

We include this one in case you just so happen to be shopping for your first pergola, or a replacement. Nowadays, some models come with their own cover, which solves this problem right off the bat. You can find them with a canopy only at the top, or with an extra to create a sort of wall off one side.

2. Cloth Cover

waterproof cloth pergola cover

For this one, you would essentially be turning your current canopy into one like the models we just described above—and at a lower cost, which of course means it will require some additional effort on your part. That said, it’s not too hard to do.

While it will be quite good at protecting you from the sun, this alternative might not be as good in case of a downpour, though it can still be counted on for lighter drizzling.

You could, of course, go for regular fabric, but it it won’t be as good against rain, and the constant exposure to sunlight will fade the color faster. Outdoor fabric, on the other hand, will provide you with better protection, and its color will last longer.

Alternatively, you can opt for a dedicated replacement kit, which will often come with grommets or tube pockets to make it easier to secure the canopy to the pergola. Some kits are designed to be retractable, which means you get to increase or decrease your shade as you see fit; though trickier to install, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to any enthusiastic DIYer.

How to DIY a Cloth Cover

Personally, we prefer the (outdoor) fabric option, as it allows you to set it up in a variety of ways—as long as you’re ready with a bunch of ½” upholstery staples and a compatible stapler gun.

  • Draped on top. Easy enough: just throw it across the top of the pergola, letting some of the fabric hang a little between one beam and the next. Then staple the bottom to the pergola’s pillars at roughly 2 feet intervals between staples. You can either let the fabric hang evenly at both sides, or give it more length on one side so as to give you lateral cover from the sun. Word of warning: this option may not be feasible if your area is known for heavy snowfalls or strong winds.
  • Looped through. Here, what you do is cut the fabric in rows and, rather than simply letting it rest on the top, run it crisscross—over one beam and below the next. Once that’s done, you pull it so it is tight and then staple it to the pergola’s frame. The rows should be run alternate—if one row starts by going above the beam, the one next to it should start below, and so on. This does create some gaps, but makes it better against the wind and provides a more solid grip which heavier loads like snow are less likely to compromise.

3. Vines to Cover a Pergola

This one was, in fact, a favorite of the ancient Romans, as it presented them with an easy way to improve the pergola’s shade. Basically, what you do is bring a certain plant in so it will eventually weave its way across the top.

This alternative is wonderful for enhancing the natural feel of your outdoor area (including, in many cases, the gentle scent of flowers), but it means you will have to do some extra maintenance, such as watering, pruning—and cleaning, as many of the vines will be occasionally releasing leaves upon your space. Furthermore, some varieties (like the Carolina Jessamine and the Wisteria), can be toxic to pets upon ingestion.

Other, more innocuous species include Bougainvillea, Chinese Jasmine, and Bower Vine.

4. Solid Roof Pergola

While it might be best left to more handy people (or a professional), this is still a solid option for gaining good cover, which will additionally prove better against rain and more resistant to element exposure. It can be as simple as a tin roof, cut to the size of the entire pergola’s top; reliable, but it might defeat the purpose of the pergola by denying you all light from above.

One can also set up several panels in materials such as fiberglass (cheap but can cloud easily), PVC (better for letting light through but more fragile) or polycarbonate (the more expensive option).

Ultimately, you can decide to go for a louvered roof, which essentially entails making the pergola’s roof mobile: press a button, and the beams will open or close as you see fit, providing more cover in case or rain or more light if you and yours so desire.

The fancier types will incorporate complex sensor systems that will have them closing in case of rain, and opening if the wind starts to become stronger so as to avoid getting rattled. Even if you go for the simpler models, a louvered roof will definitely require a heftier investment and professional installation.

Closing Summary

Pergolas’ enduring popularity is for good reason: for so simple a design, they can provide decent shade and a nice aesthetic focus with the appropriate setup. That said, it definitely makes sense that we would want to keep enjoying them even as the sun becomes a bit more inconvenient, or if a quick summer shower happens to pass by.

Nowadays, there are several ways to achieve this—professionally installed, already built-in, or good for the green thumb and the DIYer. The final say, as always, is yours; and we hope our guide was what you needed to get this particular problem sorted out.