Should I buy a Retractable awning or pergola for my outdoor living space?

How do I decide between an awning or pergola?

What are some of the most important things to think about when debating about whether to purchase an awning or pergola? What is the purpose of adding either one of these options to your outdoor space?

Are you looking at only a shade/sun protection structure? Do you plan on a permanent structure or moveable structure? Are you planning on hosting friends and family or doing some outdoor cooking and dining?

Both shade and sun are possible with an awning or pergola.

It is important to know and understand the key differences between awnings and pergola structures. We will go into much more detail on these key differences, below.

Budget is also a key factor. You will need to establish a budget for the outdoor structures, including both the initial purchase and potential ongoing maintenance costs. You will want to consider a long term value and durability when determining your budget.

Understanding Awnings

What is an awning? An awning is a secondary covering attached to the exterior wall of a building, typically above a window, door, or along a sidewalk. It is designed to provide shade, protection from the sun, rain or other weather elements.

Fixed Awning with durable fabric can be a nice water repellent during inclement weather.

Awnings can be made of various materials, including fabric, metal or other durable materials, and they are often supported by a frame to extend outward from the building.

The Primary purposes of awnings are to enhance outdoor comfort, reduct energy costs by blocking sunlight, and add aesthetic appeal to a structure. They come in different styles, shapes, and sizes, providing versatility in both residential and commercial properties.

Backyard retractable awnings can be a more affordable option than some pergola options.

Awnings can be fixed or retractable, with retractable options allowing users to adjust the coverage as needed.

Advantages of choosing Retractable awnings for your Outdoor space

Awnings are generally less costly than fixed pergolas or other permanent structures. This can be one clear advantage of going with an awning over a pergola.

Retractable awnings can offer light rain protection, similar to a roof or retractable pergola.

Awnings are available in a variety of colors and materials and, at the end of the day, can keep majority of sunlight and rain off of your space.

A retractable awning also has the capability to be moved after initially installed. Would just need to remount in a different location, as you see fit. Awnings are also very much maintenance free. Long term and short term costs are both minimal with an awning option.

Save money on such a purchase.  Nice patio awning can provide shade and rain protection.

Exploring pergolas

A pergola is an outdoor structure consisting of a framework covered with trained climbing or trailing plants. It typically consists of vertical posts or pillars that support cross-beams and a durable open lattice, providing a defined space and framework for climbing plants.

Retractable pergola with lighting can be a significant investment as a free standing structure.

Pergolas are designed to create an outdoor living space, offering partial shelter, architectural interest, and a sense of enclosure. They can be freestanding or attached to a building, such as a home or another structure, and are often used to enhance outdoor areas like gardens, patios, or a deck.

Advantages of choosing a pergola

Pergolas add visual interest and architectural elegance to outdoor spaces, contributing to the overall aesthetic appeal of a property.

While not fully enclosed, the open lattice of a pergola provides partial shade, making it an ideal space for outdoor activities while allowing some sunlight to filter through.

Pergolas offer a structure for a climbing plants and vines to grow, creating a natural and green environment. This integration of greenery adds a touch of nature to the outdoor space.

Pergolas create designated outdoor living areas for various activities, such as dining, entertaining or relaxing. They provide a sense of definition to an open space.

Pergolas with a retractable cover require minimal regular maintenance.  Retractable pergola canopy

Pergolas can be equipped with lighting fixtures, hanging plants, or outdoor curtains, enhancing the ambiance and versatility of the outdoor space.

Key Considerations

Budget considerations

Generally speaking, awnings are less money initially, than a pergola. A pergola is larger, has much more material that goes into building it, and is a permanent structure. Make sure to have a concrete budget in mind before you begin shopping for an awning or pergola, as pricing can vary greatly.

You will also need, in most cases, need to pull a permit from your local city or town. An awning will not typically need this type of permit or carry the same expense associated. The right model or pergola can be a significant investment and the installation process is also a cost to consider.

Space and Functionality

Whether you are choosing a pergola or an awning, both will give shade and offer sun protection. Depending on the size you are trying to cover, will be another determination that will need made for your outdoor living space. A free standing pergola will cover larger spans and overall space.

Awnings will have a fabric cover as well while a pergola will have either an open roof system or something retractable. This will determine if you can cook underneath or have an open fire. Make sure ventilation is not an issue.

Wood canopy roof, fully open with rafters.  Retractable pergola, great outdoor structures.

Climate and Weather Factors

Snow load and wind load are key determining factors when it comes to choosing an awning or pergola for your outdoor space. Awnings are not structural and will just offer generic protection against rain and sun. Pergolas that retract can offer snow and wind protection, all year long. Pergolas would offer better protection in windy and snowy areas while awnings are better in sunny, no snow regions with low wind speeds.

Climate factors are important when determining outdoor structure best for you.

Pergolas are generally built with stronger materials such as vinyl, aluminum, steel, fiberglass or composites. Awnings are generally aluminum frame with a heavy duty fabric. They cannot withstand nearly the wind or snow that a pergola will.

How local climate influences the decision - Weather resistance and durability of materials for awnings and pergolas.


There are several different things to consider when thinking through an awning vs retractable pergola system. Do you get a lot or snow or wind? Maybe a freestanding, permanent structure is more of your speed. Do you get direct sun most of the day and light winds? If so, an awning may be the correct structure to go with.

Cost is also a big deal when looking into either one of these options. A pergola can often times be multiple times as expensive as an awning. Make sure to do your homework and understand pricing beforehand.

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