Pergolas and arbors are two common outdoor structures, but the line between them can be a little blurry. After all, the main principle and the construction materials are very similar.
However, the range of benefits you’ll get from each structure is rather different. One is more of an extension to your house with tons of practical uses, while the other is mostly a decorative addition to pathways.
In this article, you’ll find a thorough pergola vs. arbor comparison that can help you choose the best one for your needs.
Before we jump right into the head-to-head comparison, let’s start by checking what both structures can actually add to a property.
You can think of a pergola as an extension of your house since you can attach it to an outer wall. However, you can still have a freestanding structure or even a hybrid design between the two.
Most of the time, people opt to have a pergola built on their patio or backyard. The main purpose here is to provide plenty of shade for outdoor setups.
- Can be very stable once you properly anchor it in place
- Can offer a 50% return on investment if built on a patio
- Versatile uses with room for customization (plants, swings, tables, canopies, etc.)
- Covers a larger area of the property with shade
- Can be expensive and time-consuming to install
- Requires a larger space
If a pergola is an extension of a house, then an arbor is an addition to the entrance leading to your house or garden. So, it’s mostly built as a freestanding model, but you can still attach it to your fence or gate.
Although it won’t cover a large area like the typical pergola, an arbor can shade a small area with the coverage from creeping plants.
- Budget-friendly compared to the average pergola
- Can fit in smaller spaces
- Easier to install than a pergola
- Provides a decorative value for gardens with vines and climbing plants
- Not stable enough for heavy accessories
- Doesn’t provide as much shade as a pergola
Now that you have a general idea about both outdoor structures, let’s take a closer look at some factors that can help you choose the best one for your property.
First things first, you’ll need to think about where you want to put the installations and what kind of space you have available.
On average, pergolas tend to be around 8-20 feet wide. This range can accommodate different placement options, from a cozy patio to a spacious backyard.
Still, you might want to look for the place on your property with the largest space to be able to make the most out of the pergola’s shade.
For the design itself, you can get thick rafters if the amount of shade is a priority for you.
An arbor is generally smaller than a pergola, with sizes ranging around 7-8 feet. You can still put a bench under an arbor, but you might not be able to fit a whole chair and table set.
Just make sure that you don’t get something that’s less than 3 feet wide. Otherwise, it can be too tight, especially if you’ll be moving garden equipment through it constantly.
Some people might use the two terms interchangeably, but a pergola and an arbor have very distinct features.
A pergola’s standing stilts hold up a level criss-cross pattern of beams that keep away a fair amount of sunshine from your eyes.
While one side might be attached to a wall, all the other sides of a pergola will be open in most cases to give you a wide view of your property.
One difference between an arbor and a pergola is the roof shape. An arbor has this slated or arched formation over the columns instead of a flat roof.
As for the sides, you’ll find walls made with intricate lattice work that helps it feel more a bit isolated.
Moreover, arbors aren’t attached to other structures as often as pergolas. It’s still an option, but most people focus on freestanding designs for their arbors.
Homeowners can use pergolas and arbors for entirely different reasons. So, knowing what each structure is best for can sway your choice one way over the other.
The number one appeal of owning a pergola is getting a wide shaded area on your property. This means that you can boost the experience of outdoor cookouts and family gatherings by adding a table and some chairs.
If you have green thumbs, you can put up a couple of hanging pots. You might even want to hook up some extra lighting for game nights.
For the most part, arbors are used as archways for gates or garden pathways over pavers.
Of course, arbors can also accommodate little benches. However, it’ll mostly be a tight squeeze and nothing like the spacious area under the typical pergola.
Instead, arbors are more known to be part of a romantic stroll under a canopy of vines and flowers. So, they’re more decorative than practical.
Arbors and pergolas can both hold up plants, but the key difference is how much load they can support.
A pergola can be a better fit if you want a structure that supports heavier potted plants without worrying about damaging the beams or rafters.
For one, you can consider wisteria plants. However, grapevines and other fruit or vegetable-bearing vines are also valid options.
For an arbor, you might have to be a bit more careful with the maximum loads that the structure can support. Odds are, you won’t have trouble with plants like honeysuckle and clematis.
All in all, it’s better to check the load limits provided by the manufacturer before you decide to overload your arbor with dense climbing plants that could weigh the structure down.
As you might have expected, the difference in sizes between arbors and pergolas affects their costs.
That said, you can still tackle both outdoor structures as DIY projects if you’re crafty and want to save some bucks.
Usually, pergolas have a higher initial price point than arbors, with an average cost of $4,000.
However, the actual price tag can drop to $1,000 or jump to a whopping $11,000. It all depends on the net size and quality of the construction materials.
For instance, you can expect a fiberglass pergola to cost more than a traditional vinyl one. Wood isn’t a particularly cheap option, but it can deteriorate faster, especially if you don’t keep up with its maintenance schedule.
That said, if you prefer to have a custom arbor in your luxurious garden, the price may go up to a five-digit figure!
After all, an arbor is supposed to be a decorative addition. So, the pricing can vary drastically from one manufacturer to the other.
It’s true that the pergola vs. arbor comparison can be confusing, but at least you can consider the features to know which structure will suit your needs.
Pergolas can offer a shaded lounging spot outdoors for social gatherings. So, if you cherish family time on your back or front porch, you can opt for a pergola with some practical furniture.
Meanwhile, arbors are better used as entrances, gates, and pathways. That means that they can be a good fit for people with green thumbs looking for a decorative addition to their gardens.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. As a homeowner, I love working on projects around the house, and as a father, I love investigating various ways to keep my family safe (whether or not this involves tech). I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.