Metal Pergolas – Aluminum, Wrought Iron, or Steel?

When building a pergola, metal (aluminum, wrought iron, or steel) can be used as a substitute to the more common wooden materials that pergolas are built from. Each material has it’s advantages of course. Aluminum is weather resistant, whereas steel is easier to work with and usually less expensive.

Whichever metal you choose to go with for your project, the great strength to weight ratio for both materials can really help you to open up your pergola designs. Aluminum is especially apt in this regard, and that can easily be seen in common uses for the material, such as in aircraft framing where high strength and low weight are imperative.

Suitable for Kits, but DIY Too?

Metal pergolas may not seem like the stuff that do it yourself projects are suitable for. While metal working is less common of a skill for the average handyman than say, woodwork, if you go with prefabricated parts it’s really quite simple. These metal DIY pergolas are essentially just kits that are sold through large home improvement and hardware centers.

Putting them together is much like any other construction from a kit. Step by step instructions about how to bolt and screw the included materials together is not terribly difficult stuff. However you still need to be careful to assemble the pieces properly, and may need help to handle the heavier metal components.

This can be especially true for metal pergola columns, which have to be very sturdy to hold up the heavy “roof” of the pergola. This means thick metal which can be very heavy. Though with lighter pergola roof designs, the columns can be manageable still.

While putting together a metal pergola kit, whether aluminum or steel, can be a rather easy and straightforward project, building pergola components yourself out of metal can be a much more difficult process. It certainly will draw on a more involved set of skills and tools. If you are trying it yourself, it may be best to keep your pergola designs minimal, so as to keep down the amount of weight and work that will be involved.

Do Wooden Pergolas Stand a Chance?

With all that aluminum pergolas bring to the table, it’s worth noting that there are some problems. The lightweight members are rather strong, but sometimes the way they are designed means that they are only strong in one plane. In another they may be rather flimsy. This can lead to damage to your pergola when force is applied to it in unconventional manners. A stray baseball or something of that sort could dent or even bend one of the structural members.

Wood on the other hand tends to be a bit more natural looking. While it will still dent, the type of imprint left is less noticeable as the wood has all sorts of knots and slight imperfections. On an aluminum pergola the straight lines can really highlight any distortions, dents, or bends.

Perhaps where wood pergolas are strongest though is in how they look. Wood’s natural appearance just looks good outdoors, and also has a nice homey feel to it. You’d be hard pressed to find a yard where a well built wooden pergola wouldn’t look right at home.

Metal pergolas on the other hand may be a bit foreign looking in some environments. At least, that is, if they have not been treated to look like a more natural material or at least painted to get rid of the gleaming metal finish.

This may mean that for a pergola in the garden, you would be best served with a wooden pergola rather than a metal one. Having a trellised vine over a metal pergola just might look out of place. Of course, there is something to be said of using materials in non-traditional ways. By using an aluminum pergola in the garden, it could be a way to really make a statement. The trick is being able to do so tastefully without detracting from the general natural look and feel of the garden.

The other area where wood has an advantage with pergola building is in how easy it is to work with. Just about every home owner can probably boast a saw, hammer, and sandpaper. These and other tools that are necessary for a simple wooden construction project are very widespread. On the other hand, not many can weld metal in their garage, and even if they could, aluminum is a difficult metal to weld well. It takes quite a bit of skill with the torch to get a strong and good looking weld on it.

Adding a Roof to Your Metal Pergola

One area where metal pergolas can really shine is when incorporating the look of the pergola in with the functionality of a roof or canopy. Pergolas by nature aren’t very useful against rainstorms, and only somewhat useful for providing shade. With an integrated glass roof or retractable canopy, you can have that extra functionality without damaging the look of the pergola.

Metal pergolas help in this regard because of how they interact with such additions both visually and functionally. The very straight lines make installing and using a retractable awning rather easy, and the look of the materials won’t clash as most awning tracks are metal anyways. Such fittings and accessories might look out of place with a wooden awning.