Everything you need to know about pergolas: a glossary of pergola terms

5 min read


We’ve put together this handy guide featuring everything you need to know about pergolas.

Impress your friends with your pergola knowledge!

So, you’ve got that beautiful pergola installed in your new home. You want to show it off, so you invite your family and friends over for a cup of tea. They instantly fall in love and start asking questions and throwing around common pergola terms.

“What timber have you used for the beams?” They ask. “How are the posts supported?”

The silence is deafening as you try to translate the words. Which ones were the beams again?

Well, thanks to Australian Outdoor Living, now you can show off your knowledge and pergola at the same time!

We’ve put together a list of some common pergola terms to help make you seem more knowledgeable.


A pergola can be any outdoor structure that provides shelter.

We use the term all the time, but what does pergola actually mean, and where does the term even come from?

It probably doesn’t come as a great surprise that the term has Italian origins, just as the structure itself is Mediterranean.

The term refers to a number of wooden outdoor structures, from a shaded walkway to a freestanding structure with an open roof.

These days, a pergola can also be the extension of a building, and builders will use either timber or steel.


The beams are the long structural pieces that run both parallel and perpendicular to the house just under the roof of the pergola.

On structures next to a house, the beams run both parallel and perpendicular to the house just under the roof of the pergola.


Builders pour concrete into a hole in the ground to create the footings. These are concrete piers which support the posts.


We use the term ‘free-standing’ to describe any structure that isn’t attached to a house or larger building.

Everything You Need to Know About Pergolas: A Glossary of Pergola Terms - Australian Outdoor Living's guide on the aspects that go into your pergola, Australian Outdoor Living.
A gazebo is a great example of a free-standing pergola.

Ledger board

On a structure extending from a house, the ledge is a long piece of timber anchored to the wall frame.

It is usually the length of the pergola and the same height as the rafters.


These are arguably the most important components.

Posts are the vertical support structures running from the footing to the beam to allow the structure to stand up.

There are usually at least two posts attached to a building, or four if it is free-standing.

Everything You Need to Know About Pergolas: A Glossary of Pergola Terms - Posts are arguably the most important aspect of your pergola, Australian Outdoor Living.
Posts are arguably the most important aspect of your pergola.


The purlins in this photo are the horizontal beams perpendicular to the rafters.

Purlins are the horizontal bits of wood or steel that sit perpendicular to the rafters in the roof of your pergola.

We mostly include them for structural reasons, however they can also provide extra shade.


Rafters are the horizontal pieces of wood that form the main part of the roof.

On pergolas connected to a house, the rafters connect to the ledger board at one end and sit atop the beam at the other end.

On free-standing structures, rafters usually sit on top of both beams.

Gable end

The gable-style roof is a popular design.

This is the term we use to describe the triangular end of a roof. This design is popular, as it adds character to the structure.

It can showcase the pitch of the roof of any structure and we can fully customise to suit personal preferences and tastes.

There you have it: a brief guide to common pergola terms that should tell you everything you need to know about your new garden structure.

Now you can fully appreciate the architecture and work that went into building the latest addition to your garden

Click here if you’d like help deciding which pergola design is right for you and your home.

Ready to renovate?

Australian Outdoor Living is passionate about helping people love their life outdoors. We offer a range of products, including:

Have you been thinking about renovating your home? Fill out the free measure and quote form at the top of this article and a member of our dedicated sales team will be in touch.

Our stores are located in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, NewcastleCanberra, and Brisbane.

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