Everything You Need to Know About Pergolas: A Glossary of Pergola Terms

Outdoor Cream Pergola Interior

So you’ve got that beautiful pergola installed in your new home. Your family and friends visit for a cuppa and a chance to admire the craftsmanship. They instantly fall in love and want to know everything about your new building – what timber have you used for the beams? How are the posts supported? Their questions are met with silence as you try to translate the words. Which ones were the beams again?

Show off your pergola knowledge while you’re showing off your pergola. Learn a little bit more about that structure that brings you relief from the sun while still allowing you to be outdoors.

glossary of terms for an outdoor pergola

Pergolas look beautiful but their construction involves an array of strange-sounding terms that today inevitably describe various pieces of wood in different positions and serving different functions. But pergola construction isn’t rocket science, and neither are pergola terms. We’ve given a list of the most popular parts of a pergola here to guide your pergola expertise:

Pergola

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 to you as a great surprise that pergola has Italian origins, just as the structure itself is Mediterranean. The term pergola refers to a number of outdoor structures, from a shaded walkway to a freestanding structure with an open roof. Today, it can also be the extension of a building. It is supported by columns and posts and today is most popularly made of wood.

Beams

On pergolas abutting a house, the beam runs parallel to the side of the house, at the opposite end of the pergola. A free-standing pergola has two beams parallel to each other.

Footings

Supporting the posts, footings are the concrete piers created by pouring concrete into a hole in the ground.

Free-standing

This is basic terminology to describe a structure that is not attached to a home or any other structure.

gazebo

Ledger board

On a pergola 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.

Posts

These are arguably the most important components of the pergola. 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 for a pergola attached to a building or four if it is free-standing.

Purlins

Purlins are optional smaller bits of wood than can sit on top of the rafters for added shade. They run perpendicular to the rafters.

pergola corridor

Rafters

Rafters are the horizontal pieces of wood that form the main part of the pergola roof. On pergolas connected to a house, the rafters are attached to the ledger board at one end and sit atop the beam at the other end. On free-standing pergolas, rafters usually sit on top of both beams.

Gable End

This is the term used to describe the triangular end of a roof often designed to add character to a pergola or verandah. It can showcase the pitch of the roof of any structure and is often fully customisable to suit personal preferences and tastes.

There you have it: a brief guide to pergola parts 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! I think it’s time to get that cuppa and sit down with your families and friends on your new pergola.

Ready to renovate?

If you’re looking to add a pergola to your backyard (and feel more confident now you understand the builder’s terms!), or are you searching for inspiration to jazz up your pergola? Check out our other resources:

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About Alex Kuchel

This is Alex. Alex is the National Brand Manager at Australian Outdoor Living (AOL). By day, she’s a member of AOL’s marketing team. She helps to conjure up ideas on how best to promote Australian Outdoor Living and enjoys working with a pretty awesome team of clever cookies. By night (and weekends), she enjoys the company of her family and friends. She’s a big believer in sun shine and does her best to enjoy it with those she loves most.”