The Difference Between Patios & Pergolas

You may be wondering what is the difference between a patio and a pergola? I don’t blame you, most people use the words interchangeably and easily get them mixed up.

It is worth noting that each structure has its own unique properties and functions. Knowledge of how these structures differ, their practical implications on a property along with the pros and cons, can help ensure you make the right decision about choosing the right structure for your home.

What is a Patio?

Patio Roof

A patio is a structure that is attached directly to another structure, such as a home. The key distinction is that a patio has a roof. The roof can either be an extension of your home or it can have its own style of roof – arched, sloped or flat. The structures are made of steel but the roofs can be made with Colorbond (a popular Australian colour coated steel).  The roofs can be retractable or fixed and attach to a wall above to provide protection from the sun and heavy rain.

The roof can have ceiling fans, heaters, lighting, speakers and other electric devices attached to it. The main purpose is to provide shade and rain protection to the outdoor area and keep temperatures at stable levels. Patios are usually finished to match and blend in with the architecture of the home, therefore serving as almost an extension of indoor living space to the home.

An example of a gable roof patio
An example of a gable roof patio made by us.

Open or Closed Sides

Another key feature of a patio is that they can be left open on three sides, or have one or two sides enclosed with one left open. Modern outdoor patio designs incorporate sliding doors on the side that can be left open, so during inclement or cold weather the use of the outdoor space can still be enjoyed.

Note: Patios do not require walls around them but may share a wall with the side of your house.

Patios can be covered with either permanent covers or retractable awnings – they truly are versatile structures when coupled with functional designs. They usually blend in with the trim, gutters and house cladding.

You can increase the visual appeal and enjoyment from a patio by utilising garden furniture, plants and other outdoor garden enhancements.

What is a Pergola?

A traditional pergola.


Historically, the original use of this word comes from the Latin word “pergula” which referred to a “projective eave”. A garden feature that created a shaded pathway or sitting area on pillars. Pergolas were originally freestanding and ornamental – linking pavilions or extending from a building’s door to an open garden feature such as a terrace or water feature. They are most-commonly used as backyard structures to support climbing plants and shrubs and to provide an area of shade in a garden, seating area or outdoor kitchen. Its purpose lies in being an enhancing feature to a garden that can be used to improve the aesthetics of a garden area.

Today’s Pergolas

In today’s day and age, the pergola has become increasingly popular and as a result they have become more varied. They can be installed over a patio, walkway, driveway, outdoor kitchen area, pool deck or even in the middle of a garden. That being said, some homeowners do opt for a style of pergola that can be attached and secured to the side of the roof.

A modern steel pergola.

Pergola Roof

You can point out a pergola by its roof. Unlike a patio roof, the roof of a pergola can be left open. Traditional pergolas usually have solid wooden posts or columns that support beams and set atop these beams is a flat framed open roof with plank slats or lattice. Rectangular shapes and four legged structures are characteristic of a pergola. This roof might only be rafters of lattices and may not block the rain. Some add trailing plants, bougainvillea or climbing plants that grow up along their posts for privacy and shade and to create a natural partition. Modern pergolas can have portable screens, aluminium or wood slats, polycarbonate panels, fabric canopies (shade cloth) some of which may be fixed, retractable or can be rotated to adjust to the sun’s angle for added protection. These lightweight shading options means pergolas have become much more versatile and user-friendly.

The traditional version of a pergola is an inexpensive way to provide shade to a backyard.

You can experiment with wildly different colour schemes in the use of flowering plants, wood stains and effects to achieve the aesthetic look you are after.

Shade Cloth Pergola in Perth
An example of a shade cloth pergola made by us.

In Summary


–          With ornate designs and inscriptions, a pergola can add a rustic or individualistic style to your outdoor environment.

–          Enhance the visual appeal of your outdoor space or existing patio.

–          Freestanding structures but can be attached.

–          Furniture and other items can fade, damage and get wet unless using a retractable waterproof roof pergola.

–          Can see through the open roof.

–          Limited shading.

–          If made with wood, can be left open to rot and other pests.

–          Building permits needed. We look after this for you in Perth at Steel Improvements WA.


–          Give you an extension of indoor living space and increase the value to your home.

–          Give you a more spacious feel to the living space created by it.

–          Protect you from rain, hail or shine.

–          Match the architectural design of your home.

–          Retractable or fixed roofs.

–          Assists in maintaining a stable temperature.

–          Proximity to the main building can make adding fans, heaters, sound devices and lights easier.

–          Furniture and other items under a patio are secured from the elements.

–          Increased versatility compared to a pergola.

–          Can’t see through the roof but sun can shine in.

–          Building permits needed. We look after this for you in Perth at Steel Improvements WA.

It is worth mentioning, that some people assume patios and pergolas are interchangeable and are essentially the same, but made from different materials. This is not the case however. As we mentioned earlier, traditionally; pergolas were used to enhance the aesthetic of gardens, rather than serving as a versatile and functional space. It is only since new materials have been used in their construction that the functional aspects of both pergolas and patios have adapted.

What is suitable for you?

Whether your deciding to build a pergola or a patio, it is a big undertaking. Making sure you have the right structure that fits your purpose before going to build is essential. You will need to evaluate how you will use your outdoor space.

With Perth’s gorgeous summer weather or winter rain, we at Steel Improvements are big proponents of the choice of a patio as it can be a functional, durable and effective structure suitable for all seasons.

An outdoor structure like a patio built with high-quality Australian made materials can increase the value of a home by providing more living space.

A gable patio, our most popular patio design features an angled roof in the center than can encourage the flow of water out to the sides, increase light and bring ventilation to a space. It is also visually appealing and is considerably stronger than a flat roof patio.

However, that being said a pergola can offer the benefit of beautifying a garden in an instant with its aesthetic look complete with in-built plant support.

It is always best to have a discussion with an expert before deciding, we offer free zero-obligation consultations and combined with our 30+ years in experience we would love to help you out. Contact us here or reach out to us via live chat.

And hey, if after reading this you really can’t decide between the two – you can always choose both! 🙂