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When only a pergola will do

Pergolas offered by suppliers such as Markilux probably bear little resemblance to their early forbears, being constructed from cutting edge materials such as lightweight aluminium and innovative fabrics, but it’s still nice to think that this external structure has been around for a while.

With its Italianate name, the word “pergola” has always had an exotic ring to it, and in fact pergolas date back to Roman times, when shaded garden structures represented the high water mark of civilised taste and living. Since then, no top notch garden, deck or terrace seems to be really complete without the addition of a fixed structure under which to take shelter from the elements.

Pergolas have long provided wonderful shaded zones for dining, relaxing and socialising close to nature and the elements and, with many modern features now available, look set to continue to do so into the future.

A traditional pergola consists of support posts, beams and rafters, often adorned with creeping vegetation such as a vine or Wisteria. Many of these old fashioned structures offer dappled shade and a roof-like covering made of beams and rafters with significant gaps, which isn’t completely resistant to an onslaught of rain or solar glare. While charming and visually appealing, these configurations offer limited functionality if you live in an area where the weather changes regularly!

Modern pergolas commonly seen in Australian outdoor areas are somewhat different, taking their cue from external blinds and awnings in the form of a stable, mechanised structure that uses high tech fabric as its primary shading element; fabric that is typically cleverly designed to allow some light in while at the same time eliminating harmful UV rays. These pergolas come with a wide range of bells and whistles meaning they are now more operationally flexible than ever.

Modern pergolas mean innovation

The key point to remember about the difference between a pergola and its close relative the awning, is that pergolas are generally held up by vertical support structures, unlike awnings which typically attach to a building. Modern pergolas have a number of key innovative advantages. For one thing, these awning systems on posts are extremely sturdy and stable and are also very well suited to modern homes where the design of the building means attaching a shade structure to a wall isn’t advisable. Some of the best modern pergolas offer rainwater drainage and are designed to offer high levels of wind resistance.

Typically modern pergolas feature lightweight fixed polycarbonate roofing that allows UV filtered sunlight to pass through. Many such pergolas are also retractable, meaning they can give you as much or as little shade as you like. They can also be configured to provide full shade or be made of a material that allows filtered or UV blocked light to pass through.

Thanks to the use of materials such as lightweight aluminium, a modern pergola can span a greater distance without the need for extra support posts. They cover wide expanses without too many support structures, meaning the flow of the space remains uncluttered and allowing you to arrange furniture, planting and other elements as you see fit.

Useful features of today’s pergolas are primarily the result of state of the art functional innovation. As mentioned, the strength of support structures and the fabric used mean many single pergolas can now span previously unimaginable widths, up to six metres wide, a significant innovation in light of modern tastes that favour wide window openings. In addition many contemporary models allow for manual adjustment to individual support posts, a very useful feature in circumstances where water run-off is needed during or after a heavy shower or indeed to provide more nuanced shading in sunny weather.

Many modern pergolas, like awnings, also feature guided tracks that eliminate light gaps between the guide rails and cover and are also designed to enable permanently high cover tension, which is achieved by special gas piston mechanisms. Clever features such as an integrated rain gutter in the front profile add to the utility of these structures, while motorisation in standard and remote controlled options makes them easy to operate.

Other add-ons, which can really make your pergola a standout addition to your home, utilise modern technology to make it responsive to prevailing conditions. Examples include LED lighting, infrared heating and intelligent light, wind and rain sensors that ensure the pergola opens or closes smoothly and easily depending on whether the weather is sun-drenched, raining or windy. Many of these weather sensitive systems can also be installed without needing to be wired into the mains, with built in solar cells ensuring low cost, energy efficient and reliable power supply.

What to look for in your pergola

Higher quality pergolas should be easy to spot and are well worth the financial outlay as they will add to the liveability of your home, provide few maintenance challenges and will probably even boost the resale value of your property. Look for a minimal frame structure with slender support posts for your pergola, as well as track guides that eliminate unsightly gaps. The option to retract your pergola is also key, while water drainage is also a plus. Head boxes for pergolas come in a variety of styles including round or square profiles. Meanwhile other things to consider include drop valances that hang down vertically from your pergola, allowing added protection against the sun as well as increased privacy and some protection from shows and breezes.

Talk to a shading solutions consultant about whether you need a pergola or an awning or a combination of both to meet your outdoor shading needs; with a range of complementary products available, along with durable technical fabrics, you can create a unified look for your home’s outdoor spaces that also meets each zone’s requirements in terms of weather protection, wind resistance, ease-of-use and visual design appeal.

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