6 Types Of Outdoor Shade Structures (with Pros and Cons)

Kenneth Wilson

Are you planning on decorating your garden? Not sure whether to get a pergola or gazebo?

With our Florida sun, a lot of homeowners like to spend their time outdoors. That’s why you’ll see that most of their yards have a landscaping feature that doubles as a comfortable outdoor living space.

Besides the pergola and gazebo, there are other types of embellishments that you can get. You can choose between an arbor, pavilion, shade sail, patio umbrella, or a combination of these for your home. Most people get confused with some of these structures since they look the same from a distance. Each type has its own unique features, but all of them offer sun protection and a bit of privacy.

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects or ASLA’s 2018 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey, the pergola is the most popular choice for outdoor structures that provide shade; followed by the arbor, pavilion, and then gazebo. If you are already set on getting a pergola, you should know there are different types you can choose from. Find out which pergola is the best fit for your home.

If not, here is a guide that provides information on the general design, purpose, pros and cons, FAQs, and best products of the different kinds of backyard embellishments that provide shade.


A pergola is a wide-open outdoor embellishment supported by four beams and has no walls. This structure can be freestanding or connected to your home. Its flat roof traditionally has a lattice or trellis design which offers partial shade, but sometimes screens are added to provide more cover. You may also add vines or sheer curtains to increase privacy and shade.

But the primary purpose of pergolas is not to completely shelter people. Its traditional design is built to allow more air circulation and sunlight can pass through. Think of it as just a relief from the harsh Florida sun. So if you don’t mind a little sun, and you won’t be using your outdoor shade structure when it’s raining, you can opt for a pergola.

Other than that, this structure is used to create an outdoor extension of a home or patio. You can use it for outdoor dining or entertaining guests. It can also be placed on a deck or at the poolside area. Adding this embellishment upgrades the look of your backyard. 

The construction cost and time will depend on what type of pergola you get. There are ones that can be made from a kit or bought whole. You can also build one on your own or get a contractor to custom build you one.

Pergola Pros and Cons


  • Creates an outdoor living area
  • Doesn't obstruct the view from inside your home
  • Allows more air circulation
  • Easier and cheaper to maintain
  • Faster to install and requires fewer materials to build
  • Requires a smaller area of your backyard


  • The common materials used for pergolas easily fade over time
  • Watch out for termites
  • Will only increase the value of your home if it is designed well


What is the average assembly time?

If you don’t have a patio, should pergolas be placed on pavers to level them?

Can pergolas hold a swing or hammock?

What is the best material for a pergola?

Recommended Pergola

27 ratings
  • 14 feet x 10 feet
  • Multi-level pergola
  • Classic archway design
  • Modern-looking cedar finish
  • Comes with a built-in bench with armrests and bar
  • Made out of durable resin to prevent decay from ground moisture
  • Durable due to concrete anchors and 5 ½” cedar posts with diagonal braces

Do note: If you want a professionally built pergola that is fully code compliant, you will need to hire a local contractor.  I recommend using the Homeadvisor network, because typically their contractors are more price competitive.  Submit your free estimate request here.


It’s easy to confuse an arbor with a pergola because they have the same lattice or trellis design. But what makes the arbor different is that its side also has a lattice framework. It can have two or four beams and often has an arched top. Similar to a pergola, vines can be used to increase shade and privacy for this structure.

Arbors are primarily used to accentuate walkways, paths, and entrances of backyards or gardens. Their purpose is to decorate gates and yards, and sometimes even outdoor weddings. Some people also use them to shelter a seating area or bench. If you only want an outdoor shade structure for the reasons above, then you should get an arbor.

Arbor Pros and Cons


  • A quick way to add a decorative touch to your yard
  • Doesn’t take up as much space
  • Requires fewer materials to construct
  • Cost less than the other types
  • Easy to install (You can do it yourself, get it custom made, buy it whole, or build it from a kit)


  • Not meant to become an outdoor living area
  • Provides the least amount of shade among the other outdoor structures


How long does it take to assemble an arbor?

Since it is lightweight, will it fly off during hurricanes?

What is the common width for arbors?

Recommended Arbor

396 ratings
  • Outside dimensions: 64 inches W x 85 inches H x 28 inches D
  • Inside dimensions: 42 inches W x 78 inches H x 22 inches D
  • 2 by 2-inch posts and 16-inch steel ground anchors
  • Pergola-styled arbor top
  • Easy to assemble and to install ground anchors
  • PVC vinyl will not crack, peel, fade, or discolor
  • Comes with a 20-year warranty 


A pavilion is a fully-covered pitched roof structure with open sides that provides shade as well as shelter from the rain. It is supported by four or, if bigger, six posts. Similar to a pergola, it can also be freestanding or an outdoor extension of your home that is attached to a patio, deck, or concrete area.

Oriental Garden Pavilion Backyard Tropical

Pavilions are commonly used to cover a seating area or a deck. Since it is typically bigger than the other types of outdoor shade structures, there are plenty of available upgrade options. If you install a wall, it provides more cover and can be used as an outdoor kitchen or bar. Place some picnic tables or make it more comfortable by adding a couch. If you want an outdoor shade structure you can use even when it’s raining, a pavilion is one of the options you can get.

Pavilion Pros and Cons


  • Provides more shade than the other types
  • Comes with a solid roof to shelter against the sun and rain
  • Multiple upgrade options
  • Adds value to your home


  • Takes over a large area of your backyard
  • Require more materials and more expensive to construct and to maintain
  • Harder to find these pre-installed in homes
  • If you want a custom-made pavilion, you have to build one or hire a contractor to do it 

Note: If you’re not that particular with the design, you can build one from a kit.


What differentiates a pavilion from a gazebo?

How much does it cost to build a pavilion?

Which is better? Wood or vinyl pavilion?

Recommended Pavilion

10 ratings
  • Dimensions: 14 feet L x 13 feet W x 10.5 feet H
  • Comes with a hardtop
  • 100% Premium FSC-certified cedar lumber
  • Wood is pre-cut, pre-drilled, and pre-stained
  • Coated with protective paint for long-term use and durability


The easiest way to differentiate a gazebo and a pavilion is by its shape. The gazebo is a hexagonal or octagonal structure with a fully-closed solid roof that is often added on patios, decks, gardens, or concrete area.  Because of its oval design, it’s great to place it in an area with a nice view. It can also be freestanding, have a built-in floor, or attached to a wall. Its side is usually semi-open with railings and it can be designed with lattices, trellises, or curtains. Sometimes gazebos have screened-in walls so that bugs can’t enter inside.

This embellishment is typically used as a retreat or meeting space in public areas. But today, they are installed in private residences for the same purpose. Homeowners who love spending time outdoors install these to provide shade and shelter from the rain. This is another outdoor shade structure you can install if you want to spend time outdoors even when it’s raining.

Gazebo Pros and Cons


  • Increases the value of your home
  • Provides more shade than the other types
  • Option to install screens to keep the insects out
  • Can run electricity and have other upgrades


  • Takes up a lot of yard space
  • Costs more to build and maintain than a pergola
  • Hard to come by a house that has these pre-installed
  • If you prefer a specific design, you also need to build one or get a contractor to do it 

Note: If you’re fine with any style, you can buy a kit and assemble it.


How long does it take to assemble a gazebo?

What do you call the small dome on top of the gazebo?

What shapes do gazebos come in?

Recommended Gazebo

  • 10 feet x 12 feet and triangular stand pole of 4.7 inches by 4.7 inches
  • Has two layers with sidewalls (mosquito net and strong 180gsm polyester solid sidewall)
  • PBV-coated polyester mosquito netting
  • Dark brown-colored rust-proof aluminum frame
  • Hardtop instead of normal fabric or polycarbonate material (5-year warranty)
  • Removable steel railing on all sides

Do note: If you want a professionally built pergola that is fully code compliant, you will need to hire a local contractor.  I recommend using the Homeadvisor network, because typically their contractors are more price competitive.  Submit your free estimate request here.

Shade sails

Shade sails are a great way to provide shade without having to spend so much or finding a space for it. It can effectively block UV rays and allow us to enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, most models will not be waterproof to prevent water from pooling. If it collects the water, the shade sail would slack, or worse, break.

But you could also get water-resistant shade sails. If it’s created with HDPE mesh fabric, the water will run off the material. Of course, this will still depend on the slope of the sail.

Shade Sails Pros and Cons


  • Easy to install and remove
  • Less expensive
  • Adds aesthetic value
  • Great ventilation


  • Can’t withstand storms
  • A fire hazard risk
  • It may be difficult to find a location to hang the shade sail
  • Birds, large branches, and other factors can easily cause holes and frays


How much wind can a shade sail withstand?

How to avoid the shade sail from slacking?

Recommended Shade Sails

336 ratings
  • 10 feet x 13 feet
  • Material is made out of 185 gsm UV-protected high-density polyethylene 
  • Comes with durable stainless steel D-rings in each corner

Patio Umbrellas

If you don’t have space or budget for any of the structures mentioned above, you can opt for a patio umbrella. It’s a simple and inexpensive way to provide shade outdoors. Not only is it convenient, but it is portable, too!

There are many types of patio umbrellas - it’s best to choose one based on the size, design, function, and color to match your outdoor area’s theme.

Patio Umbrellas Pros and Cons


  • Can be upgraded to have lighting installed
  • Portable
  • Great for small yards
  • Less expensive


  • Cannot provide shade for a large group
  • Not the best cover when it’s raining
  • No privacy


Can you leave patio umbrellas outside for a long time?

What is the perfect patio umbrella size?

Recommended Patio Umbrella

1,490 ratings
  • 9 feet canopy diameter
  • Rust-free powder-coated aluminum pole
  • Easy to tilt with push-button and to crank
  • It can accommodate rectangular or square tables with 4 to 6 chairs
  • 100% Recycled Polyester fabric that is fade-resistant, water-repellent, and UV protected.
Kenneth Wilson
October 25, 2019
Yard & Garden

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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