Pergola Roof Ideas: What You Need to Know

It’s a bit of an oxymoron isn’t it? A pergola roof. By definition, a pergola does not have a roof but the practical evolution of the many thousand years old idea is finally progressing at a rate worthy of the twenty-first century.

Static Panels or Fabrics

One option I became aware of recently is a clear plastic (plexiglass, acrylic, lexan or polycarbonate) cover that rests on top of the rafters. This provides protection from the rain but nothing else. It also shows the dirt and debris that collects up there and does nothing for the aesthetics that the relaxing and stylish retreat a pergola should have. This is an inexpensive option that can run as low as about two dollars a square foot.

Another fixed (that’s the term we use if you cannot retract it) pergola roof option is fabric in tension stretched over the rafters. This protects from both sun and rain if you use a water resistant fabric but it comes with inherent problems that are significant enough to limit its application onto pergolas. Fabric will pocket with water and over time the pockets stretch and progressively get worse. The pockets collect dirt and debris which contribute to mildewing. Fabric can be as little as four or five dollars a square foot assuming a reasonable quality outdoor fabric is used. A big box store is selling this solution on an arched roof pergola kit (the arched roof will make it more easily shed rain).

Louvered Roofs

A novel solution that I find a little commercial for my taste is the louvered roof systems out of Australia. These systems are metal and protect from sun and rain, and though they not retractable, they are adjustable by tilting the louvers from fully open to fully closed. I have seen them at home shows but have never seen one on a home in North America, so I can’t say they come with any user endorsements that I know of. Prices I recall from the shows run around twenty dollars a square foot and the contraption needs a full box frame to go on top of your pergola… not very complementary.

Roll Retractable Awnings

Roll retractable awnings have been jerry rigged to many a pergola because the awning industry presents them as the panacea for all sun protection needs. Let’s not spend any more time on it. Attaching a roll retractable to your pergola is like putting galoshes on a pair of Jimmy Choos or a wing spoiler on a Bentley.

Retractable Canopies

Now onto the practical, attractive and long term reliable options, retractable canopies. There are two types: multiple tracks, and the one near and dear to my heart, the single track ShadeFX retractable canopy system. Multiple track systems use multiple fabric panels to cover a large area and don’t protect from rain as a result. Not a good solution unless you are in Arizona. Why have no rain protection when it’s available in a simpler system for practically the same price? The other multiple track systems use a four sided frame of aluminum to keep everything true and parallel with the multiple tracks. They can go wide and protect large areas from sun and rain, but the aluminum frame is unsightly, hard to install and unreliable if the frame shifts or moves over time.


I had one commercial customer call our ShadeFX system a retractable ceiling. The more I think of it, the better that term describes these retractable canopies.

Topside Pergola Canopy

Finally, there is a retractable fabric roof made by ShadeFX.  It’s called the “Topside” mounting option and it covers the pergola from above. The system is difficult to see when retracted because it also uses the patented single track actuator. When extended, it is above the rafters and woodwork, so you see all the intricacies of a beautiful wood pergola, while getting retractable protection from sun and rain. The best part of retractable pergola roofs on top of the pergola is that they allow for accessories like speakers, fans and TV’s to be mounted and to work in concert with the canopy.

Okay, so I’m biased. My choice of all these would be a ShadeFX retractable canopy mounted under the rafters with rope operation. As a boater, I love the ambiance of fabric fluttering in the breeze and the warm soft surface it makes when extended. I also love the tactile connection I dream of to the water when I extend the canopy with the rope that runs through marine hardware pulleys. In my mind’s eye, I’m raising the main on a sailboat and drifting off with the light breeze to a place called tranquility…

If you have any questions about your pergola and how to get started with a ShadeFX retractable canopy, please contact us with drawings, sketches, plans. We can help protect your space and ensure you make the most out of it.

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