4 Great Ways to Cover a Pergola from Rain

There are few things better than spending a summer evening relaxing out on your pergola. Whether it’s just you getting some downtime or spending time with your family, pergolas allow for a comfortable and cozy night in the outdoors. While the design of pergolas doesn’t typically protect against rain, there are ways that you can overcome this obstacle. 

There are numerous ways to cover your pergola and prevent rain from getting inside. Tarps, canvases, louvers, retractable roofs, and corrugated fiberglass are just a few of the viable roofing options that will protect your pergola from the rain while maximizing your outdoor experience. 

In this article, we will look at the many ways you can cover your pergola from the rain. We’ll take a look at both temporary and permanent ways to shield your pergola while not taking away from its beauty. 

How Do You Temporarily Cover a Pergola?

The best way to temporarily cover your pergola is by using a tarp. Whether you want to cover it up for a longer duration, like during winter, or just for a night or two, a tarp will get the job done. Not only will a tarp be an adequate pergola cover, but it will by far be the cheapest. 

Most other temporary roofing options will be expensive, too permanent, or not waterproof. There are other cloths and canvas covers that you can use, but most aren’t waterproof. Using any solid material like wood or tin is expensive and could also require nails or glue. 

These materials could turn your temporary roof cover into a permanent one, which could be challenging to remove. 

How Do You Waterproof a Pergola? 

The only way to properly waterproof your pergola is to get a suitable roof that prevents rain and moisture from entering. There are quite a few roofing systems that exist for the sole purpose of having a waterproof roof. However, you may have to get creative if you wish to waterproof the sides of your pergola as well. 

The easiest way to quickly and easily waterproof your pergola is to utilize a retractable canopy cover. These canopy covers are great because they not only provide shade from the sun but they’re also waterproof, which means that the rain will stay on the outside of your pergola. 

The only way to waterproof the sides of your pergola in addition to the roof is to build walls or utilize tarps. However, the purpose of pergolas isn’t to be blocked in on the sides, as this defeats their purpose.

The whole point of having a pergola is to sit outside and enjoy the views or various patio activities. You can’t do that if the sides are covered up and you’re unable to see anything. 

For this reason, it’s advisable that you only waterproof the top of your pergola. However, if necessary, you can overlap your tarp, canvas, or other roofing material and let it cover the top two feet or so of your pergola walls.

Overlapping your tarp will provide additional rain protection without obstructing your pergolas’ view or accessibility. 

Are There Retractable Roofs for Pergolas?

If you want to go another route and have a cover that can be temporary or permanent, you could invest in a retractable roof. A retractable roof works similarly to a retractable roof on professional sports arenas.

If it’s raining and you want your pergola covered, then extend your roof and cover-up. When the sun is shining, and you want your pergola uncovered, retract the awning. 

Retractable roofs for pergolas are usually made of a canvas or tarp-like material. The awning itself is easily moveable with automatic features, or you can opt to save money and get a manual one.

Either way, you will have the option to cover your pergola or to open it up and have it exposed. 

1. Roll Retractable Canopy Cover

A retractable roll canopy is similar to a patio awning in that it is self-supported and relies on tension to stay rigid, rather than beams, posts, or cables to stretch out on. This type of canopy is very compact and offers excellent protection against sun and light rain. 

However, pooling water is inevitable because it’s self-supported if there isn’t any slope in your pergola’s roof. Pooling water will eventually cause the canopy to collapse in on itself, resulting in a flood of water inside your pergola. 

2. Singletrack Canopy

This type of retractable canopy has yet to gain mainstream popularity, but it’s only a matter of time. Singletrack canopies are too good at keeping the rain out of your pergola not to be used more frequently.

Its design has a single track in the middle of the slightly elevated canvas, allowing water to drain off on either side. 

This design prevents pooling and makes for a highly effective waterproof roof option on your pergola. The downside is that singletrack canopies were not designed explicitly for pergolas, so you may have to get creative with its implementation. 

3. Multi-track Canopy

This type of retractable canvas roof will have two or even more tracks that a series of battens travel on to either cover your pergola or retract on command.

Multi-track canopies are much easier to install when done on the initial building of your pergola, but they can be added to an existing one if necessary. 

If you know that you’re going to want the option of a waterproof roof on your pergola from the get-go, then plan and attach one right away.

Planning and installing a multi-track canvas on initial construction could save you money later due to the extra time and labor it will take to add one later. 

Much like the singletrack canopy, the multi-track offers the option of a slightly sloping roof to prevent pooling water. 

Can Rain Get Through a Pergola?

Unless you have a waterproof roof on your pergola, the rain will always get through it. Most pergolas lack a design with tight, weatherproof roofs, so you shouldn’t use them for any storage.

You can always choose to add a waterproof roof that will help keep the rain out, but the sides of your pergola will still be exposed. 

With winds of any sort, particularly heavy winds, the rain will inevitably sweep in through the sides of your pergola. So unless you want to build walls in addition to your roof and turn your pergola into a building, the rain will usually be able to find its way into your pergola one way or another. 

How Do You Cover a Pergola with a Tarp?

A tarp is a great way to temporarily or even permanently cover the top of your pergola. Installing a tarp over the top of your pergola is probably the most straightforward roof that you’ll ever install. Here is a step-by-step process for you to adequately cover your pergola with a tarp. 

  1. Measure the length and width of the roof of your pergola. 
  2. Make sure that you get a tarp large enough to accommodate. You never want to use multiple tarps, as this will compromise the integrity of your roof. 
  3. Stretch out the tarp on top of your pergola, making sure that each corner is covered. 
  4. Hook rubber tie-downs or fabric straps to the corners of the tarp. There should be holes that you can hook or loop through on the tarp. 
  5. Secure the other end of your straps or tie-downs to a vertical or horizontal beam on your pergola. 
  6. Voila! Your pergola is covered and waterproof just like that. 

It is important to remember that rain will fall and pool to the middle of your tarp if there isn’t any slope in the roof. Pooling water could result in your roof caving in on itself if there isn’t enough support in the middle of your pergola.

If necessary, raise a poll or beam to the middle of your tarp, so rain doesn’t collect in your tarp roof. 

Other Great Ways to Cover Your Pergola From Rain

A tarp is excellent for temporarily covering your pergola, but it doesn’t make for a perfect permanent solution. Tarps are prone to holes and tears, which will quickly compromise your pergola and the tarp itself.

Tarps can tend to be an eyesore, which takes away from the natural beauty of your pergola. 

Retractable canvas roofs for your pergola are effective, but they have the same issue of tears and cosmetics. You’re also limited in what you can put on top of your roof because you may want to retract or extend it. 

Here are a few other waterproof roofing options to consider. They might take a little more work and be more expensive, but for long-term enjoyment of your pergola, they might also be what you’re looking for. 

1. Corrugated Flat Panels/Louvers 

Corrugated flat panels and louvers are an excellent option for waterproof pergola roofing. These panels and louvers are available in various materials, including wood, glass, tin, steel, aluminum, fiberglass, and vinyl. 

Different requirements and prices will be attached to other materials, and every option will also have its own sets of pros and cons. We’ll go into more detail on a few of these options below. 

2. Corrugated Fiberglass

A corrugated fiberglass is an excellent option for a pergola roof. The fiberglass will typically be lightweight, waterproof, and easy to install, great for DIYers.

Corrugated fiberglass also comes in various colors so that you can add a little flavor and flare if you wish. 

The downside of fiberglass is that it can be rather expensive to purchase. The fact that it’s lightweight is a pro in some ways, but it’s also a con in that a heavy wind could quickly remove your roof if you didn’t install it properly. 

3. Wood Planks or Sheets

Using wood planks or sheets of wood to cover your pergola is an excellent way to let your creative side run wild. You can use any wood as long as it’s weatherproof, or you apply a weatherproof stain or paint.

This type of roof will also allow you to put flowers, plants, or other goodies on top of your roof or hang down the side of it. 

Wood roofs will be solid and sturdy, but they’re also not retractable and require some maintenance. Every couple of years, you should reapply stain or paint to ensure that the wood doesn’t become compromised due to weather abuse. 

4. Tin or Steel Roof

Covering your pergola with a tin or steel roof is another form of permanent roofing that will probably last as long as your pergola itself.

Installing a tin or steel roof on your pergola is done similarly to the process of installing one on a house or barn. You can do it yourself or hire a roofing contractor for the job. 

The upside of this type of roof is relatively low maintenance and long-lasting. It will also make for a great experience listening to the rainfall on top of your roof as you relax in your dry pergola.

The downside is that it’s permanent, and you can’t retract it when you want to enjoy the sunshine. It could also be pricey to install due to the price of the material and the fact that you might need to hire someone. 

Final Thoughts

Whether you decide to add a waterproof roof to your pergola or not is entirely up to you. Many pros come with adding a shelter, but there are also cons.

You can enjoy your pergola more often and in different types of weather with a waterproof roof. Based on what roofing option you choose, you can also add character and personality to your pergola. 

For some, however, adding a roof takes away from the original purpose of pergolas. Letting the sunshine in and putting up with the elements is good enough for some, but there’s no right or wrong way to go.

All that matters is that you choose the option that will allow you and others to get the most out of your pergola. 


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Hubert Miles

Hello! My name is Hubert Miles. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. One of my favorite parts of my job is inspecting decks and patios. I also enjoy spending time in our backyard with friends and family. My team and I started this site to share this journey. We hope you enjoy the content.

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