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If you are an outdoor enthusiast and love spending time by the pool or patio no matter what the temperature, having relief near by is always welcome.  Over the years, I have built dozens of shade structures using a variety of different materials.  Before we go into the numerous options, let’s talk about the many names we use to describe them and their associated meanings. Gazebos, Arbors, Ramada’s, and Pergola’s are the most common names, but what are the differences?

Gazebos offer protection from both the sun and rain because they have a solid tiled roof that matches the home.  These are free standing structures that are not attached to the house. The interior finished ceiling is either exposed framework, or the framework is covered using a tongue & groove high grade plywood. Some people use sheetrock & paint, but I am not a big proponent of that as it usually breaks down under our harsh weather conditions. I also like a vaulted ceiling as opposed to flat as it just feels larger from the inside.  Most people install a light & ceiling fan with a switch on one of the support posts, and others go as far as installing a misting system on the perimeter for additional comfort.  The support posts are built with masonry block (CMU), require a solid footing, and can be finished off with stucco & paint, or maybe a stone veneer.  A good Gazebo starts at about $14,000 for a 12×12, but I have built larger structures that cost over $20,000.  It all depends on how you accessorize and the materials you choose. Because Gazebo’s usually finish off at a height of 10 to 12 feet above ground level, just about all require HOA approval and a building permit.  They are not hard to get, but that is the correct way to go about it.  Gazebos are one of the more expensive shade options but are extremely functional and decorative.

Another shade option is the Ramada, Pergola or Arbor which can be attached to the house or free-standing. A pergola or arbor offers no protection from the rain, but does offer “filtered” sunlight, as well as a very attractive decorative element. A Ramada is a solid covered roof. The support posts can be wood or masonry or Alumawood, and the top can have either one or two layers depending on how much shade you require. Two layered arbors are usually the norm.  I recommend two especially if you are using wood, because the cross-member building approach helps to keep the wood from twisting.  I like using a “rough sawn” fir because it holds up well to Arizona weather and stains or paints beautifully.  The two-layered arbor top starts with a first course of main beams with dimensions of 6” x 12”. I like a “beefy” looking structure.  I corbel the ends for decoration and the corners are cross woven into one another.  The first course is a 3” x 6” member laid perpendicular to the first, and also has corbeled ends.  The final layer is 2” x 2” and is laid perpendicular to the course below.  Ends are usually too small to corbel, so I’ll straight cut them or slightly round over the ends.  It’s also best that you stain or paint the wood on the ground, so you can cover every inch of wood before it is assembled.  It also makes staining or painting much easier when you can place them on a saw horse as opposed to working overhead.  Wood still has a tendency to twist, so make sure the wood is as dry as it can be from the lumber yard.

If you don’t want the maintenance of wood, there are companies that offer an aluminum made product that simulates the look of wood…it is known as Alumawood.  There are several color choices, and when dirty, can be washed off with a hose and never require any painting.  Again, most structures like these require HOA approval and possibly a permit. Check with the city to see what they require.  Cost for natural wood arbors or Ramada’s range between $8,000 and $15,000 depending on the size, the number of layers, and what type of materials you will use to accessorize. Cost for the “Aluma Wood” structures are about 20 percent less expensive.  There is definitely a trade off between the overall look and beauty of natural wood versus the low maintenance of artificial looking wood so…pick your poison here. Pick the right materials, have a good design, get the proper approvals and finally choose a licensed contractor, and you can begin to enjoy this summer with a little added comfort as well as building some nice equity.  If you have any questions about this or other landscape products, email me thru So long for now and STAY COOL!

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