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Choosing the Best Ramada and Pergola Materials for Arizona

May 9, 2023

Ramadas and pergolas are permanent outdoor overhead structures that can help expand your living space. They allow you to spend time outside while shielding you from the elements. Despite their distinct architectural differences, they are similar in that their primary function is overhead protection. So the materials you choose are crucial to their utility, longevity and style.

In this blog post, we compare various ramada and pergola materials and explain how you can choose the most suitable ones for your landscaping project:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

What Are the Essential Parts of a Shade Structure?

When you discuss materials with your landscaping team, the first thing you’d want to know is where in your shade structure they would go. The following are the basic parts of a shade structure, whether that’s a ramada or pergola:

  • Flooring—includes the walkways and areas where you set furniture and heavy equipment. You’d want to ensure that it’s even, durable and slip-proof.
  • Columns—the pillars of your shade structure, which must be extra-sturdy
  • Additional side supports—fill the spaces between columns. Examples are fences, walls and panels. You may add them to enhance your shade structure’s resilience and style. They also make great privacy screens and support for outdoor equipment and seating areas.
  • Roofing—consists of the overhead covering. Besides overhead protection, you can use it to support climbing plants, lighting equipment, hammocks and other hanging structures.

Your landscaping team will go over construction materials with you once they have an initial design.

Parts of a shade structure. A wall serves as an additional side support in this cozy ramada, and it has several appliances and an outdoor fireplace. This is a Straight Line Landscape creation.

Should You Build Your Shade Structure with a Combination of Different Materials?

You can consider building your shade structure from one or several different types of materials.

If you construct an entire ramada or pergola using a single material, you ensure it has cohesion in style. You may even keep the budget in check if you pick a low-cost type. But if you go with this option, you may get stuck with all the downsides of your chosen material. For example, an all-wood pergola is less resilient than one made chiefly of aluminum. An all-brick ramada may be too warm when built on an Arizona patio.

On the other hand, using various materials allows you to optimize your shade structure’s performance. For example, stone floors, stone-finished metal columns and a wood lattice roof make a sturdy custom pergola. But combining different materials may sacrifice cost and style cohesion.

When choosing material combinations, consider the complexity of your design. Many factors determine the design, the most important being the roof’s function.

For example, a ramada provides complete shade. It is designed to protect from both UV and rainwater, but it tends to trap heat. So ideally, its materials must be able to withstand all the elements without retaining much heat.

By comparison, a pergola is designed to give only partial shade. It reduces sunlight heat but does not shield you from the rain. It’s enough to keep an outdoor kitchen cool, though many homeowners also use it to support climbing plants. A pergola’s lattice roof is commonly made from lightweight materials like wood, plastic and aluminum.

What Materials Can You Use for Constructing a Shade Structure?

You may choose your ramada or pergola materials from the following:

NATURAL STONE

Natural stones are hard substances that spontaneously form from minerals and other earth-crust chemicals. There are various types, but the ones most frequently used in building a residential outdoor structure are the following:

  • Granite—a light-colored igneous stone with visible, interlocking grains. It is one of the hardest construction stones.
  • Basalt—a hard, dark igneous stone with fine grains.
  • Serpentine—a hard igneous stone with a patterned appearance reminiscent of a snake, hence the name. It is usually green and slippery. 
  • Sandstone—a sedimentary stone made of sand-size grains held together by silica and other minerals. It is usually tan, but mineral impurities can give it other colors.
  • Limestone—a white to dark gray sedimentary stone composed chiefly of calcite, a form of calcium carbonate.
  • Marble—a soft metamorphic stone that is also predominantly made of calcite. It is highly popular because of its unique color patterns, which come from non-calcite minerals.
  • Slate—a metamorphic stone with intermediate hardness. It is usually gray, though it may have other colors, depending on mineral content. Slate is primarily composed of quartz, micas and chlorites.
Basalt-02.jpg Serpentine-03.jpg Sandstone-04.jpg Limestone-05.jpg Marble-06.jpg

Natural stones are available in the following forms:

  • Boulders—rounded, unquarried stones 3-12 inches in size. You may use them to reinforce walls or as ornaments, especially if you choose a rustic design.
  • Slabs—quarried stones 2-4 feet in size. They often have irregular shapes and rough surfaces unless cut and polished. You may use them for floor, column or wall construction.
  • Cut stones—flat, quarried stones 1-2 feet in size. They may have a smooth or rough surface. You may use them on any part of a ramada.

Landscapers often combine stones of different cuts in the same design.

This covered outdoor kitchen and dining area features different natural stone forms. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

Natural stone roof pros:

  • Stones are the most durable construction substances.
  • They give a stylish design.
  • Natural stones are fire-resistant, making them highly suitable roof structures for outdoor kitchens.

Natural stone roof cons:

  • Natural stones tend to be expensive.
  • Some types are hard to find locally.
  • They require professional installation.
  • They are unsuitable for pergola roof construction.

CONCRETE

A ramada with precast concrete flooring. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

Concrete is an artificial stone composed of sand, gravel and cement. It is available in precast (factory-made) and site-cast (processed on-site) forms. It has various colors and shapes, which you can combine to create beautiful patterns. 

Concrete’s pros:

  • Concrete is a cheap alternative to natural stone.
  • It is non-combustible.
  • It is highly resilient.

Concrete’s cons:

  • Concrete needs professional installation.
  • You cannot use this substance on lattice roof structures.
  • Concrete is less dramatic than natural stone and wood.

BRICK

A slip-proof brick floor is one way to ensure safety when hanging out near an outdoor fireplace. Created by Straight Line Landscape.

Brick is a type of stone fabricated from a thick layer of clay. It is traditionally rectangular with a standard size of 2 ¼” by 4” by 8”. Its classic color is red-orange. Other colors are available, but they’re mostly neutral. 

Brick pros:

  • Brick is another inexpensive natural stone alternative.
  • It is tough and fire-resistant.
  • Choose brick if you like old-style architecture.

Brick cons:

  • Brick needs a professional to install it.
  • It is too heavy for pergola roofing.
  • It has limited colors and styles.
  • Brick retains and radiates heat if not insulated.

TILE

A ramada with a tile roof. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

Tile is another artificial clay stone type. Its manufacturing process is similar to brick’s, though it is made much thinner. It is available in various colors and designs.

Tile’s pros:

  • Tile is durable and fire-resistant.
  • It is another economical alternative to natural stone.
  • You can create unique, stunning designs with this material.
  • It is a cooler and more colorful alternative to brick.

Tile’s cons:

  • Tile is not for pergola roofing.
  • You need a professional to install tiled structures.
  • This material is brittle and cannot endure freeze-thaw cycles in snowy regions.

WOOD

Wood is a natural insulator. You can line stone walls with wood to make them energy-efficient. This is a Straight Line Landscape project under construction.

Wood is taken from coniferous and deciduous trees. Conifers, sometimes referred to as “softwoods,” include Douglas fir and cedar. Deciduous trees, sometimes called “hardwoods,” include teak and oak.

Wood roof pros:

  • Wood is lightweight and versatile in form and function. It’s great to use on any part of a shade structure, especially if you build it on a deck.
  • Cedar, redwood and teak are some varieties that secrete natural chemicals that delay their decomposition.
  • Wood is perfect for rustic designs.
  • It is inexpensive compared to stone.
  • Wood conducts little heat and helps cool the environment.
  • Wood flooring does not disrupt plant roots, unlike stones.

Wood roof cons:

  • Wood is flammable. It’s risky to use on top of a barbecue area.
  • Maintenance costs are high. Most need pressure treatment, sealers, varnish and other protectants to slow down their decay.
  • Wood is one of the least resilient roof materials.

PLASTIC

PVC boards on outdoor kitchen ceilings. Installed by Straight Line Landscape.

Plastics used for building shade structures are mostly petrochemical-based. The most common types are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and fiberglass, which are tough materials. Plastic wood is an environment-friendly alternative made from recycled beverage containers and sawdust or little wood pieces.

Plastic pros:

  • Plastics are lightweight. You may use them on any shade structure part.
  • They are weatherproof and rot-resistant.
  • Plastics require little maintenance.
  • Plastics come in various colors and designs.

Plastic cons:

  • Plastic does not look as dramatic as stone or natural as true wood. 
  • UV light can degrade plastic over time. 
  • Plastic can retain and radiate heat energy.
  • It may create non-biodegradable waste if broken and not recycled.

METAL

A pergola with aluminum roofing and stone-finished metal columns. Created by Straight Line Landscape.

Among metals, wrought iron and aluminum are the most frequently used for building shade structures. Metals are pliable and easy to repaint, so they come in many colors, sizes and designs.

Metal roof pros:

  • You can make lattice roofs from lightweight metals like aluminum.
  • Metals are as versatile in form and function as wood.
  • You can repaint metals.
  • These substances are resilient.
  • Metals are recyclable.

Metal roof cons:

  • Metals conduct heat.
  • They are not as stylish as stone.
  • Metals can rust.
  • Metal beams buckle under heavy weight more easily than stone.

A shade structure like a ramada or pergola creates added shelter. Its materials must not only outlast the elements but also harmonize with the existing architecture. It can be tough to choose from an array of good options, but you may start by answering some vital questions about your backyard project.

The Top 8 Decision-Making Factors for Choosing Your Shade Structure Materials

Consider the following when finding the most suitable materials for a shaded outdoor structure:

#1. FUNCTION

The first thing to ask about a shade structure’s function is how much protection you need it to provide. A ramada, which has a closed roof, gives complete overhead protection. Any of the above materials will do as long as you use opaque types. Meanwhile, a pergola’s lattice roof is best made from a lightweight substance, and that’s either wood, plastic or aluminum.

The second concern is the specific item you need to protect from the elements. Both ramadas and pergolas can shield UV-sensitive patio furniture, but only ramadas can prevent rainwater damage to electronic equipment. Fire is a hazard if you build an outdoor kitchen ramada or pergola mainly from a combustible material like wood.

The third question is whether or not the shade structure has other functions besides overhead protection. If it needs to carry heavy loads like filled hammocks and swings, you must ensure it resists the pull of gravity. In such cases, you may be better off choosing reinforced concrete over wooden beams. If it helps enhance the growth of climbing vegetation, then it needs lightweight materials for lattice roofing.

An aluminum pergola shades this outdoor kitchen. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

#2. FITNESS FOR THE ARIZONA CLIMATE

Summers can get very hot in the Sonoran desert, though winters can also be rather chilly. The shade structure must be able to protect people, pets and things from temperature extremes. Tile and wood are best for hot climates. But if you want to use other materials, you may line them with an insulator.

Tile may not be a good option if you’re in a part of Arizona where the winters are harsh. But if you still want to use it, choose a frost-resistant type or protect it with a sealant.

#3. FORM

Ramadas and pergolas can be attached to your house or freestanding anywhere on your patio. As previously mentioned, some materials are available only in certain shapes and cuts. The kinds you choose must blend well with the existing architecture.

#4. CHARACTER

This detail refers to the architectural style of the house and the backyard landscape. For example, rustic designs typically use wood and rough stones of various cuts. Pre-industrial themes are heavy with brick, natural stone and metal. Stones and metal predominate modern urban designs, but plastic is also common.

#5. LOCAL CONSTRUCTION REGULATIONS

Regional and HOA rules set the minimum standards for the design integrity and the quality of your patio structures. These restrictions ensure the safety of everyone in your household and community, so sound material selection is crucial. Compliance ensures a smooth design approval process.

#6. AVAILABILITY

It’s always best to source locally to save money and time. However, some designs may require materials taken elsewhere. Work with a reputable contractor or research thoroughly to get the best price and the shortest possible delivery period.

#7. BUDGET

Consider upfront costs per square foot of material and long-term maintenance.

Natural and artificial stones have high initial costs, but most are extremely resilient and expected to last centuries, even with little maintenance.

Wood is inexpensive upfront. But it needs a lot of TLC and usually lasts no more than a few decades.

Plastic and metal are relatively inexpensive and can last long despite little upkeep.

#8. SUSTAINABILITY

Sustainability can refer to eco-friendliness, though it could also mean the material does not leach toxic substances into the environment. Stones and metals are considered non-polluting because you can easily recycle them. Wood is also considered envirosafe due to its biodegradability. Non-biodegradable plastic can be made more ecologically friendly by recycling it to produce plastic wood.

The long-term maintenance of ramada and pergola materials also impacts the environment. Some UV protectants, paints, varnishes and sealants release harmful substances into the surroundings. So materials requiring a lot of upkeep like wood may be considered less sustainable based on this condition.

Why choose only one when you can have two shade structures in your outdoor living space? This is one of Straight Line Landscape’s full landscaping projects.

Finding the right building materials for any outdoor structure takes patience, especially if you have limited construction experience. It can be even more challenging if you’re creating a functional architectural piece like a ramada or pergola. But you can avoid the hassle by consulting a reputable landscaping professional.

Your Choice Is Material to Your Project’s Outcome

Having a shade structure in your outdoor space benefits you in various ways.

  • It boosts your home value by expanding your living space and protecting pricey outdoor equipment.
  • You may use it to complement the house design or add a privacy screen.
  • It lets you spend more time outside, helping to promote mental health.
  • It helps you cultivate life by providing room for vine growth.

But you can only enjoy these advantages if you build your shade structure right. Choosing the most suitable construction materials is a critical step. Doing it on your own can be tricky, but working with a landscaping pro helps ensure you get the outdoor living space you’ve always dreamed of.

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