Deck Overheads and Structures
Whether you call it an arbor, a pergola, a lanai, or a canopy, an overhead will enhance your deck with a minimum of materials and work.
Let the use of your deck determine whether it needs an overhead. The sky might be considered the ultimate ceiling for all of the outdoors, but many times it’s a ceiling that’s simply too high for a deck. Active areas, such as those designated for entertaining large numbers of guests or for children’s play, can, of course, function well if left open. But more intimate areas, such as those planned for dining, talking, or relaxing, will feel more inviting and cozy with an overhead.
Shelter from the elements is also reason to plan for an overhead structure. If your site analysis indicates a need to provide relief from the sun and rain or to cool a room, an overhead is the answer.
Whatever your reason for building an overhead, make sure its design reflects and complements the overall architecture of your home. An overhead structure should appear to be an integral part of the design, not an add-on. By repeating some detail of your house, such as a molding or post style, pitch of the roof, accent color, or building material, you can link the overhead to your home.
Curved overheads lend a romantic, cottage style to an outdoor space. Dressed and painted lumber suggest formality. Rough cedar or bentwood lend a rustic air to an archway. A modern, metal framework or masonry arch adds a touch of Old-World charm.
If you want an overhead to provide shade, take the time to experiment to find the maximum amount of shade in the heat of a summer day and the minimum amount when it’s cooler.
Monitor your proposed deck area to see when the sun makes the deck site too hot and bright to use. Note the season, the time of day, and the angle at which the sun shines on the area. Then position the overhead and design it to block the sun’s rays from that angle by shading the areas where it’s most needed.
Control the amount of sunlight reaching a sheltered area by varying the size, spacing, and orientation of framing members. Build the structure, then experiment with different slat configurations before attaching them to the roof. Lattice slats oriented east to west will shade the area underneath for most of the day. Oriented north to south, they will provide the same amount of shade as east-to-west slats in the morning and evening, but allow some sun through to the area below at midday. Setting rafters at a 30-degree angle blocks more sun. Spacing slats close together will also provide more shade.
Attach louvers or lattice to the sides of the structure to filter low-angle rays on late summer afternoons, or plant vines to sprawl across the top and the sides.
Structures with a solid roof—corrugated metal or plastic, cedar shakes, asphalt shingles, or slate tiles— offer more physical protection than open roofs. They keep you dry when it rains, and they totally block out the sunlight. They’re especially helpful above outdoor cooking areas.
Solid-roofed structures create miniature environments underneath them. Shadows cast by the roof may cool nearby paving but may also darken the interior of your home. If possible, locate solid roofs away from the main portion of your deck so that the space can be used in both fair and inclement weather.