When talking about porch enclosures, many people confuse a sunroom with a pergola. A pergola is almost always open to the elements while a sunroom is fully enclosed. It is even possible to build a pergola inside a sunroom, using it as an indoor trellis for climbing plants.
When Is a Pergola Appropriate?
A sunroom and a pergola share one basic trait in common, and that is the fact that they both typically share at least one wall with another structure, usually the home. A pergola is often the connecting structure between more than one building, forming a decorative area that provides some shade, but little or no protection from the weather. A pergola could be as simple as an arched trellis sloping over a walkway, or as complex as a complete hanging garden. Its one defining feature is that there are no solid walls or roofs on pergolas, merely supporting columns and rafter beams.
Why Would You Build a Sunroom?
On the other hand, a sunroom offers complete protection against the elements. They offer limited shade unless optional blinds are installed. A sunroom makes an excellent greenhouse, but it can also be used as an office or as an enclosure for a pool or hot tub. A sunroom can be built for nearly any purpose, and range from the Greek style solariums to the wooden extravagance of a Georgian style conservatory.
How Are They Typically Used?
In most cases where both a sunroom and a pergola are used, the sunroom forms a porch enclosure, and has an exterior door leading out to a garden area which is accented by a pergola. Where an arched pergola is used, it may even serve as a walkway, marking the transition from the sunroom into an open air garden. Traditionally, pergolas have served as arbors, especially in grape growing regions where they are used as a convenient way to grow the vines, while allowing the grapes to hang within easy reach for harvesting.
Can I Have Both?
A patio room is a good example of a way to combine a pergola with a sunroom. The sunroom acts as the container of the garden, and a pergola is built inside the sunroom on which hanging plants or running vines may be added. The effect is an indoor garden that brings back springtime memories even in the dead of winter. While you could build a sunroom under a pergola, the effect could be very confining.
Pergolas and Sunrooms are Complementary
The patio or garden is a wonderful location for either a pergola or a sunroom. Traditionally, pergolas are used as transitions, such as from the home to the sunroom. Having a sunroom in the center of your garden would provide more natural light, serving as an excellent reading room or even a garden greenhouse. Combining the two creates a complete outdoor garden and patio ensemble, with the pergola displaying seasonal plants and the sunroom being used as a climate control zone for sensitive plants which are currently out of season.