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Backyard Shade Structures – What’s the Difference & How to Choose for your Backyard

June 6, 2024

Backyard Shade Structures – What’s the Difference & How to Choose for your Backyard

When creating a comfortable and stylish outdoor living space, protection from harmful UV rays and the heat of the sun is always a priority. Building a backyard shade structure can accomplish this with a balance of both function and aesthetics.

There are many options to consider and it’s essential to understand the differences between popular choices such as pergolas, pavilions, gazebos, cabanas, and arbours. Each structure offers unique benefits and can significantly impact your backyard’s ambiance and usability. Here, we’ll explore these options and provide factors to consider when deciding which one to build in your backyard.


A pergola is a versatile and stylish structure characterized by an open sides and an open roof made of cross beams. Pergolas provide partial shade and can be freestanding or attached to a building. They are often used to define outdoor living spaces, create walkways, or support climbing plants like vines.

A square open-sided wooden structure, containing chairs and a firepit, with a slat roof and string lights hanging from the slats

12′ x 10′ Douglas Fir Pergola with Fire Pit




Pavilions are large, open-sided structures with a fully covered roof, offering substantial shade and protection from the elements. These freestanding structures are typically made of heavy wood timbers and posts, and are ideal for hosting gatherings, outdoor dining, or lounging.

A wooden structure with open sides and peaked roof containing chairs and a grill

16′ x 24′ Douglas Fir Pavilion




Gazebos are freestanding structure, typically octagonal or hexagonal in shape but can be square or rectangular too, with a solid, often pointed, roof and open sides, sometimes equipped with railings or screens. They offer a picturesque focal point for gardens and provide ample shade and protection from the elements.

A square shed with open, screened sides and a screen door

10’ x 12’ Pine & Hemlock Screened-In Square Gazebo




Cabanas are enclosed or partially enclosed structures often found poolside, providing a private retreat. They usually feature solid walls, a roof, and open or partially open sides, offering maximum shade and privacy.

A wooden, open-sided structure with roof next to a pool

30′ x 24′ Pine Poolside Cabana




Arbours are smaller, freestanding structures with a simple, open framework, often used as entryways or garden accents. They typically feature an arched or flat top and are perfect for supporting climbing plants.

A narrow wooden structure with two posts and a slatted roof with a hammock strung up between the posts.

14’ Douglas Fir Shade Arbor with Hammock



Factors to Consider When Choosing a Backyard Shade Structure
  1. Purpose and Functionality Determine the primary use of your shade structure. Are you looking for a space to entertain guests, dine outdoors, relax, or enhance your garden’s aesthetics? For instance, a pavilion might be perfect for hosting large gatherings, while a pergola could define an intimate seating area.
  2. Space Availability Assess the size and layout of your backyard. Large structures like pavilions and gazebos require ample space and a solid foundation, whereas smaller structures like arbours and pergolas can fit into more confined areas or serve as garden accents.
  3. Budget Consider your budget for the project, including materials, construction, and potential permits. Pergolas and arbours are generally more affordable and easier to install, while pavilions and cabanas involve higher costs due to their size and complexity.
  4. Climate and Weather Protection Think about your local climate and how much protection you need from the elements. If you live in a region with frequent rain or intense sun, a gazebo or pavilion with a solid roof may be more suitable. In contrast, a pergola with an open design might suffice in milder climates.
  5. Aesthetic and Style Match the shade structure to your home’s architectural style and existing landscaping. Each structure has a unique look, from the classic charm of a gazebo to the modern appeal of a pergola. Choosing a structure that complements your outdoor space will enhance its overall aesthetic.

Building the right shade structure for your backyard involves balancing functionality, space, budget, climate considerations, and style preferences. Whether you opt for the open-air elegance of a pergola, the solid shelter of a pavilion, the quaint beauty of a gazebo, the luxurious retreat of a cabana, or the decorative charm of an arbour, each structure can transform your outdoor space into a haven of comfort and style. By carefully evaluating these factors, you can make an informed decision that enhances both the usability and beauty of your backyard.

Regardless of which backyard structure you choose, the lumber experts at Townsend Lumber are here to help you make it happen. From customizing your design to providing sustainably-harvested quality wood products and Simpson Strong-Tie Outdoor Accents® hardware, Townsend Lumber truly is your one-stop shop for creating the backyard of your dreams.

For more inspiration, download our Backyard Inspiration E-book and browse a variety of structures, sizes, and styles. For more information on how to enhance your outdoor space with a backyard shade structure built with our high-quality lumber, visit our website or give us a call at 519-842-7870.