In the summer, I love to grill and entertain outdoors. But since I live in an area that often gets lots of sun and afternoon rainstorms, my outdoor cookouts are either really hot or getting rained out. To fix that issue, I went on a hunt for ways I could cover the patio around my outdoor kitchen and came up with these DIY pergola cover ideas – some that just provide lots of shade, and some that are waterproof.
Back in the spring, I did a deck and patio makeover that included sprucing up my outdoor kitchen area.
Now that it’s looking good, I’ve been doing a lot more grilling out there.
And while I love my new updated cooking space, there’s one thing missing. And that’s a cover for the pergola that goes over my outdoor kitchen area.
While the pergola provides some shade, it isn’t very helpful during the day when the sun is directly overhead (prime cookout hours!) And it doesn’t provide any protection at all when it’s raining.
Not that I expect to be standing out there all day in the rain. But here in South Carolina, we tend to get a lot of 15 minute rain storms in the afternoon. Which always seem to occur right after I have put the food on the grill.
So I would love to be able to stay out there and not get soaked.
Which is why I’ve been searching for DIY pergola cover ideas (ideally that are waterproof) to provide some extra shade and rain protection for my little grilling area patio.
DIY Pergola Shade Ideas
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These first few pergola cover ideas provide a lot of shade and some protection from rain but aren’t totally waterproof.
1 | Grow Vines Over The Top
When I first built my pergola, my shade idea was to grow vines over the top of it. Specifically, Wisteria.
I love the look of those beautiful purple flowers in the spring.
And it provides lots of shade.
Vines aren’t quite as good at rain protection as some of the other options in my pergola cover ideas list. But if you plant something like grape vines (or wisteria) that have a lot of foliage, they will keep you relatively dry as long as it’s not pouring.
You may ask, if I planted vines over the top of my pergola, why am I looking for some other shade solution now?
Well…in my neck of the woods, Wisteria is quite invasive (it’s now on my invasive plants list). So trying to get it to stay just over the pergola was (and to be honest…still is) a nightmare.
Plus, it drops a lot of leaves. I was constantly having to clean up the grill area before I could use it. Which was more work than I wanted to do.
But I’m leaving it on the list because growing vines over your pergola could work well in other situations.
2 | Make A DIY Stationary Pergola Canopy
The next one of my DIY pergola cover ideas is to use outdoor canvas to create a stationary canopy over the patio.
If you are never going to want sun on your patio, then a DIY stationary pergola canopy is probably the way to go.
It uses outdoor fabric to create some shade and rain protection…and is the easiest way to cover your pergola.
Because there are still some gaps in the fabric, these options may not keep you completely dry in a down pour, but will provide some protection from getting soaked.
Stationary Pergola Canopy Option 1
For this stationary canopy, all you need is some heavy-duty outdoor fabric (find it HERE)*, 1/2″ upholstery staples and a staple gun.
Then hang the fabric up by stapling it onto the bottom of the pergola beams every 2 feet or so.
The main trick is to get them even so about the same amount of fabric is hanging down in each section.
One note: If you get a lot of really heavy rainfall or snow, this type of canopy may not stay put. So you might want to consider one of the other options.
It looks really pretty from outside the pergola, too.
One of the great things about using outdoor fabric, is that it comes in many different colors and patterns. So you don’t have to stick to plain white if you don’t want to.
Stationary Pergola Canopy Option 2
The second DIY stationary canopy is very similar to the first, but loops the outdoor fabric over the top of the pergola beams.
This is still relatively easy to put up but makes the canopy a little sturdier.
In this case, staple the canopy fabric to the top of each of the beams to hold it in place.
This option may not work as well in areas with a lot of wind, since it may tear the fabric off the top of the pergola.
Stationary Pergola Canopy Option 3
The third stationary pergola cover makes use of the beams again, but pulls the fabric tight across them.
For this canopy version, staple the fabric to the end of the pergola, then weave it in and out of the cross beams. Pull the fabric tight at the other end and staple it in place.
Keep the fabric rows closer together to provide more sun and rain protection.
Because there isn’t any loose fabric, this option should work better in wind and heavy rain than the other two stationary options. Which is why these are often used as patio covers in the tropics.
Stationary Pergola Canopy Option 4
The last of the stationary pergola canopies is a little less DIY than the rest. It comes in a kit which you can find HERE*.
However, it isn’t terribly expensive and you can order custom pergola covers in pretty much any size you want.
Then it installs over the top of your structure with grommets.
Again, because it is held tightly to the pergola frame, this canopy should stand up better to wind and heavy rain than some of the others.
You’ll have fewer color choices, but it might be worth it for better coverage and durability.
3 | Build a DIY Retractable Canopy
If you want to be able to control when you have sun on your patio, then a DIY retractable pergola canopy may be what you want.
They work similarly to the stationary canopies above but are installed on guide wires that let you open and close the canopy as you please.
Watch this video for the step-by-step instructions on how to make one:
Of course, if you prefer, you can go for the not-so-DIY approach, and buy the retractable canopy already made.
They come in custom sizes, but a very limited selection of colors. You can find them HERE.*
DIY Waterproof Pergola Covers
These next few options on the list are waterproof pergola covers which can also provide shade but may take a little more work to install.
1 | Put Up A Shade Sail
The next one of my DIY waterproof pergola cover ideas is to use a shade sail over your patio.
Shade sails are not usually associated with pergolas, however they actually make really good pergola covers. Especially if you get a rectangular one that is the right size (you can find them in a few different sizes HERE*).
Then all you need is the shade-sail installation hardware (find it HERE)* and you’re all set.
Shade sails are already made for providing shade and rain protection. And attaching them to the pergola posts is much easier than the usual shade sail installation methods (trying to find a free-standing post or screwing it into the side of your house).
Plus you can take them down easily for the winter if you need to.
In my case, I would install the shade sail right under the beams of my pergola. That way it provides the shade without changing how the pergola looks.
2 | Install A Tin Roof On Your Pergola
The next few options are more expensive than the last few, but they are longer lasting and provide the best shade and rain coverage.
This homeowner used tin roofing (find it HERE)* installed on top of their wood pergola to keep the sun and rain out.
It adds an industrial vibe to the pergola that looks great with the rest of the eclectic decor.
Note: Installing it on a bit of a slant will prevent the water from pooling on top.
If you want to get creative, you could buy galvanized steel roofing panels* in different colors and create a pattern.
Make a solid roof if you don’t want any water or sun to get in. Or leave some openings for some extra ventilation (if you don’t mind getting a little wet).
3 | Add Pergola Roof Panels
Along the same lines as using tin roofing, plastic pergola roof panels (find them HERE*) provide good protection from the sun and rain.
You can put them down right over the top of your pergola like a roof.
Like the tin panels, installing it on a bit of an angle will help the water run off.
And if you don’t need the shade but still want to stay dry, you can even install clear ones, like I did over my outdoor bar.
4 | Install Wood Planks
The last one of my DIY waterproof pergola cover ideas is to install wood planks.
This is pretty much like building a deck…only on top of the pergola.
Be sure to use boards that will last outdoors, like pressure treated wood or cedar.
Creating a slight angle will help with the water run-off, which prevents the wood from rotting.
Well, that’s it for my list of DIY pergola cover ideas. Now I just need to decide which one I want to use for my outdoor kitchen!
Hopefully you’ve found some inspiration to build your own pergola patio cover.
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This post was originally published on August 2, 2019 but was updated with new content on May 22, 2023.