What is a ‘retractable pergola’ you may well ask yourself? A ‘pergola’ in most people's minds is visualised as a static, usually timber constructed, shaded walkway or seating area, often covered in trailing vines and other plants..  So how is it retractable?

Since around 2010 in the UK there have been some niche products appearing on the market from Europe, designed to shade and protect outdoor areas, with a retractable fabric or vinyl roof as the main feature and aluminium framework supporting and holding the fabric and mechanics.

If you go to places like Belgium, Holland and Germany you will definitely see many more of these kinds of products in use, mainly on commercial premises but now also in the gardens of domestic properties too. The ‘outdoor living’ market and culture in Europe has been way ahead of us for years, but the UK is catching up fast.

Why a pergola and not an awning?

A Retractable Pergola is a product which is a few steps up in performance from a normal retractable awning in that it can be larger sizes and also has a higher resistance to wind and rain, mainly because the fabric is held more taut in the framework and profiles, which is all 4 sides of the fabric as well.

If we look now in 2024, we have other outdoor living products being called pergolas. These are the various louvered roof bladed systems we have seen appear all over the internet. So which one is best and which one do we need?


  •   What is a Retractable Pergola compared to a Traditional Pergola?       

    The word ‘Pergola’ has been adopted over the last few years by the blind and awnings industry to describe various framework supported structures, usually in aluminium, which have either a retractable fabric canopy built in or more recently, aluminium blades. The word pergola has been heavily adopted in marketing a lot of DIY and budget domestic structures of varying quality and usually in smaller standard sizes.
          A traditional ‘pergola’ is a stand alone or wall mounted wooden structure used in a garden to train plants and create a slightly shaded, but defined seating and relaxing area. No rain protection really at all and minimal sun shade, especially when the sun is at full height.
          The retractable pergola in our world is an electric operated, made to measure, retractable, fabric canopy system, which is driven in and out of an aluminium cassette using a tensioned belt system hidden in the side of the channels, which also has the fabric zipped into on some models for extra tension on the canopy. A modern retractable fabric pergola system is an ideal choice for anyone wanting sun and rain shade and usually a slightly larger system than a normal awning can achieve, especially in the projection from the supporting wall. It will have a higher wind rating than a normal awning, with the fabric not being supported only by arms and will also generally cover up to 30 square metres in one system, with a maximum projection of 6m. It is the next step up from the retractable awning and there are also higher performance, higher specification systems with larger frame systems and rain guttering incorporated. These can have the sides and front infilled too and use a much thicker fabric, which is fully waterproof and many have a snow loading too. These can be used to create an outdoor room which is truly able to be used throughout the year far more than just a basic canopy covering. .

  •   Do I need a planning permission for a Retractable Pergola?       

    The answer often depends on the exact situation and proximity to your neighbours and other factors such as height and even colour in a conservation area. Every local authority could have a slightly different view on a pergola fitted with slightly contentious aspects. Generally however they are considered a ‘temporary structure’ and do not need planning permission as long as they are less than 2.5m high and they don’t occupy any more than 50% of the outdoor space available.
          Normally most retractable pergolas can be fitted, just like an awning can be without any need to ask permission or obtain planning permission, mainly as mentioned because the product is categorised as a temporary structure. Keep the height to a minimum and no one can bother you about it unless you are perhaps in conservation areas and the like. If in doubt a quick call to your local council should provide the answers you require.

  •   Are retractable pergolas OK in the wind and rain?       

    This depends upon what pergola system is used. For example, Markilux pergola which was made to measure and manufactured in Germany Rated for wind speeds up to 30mph (Beaufort 6). The retractable electric pergolas we refer to here are a lot better for use in the rain because the fabric tension when in use is far greater than a normal awning can ever be.The fabric is tensioned from front to back and from side to side when the system is a zipped system, providing tension to all 4 sides of the fabric when extended. The official advice however remains, in that you should use common sense and never leave an extended fabric canopy extended in the rain and unattended. This is simply because a burst of super heavy rainfall could still overpower and stretch the fabric canopy and start the process of ‘pooling’, which will collect the rainwater very quickly and lead to damage ultimately. If anyone is intending to use a retractable system for rain protection mainly then the pergola systems would be advised but with some advice towards a decent sloping angle on the fabric cover. .

  •   Are the Retractable Pergolas made to measure?       

    Yes, most of the retractable electric pergola systems we offer are completely made to measure for the width and the projection. They can also can be adjusted for the angle of the canopy cover and side channels to suit your property. We do also offer a range of standard size pergolas in limited sizes and colours which are all electrically operated still. We offer wall mounted sloping pergolas and also flat roof design systems, and the flat roof structure models can also be self supporting for installation away from a building or where fixing to the building is not possible. For more information, please contact our team https://awningsonline.co.uk/contact-us .

  •   Are retractable pergolas always electric operated?       

    All the electric operated retractable pergolas are designed as such to have higher levels of fabric cover tension and when they have zipped side channels in the framework they are definitely a far taughter fabric cover overall. It would be very hard indeed to operate one of these systems manually simply because of this fabric tension. The fabric cover has a large aluminium profile on the leading edge which pulls the fabric out from the wall mounted aluminium cassette which is tensioned to try to pull the fabric back inwards, hence providing excellent tension when extended. To operate this with a manual winding operation would be extremely hard indeed, so all retractable fabric pergola systems are generally electrically operated as standard. The larger systems with concertina fabric roof systems are similar and need to be electric operated for the best operation and final performance when extended fully. Any budget manual operated systems are only really of any use for sun protection and not good in wind or rain.

  •   Can your retractable pergolas be Self Supporting?       

    Original electric retractable pergola systems were always wall mounted with a sloping fabric canopy for the rainwater to drain off quickly and not cause a rain water collection on the cover. You can quite easily purchase a framework system to enable the same systems to fit as a stand alone system but they still require a sloping cover. It is often required for a large retractable fabric pergola to be self supporting, either because there isn’t sufficient wall height or strength to take the fixing of the cassette or because the system is required away from the building anyway to provide a separate area. There are now more and more self supporting structures (often described using the word pergola) which incorporate retractable fabric covers and use a curved shape in the fabric so the rainwater runs off either side. This flat roof design is more desirable for many people and suits building designs far more. Self supporting structures of any size always require suitable ground fixings and these are usually on concrete pads created under the ground surface to provide stability and stop the system blowing over in really high winds. .



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