Getting the Most out of Your Pergola, Think Solar Power Panel

by Don Ames,

Sitting in a meeting the other day, I was listening to a discussion on where to put half-a-million dollars worth of solar power panels. The discussion considered placing panels on roofs, on picnic shelters, and carports - it's not easy trying to find a place for a bunch of solar panels. After all, there are things to keep in mind like sun exposure, roof wear and tear, vandalism, and roof space.

I was in favor of simply building more carports - cars like to park out of the rain and out of the sun and it seemed like a good idea to have the solar panels contribute more than just electricity. The panels could contribute shade and weather protection. Work a little at positioning the parking areas and the carports to receive the most sun and call it good.

At some point, around the discussion table, the term Pergola was used. I have not heard that word often and was not sure just what this Pergola thing was. I will admit, I was immediately in favor of the idea, even before I was aware of the true definition. The term "Pergola" just sounds nice and friendly, along with sounding sophisticated - like Italian opera, you know, water everywhere, a neat little boat and a singing Italian.

Now, who wouldn't want solar panels on something that sounds so inviting. Just the sound of it, a Pergola with solar panels, right there in the back yard, has to be good.

Shortly after the meeting, I researched Pergola on the internet and summoned up a few pictures. Basically, I was somewhat disappointed. I live in the rain forest of the Northwest and the second I saw all the lumber that was left out in the rain, all I could see was moisture damaged wood that was going to need to be replaced or repainted. Most Pergola's pictured had parts of the roof framing sticking out in the weather. Not a good, rain forest, design. I even found a bunch of pictures with solar panels already on a Pergola. Hey, that's my idea!

Seems a Pergola is more like a partial shade covering. Something built out of heavy timbers that doesn't have siding and doesn't have a roof that will totally keep out either the sun or the rain. My first thought was that a Pergola is good for about three things.

1.  Looking nice until the weather has a chance to make it look not-so-nice.

2.  Providing partial shade for a garden or a quiet cup of tea, about once a year.

3.  Allowing a vine maple to climb all over it until you dread the thought of having to trim all those vines.

But now we've got something new to consider - something that will make the Pergola a whole lot more useful - something that I am sure the Italians have already thought of. After all, the Italians are really big on solar power. Italy has one of the highest concentrations of residential solar power in the world.

Install Solar Power Panels on a Pergola!

Pergola with Class

Don't let the Pergola go to waste, I suspect many have been constructed with the plans of having one picnic and one cup-of-tea after another under the shade of the see-through roof. Problem is, life goes too fast and the picnics and tea time get cut back until they're few and far between. After the initial love affair wears off, all that is left is a Pergola that needs a new paint job. But, what about putting solar panels on the roof of the Pergola.

This is the type of commitment to clean, renewable power that we need. You want a Pergola, design it so it fits your yard and sits in the sun most of the day. Design the roof trusses so the solar panels attach with ease. Design the solar panel layout to cover all those roof truss tails so you don't have to repaint so often. (especially if you live in a rain forest.)

The solar panel roof can either be rain proof or not. For a little more expense, you can install a nice clean metal roof and then attach the solar panels to the ribs of the metal roof. Now when you want to have a cup of tea in the yard, you can have it in the shade of the Pergola and dream about all the power your producing instead of thinking about how badly those roof trusses need to be repainted.

Don' t sit under your stylish Pergola watching the vine maple takeover the integrity of the structure. Sit under the Pergola and listen to the faint hum of the DC Watt Inverter changing all those Watts to clean, renewable, AC Power.

Thanks for stopping by Detect Energy, hope you'll come back soon, but I won't leave the light on for you...

More from Don Ames and Detect Energy at


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Tags: energy, exposure, panel, panels, pergola, power, solar, sun


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Comment by Don Ames on December 8, 2011 at 2:16pm

Thanks for the comment John on the other building products for a Pergola. Yes, in my neck of the woods, I think weather proof would be a great advantage. I assume these "other than wood" Pergola's can withstand the extra weight of a solar array. Thanks Again,  Don Ames

Comment by John C. Carlson on December 8, 2011 at 10:18am

Mr. Ames, The Pergola does not have to be built out of wood. I'm an appraiser and I am seeing more and more covered patios constructed out of vinyl and PFC products.

Multiple styles and colors are available. This type of building product would significantly outlast wood in your "rain forest" area in the NW. I've seen some "wood colored" Vinyl that I have to touch before I realize that it is not wood.

John C. Carlson

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