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Alberta Story: The Pergola solution

Never mind fences making good neighbours, it’s pergolas and privacy screens that are doing all the work these days when trying to create some privacy in your backyard. If you’ve bought a home in the last 10-20 years, you’ve definitely noticed that yard size isn’t what it used to be. New communities are getting denser. With growing demand in and around urban centres, builders are dividing up traditional single-family lots to accommodate multiple homes. And what’s the result? Small lots with maximum house coverage and limited outdoor space, that sits within earshot of neighbours.

The biggest concern I come across with homeowners in these new homes is the lack of backyard privacy. Functionality of the space is another, as these backyard lots often have odd dimensions – long and narrow, short and wide or pie shaped.

Another common problem I often have to address, is shade. While summer sunshine is lovely, and there are some great plants that can handle full sun, most people start to wilt within the first hour or two. It’s hard to enjoy extended periods outdoors when the sun is beating down. New builds and newer communities often face a painful lack of overhead tree canopy. For one, large trees need to be strategically placed to avoid doing damage to the home or its underground infrastructure, so long roots are a concern. Even with new trees, it takes 10 or more years for that natural shade structure to grow in. That means full sun exposure from dawn to dusk.

So how can homeowners make the most out of their limited backyard space? A well-placed pergola is a great solution.

I worked on a really interesting design solution last year. MicroPro Sienna Treated Wood ran a contest to find a homeowner whose backyard needed a boost with professional landscape design. Calgary homeowners in Bridgeland won the grand prize, and what they needed was privacy. I designed the couple’s backyard concept and it was built by local contractors, Maritime West Construction, using MicroPro Sienna Treated Wood.

With a new three-storey cliffside home in Bridgeland, the homeowners created an outdoor oasis including a swim spa for a much-used, low-impact fitness amenity. They focussed on proper permits and installation; but needed some help with privacy. The problem was that their south-facing yard put the spa in a fishbowl. All of the neighbours could see every lap and dip. The exposure was not only to houses flanking theirs, but because of the slope in the neighbourhood, most of the neighbours above had a clear view, too. There was little shade most of the day, limiting the amount of time they could use their yard, and with a toddler and a baby on the way, they needed the space!

My solution worked beautifully: a perfectly positioned pergola. A good fence will stop interaction to the back and sides, but when you need privacy from above, too, a pergola isn’t just a barrier, it also plays with the eye, distracting sight lines and creating visual interest. I designed the placement of the pergola so that it also buffered visual access into the home. The house was not square and had rooflines on angles, I followed the same angles with the pergola’s design.

The pergola’s style added interest to the yard, plus it defined the space, allowing the swim spa to have its own area, while identifying space in the rest of the yard for seating and room for kids to play. Weaving a good outdoor fabric through the top of the pergola created more shade, without completely blocking out the sky, since nights out under the stars are a particular favourite of these homeowners. 

One trick is, if you want to fabric through the pergola, add gromets so that rain and snow can drain. A good quality outdoor fabric will stand up to the elements and can be changed out to create different looks with different patterns or colours. Another tip is to use MicroPro Sienna Treated Wood. It offers the colour and look of cedar, but at a much lower price point. This pressure-treated wood is a beautiful brown colour and is also environmentally friendly and carries green certifications, perfect for the backyard – toddlers and all.

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