A Useful Guide for Bioclimatic Pergolas

Bioclimatic Pergolas: Enhancing Your Outdoor Living with Style and Functionality

Introduction:

As the desire for comfortable and sustainable outdoor living spaces grows, bioclimatic pergolas have become a popular choice for homeowners. These versatile structures offer a range of benefits, from providing shade and protection from the elements to creating a pleasant microclimate. In this article, we will explore the advantages of bioclimatic pergolas, backed by UK statistics, and provide valuable advice for those considering buying one. We will also highlight potential pitfalls to be aware of, ensuring a well-informed decision.

Benefits of Bioclimatic Pergolas:

Health and well-being: This may not spring to many people’s minds as a benefit until they are lucky enough to enjoy some quality time relaxing under one. Imagine you are back on your last holiday in a hot climate. That relaxing, almost medicinal feeling from the sun’s warmth penetrates just enough through the shading of your favourite beach bar as you slowly sip on your beverage of choice while the worries and stresses of daily life slowly evaporate. As evening creeps in, you head to your favourite restaurant choosing to sit outside under a canopy where the lights are dimmed, throwing a wash of warm relaxing colours over your table as the cool evening breeze brings a bit of resolve from the heat of the day while relaxing tunes hum away in the background. The twinkle of the stars penetrates the covering just enough to remind you, you are outside and on holiday.

This is what living with your Bioclimatic Pergolas is; it’s about finding your inner peace and capturing that holiday feeling at every opportunity.

Oh, and we nearly forgot the younger or just plain young-at-heart people who, when the night arrives, want to crank up those tunes, increase the colour and intensity of the lighting, fire up the infrared heaters, close down the side screens and party till the early hours.

Temperature Regulation:

Bioclimatic pergolas are designed to regulate temperature and create a comfortable outdoor environment. By adjusting the angle of the louvres, homeowners can control the amount of sunlight entering the space. This feature creates a cooler, more relaxed area during hot summer and a warmer atmosphere during colder seasons. According to a study conducted by the UK Climate Projections, an increase in average summer temperatures makes bioclimatic pergolas an appealing solution for adapting to changing weather patterns.

Protection from the Elements:

One of the critical advantages of bioclimatic pergolas is their ability to provide shelter from the elements. The adjustable louvres can be closed to shield against rain, snow, and wind, allowing outdoor activities to continue uninterrupted. In the UK, our unpredictable weather is often a showstopper. According to the Met Office, the UK experiences an average of 133 days of yearly rainfall, making weather protection an essential consideration for homeowners. As

 we all know those special occasions we had marked in the Calendar months in advance always seem to fall on one of those 133 days.

Energy Efficiency:

If you regularly spend time in your garden enjoying the alfresco lifestyle, you will find bioclimatic pergolas very energy efficient. By providing cover from the elements, the aluminium louvres will allow you to spend more time outside without worrying about the sun, rain or snow. Because of the opening function of the roof, it can let in natural daylight and promote solar gain, so you won’t have to rely so much on artificial lighting and heating, and even when the temperature drops further, closing everything up will retain any heat generated from infrared heaters. During the warmer months, the adjustable louvres, in combination with opening side screens, enable homeowners to optimise natural ventilation and airflow to encourage a cooling breeze flowing through the structure, minimising the need for fans or air conditioning during these hot periods.

Enhanced Aesthetic Appeal:

Apart from their functional benefits, bioclimatic pergolas also enhance the visual appeal of outdoor spaces. At Azure Outdoor Living, we don’t do off-the-shelf; we want your outdoor space to be personal to you. Our structures can be supplied in several textures and most Colours from the European standard RAL Colour chart, in addition to some very nice wood grain finishes ensuring that your choice will always complement your existing architecture and landscaping.  Colour, however, is just the first step in the design of your garden retreat. You may also want to consider side screens, of which we offer transparent, opaque, or even coloured fixed glass, or perhaps you like the idea of a sliding glass wall or an electrically operated roller screen available in a vast number of patterns and colours or shading panels in either aluminium or timber effect. Perhaps you wish to screen off some sides and opt for some natural or composite timber cladding, sheet cladding a Faux living wall, or maybe you have something else in mind, but whatever it is, be it for privacy, function, a way to add a dash of style, or to create a cosy feel talk to us and we will do our best to make it a reality. Other options include heating, audio and, of course, lighting, which always sets the mood, this can be set into the louvres as spots or as bars, or you may like to have full perimeter lighting to create a halo effect in white, coloured or RGB and even smart RGB strips that control each LED pixel independently to create stunning lighting effects that can even be music reactive. Once installed, your unique and well-designed bioclimatic pergola will serve as an elegant extension of the home and garden, adding value to the property and changing how you live.

Advice for Buying a Bioclimatic Pergola:

The Elephant in the Room: This is the biggest question we must address with potential customers several times a week.

“Thanks for the quote, but I’ve seen one advertised on ???? for half the price; why is yours more expensive.”

As you read on, you will find many answers to this question. Still, for a more in-depth comparison, we will create a separate article in due course providing a much more detailed and informed comparison between a premium and budget pergola.

But to summarise, it would be like comparing a hand whisk with a food processor.

First steps.

Evaluate Your Needs: Consider carefully how you want to use the space. This is important as the design of your pergola can impact this. Is it an outdoor kitchen or a covering for a hot tub? Maybe you want a cosy, snug with a scattering of bean bags where you can escape with a good book, or maybe after returning from a holiday in the sun, you are yearning for a bit of that alfresco lifestyle in your own home. Still, whatever it is, if you speak to an experienced company Like Azure Outdoor Living and we will help you on that journey and may even have a different product that will work better for your intended use.

Consider your specific requirements: Have you seen a design online that you like, maybe a specific colour or a feature wall? This could be cladding, panelling, or natural stone effect, to name a few. Perhaps you have an overlooking property and need to create some privacy, or you may have some access restrictions that will require flush thresholds. Make a list of “must have”, “would like”, and “is this even possible”, and a reputable supplier should be willing to give you informed advice on what they can provide. At Azure Outdoor Living, we pride ourselves on being very creative. Using our extensive product portfolio, industry experience, and advanced surveying tools, we have created designs and completed many projects that others considered impossible.

Think about Dimensions: The biggest mistake people make is by going too small. We have yet to have feedback from a customer advising us that they wish they had gone a bit smaller.

People always spend much time overthinking the dimensions. “I don’t want it to be too overpowering”, “I still want to retain a bit of my patio” The fact is that once you have your outdoor space, you will want to be in it every moment you can. First, there might be an outdoor dining table, then it might be a lounger or outdoor settee followed by a coffee table with maybe a hanging chair next, and then the kids might want a foosball table outside in the summer, and before you know it you wish it was that little bit bigger. So, our advice is to go as big as possible within your permitted space and budget, as you won’t regret it.

Where you might have an odd or unusual shape, or perhaps you may have obstructions like a wall or planters, Speak to Azure Outdoor Living, as we can usually overcome most obstacles; check out our case studies. We even took an enormous tree through the middle of one of our glass roofs because it was in a protected area.

Consider your Budget: This is a bit of a hot subject. On the first hand, it makes it much easier for a supplier to create a design with a budget figure in mind. It’s also understandable for a customer to want to withhold their budget in case they come across a company with unscrupulous salespeople that will always quote them at that top price, and yes, they do exist. We all know the situation where you get a high price to start with, and then if rejected, it’s a case of an “ill just speak to my sales manager” or “if you sign up today, we can offer you a special one-time promotional discount” and then the price starts to come down.

At Azure Outdoor Living, we have our cost price for each item, and then we put on our standard margins on those items; we don’t drop our prices or offer promotional discounts because we can’t, as we offer you our best, most competitive price first off. When a customer wants a very specific or unusual design, it is helpful to know their budget to ensure we can meet the expectations within that price. If we can’t, we can offer alternative designs or products.

We would advise contacting several suppliers with your design and budget and seeing what they offer and comparing them; if one company is trying to charge you more for less, then it will be evident in their specification list and always do your due diligence on the company first before signing up with them. See more about due diligence further down.

At Azure Outdoor Living, all our products are bespoke and made to order, so we have made it easier for our customers to understand better what they are paying for.

After an initial consultation with an enquiry, we will build them a quote depending on their needs which they receive in an interactive format with the main items listed and priced and then all other components listed as options. The quote will then let you build it up yourself, seeing all the costs and providing information on each of the options, and once you are happy, it is digitally signed.

Due diligence, Research Reputable Suppliers: This can be a minefield. With modern technology, any company, no matter the size, can project an image of a multinational.

So, which is better, bigger or smaller? As it grows, a larger company can often lose that personal touch. Usually, they will have more considerable overheads, and a drop in sales due to market influences can put their finances into the red much faster. Smaller companies or one-man bands will usually have a much more significant personal investment in each job. They will have fewer overheads to ride dips in the market more efficiently.

However, on the flip side, a well-run larger company will often have more financial and logistical resources available to them, especially when it comes to the bigger, more complex jobs, and a poorly run small company can get into difficulty without the resources to hand if something doesn’t quite go to plan.

So, to answer the question, bigger or smaller, it doesn’t matter. Both can be good or bad.

How long have they been trading? Time trading isn’t always a perfect gauge of whether a company is reliable as decade-old companies in every industry collapse yearly because they don’t adapt to market changes and sometimes from poor management with out-of-date methods and ideas, often losing money year after year before the collapse.

And on the other hand, there are many new companies with fresh ideas and a better understanding of new and changing markets and attitudes that can often flourish and grow into market leaders.

Social media? Love it or hate it, social media is a large part of day-to-day life, and at Azure Outdoor Living, we have embraced it. We post regularly on it and not just our grand designs jobs but also our run-of-mill everyday jobs, and this helps our potential customers see that we are active and busy. If a company is visibly active in carrying out the work they are advertising, they are being trusted by customers and delivering on their promises.

What about reviews? These are good to have; we all like to be praised and acknowledged for our work. Reviews can be a good indicator, but just be aware that some companies chase after 5-star reviews by offering gifts or prizes for them. Also, please beware of the many fake reviews often left by staff or friends; read them carefully, pay particular attention to the wording, and ask yourself if this is how a person would write. Select a couple of recent reviews and ask them if they would ask the customers for permission to give you the phone number so you can call them and discuss the experience and maybe even ask them for a photo of the completed installation because if they are that delighted to share their experience by leaving a great review, they will probably be delighted to share it with you.

What about the website? A good web presence is significant nowadays as it is the first point of contact to leave a good impression and communicate with your potential customers the products you offer and the value you will bring. A well-written website and good Search engine optimisation make listing high in Google searches possible. You can even pay for sponsored adverts on the first page, so don’t always assume they are super just because they appear at the top of the list. Spend time on the sites navigating through all the pages and be sure to read all the text content as this can give you a feel of how well they know the products they are advertising; take your time and examine the imagery; is it full of computer-generated images or are all the images just of completed structures that appear to have been perfectly staged, is there titles or watermarks of other companies on the images or have you seen them on other sites and finally look at the structure of buildings and their surroundings in the images, do they look like they were taken in a different country. If so, you are probably not looking at their work, and they are probably using supplier-provided imagery to add credibility to their site.

There is nothing wrong with a degree of this, and even on The Azure Outdoor Living Website, we use a few supplier-provided imageries to promote low-volume or new product lines. Still, there should always be a large portion of imagery displaying their work on the website. If in doubt, contact the company and ask for additional photos of the product you are interested in.

Trust your instincts. Phone them, ask about the ordering process and the procedures, quiz them on the product you are interested in and finally, ask whether there is a showroom they can visit. Every reputable company should have an office and showroom. While they can’t usually show every variation of every product, the investment in a showroom is quite costly. It will offer peace of mind that the company is serious about its business. At Azure Outdoor Living, we have a lovely boutique showroom in mid-Norfolk that is worth visiting. Still, for those for whom the distance is prohibitive, you can tour our interactive 3d walkaround of the showroom on our website, where you can view the products, see imagery, and find out information on them.

Do you need a Professional Installation: At the budget end, most pergolas are aimed at the DIY market with Self-installation in mind but don’t assume that this means they are easy to install as these budget systems usually have lower manufacturing standards and flimsier parts that can often be misaligned causing problems for the inexperienced. But at this lower cost and higher turnover of budget systems, for suppliers to include a professional installation doesn’t make the price point as attractive and is logistically very difficult, so where installations are offered, they will be basic. The customer will be responsible for prepping the area and checking measurements. They will generally be fitted straight down to the ground regardless of whether the floor is level, resulting in the structure sitting out of true. However, due to their much lighter weights and more basic screens being out of true is more forgiving.

Premium Pergolas such as those supplied by Azure Outdoor Living are very bespoke in their nature, often overcoming obstacles that off-the-shelf budget systems can’t, putting them outside the scope of all but a very competent DIY’er. Specialist tools for fixing through surfaces like Porcelain are needed; they are built out of heavier, more substantial components requiring beam lifters, more complex wiring and programming, and additional features such as fixed side screens. Sliding glass can seem daunting, and that’s before you consider that a well-designed bespoke structure needs a very comprehensive survey that takes into consideration, the fall of existing patios, the position and dimensions of any obstacles, and to ensure that these are calculated during manufacturing, and whether or not the heights of side screens need to be adjusted if rebating into existing floor finishes are required, and if attached to a property to ensure the correct fixing points are identified. A professional installation from Azure outdoor living will keep you informed and involved throughout the journey from initial conception to the final commissioning. When we survey the site, we will use point-to-point laser mapping to map out relevant points on the site. These are then exported into a CAD (computer-assisted drafting) program where we can create a detailed layout to ensure everything is manufactured to fit perfectly, no matter how complicated the design is.

Maintenance Requirements: Other than periodic cleaning, the pergolas supplied by Azure Outdoor Living require very little maintenance, mainly because of our very fussy selection of products.

Our Pergola roofs, for example, incorporate the latest in centre-pivot double-walled louvres. A centre pivot louvre is perfectly balanced, and therefore the motor needs only control the movement of the louvres, making it much more compact, allowing it to be hidden away inside the structure along with all the wiring ensuring that everything is well protected from the weather and UV damage. With bottom pivot louvres, the motor also must control the movement while at the same time lifting the combined weight of every louvre, which can be quite considerable and so requires big motors that need to be mounted externally where in addition to the wiring connections are all exposed to the Environment.  

All the controls and motors of our structures use industry-wide recognised brands such as Somfy or Teleco to ensure that years down the line, even after warranties have run out, parts can still be sourced to keep you enjoying your investment.

All our structures are powder coated using leading powder brands such as “Tiger” to ensure perfect colour matches and longevity. Still, the choice of paint is only part of the process as it is as important to apply it correctly, which is why all our structures are coated to the industry-leading “Qualicoat” or “Qualicoat Seaside” rigorous standards.

Planning Permissions: Before purchasing a bioclimatic pergola, one must know any planning permissions or building regulations that may apply. It may fall under your permitted development rights if it meets specific criteria and won’t require any formal application.

For example.

  • The property is not listed in a conservation area or an area of natural beauty or scientific interest.
  • The total area of the structure, including any existing extensions or outbuildings, cannot cover more than half of the land surrounding the original property.
  • It cannot be forward of the front or principal elevation of the property or to the side when the side elevation borders a public highway.
  • It can not extend more than 4 meters for detached dwellings or 3 meters for all others. (Sizes can be doubled through the neighbour consultation scheme)
  • The maximum eve height must not exceed 2.5m
  • If the ground/floor level is going to be raised more than 300mm, then you may require planning permission and need to apply to building control.

These are just some of the requirements of permitted development. For further information, you can check out https://www.planningportal.co.uk/permission/interactive-guidance

But if in doubt, please contact your local planning office.

Structural Integrity: When buying a bioclimatic pergola, it is essential to ensure it has been tested on its structural integrity, overall durability, and resistance to extreme weather conditions, but this can be confusing once you start doing your research as you will find many of the low budget pergolas advertise the same wind and snow loading figures as the bigger premium brand bioclimatic pergolas. The difference is that the premium brands are thoroughly tested to take the same loadings daily, year after year, without any visible drop in performance, ensuring your investment will always perform as it did on the installation day. If in doubt as your supplier for the structural loading tests and calculations, these should be available if they have been done.

In comparison, consider two nonstick frying pans, a cheap budget brand off the market and a premium brand from a high street shop, John Lewis, for example. On first handling, you will probably feel and see a difference in quality and may even notice a difference in performance when using them, but they both appear to do the same job, so is the price difference worth it? However, after a couple of months, when the nonstick coating begins wearing off, the cheaper one, which is sticking, burning and ruining its contents, is when you understand why one costs more.

Similarly, cheaper brand pergolas will usually be manufactured with lower quality materials and from aluminium with a much thinner sectional area to meet that lower price point. Although the outer structure is often aluminium, louvres may be pressed tin, and the pivots and connectors may be plastic. The controls and motors will be unbranded Chinese-supplied items. You will also find the paint/powder coating quality very inconsistent, often missing in areas and flaking.

Heavy duty Zinc plated steel reinforcing at all the structural points and fittings made from high-grade stainless steel is another area lacking in the budget pergola. You will also notice the louvres are much narrower with intermediate support bars because they can’t reach longer spans because of the thinner materials, and narrower louvres which then reduces the effectiveness when operated.

Warranty and Customer Support: Before we delve into the warranties, I would first like you to consider these two facts.

  • Using Mercedes as a car brand, for example, they offer a 3-year warranty on their new vehicles. Does this mean that they only build their cars to last three years? Of course not; you will see decades-old Mercedes cars with hundreds of thousands of miles performing as well as the day they were new, so the warranty duration doesn’t dictate their expected life span, or they wouldn’t have any customers if it did.
  • Most branded trade-rated power tools come with a 3-year warranty and can sometimes cost 3 to 5 times more than the unknown or rebadged cheap brands sold by many DIY outlets, which often come with the same or longer warranties. So why do the professional trades buy the more expensive brands? Reliability is why; a trade-rated tool is designed to be used hard daily in all weather and environments. Once the warranty period is over, comprehensive aftersales support will ensure that parts are still available to keep it going for years. Whereas the cheaper brand tools are targeted at the DIY market, where they will be subject to a fraction of the use, and once the warranty period (which will have many exclusions) is over, the item becomes a disposable asset as there is no replacement parts network.

So what does all this mean regarding warranties? And do I need one?

A warranty is there to give a customer peace of mind that the product will come with a period of trouble-free operation; it also covers you for those occasional installation or manufacturing gremlins or a bit of settlement here or there, so yes, you do need to have and is expected to be of reasonable duration. Still, it is important not to get too focused on the warranty duration because just as important and maybe even more so is the product aftercare and support, which gives you the peace of mind that spares will always be available for the entire life span of your structure.

Something we see a lot is the warranty battles companies can have with one another, using the warranty as a sales tool and periodically increasing the duration to outdo one another but without making any significant changes and updates to improve the lifespan of the products. This is financially quite dangerous as servicing warranties comes at a cost/overhead for a company. As a company increases the warranty durations, the annual budget/liability to service them increases exponentially to the point where many large companies have gone into administration due to the overwhelming losses generated by servicing these extended warranties. So, the biggest question one needs to consider is what is worth more to you as a consumer a shorter warranty from a supplier that is still trading and can continue to offer aftersales support or a much longer warranty from a company that has ceased to trade.

At Azure Outdoor Living, we consider each transaction with a customer as the beginning of a long partnership and our first duty to you is to research our products and ensure we only supply products fit for purpose, of the highest quality for their intended use, to do the due diligence on future support networks. Because we are independent of all our suppliers, we have the flexibility to ensure we steer you towards the right product for your project. All our products enjoy good-length industry-standard warranties backed up by our suppliers, which can vary depending on the item in question. For example, the paintwork is generally ten years, there are ten years for glazing, five years for the installation, moving parts up to five years, electrics are two years and fabrics five years. These warranty periods reflect the expectations of the absolute minimum length an item will operate if used under the most extreme possible conditions with no user care or maintenance. Of course, we could double our warranty lengths tomorrow to win more sales. Still, most customers who will take care of their products and follow the operational guidelines and maintenance will have many years of trouble-free enjoyment of their structure, and we believe that offering an unrealistic warranty length would be unethical to those people because, as already mentioned this increases a company’s liability and exposure. At the same time, most claims further down the line are shown to be from the minority customers who don’t take the same care to maintain the products as per the requirements.  

Integration with Existing Structures: This falls into two categories visually and physically. Will the colours, materials and styles match my existing architecture and landscaping, which can vary considerably between personal tastes? Do you want a seamless transition, or are you after a more contemporary or contrasting feel? And can it be made to fit where you want it? Do you desire to have it attached to your property, or are there some perimeter walls that some legs may need to sit on or perhaps the area to cover isn’t square? Usually, you will find an existing patio is on a slope for rain runoff, or there could be an obstruction like a pipe, chimney flue or even a tree in the way. 

How well you can accomplish these will ultimately come down to cost.

Retailers At the budget end of the market usually source their products in bulk from East Asia and, for this reason, will generally offer free-standing off-the-shelf structures with a choice of only a couple of different sizes and colours with perhaps a roller screen option, again in usually one or two colours. Not all will offer an installation service; where they do, it will usually be limited. For example, if the existing patio slopes, as most do, the structure will be fitted straight down and not levelled. Some won’t drill into hard surfaces like porcelain, and the structures won’t be able to overcome obstructions.

Next are the more specialist outdoor companies, most of which source their products from suppliers within Europe and these are made to order, giving more control over sizes. These tend to come with more options like leg lengths to overcome slopes; they will usually still have a limited standard colour choice but can choose any other colour for an extra charge. Some even have wood grain. You will have the option to have any size you want, limited only by the maximum spans on the beams and increments in the width of the louvres; however, if you need to go bigger, these will usually be modular, enabling larger sizes. Other options, such as blinds, screens, glazing, and shading, will also be more extensive. The installation service should also be more comprehensive, taking into consideration slopes, walls, other obstructions, and even mounting to existing buildings.

Finally, there is Azure Outdoor Living, and yes, this is a bold state but not undeserved.

So, what makes us different? Our heritage started 20 years ago in high-end aluminium glazing and property construction, which has created a solid foundation. We have seen and worked on some groundbreaking and unique commercial, retail, and residential projects during that time. During its conception, we wanted Azure Outdoor Living to be a bridge between the two distinct areas of our industry of what we call thermal and non-thermal glazing and with our knowledge and technical know-how combined with our vast product range, design skills and creative imagination, has given us the advantage to merge and/or modify different products to overcome challenges that would otherwise be impossible elevating us to the go-to company for challenging projects.

And of course, don’t be put off if your project is simple in comparison, as we will still be able to offer you a very cost-effective solution too.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, a Bioclimatic Pergola can offer you many benefits in the UK and change how you use your outdoor space leaving you with only one regret, why you didn’t do it sooner.

You can ensure the project meets or exceeds your expectations with the proper research and due diligence.

Know your budget and be realistic about your expectations; bigger is better but don’t compromise in key areas like structural integrity or paint quality to achieve this.

If your budget is lacking, ask the supplier what items can be added later rather than compromising on key components at the outset.

Ensure the supplier’s warranty is backed by the manufacturer’s and, most importantly, ensure a solid aftersales support network is in place.

Visit your supplier’s showroom, if possible, to compare the quality and get a feel of their knowledge and experience, and if not possible, ask for images of similar projects.

Ask for a price before any site visits to avoid being pressured into sales, and nowadays, all companies should be able to provide this from the information and photos you supply them.

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