Hardtop Gazebo vs. Soft Top Gazebo – What is the Difference?

  • By: Ian Dale
  • Date: November 16, 2021
  • Time to read: 7 min.

A gazebo, also referred to as a tea house, rotunda, or pavilion, is a freestanding structure that has a roof and an open design. It can be hexagonal, round, rectangular, or square and may have screens or drapes instead of walls. Typically, these are made of wood or metal and offer shade and shelter from the rain. In some cases, it may even offer protection from insects.

While these structures are often seen at parks, event venues, and public areas, you may consider getting one for your home. For those who enjoy entertaining, this can be a great investment. You can even add some heat lamps and use it year-round.

What is a Gazebo Used For?

A gazebo can be used for a variety of purposes, such as creating a social space that adds to your property value.

Gazebos in History

Looking back in history, we first encounter gazebos in ancient Egypt. These structures were used over 5,000 years ago by Egyptians for growing grapevines. This is the earliest use, but they have been seen in many other cultures as well.

Ancient Greeks often had public gazebos that were made of marble. These structures matched the design of their temples. Typically, these structures sat inside public parks close to the temples, which allowed them to operate as a sacred space.

Romans used these structures similarly, but they typically sat in private gardens. They were elaborate with sacred meanings but were exclusive.

In Europe and England, during the Middle Ages, many wealthy families began installing gazebos in their garden. These were used for entertainment and socialization.

In Oriental cultures, these structures were used as teahouses. They were ceremonial spaces for worship practices, including tea ceremonies. Even today, you can find gazebos that incorporate some of these elements.

Modern Gazebos

Today, gazebos are popular in a variety of both public and private spaces. They are used as shelters, places to socialize, viewpoints, to add to the aesthetics of a private backyard, and more.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Gazebos

There are advantages and disadvantages of installing a gazebo in your yard.

Advantages
Offer protection from sun, wind, rain, and other conditions
Keep you cool and in the shade when it’s warm outside
Offer an attractive aesthetic
Can be used for social gatherings, the shape makes it easier to converse
Electricity and insect screens can be installed for further comfort
Disadvantages
Can be more expensive than other outdoor structures
Installation can be challenging and time-consuming
May not provide adequate shelter during extreme weather conditions
Types of Gazebos

When it comes to gazebos, there are three primary types of gazebos: hardtop, soft top, and pop-up. In this article, our primary focus is the differences between hardtop and soft top gazebos, but it’s worth exploring all three options.

Hardtop Gazebos

Just like the name suggests, a hardtop gazebo has a roof that is made of solid material, usually wood, polycarbonate, aluminum, vinyl, or steel.

Typically, the frames of these hardtop gazebos are made of the same material. The only exception to this rule is polycarbonate. Since polycarbonate is transparent and durable, it is usually reserved for roofs.

Some consider these gazebos to be “temporary” or “portable” since they don’t require a cement foundation. However, depending on the material, some of these gazebos weigh around 600 pounds – which is definitely not portable or temporary.

As mentioned, most of the time, hardtop gazebos are chosen due to the fact that they can be used year-round. This type of gazebo stays cool when the sun is high in the sky and can also withstand the rainy season. It’s a true extension of your home and therefore, must be maintained as such.

Just like your home, you can add elements such as a BBQ of firepit to your hardtop gazebo. Keep in mind that elements involving fire should only be used with hardtop gazebos. It’s not a good idea to use fire with a soft top gazebo- but you can use a BBQ inside of a pop-up gazebo.

If you want to expand your living space to the outdoors, and you’re willing to invest the money and the maintenance effort and costs, a hardtop gazebo will give you the comfort that you desire.

Soft Top Gazebos

The second option is a soft top gazebo. These are much more temporary and portable than the hardtop version. This type of gazebo is a lot lighter and doesn’t cost nearly as much as a hardtop gazebo- but they are also a lot less durable than gazebos that are made of solid materials.

There are 3 characteristics of soft top gazebos:

They have a fabric roof
They are foldable and easy to store- frame is made of aluminum or plastic
They offer mesh walls or protective mosquito netting that is easy to attach

When compared to a hardtop gazebo, you’ll find that soft top gazebos are:

Portable
Less expensive
Lighter

A soft top gazebo is a great option for renters or other short term residents, since they can be easily put up and taken down. Additionally, easy access to the fabric top (which is typically made of canvas) means that you can easily change the top and add additional accessories.

Pop-Up/Camp Gazebos

Finally, the third type of gazebo, the pop-up/camp gazebos are truly temporary and portable. These can be put up and taken down with in a few minutes- with or without assistance. As the name indicates, they can be popped up quickly with little effort.

The major difference between a pop-up gazebo and a tent is the height. A tent is designed with sleeping in mind. A gazebo is made for adults to stand up in. However, something to keep in mind is that there are several tent manufacturers that also manufacture pop-up gazebos.

There are three characteristics that pop-up/camp gazebos have:

Mesh wall panels
Folds up easily into a carrying bag
Pre-built steel or aluminum frame

When compared to hardtop and soft top gazebos, the pop-up/camp gazebos are:

Customizable, including doors and wall panels
Not meant to be left outside all year
Made of materials that are fire retardant

Many people actually come to the conclusion that a pop-up gazebo suits their needs, while others see it as a requirement for their campsite. Regardless of your preference, a pop-up gazebo will provide you with the benefits of a permanent gazebo at a much smaller investment.

Differences between Hardtop and Soft Top Gazebos

Though we explored all three gazebo options, our primary focus is the difference between hardtop versus soft top gazebos. The primary difference is that a hardtop gazebos is typically more stable and safer. On the other hand, a soft top gazebo offers more flexibility and portability. However, this is not the only difference between these two types of gazebos.

They also differ in cost, maintenance, sturdiness/durability, waterproof features, and sun protection.

Cost

One of the major differences between these two types of gazebos is the cost. Hardtop gazebos are typically made from expensive materials and will cost a lot to have installed. Therefore, if you’re on a budget, a soft top may be a much more viable option for you.

Waterproof Features

When it comes to this garden structure, waterproof features are very important. This is what will keep you dry (or not) when you’re under your gazebo. A hardtop gazebo is best for keeping water out.

Soft top gazebos can protect you from rain if the fabric is water resistant. However, over time, the water resistance fades away, which means that water and snow will begin to reach inside the structure, meaning you won’t stay dry.

Sun Protection

Just like protecting you from getting soaked in the rain, the hardtop gazebos are a better option for protecting you from the sun. The roof blocks the UV rays and ensures that the interior of the structure remains cool and comfortable.

However, you must also keep in mind that the material of the roof determines the coolness of the shelter. Polycarbonate is best for keeping the area cool, but darker woods don’t repel the heat as readily.

Maintenance

The hardtop gazebos are basically maintenance free. The materials used to make this roof are durable, solid, and sturdy. There’s not as much wear and tear with these as with the soft top ones.

Soft top gazebos require a lot of maintenance since the fabrics are not as durable and strong as the hardtop ones.

Sturdiness

A strong, sturdy gazebo is a must, especially if you live in a cold region. If you live in an area where it snows, the snow can accumulate on the roof, which makes the roof heavy and increases the danger of it falling down. However, with a hardtop gazebo, this isn’t really much of a threat.

A hardtop gazebo can withstand 600 to 2,400 pounds of snow. On the other hand, if you have a soft top gazebo, it’s a good idea to take it down before the snow comes since they are not able to withstand the accumulation.

Durability

A hardtop gazebo is much more durable than a soft top. These roofs don’t suffer from wear and tear, so there’s less of a chance that it will break or crack quickly. The strong, sturdy construction ensures that they won’t fall or topple over in strong windy conditions. A soft top gazebo is likely to blow away with one strong gust.

Conclusion

As you can see, two of the major types of gazebos are the hardtop versus the soft top. A hard top gazebo has more benefits, but if it’s not in the budget, a soft top will do just fine. However, you must make sure to take the time to properly maintain it.

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