Build a Pergola in One Weekend – New and Improved!

If you are a regular visitor – first of all, thank you! – but you might have picked up on the notion that we wanted you to take a survey.

Have you clicked over on the little red roofed house? Yes? Well then, thank you again!

If not, please do. It wont hurt 🙂 Your email you provide to claim your free plan will remain secure and the answers you provide help us to see what our visitors need the most.

In fact, you might notice that the picture of the book on the top right of the sidebar has now changed.

That is because the How To Build a Pergola book has been upgraded to focus a little more sharply on just those topics submitted in the survey. Over 500 people have weighed in and they encouraged us to expand a couple of chapters and even add a whole new one.

There are some common concerns or obstacles that people seem to share about embarking on a DIY pergola project.

These are all easily solvable problems that are really not that scary at all. We know plenty of people who have succeeded in building a pergola without any issues.

We also know some people who have made one or two (or ten!) typical mistakes. We’ve put those lessons into the book so that you can learn from the blunders of others.

You know the old woodworking saying right?

Measure Twice Cut Once

Yeah, this is true. We have variations on that.

Make sure posts are level and true twice, secure them once.

Scout your site twice, build once.

I know these seem like they should be common sense and not worth noting BUT…..we’ve witnessed the consequences of forgetting those common sense details and it is not pretty (or cheap!)

Two pergola plans are included.

Plus, we dig deeper into how you can use ANY pergola plan as a blueprint to draw up your own plans that fit your yard.

Pick up a copy of the updated Guide here.

Applying for a Pergola Permit

Hello and welcome back! Are you enjoying your summer? Perhaps under a new pergola? Or, have you now put building a pergola on your list of things to do before the summer ends? If so, you are clearly not alone because it has been very busy around here!

If you are wise, you have already considered that you might need to obtain a pergola permit. That should be item number 1 on your to do list for a new pergola whether you will build one on your own or purchase a pergola kit. Our informal survey of cities around the US indicates that about half will require some kind of permit to add a pergola to your yard. This is done through your city building department so check online for how to contact them and see if you need one.

Do not worry if you do – it is really a simple process. You will probably have to pay a small application fee and submit the drawings or plans for your pergola. If they are very strict, they may want to inspect the finished product to make sure it matches what you submitted. These precautions are there to ensure the structure you are building is sturdy & will last through all types of weather and will bear the load of the partial roof.

The more tricky situation to deal with are the requirements of a homeowner’s association. If you don’t live in an area with an HOA – congratulations! If you do, then we can just about guarantee that you will need approval for your new pergola. HOA’s tend to be most concerned with keeping styles and colors consistent with the surrounding structures and also making sure no views are obstructed. HOA’s will want not just drawings of the pergola, but probably also a material list and a plotting map or drawing showing the exact placement of the pergola.

We are not trying to scare you away from the idea of building a pergola! These regulations are not that hard to meet, but you do certainly need to be aware of them and make sure you fulfill them before you get started. You only want to build a pergola once!

The Best Uses for a Pergola

The pergola has been used as a stylish and practical addition to yards for centuries. Pergolas were first used in Mediterranean gardens on lavish estate grounds to provide support for olive and grape vines. They were considered a sign of luxury. Smaller, narrow variations were used to cover cobble-stoned pathways in small towns for shade and again, to support flowering or fruit bearing vines. Flash forward to present day and here are some innovative ideas for pergola design and use in the modern yard.

A patio cover is the most common

Attaching a pergola to the back of house so that it provides cover over a concrete patio is typically what you see. That is because this is a very practical use and is also a nice visual addition to a backyard. It makes it seem more complete and creates the appearance of an outdoor room. When the pergola style and color is matched or blended with the overall architecture of the house, you have an addition that adds value and enjoyment to the property.

Kitchen pergolas are inviting and entertaining

If you have a large yard and have decided to install an outdoor kitchen with stone counters and a built in bbq, then the perfect way to partially shelter the area is to cover it with a pergola. Often the pergola posts are set in stone pillars that match the kitchen counters. The roof line can be more tightly laid together to create more effective shelter and shade. Lights are also strung up to make it an inviting space day and night.

Imagine a romantic swing pergola

A very fun addition to a free standing back yard pergola could be a bench swing. There would simply need to be some extra center roof beams placed for additional support to safely hold up the swing. If you set the pergola in a spot of the yard where the swing faces the nicest views, then this lovely spot becomes your favorite place to relax outside. A swing pergola would be a lovely surprise for the next person who buys your house.

Consider the old world use

There is a reason pergolas were originally built as support for vines – they are perfect for that task. Place the pergola in the best spot for growing some wisteria for instance. Place the plants right near the posts and secure the new growth shoots to them. Fairly soon you will have the beautiful purple flowers dangling from the rooftop of the pergola. It is one of the most inviting and romantic garden seating areas you can create.

Imagine a pergola in your front yard

For houses with a front entrance gate, the addition of a pergola is another excellent idea. The pergola posts can be secured to the top of the wall or fence on either side of the gate create a covered entrance. It is a fairly cheap and easy to build addition creating a more finished and formal look to the entryway. If you have a long walkway from the gate to the front door, consider building a pergola that covers the walkway – again harkening back to the old world use. Seeing a pergola at the front of the house always catches the eye.

No matter the use, a pergola is a fantastic addition to any yard. Big or small, attached or detached, covering a gate, patio seating or an outdoor kitchen. Sometimes they are even used as carports. Pergolas are versatile and practical and most of all, elegant and stylish structures which add value to your property. You can’t go wrong building a pergola.

Attached Pergola Construction

A very common question asked when people take the survey over at Pergoladiy is: “How do I attached a pergola to my house?”

Attached pergolas use a ledger board secured to the wall of the house in lieu of posts. These typically end up being 2 post pergolas, but that does not have to always be the case. If you have a larger patio you want to cover, then they can easily be expanded to 3 or 4 columns or even more. The only limitation is the roof load and not using beams so long that they would begin to sag over time.

Large 4 column attached pergola

No matter how big or small though, the standard method for attaching the rafters to the ledger board is with joist hangers. If you are like me, the first time you hear someone mention a joist hanger you are thinking “A what now?”

Since this is such a commonly asked question, I imagine I am not the only one. So, here you go, these are joist hangers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joist hangers allow you to set the straight cut edges of the rafters into the base – to hang them you could say – as you then screw them into place. This is something to keep in mind about an attached pergola. In addition to reducing the number of posts needed, the roof pieces that will be attached to the ledger board only need to have one fancy end cut.

Attached pergolas tend to be the most in demand right now and they are also the easier and cheaper alternative to a free standing design. Most houses built recently have a concrete patio poured just off of a sliding glass door to the back yard, it is quite common to want to attach a pergola over the concrete to create a shaded seating area.

Since it is so easy to attach two posts to a concrete slab and then you save material money by reducing the number of pieces needed and not needing as many edge cuts, anyone looking to build a very lovely pergola for less than a thousand dollars can easily accomplish this with an attached design.

So what question can we answer for you? In future posts we will try to address the most frequently asked questions from our surveys. Please join the more than 500 people who have signed up for our emails and taken our survey. Hopefully we will answer your most critical question next!

Pergola Building Tip: Don’t Forget Post Trim Pieces!

Do you want your finished post base to look like this?

 

Or like this?

Or how about this?

There is one add on to any pergola design that we recommend you do at a minimum and that is attaching some sort of trim piece to the base of the pergola to cover up the hardware used to attach your post to the ground. No matter which method you use for attaching your posts – concrete slab, concrete holes in the ground, or a deck – it really makes a huge difference if you attach trim.

The top example is of a pergola post base with the aluminum post bracket left uncovered. The shiny silver metal and screws give the pergola an unfinished appearance. This is fine if you are going for a very basic, no frills look of course. However, it only takes a few minutes cover that with a very inexpensive set of trim pieces.

The middle photo shows a copper plate which is a lovely blend with the stone and darker wood. The bottom photo shows a post with additional matching wood trim pieces nailed on. With the wood trim option you can experiment with the height of the trim pieces too to create different looks – again without really adding any more time to the process.

When building a pergola even on a very tight budget, this is a very simple, cheap addition to the design that makes it look all that much more elegant and complete.

 

Add Some Curves To Your Pergola Roof

Curved roof pergolas are a luxurious design edition to any yard or patio. The elegant lines are truly no more difficult to build than a regular straight edge. There are many beautiful kits you can find such as the one in the photo above from Forever Redwood. They come complete with step by step instructions on how to build it along with all the attachment hardware needed. Boards are cut and stained according to the design you want and marked so that you are pretty much just putting slot A into tab B.

However, if you want to build the pergola yourself, a curved roof design is also an option and you shouldn’t be deterred from working with the roof pieces cut with a curve. From the example above you can see that redwood is an excellent choice for a pergola and will bend very nicely. Don’t worry! You don’t need to do any bending. A good lumberyard will be able to provide you with the curved pieces according to your required dimensions.

Notice that the ends of the curved rafters are kept with a straight cut. This is also true of other kits we’ve found as well. Once you have pieces curved and measured out for the correct arc, you really don’t want to mess with cutting fancy edges at that point. Some designers think any fancy edges are overkill and it certainly does keep the focus on the graceful lines if you keep it simple. But the example above also looks beautiful with the fancy edges reserved for the straight beams and top level of rafters.

The curved roof might be a little bit more cost, but we promise it will not add extra work to your building project. In the end, it would be something that will provide an even more unique look to your pergola design.

Securing Pergola Posts – So Much Easier Than You Think!

Securing posts to a concrete surface

You want to build your own pergola, but I know that you, like me, are feeling a little apprehensive about getting started.

How can I do this and make sure my pergola doesn’t blow over at the first heavy wind, right? We understand and you should go ahead and relax. It’s easy and the hardware is inexpensive (heck, it’s downright cheap!)

Securing a post to concrete is the most common method of installing a pergola. It is also the easiest by far. A bracket, a concrete anchor (also known as a Tapcon) bolt and then some lag bolts to attached the post to the bracket. The wood trim nailed on after is probably the most crucial step.

Don’t skip it! Why? Because it is a very inexpensive few pieces of wood that make your pergola look so much more complete. No ugly exposed brackets weathering away in the elements. The treated and stained wood will last long and look beautiful.

The bracket mounts also provide the recommended 1″ clearance between the concrete and the bottom of the wood post. Even with pressure treated and stained timbers of any type you really don’t want them standing in accumulated water. And unless you live in the high desert of the southwest, you know you will have times during the year when water will accumulate either via heavy rains or melting snow.

No matter what type of base you will use for your pergola, the newly released version 2 of a Guide to Build a Pergola in One Weekend will describe and show you via illustrations and pictures like those above just how to tackle the foundation of your pergola project.

The Guide also includes two sets of free pergola plans and it teaches you how to draw your own. Don’t miss out on this great deal!

Pergola Designs for Small Yard Spaces

Triangle Pergola perfect for a small yard

When looking around at pergola designs it is important to keep in mind that you can really create just about anything you want even if you have a smaller or oddly shaped yard. The picture above shows an example of a 3 post triangle pergola design that fits perfectly in a smaller, narrow yard. It adds character and style and shade to the patio area without overtaking the yard or making it look too small.

The key to planning this yard started at the beginning with proper site preparation before choosing which pergola they wanted to build. It just takes a little imagination to picture potential placement and design. The posts are actually secured in the ground with concrete footings dug in since the flagstone would not be strong enough to hold the pergola in place.

Since they were digging into the ground they had to avoid any water or utility lines which most likely influenced the placement of the pergola. At the point they could have tried to squeeze in a more traditional sized four post design, but since the space is small meaning the beam spans wouldn’t be that long anyway, there is no issue eliminating one post creating a triangle instead. With two layers of rafters there is still plenty of shade provided.

It is always a great idea to spend some time at a site like this one to learn everything you would need in order build your own pergola that will last for years.

Pergola DIY Tips

The first tip we will share with you about building a pergola is this: notches.

Yes, notches. It is worth every minute that you take to gather all your roof pieces and lay them out according to your design and mark off the places where they will intersect in the pattern. This will make your life so much easier when you get to the point of securing them together. It is also a great way to ensure stability is maintained for many years. Nothing will slip out of place if they are notched together. It’s like the old Lincoln Logs you used to play with, only this time after you snap the wood pieces together you get to use a power screwdriver and bolt them together forever!

Here’s what we suggest – use your jigsaw to make cut outs. Do this before you finish staining your wood. If you wood is pre-stained, then be sure and sand the newly exposed area and coat it. You don’t want those notches to be the place where moisture gets in and starts rotting away your beautiful pergola.

Notches on beams and rafters

When you are ready to start installing roof pieces you can set them in place with the notches first and then go along and start bolting them together. Notches are standard in any pergola kit no matter what material type. Kit manufacturers create their easy assembly process by taking care of those details for you because they know how much time it saves for installation. They can’t promise you it will only take two people one day or a few hours to put the pergola together unless they take care of these short cuts for you.

The point is – follow those same steps when you do it yourself. There is a good reason for them and you will only make the process harder on yourself if you skip it.

How do we know? Well, have you ever watched someone try to build a pergola without using notches? It can be quite amusing watching all the trial and error. Even worse is seeing what happens after a few years of wind storms have stressed the un-notched connections. Rafters start to separate from beams and it’s just generally a headache. You end up replacing bolts more frequently than you have to apply new stain!

Don’t take that risk – use notches.

Setting a pergola on a concrete slab

Let’s say you have gone through all the steps for preparing your site for your pergola as covered here. Your yard may not big as the one picture above, but in the majority of examples people are looking for techniques and instructions on how to secure a pergola to a concrete slab since most patios are laid out with concrete, particularly the ones attached directly off the back of a house. So let’s cover those basic steps.

It really does take two people so please don’t try to do this on your own. Everything needs to be straight and level and true to ensure that your pergola is as sturdy safe and durable as possible. Start out by measuring to find the center of the concrete pad. You want to make sure you center the pergola on it properly.

Then measure from the center out 1/2 of the width projection of the pergola. Repeat on the other side and then use the same method for the length projection dimensions. Mark all the spots. Using a chalk line, connect the marked spots and draw out a perimeter. If building a square pergola, remember to check the diagonal measurements. They should be the same from corner to corner. Adjust the corner marks as needed.

And there you have your post locations! Bolt in your concrete base brackets and you are ready to put up your posts and get to the heavy lifting.For more information on the next steps to take to build your own pergola, please click here and check out our step by step guide. We’ve gathered everything we’ve learned from thousands of hours of personal experience, consultations with contractors and research in online builder forums. We’ve made all the mistakes, and even made up a few new ones! Hopefully, you wont have to do that. With the right information at your fingertips you might even have some fine with your do it yourself pergola adventure.

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