What you should know about building permits for a pergola.

A handyman recently asked me if his customer needed a pergola permit for their project or not. Since this is a fairly common question whenever anyone is looking to add a structure to their yard, I thought it would be a good idea to outline some basic permitting rules.

Start with your city building license and permit office

Every city has different regulations and laws so I cannot just tell you straight out whether you will need a permit or not. We always start with this site to find the local website or office the covers this topic. There is about a 50/50 chance you will need a permit according to our experience. If you are attaching your pergola to the side of the house, the chances are a bit higher that you will need to comply with some structural rules. Now, since a pergola is not a true room addition without walls and without a complete roof, even when a permit is needed, the guidelines are less strict in order to get clearance.

In other words, even if you need to get one, you should not let this deter you as it is a very simple process. We’ve found that simply submitting the pergola plan with dimensions and a material list along with a photo of the intended site for the pergola, that permits are very quickly issued if needed.

Check your HOA

A more critical potential source of building restrictions would be a homeowner’s association. If you live in an area that is covered by one, then absolutely do NOT skip clearing your plans with them.

Even though we’ve covered this topic before, I feel it is something that needs to be discussed every so often to keep it fresh for new visitors because it is such an important place to begin when you are considering a do it yourself pergola building project.

Are DIY Pergola Plans As Easy as TV Makes Them Look?

This is a frequently asked question on the pergoladiy surveys. Many people watch the home improvement shows which inspire them to embark on all sorts of projects and inevitably they find out that things are not always as easy as they look on TV!

However, creating your own pergola plans and then following them to build your own pergola is not one of those. Yes, it really is that easy! It is especially easy if you start off with a set of existing plans or pergola kit assembly instructions and adapt them for your own yard.

This layout for the framework and base of an attached pergola is the perfect foundation to start out if you want to an attached design. It does not matter what material you will be using, or whether you will be putting your posts in the ground, on a deck or in concrete. This basic layout works for anything. The point is to get the idea of the angles and placement in your yard. Projection means the amount of overhang that the roof edges will have. Typically, a rafter piece will project 6 inches out from the posts on both sides. That is not a hard and fast rule, just a general guideline. Just make sure you do account for that overhang when measuring out the dimensions you want. You don’t want the roof pieces to be blocking any views or hitting any trees or other structures.

With a detached pergola, the layout is much simpler. It is all about here you want it in your yard, what shape and how big or small. If you already have an existing hardscaped patio area that makes your decision even easier. Just lay out the markings for post placement according to where you want it on the patio. Always check your diagonals to make sure the dimensions you set will provide straight and true edges and angles.

From there it is just a matter of the style you want and the amount of shade you need. Single or double beamed? Two layers of rafters or rafters and slats? How close together? Curved or straight? No matter what you decide on those, as long as you have your foundation drawn out, you will be set to get started.

Sign up now for the best emails series of tips and tricks anywhere and you will really see how easy it is to build a pergola with your own set of pergola plans.

Is a Pergola the same as an Arbor, Trellis or Gazebo?

We can answer that question quite easily – no. While it is easy to get confused, there are some key differences between pergolas, arbors, trellises and gazebos.

For a very in depth discussion with more pictures, check out the post on this topic over at pergoladiy.

Here are the key points to help you decide what you want to build:

  • Pergola – supported by posts or columns attached to the ground or top of a wall, no sides, partial roof creating a shaded outdoor room or space.
  • Arbor – arched walkway cover not large enough to create a seating area or outdoor space. Has narrow,  latticed side walls. Primarily used to delineate an entryway between garden areas and support for vines.
  • Trellis – Often a single sided structure of latticed wood pieces without set up against a wall to support plants and vines.
  • Gazebo – The closest of all to an actual free standing room with a complete floor and roof and at least partial walls. The most expensive and more complex to build or install.

The reason that pergolas are so popular is because they encompass the best of each structure type. They have the versatility to provide plant and garden vine support – in fact, there are often partial lattice wall extensions attached to the sides pergola posts that end up creating a trellis wall additions to a pergola. On top of that they also provide shade and the visual framework of an outdoor room but without the expense and construction skills needed for a gazebo.

We have chose to focus on helping people build pergolas because they are the most versatile, inexpensive additions to a yard that will provide the longest term value and enjoyment for the money.

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!

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