How do I Build a Pergola?

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  • Written By: Michael Straessle
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Building a pergola can add character to any home. Choosing the right lumber to use to match existing characteristics and personality in your home is just one part of the decision-making process. Having a little bit of experience working with wood will be necessary in order for this to be a do-it-yourself project. So, if this is your first time to work with wood on this scale, it would be wise to seek out information that would help you learn about what power tools you will need and how to use them, how to draw plans and the specifics on how to be sure that when you build a pergola, it will stand the test of time.

If you want to build a pergola, the best place to start is the foundation. Obviously, if you are building a pergola over a concrete slab patio or around the back deck you will need to know how the footing of the concrete slabs was poured. With the size of the first timbers going up being at least a 4-by-4-inch (10.16-by-10.16 cm), it is important to dig the proper foundation with the depth of it being the most important issue. Before you dig your first hole, measure the width and depth of the area the pergola will cover. This will help you determine the length of the timbers needed.


Another thing that must happen to build a pergola is to have a good design to work with. Start with the measurements taken of the width and depth of the area to be covered. With these numbers in hand, grab some graphing paper and draw the plans in a manner that is the easy for you to understand. Graph paper allows you to draw your plans to a scale where each square on the page represents a certain measurement.

Now that you know how long the timbers that will be your posts are, it is time to decide how much you want the overhead beams to hang over the end of the patio. Set the posts in the ground by first digging a hole that least 24-inches (60.96 cm) deep and about twice as wide as your posts. Stand them in the hole while concrete mix is poured around the post. Use a tamper to pack the dry mix down as tightly as possible. This is called dry packing. People use this method because it saves a day of waiting on the wet concrete to set up. If you prefer wet concrete, then mix it to the strength needed and pour it into the hole around the posts. In both cases, the posts must be plumb. To do this place a 36-inch (91.44 cm) carpenter’s level on all four sides of the post to make sure that it is plumb.

Once the posts are set, measure the distance between them and secure a beam between the two posts and between the posts and the house. There are many options available concerning how the beams can be secured to the posts. Research the different methods to determine which one fits your needs and use it. Be certain to install a beam between the posts next to the house because you will need a place to hang the cross members.

Determine the space you desire between each of the cross members and mark the two beams that will support cross members accordingly. Next, measure how long the cross members need to be and cut as many as you need. Again, the way you install these will be up to you. You can use joist hangers, but then you will probably want to cover them because they are made of galvanized metal and will detract from the character of your pergola. It can be such a beautiful and functional part of any home that once you learn how, there are many reasons to build a pergola for you to enjoy.


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Post 2
@Ahmerus: A pergola is a simple structure. However, before going to the trouble of studying how to build a pergola, or purchasing materials, it is a good idea to check with your local building department to find if a permit is necessary. In many counties, a building permit is required for any structure that is being erected, whether big or small.
Post 1

I would love to have a pergola attached to my deck. Will I need to secure a permit to build one?

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