Pergolas: How to Build a Pergola

There must be just a little bit of Italian romantic in most of useven me, a no-nonsense German!

There must be just a little bit of Italian romantic in most of us, even me, a no-nonsense German! What else could explain our love for pergolas? OK, some people call them arbors or gazebos, and the distinctions between them are kinda nitpicky, but you know what I’m talking about—a structure, usually with an open top and sides, that provides support for vines, climbing flowers or other plants.

Carrie Bussell from North Carolina designed a unique pergola to create what she calls her “pergorch.” She wanted to add visual interest to her house, which originally had just a plain cement-slab stoop and steps. By increasing the entrance footprint with new wooden steps and adding a classic-style pergola, Carrie created a charming, inviting entryway.


And then there’s Jerry Higginbotham in Texas who built a big, beautiful pergola out of western red cedar to cover his backyard patio. Jerry says, “The pergola not only added privacy from the busy street, it has cooled the back patio down dramatically.” Jerry looked into having a contractor build this pergola, and the bid came in at $15,000! So for $1,400 in supplies, Jerry built this pergola himself.


If you’re thinking about building a pergola, keep in mind that by keeping it unattached from your house (about 4 inches from the eaves), you don’t have to deal with moving existing gutters or matching the eaves. Another benefit of a freestanding pergola is that, in cold climates, you don’t have to mess with frost footings. If you have clay soil, however, it’s still best to dig to frost depth for your footings to prevent frost heave. In many areas, any structure attached to the house requires a building permit. But an unattached pergola lets you skip the paperwork and the fee.

— Mary Flanagan, Associate Editor

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