How to Build a Pergola

Get more shade with this low-maintenance retreat.

Next Project
Time

Multiple Days

Complexity

Advanced

Cost

$501-1000

Introduction

Build a vine-covered pergola in your backyard to shade a stone patio or wood deck using wood beams and lattice set on precast, classical-style columns. The dappled sunlight created by the overhead latticework creates a cool, relaxing environment perfect for backyard entertaining – like standing in the shade of a tree on a hot summer day.

Tools Required

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Caulk gun
  • Combination square
  • Cordless drill
  • Extension cord
  • Hammer
  • Hole saw kit
  • Jigsaw
  • Level
  • Miter saw
  • Posthole digger
  • Putty knife
  • Router
  • Safety glasses
  • Spade
  • Speed square
  • Stepladder
  • Straightedge
  • Tape measure
  • Tool belt

Getting Started on How to Build a Pergola

Here’s a summer project designed to keep you cooler on even the hottest of days. The classical columns support an overhead wooden lattice that works like a big shade tree, letting only a portion of the sun’s radiance shine through.

What looks like the toughest part of this pergola plan’s project is actually the easiest—the graceful, solid-looking columns. They’re not wood at all but a hollow-core composite material with amazing structural strength and durability. We’ve designed the pergola plans so you simply slip these columns over treated 4×4 posts embedded in concrete. When screwed to the wooden posts, these columns provide a stable, solid base for the overhead lattice framework.

These paintable precast columns are available by special order at home centers. They come in a wide variety of diameters and heights and architectural styles.

Pressure-treated dimensional 2x8s and 2x10s make up the majority of the upper framework, and the decorative end pieces are cut with a jigsaw from our pergola plans. The whole project can be built in a couple of weekends, with another weekend for staining and painting.

We built our pergola over an existing stone patio; that saved a lot of patio work. If you’re planning to install a patio as part of your overall project, you’ll need to allow extra time.

Project step-by-step (22)

Step 1

Choosing the Right Location and Pergola Plans & Designs

pergola design locationFamily Handyman

Because this DIY pergola project is made to stand independent of the house, you can either locate it right near your house as we did or let it stand alone in the garden. You can also consider using wood chips or gravel as a floor or even pour a concrete slab underneath. By keeping it unattached (about 4 in. from the eaves), you don’t have to deal with moving existing gutters or matching eaves. You also don’t have to mess with frost footings (in colder climates). However, if you have clay soil, it’s best to dig to frost depth (if greater than 24 in.) for your footings to prevent frost heave.

Our existing patio was built over a sand and compacted gravel base, so we removed only the stones necessary to dig the 12-in. diameter holes to secure the posts. You’ll most likely have a different situation. Build a pergola over an existing patio (instead of building a new one) saves you a lot of time, money and work.

If you’ll be adding a patio later, be sure to pour all the footings at the finished patio height as part of your pergola designs. Keep in mind any slope you’ll include in the patio. Most patios slope about 1/8 in. per foot to drain.

Step 2

Pergola Designs Details

figure a pergola design detailsFamily Handyman

Use this illustration when building the pergola. It provides some dimensions and shows how each part is labeled. To print out this illustration, go to Additional Information at the end of this story.

Before you dig any holes, call your local utilities or 411 to mark any buried cable or gas lines. Once you’re sure there are no buried utilities in the area, dig your holes with a hand-held posthole digger or rent a power auger. You’ll also need a shovel to widen the hole. Dig until it’s at least 24 in. deep.