How To Build Your Own Pergola Paradise

Shade and privacy with a modern twist.

Next Project
Time

Multiple Days

Complexity

Intermediate

Cost

More than $1000

Introduction

Here's everything you need to build a pergola and create a shady, stylish spot in your backyard.

Tools Required

  • 15-Gauge Nailer
  • Angle grinder
  • Circular saw
  • Drill/driver
  • Standard carpentry tools

Create an escape in your backyard by building this beautiful pergola. The horizontal slats block the sun and harsh wind while keeping the space open enough for you to enjoy a breeze. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy your morning coffee or wind down after work.

The angled rafters nicely complement the ceiling slats and eliminate the need for bracing. This pergola may look big and complex, but only a few details separate it from a traditional pergola. Once the posts are placed, the rest is easy.

Family Handyman

Family Handyman

Family Handyman

Project step-by-step (12)

Step 1

Planning and Building Tips

  • We built this pergola in Florida, where building codes are strict about hurricane-proofing. Really strict. We spent more than $3,000 on specialty hardware, engineered drawings and permits. Chances are, your local codes will allow you to skip some of these costly steps. You could downsize the beam to a double 2x8, opt for smaller 4x4 posts and use bolt-down post bases rather than bases that are set in the concrete. Check with your local building inspector.
  • This pergola was part of a project that included a new patio. If you already have a concrete patio, set the posts right on top. Again, check with your local inspector.
  • Only two posts are needed to hold up the beam. You can position the other three for less privacy or more, or eliminate them.
  • This pergola is built from treated lumber and cedar. Cedar drives up the cost substantially. Using treated slats and fascia will save you about $800.
  • The diagonal rafters are supported by 45-degree joist hangers. If your local building code requires hangers, note that you’ll need both left and right versions. If not, skip them and save $400.
  • We nailed the joist hangers to the ledger before installing rafters. This made installing the rafters a major hassle. It would be better to tack the rafters into place and then add the hangers.
  • The house we built the pergola onto had concrete walls. Attaching the ledger board required drilling into the concrete and $80 worth of wedge anchors, as well as extra labor.

Step 2

Lay Out the Post Locations

Determining the post locations is the fussiest part of this project. We drove two stakes 109-in. from the house and stretched a string between them. Then we adjusted the stakes until the string was exactly parallel with the house.

Step 3

Place Post Bases

When the concrete was firm enough to hold the post brackets, we used the string and the edges of the concrete to position them and pushed them in with short up-and-down motions.

Step 4

Fasten the Ledger

This house was built from concrete blocks, so we had to drill holes in the concrete, pound in wedge anchors and tighten them up to secure the ledger board.

  • For wood-frame homes, lag screws will do the trick.
    • Pro tip: Prop the ledger in position with 2x4s.

Step 5

Stand the Posts

  • Cut the posts to ceiling height. Because this patio was level, we were able to get an accurate measurement from the patio to the bottom of the ledger board.
  • When the posts are level in both directions, add bolts or screws.

Step 6

Cut Off the Bolts

  • If your post bases require bolts, cut them flush with the nuts.
    • Pro tip: A reciprocating saw will do the job, but an angle grinder and cutoff wheel are much faster.

Step 7

Install the Main Beam

At 20 ft. long, the triple 2x10 beam would have been way too heavy to lift onto the posts, so we built the beam in place.

  • Screw a scrap of 2x4 to the back of the column and then glued and nailed the 2x10s together.
    • Pro tip: The outer board needed hangers and blocks to hold the fascia. Attach those before lifting the board into place.

Step 8

Attach the side beams

  • Check that the columns are still plumb and attach the side beams.
  • Slide each side beam into its hanger on the ledger board, then screw it to the side of the main beam and reinforce them with 90-degree framing angles. We ran the beams long, then trimmed them to line up with the blocks.
  • Check that the structure is square by taking diagonal measurements at opposite corners. If the measurements aren’t equal, reposition the main beam on the posts until they are.

Step 9

Hang the Rafters

  • Cut each rafter to length, making a 45-degree bevel on each end.
  • As you install the rafters, be sure they’re all parallel. Mirror the rafter pattern on the other side by lining up the rafters at the center beam. Then go back and install the skewed hangers.

Step 10

Pre-Finish the Slats and Fascia

To save time and get better results, stain the slats before installation.

Step 11

Nail On the Slats

  • Level the bottom slat about two inches off the patio and nail it into place.
  • Space the rest of the slats 1-1/2 in. apart, using two spacers cut down and marked with an “X.”
    • Pro tip: For consistency, use the same ones throughout. 
  • Stop every few rows and check the measurement from the ceiling on both ends of the slat to make sure it’s level.
    • Pro tip: Use the same spacers for the ceiling slats.

Step 12

Add the Fascia

  • Wrap the exposed blocks and beams with fascia boards. The front of the pergola requires two pieces; cut the two boards so the seam lands in the middle of a block.
  • Flush the fascia board to the bottom of the ceiling slats and nail it on.
  • Cover the sides in one piece. Touch up the cut ends of the slats with stain, then start enjoying the shade!